Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It Wasn't a Ghost

Tuesday June 28 2016

He was the best cat ever. Kitten. He never got a chance to grow up. Just one of the cats on the ranch I didn't intend to get attached to. I think Sinatra was actually more than a cat, like an avatar from/to another world, but that's another story.

One day he was gone. Disappeared. Likely a coyote or owl or dog got him.

I was devastated. Wasn't even my cat.

I ran around everywhere calling for him, walked the creeks, calling, calling, day time and night time, searching, calling him, "Sinatra, Sinatra," calling, yelling, pleading, whimpering, crying. 

A few days after he disappeared, I saw a white cat in the garden. I ran out there. Sinatra wasn't there. Nobody was there. But I saw him. Or his ghost. I know it was him. 

The weeks, months, years went by. I can still cry over that cat. When I grab and snuggle with Audrey the Wispy Terrorist - one of Sinatra's only remaining group of 4 kittens, I always remember Sinatra, and know he's a little part of her, and she always gets an extra squeeze because of that.

Then a month ago, Connie said she caught a glimpse of a cream colored cat in a neighbor's empty barn. The neighbor does not have a cat. Connie didn't get a chance to see if the cat had blue eyes or not. Sinatra!?!?

I went there the next evening with a can of wet yummy cat food. I saw no cat. I left the food. It was still there the next day when I returned with another one. Still no sign of a white cat. 

The vision, memories, slim, resurrected hope of Sinatra faded to the background.

Last night, I saw a white cat. This was no ghost. It was a white cat. Running across Dudley's paddock at dark. I froze in my tracks. Called, "Sinatra!?!?" The cat stopped. Stared at me ten seconds. Twenty seconds. "Here kitty kitty! Good kitty. Sinatra!?!?" The cat ran on to the creek. Too far away, too dark for me to see anything other than it was not a ghost and it was a white cat.

I ran to get some dry cat food, put it in a noisy dish, shook the dish, calling Here Kitty Kitty, Here Sinatra, taking it to the barn, which our ranch cats no longer frequent. I put the food up by the window, called out the window and shook the dish, "Here kitty kitty. Here Sinatra. Come get some food."

Nobody around here has white cats anymore. Who would have driven all the way out here to dump a white cat? Nobody. It's too far from anywhere. How could Sinatra have survived all alone for 4 years and never attempt human contact, when he was such a love? (It also could be his other white litter mate Nancy, who disappeared first.)

This white cat last night was not a ghost. 

I would give anything if I could pick Sinatra up and squeeze him again, and I would never, never let him go.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Little Squeaky Toys

Sunday June 26 2016

It's hard to believe (once again) I never found the screech owl nest along the creek, particularly since it fledged four babies this year.

In the evenings, they start squeaking and tooting away (they totally sound like dog squeaky toys), and I step outside and creep closer, and peer through the trees and spot one or two or three or four of them, and we stare at each other, bobbing our heads at each to get a better focus, and talk and toot to each other.

They sure don't sound like what you might think an owl sounds like!
A little down this page:
you'll find some screech owl calls (the adults sound like ping pong balls). The babies in my trees sound like the one labeled "Agitated bark and bill clap".

I actually saw one fly into the glass door one evening (!!!!) and was afraid/hoping I might have to rescue him. I've saved a few birds who have flown into the glass door or windows, though some hit too hard and were too far gone. He sort of ended up on the porch rail, and after he sat there a bit, he flew up into a tree. I walked after to watch him, and he just kept bobbing his head and looking at me.

I like to think of them as my own little live squeaky toys, glad they allow me in their presence as they are growing up.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Oreana–Where the Deer and Antelope Play

Friday June 17 2016

Coming to the high desert country of Owyhee County to visit fellow horseback riders, the author decided to make Oreana her home.

I've lived in really big cities, smaller cities, little towns, in the boonies, on the road, and you could even say a tent for a while. It's easy for me to shed one persona and slip into the other, rather inconspicuously and fluidly. I'm comfortable in all of them. But I do have to say that living in less than a town, out in the boonies, with horses of course, is pretty darn nice. 

I always say I live in Owyhee, which is the SW county of Idaho, but the 'town' I'm associated with is barely a blip on the map, and I live outside that town anyway. But it's home. I did a feature profile on Oreana in the June issue of Idaho Magazine. It starts out:

“Oreana—Population 8, Maybe 9.” That hand-painted sign tacked to a telephone pole greeted me as I drove down the hill into the little community of Oreana for the first time in 2005. I’d come to this fairly isolated corner of Owyhee County in southwestern Idaho to visit some endurance horse-riding friends for a week. I stayed on for a month. It took that short a time for the high desert sagebrush country to get under my skin, because two years later, I was back to stay…

And I must say that not all editors are so easy to work with, but I really enjoy writing for and working with Steve, the editor of Idaho magazine. 

You can read the rest of the excerpt here (and the whole article is available for purchase or subscription): 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

City of Rocks: Dudley's Pillow Fight

Wednesday June 15 2016

Some races people compete in endurance for the first place prizes. At the 3-day City of Rocks endurance ride, it was all about the Turtle pillows, for the last place finishers in each ride, made and donated by Tonya Stroud.

Connie and I planned to ride drag on Day 2's 50 miler, guaranteeing at least one of us a Turtle pillow. We'd be riding the two big (um… plump) black horses, Finneas (grandson of the Black Stallion) and Dudley (Belesemo Dude), pulling ribbons at Castle Rocks State park. Doing so would save us a day's worth of work on the after-ride cleanup/trail hiking/unmarking. Besides, Dudley is not the fastest horse in the barn, and Finneas does not need to be the fastest horse in the barn, so the two pasture buddies could do a more leisurely 50 mile ride while clocking in some work hours.

So on Day 2, the four of us started well after all the 50's, giving one gal, whom we knew would be riding her green horse slower, a good head start.

We even let the racing mules on the LD get out ahead of us before we hit the trail in earnest (mostly at a walk, then connie forgot her goggles and we had to go back, then Finneas was naughty so Connie got off to walk a while, etc), burning up the trail. Not.

Our trail took us on a loop through City of Rocks National Reserve, before heading down a dirt road to Castle Rocks State park. There we'd do a loop through the park once, stop for a vet check, then do the loop a second time (pulling ribbons) before retracing our trail through the Reserve back to camp and the finish.

We thought we'd so cleverly timed our departure and pace, thinking, once we climbed the park road, that we could finally pick up a bit of speed, when, only 5 or so miles out of camp, we came across Kathy of the Twisted Sisters on the 50 mile ride. Robert the vet was holding her horse while she replaced a shoe the gelding had thrown.

Dang! That threw a little monkey wrench in our plans. Now we'd have to either wait for Kathy here, or at the vet check some 20 miles hence. We did a little of both: we slowed our pace back to a walk (we had a long downhill stretch for a while anyway), then after some trotting along nice single track and two-track trails, we took our time at a water stop at Circle Creek overview. 

We happened to encounter a rattlesnake here - keep this incident in mind for later. But no sign of Kathy yet. Hmmm. We did a bunch more walking until we hit the road to Castle Rocks… still no sign of Kathy behind us. Hmmm. We walked and trotted the 6 miles of dirt road, always looking back, and pretty sure we still hadn't seen a speck of Kathy anywhere behind us. Hmmm. Should we zoom on to Castle Rocks, or should we putz some more? Dudley was mighty spooky on parts of this road, even when he was following Finneas. *I* couldn't see any horse-eating things, but he sure thought he could.

When we finally arrived at Castle Rocks and passed through where the vet check was, we got word that Kathy had just called the ride manager and said she had pulled and was walking home because her horse had thrown another shoe. What!? That put us way behind as turtles on the 50. (And, we found out later, Kathy had encounters with not only the 1 rattlesnake we saw, but 3 more, almost stepping on one, that just put her over the edge because she's terrified of rattlesnakes.)

No worries, we'd pick up the pace in the park. However, that's when, during the climb to near 7000 feet, it got hot and breeze-less and Finneas needed a break (which Dudley used to eat, because he always needs eating breaks). Connie got off to walk much of the uphill. Downhill from the high point was a beautiful meadow redolent with flowers and more grass (good for eating) which we led the boys down.
I photobombed Dudley! He is not impressed

We were the last last last two into the vet check. My vet bag had already gone back to camp without me, but Finneas was happy to share his extra food with starving Dudley. 

We stuffed our pockets with food, and, with bags to collect ribbons, we headed out on the repeat loop of Castle Rocks, pulling the ribbons as we went along. On the places where we could trot, we tried to leap-frog each other, pulling every next ribbon, but any time I moved Dudley in front of Finneas, ohmigod, The Dude turned into a smart-ass spooky-balky-butt worse-than-a-green-2-year-old explosive bomb. 

Dudley was absolutely positive there was some killer horse-eating something in the bushes on both sides of him. At least he wouldn't spook too far to either side, because one side was just as scary as the next, and the very center of the trail was safest. Not to mention Finneas got mad any time Dudley was ahead of him, because Finneas always has to WIN. So Connie and Finneas pulled every second ribbon, and Dudley and I stayed behind her and pulled the ones they left. It's fun trotting by and grabbing ribbons, not slowing down. This doesn't work if they are pinned to sticker-y bushes though!

The skies had clouded over and a little breeze came up, so we were pleasantly cool. The boys got to eat plenty of grass as we walked down the rocky meadow pulling the ribbons and stakes marking the path.

By the time we got back to the vet check spot, all was quiet and deserted but for the bucket of horse feed I'd stashed for the boys to snack on. 

Then with some 18 miles or so back to camp, and with some pretty fresh horses, we boogied back down the road to the Reserve, and retraced our trails in the park there. Here Dudley led approximately 1 mile. He was still spooky, but it was uphill, and since Dudley was huffing and puffing away, it was too hard to spook big. So take note we followed Connie and Finneas approximately 49 miles of the ride.

Time was ticking down. It was going to be very close making it back to camp by 6:30 PM. The last couple of miles in the park are on the single track Equestrian Trail winding through a pinyon and juniper forest. Finneas was flying along in the lead, when suddenly around the corner, I saw ahead of me a flash of white and Finneas whirling an instant 180 degrees to face me and Dudley. Connie managed to stay on, and, athletically and skillfilly, Finneas did not whirl into the barbed wire fence right next to him.

"Holy ***!" Connie yelled. "A big horn sheep!!!!!" We all watched the startled big horn male trot up the hill among the trees. We did not know there were big horn sheep in the park!

But The Dude knew. THAT must be what he'd been spooking from all day, knowing there was one big horn sheep in the whole of the park that was bound to jump out in front of us some day, somewhere. Either that or a moose (a mama and baby were seen by some riders last year in the park), or a cougar (days earlier, Gretchen and Mickie had ridden by the head of a fawn. Just the head. Meow!).

But we didn't have time to slow down, so we bombed on down the trail again, ever more alert for any more surprises, but the trail was clear, and we raced homeward. Crossing the finish line, at the last second Connie yanked Finneas back so Dudley's nose crossed first, thereby securing the coveted Turtle Pillow award (don't tell Finneas he didn't win!). But I got to wear Connie's flower headband from Walmart for the evening, so I reckon that was a pretty fair trade.

We had arrived in camp right at 6:30 on the dot. A good ride was had by us all, and The Dude had a good night's sleep.

*The footnote is that after Twisted Sister Kathy had a rough day 1, helping a fellow rider through a crash-and-concussion incident on the 50, then pulling on day 2's 50 after 2 lost shoes, a lost easy boot, and 4 unnerving rattlesnake encounters, she finished day 3 on the 25 on her horse and got a well-deserved Turtle Pillow!

You can enjoy more ride photos and stories of City of Rocks here at this link.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Foiled Again!

Thursday June 2 2016

It happened again, for about the 8th spring in a row: the resident screech owl pair had at least one baby, and I could not find the nest.

Every year it's like this: beginning of the year, in winter, I start hearing the male screech owl, tooting away for his mate. He's very vocal. You can hear some screech owl calls here. I can catch a glimpse of him in the cottonwood trees just before dark. Sometimes I'll even hear him during the day, in which case I can usually spot him.

The female rarely pipes up. In fact a couple of springs I thought, 'Oh, poor guy, he can't find a mate.' And then months later I'll hear a screech baby or two.

I know this pair nests within a 100 yard radius, likely in a hole in a cottonwood tree on one of the creeks. And I can never find the nest.

I heard the male occasionally this winter/spring, and heard the female only once or twice. I knew they were nesting again. Could not find the nest again.

And look who shows up 2 nights ago. 

This year's adult, staring at me, telling me the baby has fledged. It's nearby. I can hear it, but I can't see it. Where is he hiding his babies?

*and... last night - I heard 2 babies!