Drama at the Cat Sanctuary: Social Cats and a Fire

For once, a long me-me-me post that may interest someone outside my immediate family…November 14 and 15 were quite a weekend.

First, Heather, Queen of the Cat Sanctuary, negotiated a successful labor strike. I am not making this up. You can see, even from this image of a half-grown kitten nonverbally expressing “How could you take Ivy’s picture first,” that Heather is a cat you don’t meet every day.

Last spring Heather gave birth to five kittens. Two of them, Tickle and Elmo, remain at the Cat Sanctuary.

“They’re six months old now,” I said. “It’s time they moved on to permanent homes. I don’t want tomcat odor in the house.”

“Their permanent home is my permanent home,” said Heather, nonverbally, “and you will let them in the house, and you will feed them, or I’ll move out. I may have been born in a house but I can revert to being totally feral any time I want to. I can live on wild squirrels…there are enough of them in the woods this year!”

So for ten days, while I searched for her and thought she might have been killed or petnapped, Heather skulked in the woods, and Ivy was able to catch one of the recent gray squirrel irruption. The only evidence of Heather’s survival I could find was a steady decline in the squirrel overpopulation problem.

On November 14, Heather came home, waking me around 2 a.m. After watching to see that Tickle and Elmo were fed too, she ate another meal and agreed to be friends again. I didn’t get back to sleep that night.

After the cat family drama, November 15 started out to be a bland, even boring, sunny autumn day. I put the trash in the wood stove as I usually do. I usually burn just one piece of wood with one bag of trash. I saved truckloads of scrap wood from construction jobs in 1993 and in 2006, and have almost half the total volume of wood left, today. On November 15 the trash (mostly used tissue) was on the damp side so I put in a larger scrap of wood than usual, a piece of a 2×4 instead of the usual skinny slat. I did not anticipate a need to watch the fire. I expected that about half of the trash bag and half of the wood would be in the stove, cold, in the morning.

If I’d stayed in the older part of the house (it has three distinct sections, old, new, and in between) I would have noticed that something different happened with that little trash fire. What happened was a chimney fire. If you keep your chimney nice and clean, chimney fires burn out harmlessly. If you let soot and creosote build up, the fire in the chimney can be hot enough to ignite wood or paper near the chimney…especially if the wall near the chimney is insulated with the pre-asbestos kind of petrochemical stuff that burns faster than paper.

On November 15 I learned that this can also happen if you inadvertently burn a scrap of wood that was once, long ago, treated with creosote. That wood burned bright and hot, drying and consuming the damp tissue, blazing straight up into the chimney.

All these years I’d never even wondered what the walls in the older part of the house were insulated with. Only when I smelled smoke, ran into the kitchen, and saw flames flickering inside the wall, did I find out…it was the bad stuff all right, and the fumes when that stuff burns are horrible.

When I was growing up in the house where I now live, everybody knew that the fire engines couldn’t pump or haul enough water to spray on a house that was not on a town water system; the county fire department wouldn’t do anything. You fought your own fire, and your neighbors’ if you didn’t want their fires to spread to your property, or you just stood about watching your house burn to the ground. I stayed in a house across the creek, and watched a poor old lady watch her home burn, when I was six years old. I helped save our house, and contain the fire after a neighbor’s house was lost, as a teenager. Even my depressive sister has some fire-fighting experience.

So I knew not to panic. The air was damp, the wood was not very dry, so despite the blaze from the insulation the fire didn’t spread fast. I had time to run in and out sloshing bottles of water on the flames, but the insulation kept blazing up again, and also I found out that I’m not tall enough to climb up on the roof from the ladder that was available. About that time a neighbor passed by. I asked him to try climbing up on the roof. He’s taller than I am, but fatter, and didn’t get onto the roof either. The fire was getting ahead of us. Well, why not call the fire department, I had said. On a lazy Sunday afternoon one of them might be willing to take a bottle of water up on to the roof.

About that time the county fire engine rolled up, and to my surprise the county fire department did take over fighting the fire. That is why the house is basically intact today. Inside, there’s a big hole in the wall between the two oldest rooms, a small hole in the ceiling, some damage to the chimney, some damage to the stove, and some further damage to the wiring I hadn’t dared to use since the 2011 cyclone anyway. The house still has an intact floor that will support seven large men, an intact roof that will support one of them, and mostly intact but unconnected electrical wiring. The neighbor and I might have put the fire out without professional help, but the damage would certainly have been worse.

I had planned to go into town and post that long reflection on sustainable organic gardening on November 15. I had wanted to stay home and enjoy the relatively warm, sunny afternoon. I had actually prayed about the matter and felt led to stay…at least a little later…when the fire started. So when it was over I was actually saying, “Thank you, God.”

Well, by then, it was time to call the cats to dinner…and where was Heather? I think she seriously considered going back to the woods. The other cats had missed her, too, and we all spent a lot of time roaming around in the woods, calling Heather. Then Heather took some time making up her mind whether she could stand the smell in the house. In the end, though, I think she took pity on us.

The sun was down; the temperature went down. I had considered myself over bronchitis, finally, on November 14. Deep breaths of chemical fumes followed by deep breaths of cold air brought the bronchitis back worse than ever.

On the whole, though, I think the Cat Sanctuary was better off than November 16 than on November 13. It may be a while before anybody can either cook or burn trash in the kitchen…but at least we do have Heather.

Saturday Post: Joy in Adversity?

This reaction to https://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/all-the-joy-you-need/ needs to be a separate blog post…so here it is. This is personal, so I’m scheduling it to pop up on a Saturday, when I won’t be online, and not using a graphic, since I’m not planning to “plus” it.

Between 1983 and 2005, with time out for major illness in 1986–which means since age 17–I was independent, successful, and very active with all sorts of odd jobs that informed and supported my writing. Then in 2005 I became a rich man’s penniless widow and nothing has worked for me since. I still work (at other things as well as writing) the same as I always did. People still seem to appreciate what I do…until the time comes to pay for it. Then instead of getting any reward for what I do I get responses that add up to “You don’t need to be rich (although I, the non-payer, do) and if you do need, maybe, food or heat, why don’t you just beg for handouts like other non-wealthy people do.”

It’s been profoundly discouraging.

I don’t mean “depressing”–I find it discouraging, also, that people confuse the two. Actually, with exceptions that last a few hours before some sort of physical illness (usually a gluten reaction) makes itself noticeable, I have a cheerful, fact-focussed disposition.

I’m not inclined to beg for handouts. As I’ve said, in fiction and on my Blogspot: widows have no “needs”–we’re alive because someone else needs our help. If other people are too stubborn and stupid and arrogant to admit their needs, or repay what I do for them, that’s not my problem.

I’m not inclined to give anything away without some form of repayment, though, either. I don’t think that’s good for anybody, nor is it what the Bible teaches. Every normal person wants to read to blind people, send provisions to disaster victims, and make children’s eyes light up–which is fine–but even children need to learn to think in terms of giving something back to those who give things to them.

I’ve not been eating regularly in recent years. It’s getting harder (due to genetically modified food products) to find anything I can eat. Yet another e-publisher is trying to rip me off, and once again I’m not making enough money to pay for anything I can eat if I can find it. At the Blogspot I declared a hunger strike, so of course some local lurker wanted to buy me lunch…one day. Fine. That’s the condition of the strike. I’ll eat on any day when I’ve received US$100.

It’s hard to explain…Losing a chance to get paid to write about the Bible did hurt my feelings. The prospect of literally starving (or freezing), in the beautiful home I inherited, rather than becoming another parasite on the Welfare State, does not hurt my feelings at all.

I believe in remembering people’s lives by carrying on what they did. My home became a Cat Sanctuary in memory of a cat who tamed wild animals and fostered kittens. Whatever I’ve done or written in aid of homeschooling (I don’t even have children), veterans (I’m not one), or people with major disabilities (I’m not one of them either, even if the U.S. Army counts gluten intolerance as a major inconvenience), has been in memory of other people I’ve loved. Well, what I want people to do, in support or in memory of me, whichever, is to stop worrying about the handouts to the full-time professional “needers” in these United States, and focus on making sure that people who’ve actually done something worthwhile get some substantial compensation for what they’ve done. Put “need” out of your mind. Think about the value of their contributions, and pay for those.

Writing is a source of pleasure for me. So is being at the Cat Sanctuary. So is the memory of the people who’ve gone on before me, and the prospect of being with them again. We’re all born into this world with an oxygen addiction, and I’ve known many people who’ve not achieved emotional detachment from the question of how long they’ll go on breathing even after age ninety. A lot of things have to go wrong for anyone to be discouraged enough to feel detached about that at fifty. Well…I’m a widow, and a lot of other things have gone wrong. Maybe at any age it’s not so much about chronological age as it is about the relative numbers of people you’ve cared about who are living, dead, or near death. (Last summer, while I’ve been writing my little heart out, two other members of the Blogspot–both of whom have lived splendidly with trivial disabilities for years–have developed real disabilities.)

The dinner I ate before writing this tasted good. If I were going to eat dinner today, I expect that would also taste good. Whether I do eat another meal in this lifetime, or not, is not a high-priority question for me. I have no “need” for food. I want no “help” to eat. I would feel encouraged if people wanted to start compensating me for what I do, but that’s their problem. For me living means giving and taking, using my talents and being rewarded for what I do. Parasitism isn’t living. I don’t think it’s part of what my Christian tradition calls God’s “perfect” will if my time for living is over, but if it’s part of God’s “conditional” will, well, then it is.

I’d call the state of mind I’ve reached detachment. It certainly has little in common with the intense emotion that C.S. Lewis taught (Highly Sensory-Perceptive) Christians to call Joy. (Non-HSP’s don’t understand this kind of Joy because they unfortunately don’t have the neurological circuits to feel it…sort of like being color-blind, I suppose…they seem to get through life all right in their way.) But I’ve been reading The Cloud of Unknowing, finally, and recognizing that this detachment together with determination does have something in common with Joy.

Maybe some readers, if anybody has the fortitude to read this far, remember “The Ballad of the Harp Weaver.” For those who don’t, it’s a dreadful, sentimental piece of verse fiction in which a poor widow miraculously receives material to weave clothes for her little child, and during one cold night she weaves all kinds of things, specifically including things that aren’t woven in real life, singing joyously. “Her voice never faltered, and her thread never broke,” and in the morning they find “her hands in the harp strings, frozen dead. And piled all around me, and toppling to the skies, were the clothes of a king’s son, just my size.” On the literal level, as fiction, it disgusts me; on a symbolic level, as a metaphor for using her talent, it delights me. Nothing else feels quite as good as doing the work you were meant to do. If you die doing what you were meant to do, where you were meant to do it, you’re better off than most people. If singing and weaving are your talents, and your voice never falters and your thread never breaks, that’s Joy.

Most of the people who warble and witter so annoyingly about “being happy in the Lord when they fall into adversity” are clueless twits who know nothing about either adversity or the Lord. That’s why they’re so annoying. They’re overfed, overprivileged, mind-bogglingly ignorant, mostly half-grown idiots whose idea of adversity is a bad hair day–a flat tire–they’ve never even had to drive a car that’s likely to have problems more serious than a flat tire. They’ve never been hungry; they’ve never worked hard; they’ve never even been seriously ill. They don’t know what their talents are, and may not have any. Christians are told that on the Judgment Day many who say “Lord, Lord!” will be told that our Lord “never knew them,” and it’s hard to imagine that most of the people who carry on about their “joy in the midst of adversity” are in that group.

It’s also been hard for me to overlook the fact that, with just one exception (a cancer survivor who tried to believe what she’d been told), the people I’ve known who really have overcome real hardships have not been Positive Thinkers. They have not wittered annoyingly about how happy they were. In fact some of them have at least earned reputations for being positively grouchy. Ask them how they were doing, they might growl, “Don’t ask me that unless you want to know!”–because the fact is that some of the physical disabilities with which some of them were living hurt like bloody blue blazes. But they lived with Joy, too, and during the time I spent with them I was aware of feeling Joy.

I’m certainly not happy about the idea of being unable to earn my living while my hair’s not even really what you’d call grey. When I started to imagine the possibility that I might live beyond age forty, which as a young undiagnosed celiac I couldn’t imagine, I wanted to have adopted children by now. Before age forty I had already made more positive contributions to this world than just staying off welfare. If that’s the only pathetic, negative contribution I can make now, the world is in a sorry state indeed…and that does not inspire me to think any “spiritual” thoughts or do any “spiritual” things, I might add. But what I feel is the kind of detachment and determination that may well be as close as some people ever get to feeling Joy.

Is it possible to love a God who can’t provide better opportunities than this for me? I don’t know; I’m not, frankly, bothering much about that question. I know it’s possible to be true to myself and the people I’ve loved, whom I have seen, and in whom I definitely do believe.

Is it “spiritual” to prefer to die in a state of integrity, if necessary, rather than keep on sucking oxygen and give up what you believe is right? I don’t know, and don’t want to bother my head much about that either. I know the reason why historians have been unable to identify the real-life original of “John Henry” is that not one, but several, nineteenth-century working men risked their lives on bets that they could outwork new machines (and some of them lived to collect the money); none of them seems to have been especially “spiritual” about it. I know there are old Irish legends about Pagan people who won various contests of brute strength, and died, apparently more pleased with their success than regretting that they hadn’t settled for less. I know there’ve been race horses who didn’t have to be urged on to finish races on broken legs; horses like Black Gold or Barbaro wanted to lead the pack more than they wanted to avoid pain–who knows whether a horse understands that a broken leg means death for him, but these horses made the choices they made. Since unbelieving people and even other animals seem to be capable of this choice, I’m not at all sure that the author of The Cloud of Unknowing was right about detachment from the felt “need” for physical life being a great spiritual advance that God wants Christians to make.

I can tell you that this detachment is at least as different from “depression,” or despair, or grief, or sorrow, or self-pity, as it is from happiness or pleasure. If it’s different, also, from cheerfulness, contentment, or Joy, it’s closer to those things than it is to the more painful moods humans feel.

How “real” is God? How “real” is Heaven? I don’t know. I’d prefer not to find out for another thirty or forty years. I’d prefer to go on living–I mean, really living–making my own choices, using my own talents, doing good things for other people and receiving good things in exchange for what I do. I’m not willing to go on sucking-oxygen-but-not-really-living as a beggar, a thief, a prostitute, a traitor…or an able-bodied welfare cheat, which is a sort of miserable amalgam of all four of those other things, and really does not “need” to be allowed even the oxygen, much less the handouts of anything less widely available than oxygen.

If there is a God as described in the Bible, whatever that means, or a Heaven, whatever that means, then either other people will start paying me real wages for what I do within the next week or two, or else I’ll soon be spending my time in the company of those who did appreciate what I did for them and reward it in whatever ways they were able to do. I will not be cheated or exploited again. If you want to call this a spiritual gift from God, I don’t know that you’d be right, but you’d be closer to the truth than any fool who might mistake it for suicidal despair.

Jobs, Health, Miscellaneous Wailing

Grandma Bonnie Peters, my partner in Webstuff, has pneumonia. Like most healthy seniors she’s had the most difficulty realizing that she’s ill–alternately exaggerating symptoms when she admits she’s having them, and ignoring risks until the symptoms do get scary. For a singer who’s been invited to lead a section in another church’s choir because she does such an inspiring job in her own, “no singing and no church” has been a blow. GBP likes Seventh-Day Adventists, likes Presbyterians, and really misses church.

Then there’s not being able to walk a mile or two a day with her best same-age buddy, whose memory is generally pretty good, but who did forget, on Monday, why GBP had asked her not to come over to check on GBP and invite her out for a walk. I looked up from the computer, saw (with my astigmatism) a stooped little person with white hair in the door, thought “When did GBP get up?”, and then focussed clearly enough to notice…short white hair? GBP’s hair is still long enough to pin up…Of course, this friend has keys to this house and GBP has keys to hers. Go away, please, don’t let us breathe on you, I thought. The friend had come to report that yet another healthy senior neighbor had been hospitalized with MRSA. Apparently that news had shaken the idea that she should avoid GBP and me out of her mind, but at least she had remembered not to walk to the hospital and visit him.

From time to time I have to remind myself and others that I’m not twenty-five any more…actually, the feeling of energy being drained, by the virus and by concern about GBP, is similar to the way I normally felt when I was twenty-five and was draining my own energy by eating wheat products. Plus, at twenty-five, I planned on being too anemic to do physical work or be around sick people for approximately forty days out of the year, as so many young women do. So I felt this bad most of the time, and often felt worse, when I was twenty-five.

For active, healthy women, midlife is very liberating. Within limits. I see GBP and her friend positively seething with frustration that they, or anyone they know who’s not an invalid, need to think seriously about a mere staph infection.

Last week I never came down with any obvious symptoms, but a summary of what people are saying about baby strollers took as much time and effort as I’d planned to spend recopying and polishing fifty pieces of Bad Poetry, or might have spent, some other week, cranking out six similar product reviews, plus book reviews, an editorial rant, a phenology post, and Link Logs. Everything felt like “Eight Mile Road.” This is the way I usually experience life when virus infections are going around.

Can anything be learned from this wail? Yes, of course. I’m not always a fast worker–in fact, when I have to think about a task, I’m slow–but I am an energetic, focussed, borderline workaholic, and here I am, looking exactly like a lazy person. The difference is not always easy to see. Even when it’s possible to see a consistent difference, over time, between lazy and industrious people, laziness may originate in some kind of minor illness or disability. Even if the person has learned lazy habits or failed to develop efficient ones, or even lost the ability to do a job, those things are likely to be complications from a physical illness or disability. So we should be charitable about people we perceive as lazy, if not necessarily tolerant of lazy habits on a job.

Image released into the public domain by WackoJacko at Wikipedia:

Five Things I Wouldn’t Want to Do Without

Topic credit: @rusty2rusty at https://blogjob.com/rusty2rustyschatter/2015/09/29/five-things-i-cant-live-without/ .

In order to make this challenge interesting we have to leave out the basic survival needs of food, water, air, shelter, and companionship, and write about five other things we, individually, wouldn’t want to try living without. (“Hot water” is not the same as “water.”) That way everyone who takes this challenge has a different list. Here’s mine, for today–another day I might think of different things.

1. The resident cats at the Cat Sanctuary. They’re my friends, not on the same level that human friends are, but on a level that’s more necessary to my day-to-day life. Writers don’t really need people to talk to–what we instinctively want to do is write, not talk–and, although the cats and I can and do “converse” about some things, we belong to different species and don’t really have much in common. In human-to-cat communication you’ve had a tremendous success, which some (of both species) don’t even want to believe is possible, if you can reliably “say” and “hear” messages like “I think what you’re doing is dangerous.” But the resident cats are more valuable friends than other humans who merely talk about what they and I think and feel with our convoluted human brains. The cats don’t talk or think or feel that way at all, but they do keep mice from nibbling our home down to the ground.

2. The mountains around the Cat Sanctuary. I did too much travelling at too early an age. The effect of being told that too many different places “would be my new home” was not to teach me that all places are beautiful. It was to teach me that all other places are Not-Home, and although Not-Home can be interesting it’s never quite as nice as Home.

(Home is a place, not a person. Thank God. People don’t live as long as the earth and the mountains. My home is a place that recalls memories of people I’ve loved, but it’s fortunate for me that my home is primarily a place where I do things I love doing, because so many of those people I’ve loved are no longer alive.)

3. Writing. Writers don’t really stop putting words together, at least not when we’re awake. We think in words. We dream in words. We’re likely to feel that pictures, gestures, touches and other physical demonstrations are clumsy efforts to say things that Real Human Beings Like Us would say in words. We have to push ourselves to remember that our words need to mean things.

4. Cash. Writers are squeamish about mentioning this one. We like to imagine that, because the things we most enjoy aren’t usually products with specific price tags, we don’t need money to enjoy Finer Things like music, flowers, and good conversation. That’s all very well, and certainly people who dedicate their whole lives to piling up vast hoards of money, and neglect the Finer Things, are boring or insane or both. Nevertheless, if we don’t have any money, there won’t be much music, many flowers, or much good conversation in our lives either. If you want to debate about this, that suits me just fine. Send me all your money, live on roots and berries for six months, and then tell me what you think.

5. Freedom. Self-determination. Whenever I’ve said this, other U.S. baby-boomers who know me personally have thought it was an odd thing to say, because what I personally do with my freedom is not usually what was marketed to our generation as “liberation.” I harbor no grandiose dreams about doing anything for Humanity, although I enjoy helping my neighbor (the “near-be-er,” the person nearest to me at a given time) as much as anybody else does. I’m definitely not interested in drugs, polygamy, promiscuity, heavy metal music, or even flared-leg jeans. And I can take road trips or leave them alone, but preferably the latter. What I want the freedom to do is, in fact, to live a quiet, “conservative,” auntly life with a minimum of drama and upheavals. I find people who seek out “excitement” for its own sake deadly boring. But if other people crave more “excitement” than I want, good luck to them and let them have it–somewhere well out of my sight and hearing. The important thing is that people respect each other enough to leave each other alone.

Morguefile cat…Here, kitty, kitty…