Our sweet Leo has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. His estimated birthday was May 2004 as he came to us in July 2004 at our West Kendall apartment in Miami. It was the middle of the night and Chris and I were awoken by what sounded like a baby bird chirping. It chirped and chirped, annoying me enough to get out of bed and walk around to the back porch to see what was going on. I could never find anything but the next morning Chris woke me up because he had found the culprit—or rather, Samson had found the culprit! It was a scraggly kitten at the back sliding door, pawing and wanting in! Samson was aloof but kind of entertained by the fact this cat wanted in. Of course I went around and tried to pet it and we gave it some food and Chris and I decided that if it was still there when we got home from work that we would keep it.
Chris got home before I did and by then Leo had been given a rinse off in the sink and had found his way to the litter box! And that was it, he was part of the family! This two month old squeaker was young enough to still try to nurse on Samson! Which, Samson let him do! That was a good cat, too. I wish I could hug them both right now. And then they would meow for treats or try to barge their way into my lap for a nap. Yep, I would be ok with that happening.
Instead we are faced with an empty house of pets for the first time in nearly 18 years. We adopted Samson at the end of December in 2002, Leo came to us in 2004 and its been cat city around here ever since. But on Monday evening that ended.
Leo had been dealing with hyperthyroidism for several years. We had been giving him thyroid pills in his food during this time after he lost a bit of weight sometime after Forest was born. With that he had been mostly thriving with some periods of old age setting in but he was in it for the long haul. Then in July he lost some more weight, stopped eating much, had some vomiting issues, and I noticed a bit of hair in his poop in the litter box. More than what was normal for him. So off to the vet we went and after some x-rays and blood work it was determined he likely had a tumor in his intestines and possibly his lungs. Honestly, we thought he was going to die then because his behavior really changed. We braced ourselves and at the same time started him on some anti-nausea medicine and an appetite stimulant. Both of those helped and we eventually weaned him off the anti-nausea medicine until recently. The stimulant got him eating and his mood and attitude changed for the better, or at least better than it had been. We knew that this wasn’t a cure and things were going to get worse, especially when he still lost more weight and you could feel changes in his rib cage. Something was definitely wrong.
And then last week things went off the rails with avoiding the litter box entirely and bigger behavior changes, hiding in different places, not able to get comfortable, more labored breathing. I wasn’t ready to face it then but Chris was. But by the weekend I changed my mind because the litter box issues weren’t one-off and the silly hiding places got worse. I mean, he climbed into the pantry and on top of some of the stuff we store on the floor—this was never a thing he did.
So, we spent the weekend cuddling, loving, and hugging him. I took a bazillion photos on my phone and some videos and Forest even recorded some stuff on his tablet.
Leo really evolved over his years. He started off as the spry and feisty cat, being fairly particular about who he liked, but he came into his own as he got older and mostly liked anyone he met. I was worried how he would be with Forest but he was only ever nice unless Forest pestered him too much. And even then it was only one whack and a warning to leave him alone! Of course, Forest wanted to love on him too much and we were constantly telling him to be more gentle, especially in the last year as Leo aged more. But Leo was the cat who played fetched with toy mice, loved a pile of catnip, would steal greens from the garden on the counter if I left them out, would be the bug hunter if needed…he was such a good cat. And he always loved to cuddle and would seek you out to find a place on your lap. If there was a computer out there was a good chance you wouldn’t be able to work because there would be a cat on top of it. He and Forest became my coworkers this spring when the pandemic started. I have a lot of photos of a lazy cat sprawled up next to me while I worked. Oh, how I will miss that. I already did this week–even the grouching about “Leo, move, so I can work!”
At our apartment in Miami, where we found him, Chris and I didn’t use our kitchen table at that time. It was in the dining room but pushed off to the side and was mostly used for storing stuff. It was near a window and of course Leo became used to going up there. Eventually we moved to a town house and then a house and started using the table and it was too late to try to convince Leo that he didn’t belong on the table. So for 16.5 years we’ve had a cat at meal times on the table. He had his spot, off to the side so there wasn’t cat hair flying into our food, and he would sit or lay there while we ate, a constant companion. That was one thing about Leo, he enjoyed human company. Samson did too but I think Leo even more so. Of course he went off to take his naps during the day but if you called him he would usually come unless he was especially lazy.
It’s been hard to get used to not hearing him move about the house. Knowing that when Chris got up in the morning, Leo would to. A jingle of the collar because he would stretch and shake, then trot down the stairs and begin meowing for breakfast. I’ve anticipated it all week and it doesn’t come. Or I’ll turn my head and hear a phantom jingle and realize my brain is tricking me. I’m having to stop myself from wandering off to the laundry room to check the litter, or stop the impulsive reflex from looking at the spot where his food and water were to see if anything needed to be picked up or re-filled. It’s hard.
Forest took it especially hard. We’ve been harping on it for months, that Leo was at the end of his life and he would die sometime soon. When Chris and I knew last week that it was coming up quickly we started talking to Forest about it. But it wasn’t until Sunday evening, with Leo cuddled up on the bed with Forest and me as I was getting Forest to sleep, that the grief overtook him and the tears poured out. He’d kept it at arms length, trying not to tear up when he saw Chris or I crying or getting sad about the situation. Forest would say he was sad or that he would miss him but he was holding it back. And then seeing it all let out, it was heartbreaking.
I went alone to the vet on Monday evening. Thankfully our vet is letting those pets with end of life situations to allow their humans to come in and be with them. I was worried about this back in July because otherwise everything is curbside, you leave the pet with a tech and wait in the car or come back to pick them up. But I was able to go in. Chris stayed home with Forest, though Forest was begging me at the end to go in the car.
I don’t think I’ll write about being in the room other than to say it was beyond difficult to do and there was wailing involved. I mean, constant companion from kitten to grandpa cat for 16.5 years…what else can you do but wail?
And so, Leo crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I look at photos and I can’t believe he won’t come around the corner and purr and meow and want some pets. Forest and I were flipping through photos of Leo and Forest when Forest was a baby and then I flipped to the photos I took last weekend and I saw it. It was hard to see when he was here because there was some parts of him that were still there, but now I could see the pain and weariness he was in compared to the photos from a few years ago, or even just earlier this year. It was time.
We will miss him terribly. He was one of the best.
This year the Bidens laevis, the bur margiold or beggar’s ticks, are on fire along the pond! We’ve had them sporadically over the years and then the taro choked them out, so I am delighted that they are returning in force this year in the area that is becoming a wetland behind the pine trees that fell during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. I wish the whole shoreline was covered in them as I recall seeing an entire wetland of them somewhere between Center and San Augustine, Texas 10 years ago near Sabine National Forest. That was gorgeous and it would be wonderful to have the entire pond shoreline lined with them instead of taro.
I just wanted to send a little sunshine out into mid-October! I’m feeling the blog vibes starting to come back a little so maybe I’ll be around here more soon!
It was early September and we were eating dinner and Forest was in his usual eat a bite-turn around to look outside mode and he said he spotted a hummingbird that was red. We figured he had just seen the ruby part of a ruby-throated and didn’t think much about it. The next morning I was working upstairs and had a glimpse of the now dead mimosa tree that the hummingbirds always love to perch on and saw something rust colored. It sat there long enough for me to realize Forest really did mean a completely red bird, not just a throat. Chris was out in the field somewhere and I took some bad phone photos and sent it off to him because I wasn’t familiar with many hummingbirds. He mentioned it could be a rufous and after I got a better photo and sent it to him he agreed. So did iNaturalist once I ran a rough photo through there! What a great change for hummingbird migration season!
It was easy to identify one of the birds because of the wayward feather on the back of his neck and we ended up calling him Rufio. He had a friend (and sometimes enemy because they would run each other off from the feeders) along with the ruby-throateds that came through and stuck around for several weeks. I haven’t seen them in a week or two so they must have moved on further south to somewhere warmer.
I hope we get to see them again next year, even if it isn’t our particular friend Rufio.
The season switch is hitting me hard this year. It’s happening and I am not experiencing it how I normally do. Suddenly it is dark by 7:30 and with some cloudy and wet weather it is more like 7pm. Paired with this, my bike riding endorphins have disappeared with a schedule change the last few weeks. I had been able to get out at lunch for 30 minutes most days of the week and if not I would go after dinner. Losing the light in the evening means I haven’t gone as much in the evenings and when Forest switched teachers a few weeks ago she now often does Zoom classes at noon which really throws a wrench in being able to go for a ride at lunch on days I am doing school with Forest. Paired with dreariness this week from Tropical Storm Beta it has been a hard switch to autumn.
In addition I’ve seem to have lost my mojo for doing much creatively and have driven straight into a reading binge which always seems to cleanse the palate. I did, however, make this scarf (Naturally Southern on Ravelry) over the course of a few days a couple of weeks back. I had leftover yarn from the top I made earlier this year and this worked out perfectly to use up that leftover stash. I’m also in the midst of a much harder wrap. It is very intricate and uses crochet thread so it doesn’t move along very fast. I should work on it more but haven’t. And art has fallen by the wayside but I’m working on sketching out something else to paint soon.
With all of that, my desires to write here have really gone out the window. I have two posts drafted from earlier in the summer but don’t really feel inspired to share them. Everything feels boring and a bit of waste to share, which I know sounds ridiculous but there it is.
My internet friend/acquaintance Sarah recently shared a post (linked) recapping the last six months of COVID-19 and I may snag it as an idea to write about soon. It would be a great thing to brain dump and look back at in the future. Or in six more months to see how things change.
That’s about it. Posts will likely stay sporadic for a bit until I can get out of this funk.
Last night after dinner I retreated to my bed to finish up a book I was reading. I was at 90% done and was making my way towards the end. I spent a good hour or so curled up in bed, quietly reading as the early autumn sun retreated for the evening. Eventually I got up, took a shower, and then made my way downstairs to my phone, thinking I would casually check a few things before getting Forest ready for bed.
I saw a text from my mom, the tear emoji, and swiped to see what was tied to the rest of it. What was tied to it was the news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. The first words out of my mouth were “Noooooooo!” and then the utter need to see what the rest of the world had known for about 30 minutes already. Next the gut punch I felt on the morning of November 9th came roaring back, only this time it felt 100 times worse. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling for a good while and this morning I almost started once again when Chris and I tried to have a conversation about it all after listening to NPR. Forest tried to console me because he didn’t quite know why I was crying over someone I didn’t know personally. It is of course about the grief of losing such a spectacular woman but knowing what a horrible situation that this has put us in with this democracy of ours hanging by a thread.
In January 2017 I wrote about how it was time to pay attention and of course so much has devolved since then. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that if Joe Biden doesn’t win the presidency and/or the Democrats don’t flip the Senate, the country as we know it (knew it) really is gone. Maybe if you are white and middle or upper class you won’t feel it as soon as everyone else, but you will feel it. What is even more stab-you-in-the-heart is knowing that Justice Ginsburg was really carrying far more on her shoulders than an 87 year old should be carrying—and that we were relying on her in that manner.
I’ve had political stickers on my car in years past but this year I wanted a sign. We haven’t put it up yet because Chris wants to make sure one of our animal cams is set up on it because there’s a high likelihood it will be stolen. We are surrounded by folks who like the current office holder. It isn’t so much that I think I will change anyone’s minds, it is to say that I stand for the complete opposite of what they do. A few weeks ago a post went around from Gabrielle Blair of Design Mom called The Consequences of Your Actions. In it she writes about knowing 45 supporters in real life but also the ones she deals with on her social media platform. How she had quietly held them at bay or even catered to their feelings somewhat and she had finally had enough. Because so much of what his supporters represent is rather abhorrent. And even if you want to turn a blind eye to *all of the stuff* because, by god you are a low tax Republican or whatever, you are just as culpable. That ship has sailed, that party is gone and if you want the party back, you as a Republican should actively work to fix your party—unless of course that’s the feature and not a bug, which seems to be the going rate of things since the Tea Party took over. All of this is to say, thankfully I know very few supporters of his in real life and most are down the line adjacent that I don’t interact with very often. And if for some reason we are friends online or in real life and you’ve hidden your support for him, please don’t tell me unless you want to sever a friendship. Because that’s where I’m at right now.
Listen, if you need more information from people who know what they are talking about, where we are headed if we don’t right this teetering ship, you should check out Sarah Kendzior and her book Hiding in Plain Sight. She also hosts a podcast called Gaslit Nation with Andrea Chalupa. They are authoritarian experts and everything I’ve followed from them over the last four years has been right on point.
In 45 days there’s an election.
Vote for Joe Biden.
Do it for Ruth.
The season shift here has kind of thrown me for a loop. The light is shifting, the days are shortening, and that has made me pull inward and want to focus on other things. So much for all these photos I had ready to share!
It’s a rainy evening here in greater Houston, where we are going to miss the massive cold front everyone else is getting. It is going to fizzle out an hour or so west of here. Guess we will be sticking with summer for a few more weeks until hopefully the next front. Another reason I’ve been not-so-interested writing here is that my right shoulder has been killing me due to poor ergonomics and working from home. I’ve been working on a mapping project at work that has me creating a lot of polygons and even when I’m at my desk at the office doing this kind of heavy mapping work it still can hurt after a while. So, mesh that with the various places I find myself seated at in the house and it is a recipe for an aching shoulder. Which means the last thing I’ve been wanting to do is sit on the computer in the evenings.
This post is the first part of our trip down the Denali Highway, which isn’t a highway in the sense you will ever think! We went as far as the Brushkana Campground at mile post 104 before turning around and coming back to Cantwell and heading south to Anchorage. The photos really speak for themselves but I’ll pipe in when commentary is necessary!
My plant IDs are thanks to iNaturalist but I’m going to call on now-resident Alaskans, Patrice and Justin to correct my wayward identifications!
We wandered a bit further down the road to what appeared to be a hunting campsite or some kind of base camp area for locals. Chris attempted to fish once more and we poked around in the bush a little bit before deciding to move on down the road.
When we arrived at Brushkana Creek and campground (though the sign says Brushkana River) we knew this would be the spot we’d stop and hang out the longest. The river was good for fishing and it turned out to be the perfect spot to forage for blueberries!
Of course Forest had fun walking through the blueberries and traipsing through the mazes of trails from other visitors. Eliana was the smart one who kept reminding us to talk loudly and say “Hey Bear!” because you really never know when one could pop up!
After exploring the south side of the river we trekked across the street and walked up into the campground where we only noticed one other person camping. If we ever get to return to Alaska I would definitely love to stay a night or two at this campground!
We spent quite a while on the north side and enjoyed walking up the creek but the afternoon was going fast and we still had to drive the rest of the way back to Anchorage as well as factor in any other pitstops along the way on the Denali Highway and back on the main road south. If you don’t have a ton of time to travel the whole highway and are in the area I do recommend going at least to this part along the road from Cantwell. Missing Alaska a lot!
As I continue to see how crowded so many western outdoor spaces have gotten this summer with everyone seeking outdoor places to go, I’ve been glad that we live in area that sees less crowds. In general so many of the southern and eastern forests are less trekked than popular haunts out west or in New England. And summer really changes that up because who wants to walk in humid, moist forests when temperatures are in the 90s and 100s? Not too many, that is for sure.
Our second trip to the Big Thicket had us traipsing a bit past the pitcher plant bog and off into an exploration of a cypress-tupelo swamp. We arrived early and thus no one at the boardwalk as they had been the previous time we went in May. Just the humidity and us on the trails.
As we hiked, we warned Forest of the potential to run into a snake and he was the one who ended up finding our first and only snake, a water moccasin. We’d disturbed its sunning spot and it meandered over to the other side of the slough, far enough to be way from the pesky humans who had invaded its territory.
Veilwort, Pallavicinia lyellii
It is really exciting when I find veilwort out on our hikes. I’ve only come across it a few times but it is increasingly interesting to me. It is a bryophyte, part of the group of mosses. I just started reading Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer and only a few chapters in and I am very hooked. I know very little about mosses so I hope this opens the doors a bit to my veilwort friends.
The cypress and tupelo trees in this slough weren’t enormous but there were some sizable specimens along the way. It just felt nice to be walking in somewhat familiar territory, a swamp. I will forever miss finding epiphytic orchids and bromeliads like I would in Florida but it just means I have to look harder to find the interesting tidbits along the way.
Another find that reminded us of south Florida, a Dolomedes sp. fishing spider! We decided to poke into one of the tupleo trees with an open buttress and found the spider waiting for unsuspecting prey.
I really could have spent much longer walking along the slough, digging further back and closer to Turkey Creek. When we visit these places during dry times it is always hard to imagine what they would look like during the wet season. Each time they offer a different perspective and sense of places, these swamps whether they are dry or full of water to your waist. I do miss walking in the cool swamp water of the summer. Forest needs to be a bit taller before we delve into that world!
Common Whitetail, Plathemis lydia
If early summer felt like a bit of a drought in regards to pollinators, August and September always make up for it. This, I should know. And back with a fury they came!
The giant swallowtails are out in force, some of the most abundant I have seen them here. They bounce through the yard searching for plants to lay eggs on and then go off in search of nectar. As of tonight we now have 8 caterpillars that I am raising on some rue. Forest and I collected 7 eggs on the rue and brought them in to raise and they have been doing great. Tonight I was inspecting for more eggs and found a caterpillar I had missed last week when collecting eggs and now it is in the cage with the others. I will be curious to see how they do over the coming weeks and if they decide to hang out in diapause in the cage or eclose before winter.
Now this insect was a stumper for me. Forest found it in our bedroom and I put it outside. It was incredibly docile and had no problem chilling on my hand until I let it out. Even then it was reluctant to leave my hand and stay on the railing. As it turns out, it is a cuckoo wasp, native to the Old World and likely introduced here after WWII. It seems they live their life as parasites of wasp nests. If I had known they weren’t native and they worked off of being a parasite I would have probably killed it but I thought it might have been some kind of native bee.
I have always wanted to see a saddleback caterpillar, Acharia stimulea, in person. Chris found one in the field a few years ago and texted me a photo of it and that has been the closest I’ve ever come to seeing one.
Last week that changed. Forest and I were in the garden and he was asking for some of the small bananas that fruit on our pink banana trees. He likes to play with them and has since he was a toddler. So, I walked into the flower bed to grab some and on the way my right wrist grazed the side of one of the leaves and I felt something poke it. I paused because it was weird having something sharp on the end of a banana leaf and thought it was a pine needle or maybe a piece of a pine cone or tiny twig stuck that jabbed me.
It kept stinging and so I flipped the leaf to see what had got me and was face to face with a younger instar saddleback caterpillar! Imagine my shock to see that! The sting continued so I went inside to rinse it off and it felt better. Forest and I returned to get a better look at the caterpillar and then we found two more!
I don’t have a photo of all four that we found but Forest and his keen eyes found the fourth one the following day! I’ve been keeping tabs on them all week but about two days ago we went down to one caterpillar. I’m not sure if wasps or spiders got the other three or if they moved on—I’ve been surveying leaves but not finding them—but I’m hoping I can watch this last one long enough to see where it pupates eventually.
It seems larvae need four to five months before they pupate so it is possible they have been around all summer over there. And they are quite the generalists when it comes to host plants and will eat a range of different plants. (More information here).
They are gorgeous caterpillars and I’m glad I got to see them up close! I do wonder that if the adults have finally found the garden if that means we are likely to have more instances of occurrence in the future? As in, do I need to be more careful in the garden?
My first thought is—I was overly ambitious to want to try a 10 mile bike ride at 1pm during a heat advisory day (I’m drafting this on Saturday)! *Laughs in Texas in August* I cut it short to 5 miles and hope to do the other 5 this evening. Tomorrow (or today when this posts) I’ll go earlier.
My second thought is, Hurricane Laura delivered us barely any rain from a far outer rain band on Wednesday afternoon and that was that. The shift into Cameron, Louisiana really put most of the Houston area out of the range of anything and other than some storm surge in Galveston it was also unscathed. Even Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, and Sabine Pass managed to stay on the left side of the storm and thus escaped the dramatic damage they were expecting. During the summer of 2000 I spent some time along the area of the Louisiana coast that the storm hit during a sea turtle tagging internship in college. We worked out of Sabine Pass, Cameron, and Grand Chenier (Mermentau Pass) so I am familiar with these areas. I haven’t been back since but I spend so much time looking at aerial imagery in Louisiana for work that I often feel as if I’ve been there a million times.
So, with no rain means our drought conditions persist. And extreme heat—welcome to August in Texas.
School started for Forest back on the 12th. I went the Monday before and waited in the longest parent pick-up line ever and got my taste of that awfulness to get Forest’s tablet for online learning and a packet of school work. That mostly consists of coloring sheets, writing pages, and other materials. We’ve since had to go back once a week to pick up work because Forest isn’t attending the once a week face to face days they are doing for certain grades. This will end after Labor Day when everyone will go back at once, at least those who don’t want to do online learning. And we are so far committed to online learning. A few thoughts on that.
First, we are both still conflicted about this, just as I think many other parents are. It kind of broke my heart on that first face to face day when his teacher shared photos on the parent/teacher messaging system of the kids in the class and a few of them on the playground. I wished Forest was getting to go there. That said, as we hear more and more from various education systems throughout the country of Covid cases it helps me realizes we are doing the right thing. That doesn’t stop me from thinking that maybe if there aren’t any cases after the first 9 weeks we can switch him in. I know better in thinking this will all be great and we can send him but I still hope.
The second is that the online learning is kind of a pain in the butt. We got the tablet for him and Chris had to set it all up completely. And then of course log in issues that first week but I think the kinks are mostly worked out, though links to YouTube still don’t work properly and I have to pull them up on my phone for him to watch. So, on the face to face days the teacher isn’t zooming with us. We get our lessons for the day and can do them at our own pace. So far that has meant I’ve been with Forest on those days so I’ve been trying to get everything done in the morning so I can work in the afternoon and while he does some of the lessons. I actually like this set up much better as I feel as if even what is done with the teacher is kinda not great either—she’s on the screen and facilitates some things like when they do a color or letter show and tell (bring something from the around the house, talk about it, she draws it on a marker board at school) but most of the time she’s on the screen and switches to a video about the alphabet or coloring, or talking about science or something like that. And it takes a million times longer because you’ve got 12 kids all trying to talk and be interested in the lesson. Lots of “mute yourself” and “unmute yourself”—you as a parent have to be attentive because 5-6 year olds haven’t quite grasped that yet. So there goes any kind of uninterrupted working while in he’s doing school. Luckily we only zoom between 2-3 times a day, maybe we’ve done 4 once??? But they aren’t terribly long either, 30-45 minutes. I can’t imagine those grade levels that have multiple teachers and lots of zooming like my niece is going through right now as a middle schooler.
It’s a mess but we’re making it work. That’s the simplest thing I can say to all of that.
I haven’t shifted my thoughts to fall gardening yet. Still too hot and dry, but maybe in mid-September I’ll begin thinking about that.
+The shifting light
+Finding our first saddleback caterpillars in the garden!
I’ve read a few books lately:
+Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior about the rise of the current president and the people around him. Sarah has been banging the drums about authoritarianism since before 2016 and is a scholar of authoritarians so she’s not talking about of the side of her mouth. It’s good, I highly recommend. We’re in for it if he wins again.
+The Daughter’s of Erietown by Connie Schultz. This is a fiction book about life in small town Ohio in the 1950s-1970s, about going with the status-quo, teenage pregnancy, and breaking out of bad patterns. Really great and easy read. Connie is an acclaimed writer, Pulitzer Prize winner, and the wife of senator Sherrod Brown.
+The Last Flight by Julie Clark. Another easy fiction ready about two women who trade places in life, each running from the bad situations they are in. A bit of a thriller!
I’m still trying to read Cross Creek but it is so racist that it is really hard to handle. Even if you try to put it into context of the time it is pretty distasteful. I’m honestly not sure I will (or want to) finish it.
I finished another painting in July but haven’t done a whole lot recently.
Watching & Listening:
Listening—podcast listening is sporadic. I really liked this episode of Outside/In about The Darién Gap, the roadless rainforest area between Panama and Colombia.
I’m rewatching Alias because nothing sounded good on any streaming service. Might as well stick with what I know! It’s been about 8 years since I’ve done a complete rewatch so it has been fun to see how it holds up now that it is coming up on 20 years old.
Forest turns 6 on Thursday!!! WHAT???!!! The kid continues to amaze me every day and I can’t believe he’s mine!
We made some camping reservations for fall but I’m unsure of how that will work. I’m a bit squicked to think about using public bathrooms.
And I would love to figure out how to see our family soon, too.