Setting: A family of four considers adopting kittens, but is overwhelmed with pity for a pair of cats that have been languishing at the shelter for over 6 months. They wait in a small room for the cats to be brought in.
MOTHER: Won't it be nice to give these poor cats a home?
DAUGHTER: That gray cat is so pretty.
SON: Can we go look at the tarantulas?
FATHER: I just want a cat that will sit on my lap.
Members of staff cradled the cats as they entered the space, placing them both on the floor. The gray cat (Josie) was skittish, even when the young girl sat on the floor. The black and white cat? Maggie promptly jumped on Father's lap and began to purr. Within a half hour, the family was on the way home with two new members. Little did they know the joy, laughter and companionship that lay ahead for the next 15 years, as Maggie purred and kneaded her way into all of their hearts. This is her story, which ended this week on September 21.
Maggie quickly established herself as the dominant cat, not just with Josie, but with everyone in the house. No lap was immune from her attentions. Over time, her reputation as a lap cat became legendary among family and friends who were frequent visitors. "If you don't want her to sit on you, don't sit down!" became our constant refrain. #1 Daughter captured Maggie's character well in her memorial FaceBook post:
Maggie was our lap cat, our climb-up-and-snuggle cat. We always used to say "I have a cat", meaning someone needed to get something for us because we didn't want to move the cat off our lap.
One of my earliest memories of Maggie was her attempt at licking my long hair. I think she thought I was a fellow cat that needed grooming?
Maggie loved soft blankets and couches and sun spots. She was the older of our two cats and definitely thought she was queen bee (she was).
Give our love to Josie. I miss you already, Maggie Cat. Hope there are plenty of comfy places to nap in heaven.
In the oddest of coincidences, Maggie died a year and one day after Josie (see Josie's post here). Despite being two years older than Josie, Maggie persisted through weight loss and arthritic hips. But I am getting ahead of myself.
In the early years, Maggie was, shall we say, well-proportioned. Spousal Unit gave her the nickname "Bagpuss", a polite reference to her rotund form. Looking back at the photos, it is shocking to see the stark difference in her size and the luxuriousness of her fur. At the time we adopted her, she was 4 years old.
She was not an active, playful cat, and eventually the vet advised a weight-loss plan. I remember moving the food dish and litter box from the main level laundry room to the basement; in a matter of months, navigating the stairs brought her to a more desirable weight. Life was busy back then; I travelled often for work and Spousal Unit had his hands full with managing the house and two kids in school. We also did not have cameras in our phones, always at our fingertips! Most of the photos are from Christmas, when we could pause for breath. For 2013 and 2014, I could not find any pictures of our dear cat.
For most of her time with us, Maggie definitely preferred the lap of Spousal Unit. She would sit on anyone, but if his lap was free, off she went. So, this is a rare picture with her on my lap in 2015. Rare because I am not in motion, and rarer still that she is with me. I love this picture.
In 2016, life began to change dramatically for the family. #1 Daughter was already in college, and #1 Son made us empty nesters that fall. We downsized and moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Troy, Ohio, an interim step before my planned retirement in 2017. Neither of the cats liked to be in the car, least of all Maggie. She might have run off if she had known that the four-hour drive was a drop in the bucket compared to the journey to come. In the meantime, we celebrated one Christmas in Troy; this is the only photo I have of Maggie from that time frame.
On April 27, 2017, we began our epic journey from Ohio to Montana. Spousal Unit had the parakeet in his car, and Maggie and Josie accompanied me in the 4Runner. I can't tell you how many meows I heard over those nine days; all of us were relieved to get to the hotel each night.
Without any furniture, we made do with camp chairs our first night in Whitefish, Montana. It didn't matter to Maggie; she was going to seek comfort in that lap no matter what! We soon settled into new routines; #1 Son stayed with us that summer, and several family members came to visit the townhouse and see our log home under construction. Maggie even played with some yarn I was using to make a prayer shawl. Both of our children came for Christmas and we made sure to get a picture with all four 'kids'.
The calendar spun to 2018, which proved to be a hectic year. The log house was finished and we moved in on April 14. We hosted my in-laws in the new house, and also traveled to the UK for three weeks. Maggie took readily to her surroundings; sleeping in the sun spots alternated with sleeping on the air vents. We could imagine that the warmth helped soothe her increasingly old bones; she turned 17 that year. (As you can see in the mosaic below, Maggie would often extend one paw and put it possessively on one part of your body. Little did she know she owned every part of us. It was also after our arrival in Montana that Maggie and Josie started to share Spousal Unit's lap.)
With the arrival of 2019, Josie began to have health issues, and we started to keep a closer eye on both of the cats. Maggie continued to monopolize the sun puddles and the air vents, and she was losing weight, but she kept on ticking. With the loss of Josie in September that year, we wondered about the impact on Maggie. After all, they had been together for at least 15 years. Maggie seemed to pick up Josie's role as the vocal one. Frequently, she would sit outside our bedroom door and meow, especially if she had decided we were late for breakfast. It also seemed, after Josie, that Maggie became firmly attached to one spot on the left end of the couch. Everyone knew that was Maggie's "spot".
Another endearing aspect of Maggie's character related to food. It always seemed that she was afraid to eat unless we were in the vicinity. Without fail, when we would return home from a morning in town or another excursion, she would greet us at the door and then immediately start eating. Even now, five days after her passing, I am still looking for her when I come through that door!
Over the years, we have been very fortunate to have good friends and neighbors to look after the cats when we were traveling or camping or otherwise engaged. You know who you are! A special shout out to my Dear Neighbor Friend, who would take the time to sit with Maggie and give her that one-on-one attention that she craved so much. This was especially important to me after we lost Josie. Thank you, DNF. I know you had a special place in her heart!
And so we entered 2020. Will any of us forget this year? Maybe some of us would like to!!! As one month passed to the next, Maggie got creakier and skinnier. In parallel, she grew seemingly more desperate for attention. Even in the middle of the day, she would circle my chair at the dining room table, rubbing my legs and meowing. I would take pity on her and lift her up.
Maggie was not allowed in areas with carpet, so our master bedroom was off limits. But at times my heart was breaking with her meowing, and we would lift her up onto the bed for an afternoon nap. I am not sure when it happened, but at some point Maggie transitioned to a preference for my lap over that of Spousal Unit. Maybe because I always sat in her "spot"? I will never know, but I am grateful that we had the special time together. I am sure that some of her fur is woven into the cross-stitch that I have been working the last few months! It is also a blessing that the kids had a chance to say goodbye, in their own ways. # 1 Daughter and the Boyfriend were here in August, and although we had no idea Maggie would pass so soon after their visit, a blind man could have told you that old age was taking its toll.
The weekend before Maggie died, she stopped eating. She would hover over the food dish, and meow, but she didn't take a bite. I imagined that she felt nauseous. We got her into an emergency appointment on Monday afternoon, and #1 Son sat with her on his lap that morning; we all anticipated that we would have to make the tough decision. As it turned out, the vet said Maggie was very constipated. After some treatment, the vet said that we should take her home and let the treatment work its way overnight. Relieved, I went home with a lighter heart. We made Maggie comfortable and then went on a previously arranged kayaking/fishing trip for a few hours.
Upon our return, imagine our dismay to find Maggie hiding in the one of the benches with her litter box. This was her go-to location when scared by something, such as thunder. At first, I left her there, but after a while, I grew concerned. When I picked her up, she was so limp. It was the worst feeling in the world. For the next couple of hours, Spousal Unit and I took turns cradling her. Occasionally she would try to lift her head, and through a cascade of tears, we told her it was OK to let go. #1 Son was with us when, resting on the chest of Spousal Unit, she finally gave a little sigh, and was gone.
Fifteen years. Four homes. Two high school and two college graduations. She was there through it all, and gave us untold moments of joy and laughter and companionship. That is what we will remember. At the end, she may have been deathly skinny, and her fur might have lost the luster of the early years, but she will always be a beauty in our hearts.
I am feeling a little under the weather. Maybe it's a side effect from the second part of the shingles vaccine that I took yesterday. Or perhaps it's a type of seasonal affective disorder, brought on by the ongoing smoky environment and the shortening days. As I thought about writing a blog post this week, it took some effort to screw up the energy to do it. I decided I would take an easy route, and stroll the back forty for some inspiration. Do you suppose it is just a coincidence that most of the pictures are plants that have gone to seed? Gone to seed: showing signs of advanced wear and tear and neglect. (Merriam Webster)
Despite ongoing spraying, thistles are abundant in our lower prairie. A plant can produce up to 6,000 seeds that can persist in the soil for over 9 years. As the saying goes, it's a marathon, not a sprint. I have taken to cutting off the heads to at least halt the seed production.
The Labor Day wind storm brought down a couple of our aged aspen trees, with collateral damage on the younger aspens nearby. A close look at the stump shows that it was becoming hollow; sawdust would suggest that termites were hard at work. In the end, it was no contest for the 40+ mile an hour winds that day. I used to put my trail cam near here, since the deer have worn a path through this grove of aspens. They will have to adjust their route! For now, they have been continuing to frequent the area to eat the aspen leaves that are suddenly within reach.
Shorter days and lower night-time temperatures are wielding Nature's paintbrush, revealing yellows, oranges and reds that have been hidden by abundant chlorophyll.
Not everything in my world of Nature is rolling up the carpets for the winter. I can't tell you how many of these ant hills we have around our property, but I can tell you that they are still very active, as you can see in the video below. I could spend hours watching this activity and trying to make some sense of it. How tall does the hill need to be for it to be done? Are any of the sticks food? If not, who is focusing on the food part of the equation? I have written before about the beaver family that occupies the lake at the bottom of our property. When the beavers moved in, they applied their superior engineering skills and very effectively dammed the creek and raised the water level. While this is a boon for the wetland ecosystem around the lake, it had the undesirable consequence of dramatically reducing water flow to several of our neighbors, some of whom rely on the water for their cattle. The battle of the brains began, man versus rodent. How to restore some water flow without impacting the beaver, and in a way that the beavers would ignore? Initially, every solution the team created was thwarted by the beaver; ditches were filled in overnight, pipes with holes were plugged with mud, strategically placed boards were removed and added to the dam. It was equal parts funny and frustrating. At this point, it seems the latest man-made engineering feat has worked, but only time will tell. On my last visit to the dam, I observed that the beaver has begun constructing a secondary dam, 15 feet below the original dam. It has not stopped the water flowing into the creek, but I am not sure the critters are done yet! Watch this space!
If you look hard enough, you can also find some plants with blooms.
I try to ignore for the moment that the daisies and knapweed are considered invasive here. If I get too focused on them, this walk would turn into a weed-pulling exercise rather than the diversion it is meant to be!
Update: it has been a couple of days since I started this post, and I am glad to report that, physically, I am back to myself. I do think it was the vaccine; no regrets about taking it, but it just reminds me that I do not make a good patient! Mentally, I am still working on my attitude. The forecasted rain for last night and today has not materialized; the skies are gray and the smoke lingers. Logically, I know I should count my blessings and find myself a rich woman. Thinking that music often helps bring me around, I went looking for "autumn" songs, and came across "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire. I hope this post finds you well, but if you need a little pick-me-up, maybe this will lift your spirits and send your toes tapping!
Labor Day in the U.S. conjures memories of warm sunshine and family barbecues, the last hurrah before summer ends. Labor Day 2020 in Northwest Montana brought high winds, small hail and a night-time frost. And just like that, our already abbreviated growing season came to an abrupt halt for much of my garden. As it is impractical to cover an entire landscape as protection from frost, I woke Tuesday morning and approached the garden with one eye open, expecting widespread damage. Of course, I have been known to imagine the worst, so maybe I should not have been surprised to discover that more than half of the plants were unaffected. I believe this is another benefit of native species, especially those in Montana. Like our hardy residents, they don't shrink and wither the first time the temperature gauge dips below 32!
But even so, I got Mother Nature's message, and decided I should show you my garden before it truly goes to sleep for the winter. Join me for a prance through my prairie!
I discovered Rocky Mountain Bee Plant last year, growing naturally. Seeds I sowed in the fall sprouted, and the most successful plant loomed to five feet before the frost brought it down. Aptly named, it is a magnet for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds; you could hear the incessant drone of buzzing from quite a distance. Overnight, the pollinators have vanished from this plant. I have already collected seed pods, and will continue to do so as more mature - I can't count on this plant to return since Bee Plant is an annual. I look forward to continuing my experimentation with this gorgeous member of the caper family.
By mid-August, my driveway baskets were past their prime, so I augmented them with Lamium, Anemone, and Angelface Summer Snapdragon. Despite covering them the night of the frost, the most delicate plants succumbed. Sigh. On the porch, the cold devastated the black susan vines that looked so pretty twining around the railings. I don't plan to use them again, since their connection to the railing prevents me from moving them in the case of hail (or frost)!
Aster showed no impact from the frost, and since it is a late bloomer providing welcome splashes of color in the garden right now, I am pleased. My aster plants (I think the initial landscaping plan had four or five) have spawned innumerable volunteers, and it appears to be a favorite of the deer since many of the seedlings are nibbled before they produce flowers. I am still occasionally surprised where I find the plants - the seeds are so small, I can only attribute it to the vagaries of the wind. When I locate one in a particularly desirable location of the garden, I make sure to protect it!
Speaking of welcome surprises, I have been thrilled to find paintbrush volunteers in at least five places. Why is this significant? Paintbrush is a hemiparasitic plant - it seeks out roots of host plants, usually grasses, and taps into them for nutrition. So, I had concluded that it was just unlikely that my mama paintbrush would reproduce! As it turns out, the volunteers are growing close to or underneath other plants, but none of them are grasses. It has emboldened me to attempt planting some seeds this fall! (and the frost did not affect them- yay!)
I was also delighted to discover a coneflower with magenta florets within the boundaries of my "formal" garden. It first appeared last summer in the prairie, and clearly some seeds found their way into the flower beds. Its stalks and leaves are remarkably similar to those of the prairie coneflower, so I had mistakenly labeled them as such, until they bloomed. I have studied my plant books, and perused the web, but I have been unable to make a formal identification. Can anyone help? Until then, I am mentally referring to them as magenta coneflower. Update: thanks to MB of Small City Scenes and Pat of Mille Fiori Favoriti for helping me identify this as Mexican Hat/Upright Prairie Coneflower. (In general, the coneflowers are more droopy following the frost.)
Several other plants have also performed well with self-propagation, including the goldenrod. I was amazed to locate one among the gilia and blanketflower. I have also learned that it is easy to confuse goldenrod and fireweed, especially when they are small. Goldenrod tends to have one stem; fireweed is likely to have multiple branches as it grows. What they have in common is that the deer love them! (Fireweed is an important colonizer of burned areas. It spreads rapidly by seeds and buried rhizomes. When bombs levelled parts of London in WWII, fireweed appeared in the heart of the city for the first time in generations.) The goldenrod and fireweed were unfazed by the cold.
As the summer has progressed, I have also marked many spots containing what I believe to be volunteer bee balm. If I am correct, I will be quite happy since it has been hard for me to harvest seed from this plant - as soon as it is done blooming, the whole plant turns brown, and I have been unable to identify anything that looks like a seed!
As many of you know, bee balm is another plant that draws pollinators in droves. Below is a video of butterflies on and around the plant.
As long as we are looking at videos, check out the hummingbird with the scarlet gilia. For weeks, this female hummer was guarding this section of the garden by sitting on the chicken wire in between feedings. (The gilia showed no reaction to the initial cold snap.) You may have noticed the blanketflower that is mixed in with the gilia. This plant has a special corner of my heart - it seems to bloom continuously with that eye-catching yellow/orange combination. Also, it was unaffected by the frost, its seeds are easy to collect, and I had great results with the seeds that I sowed in the spring. A keeper!!!
Let's pause for a moment and talk about critters. Deer continue to be a nuisance. Other than chicken wire/fencing, all of my methods for deterrence have had very limited success (including the deer repeller I wrote about on 9/8/2019). As the garden self-propagates, it is more and more impractical to protect individual plants. I have had some success with placing chicken wire around large sections, such as the gilia and blanket flower you have seen in some of the pictures above. I think my next plan is to move those large chicken wire enclosures from year to year, allowing a new section to get well-established. We can only try, right?
On July 23, I found aphids on the Norway Maple. I consulted with the experts at Montana State University, and they recommended washing them off with insecticidal soap. Realizing that I can't reach all the leaves, my contact reassured me that all trees have some aphids, and that there are lady beetles, lacewings and parasitoid wasps that will come in to control the aphids. I am inclined to take their advice since I have seen a complete recovery for my sand cherries since I pruned them per their guidance (see below). August 9, I chased a bunny from the front flower bed, and I have not seen it since. And, as usual, the ground squirrels went into hibernation in the middle of August. One less thing to worry about!
Admired for its silvery gray, fragrant foliage as much as its lavender-purple flowers, Russian sage make a bold statement in a garden. The abundant, spiky clusters of flowers only started blooming in mid-August, so I was a little chagrined to see that some spike tips were affected by the frost. Also, the wind has weakened some of the branches and spoiled the normally symmetrical look. Nevertheless, all three of my plants are spectacular, and I love the show. They have also produced a number of volunteers, and I have learned NOT to water them - Russian sage likes very dry conditions.
Another implication of a short growing season is a lack of time for a second bloom. For both Catmint and Salvia, it is suggested that shearing/deadheading can produce a second bloom. I have been watching the Catmint carefully, and as recently as a week ago, it still had blooms frequented by bees, which makes me hesitate to shear it. At this point in the season, it would be fruitless to try for a second bloom. In fact, with some plants, you should stop deadheading to allow the plant to focus its resources on preparing for winter. I deadheaded the Salvia at the beginning of August and one plant out of three has produced a few new blooms. I think next year I will try trimming it lower on the stalks and supplementing with some additional water. (Neither the catmint or the salvia were harmed by the frost.)
I have been very pleased with the performance of the Black-eyed Susan plants, and it is a direct result of guarding. I ran my own experiment, and most of the Susans that were not protected were nibbled, especially the flower buds!
Susans are also prolific in the prairie, as a result of the seed mix we planted in the fall of 2018. It is hard to capture in a photo, but you can see a few of them below, among the naturally-occurring yarrow. (The tallest Susans were hard hit by the frost. I was able to protect some of the shorter ones with a few strategically placed buckets. These pictures were all taken before the cold snap.)
As I walk around the prairie, I keep my eyes peeled for other treasures. I am pretty sure the daisy* and larkspur were in the seed mix, but the harebell is so plentiful in the woods around here that I am sure these seeds were already present. And the Oceanspray is a shrub that has clearly been here for quite a few years. It is the only one that I have seen on our 15 acres! *oxeye daisies are considered invasive in Montana, so I pull them up when I see them
I have been doing some reading about prairies, generating some ideas that are part of my garden planning for next season. But this post is already long enough, so I will start to draw to a close with some photos of the Coreopsis that has exploded on the southeast side of the house.
The soft tissues of the Coreopsis were blackened by the frost, but some of it close to the ground is still alive. Even before the cold snap, the plants had produced drifts of seeds visible on the stone steps. Birds, especially pine siskins, perched delicately on the stems to pick out the miniscule morsels, and flew off in a pack when you opened the mud room door. I suspect I will be plucking hundreds of volunteers next spring! Before then, these beds will be subject to significant thinning/transplanting; some of these plants may find new homes in the rock garden at the front of the driveway. By far, that bed has been my biggest disappointment this summer, but you know me -- I have MAJOR plans and HOPE springs eternal!
Dedicating my prayers today to all those suffering the impact of wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding.