Tribute to a Tabby

“Would you like a free sample of kitten food?” the receptionist asked.
“Nah, I don’t have any kittens.”
“Would you like one?”

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So, that day, having gone to the veterinarian with one cat, I ended up going home with two. The newcomer was a sweet little “dilute orange” (i.e., blonde) tabby I named Bender. No, not for the robot character in “Futurama.” My guy was born with a bent tail – its last inch folded in on itself twice, almost like a curly-cue. As a result his tail was stiff, not graceful and fluid. When he got mad – which wasn’t often – and flapped his tail, it was like getting hit with a fuzzy mace. Whap, whap.

He was a bit awkward as a kitten with his long legs, but he grew into them, and into the most calm, mellow cat I’ve ever shared a home with. We did hit a rough patch a couple years later when I introduced Paco to the household. (Another day that I went to the vet with one cat and came home with two.) For the first three days I thought Bender was going to kill the 9 week old kitten – the way he stalked and hunted him while Paco explored his new home. But suddenly Bender turned into “Mr. Mom” and took over raising the newcomer the way that Annie had raised him. (Annie was still with us at the time, but was elderly and not up to her usual role as matriarch.)

Even after Paco grew twice his size (and took over as “alpha kitty”), Bender remained his sweet self, with an inquisitive “mmmrrrmmph” noise that he made – he never really meowed. He followed me around the house, especially on weekends, wanting to be near me. He loved to sleep on my legs, using my feet as a pillow. And he always responded when I talked to him, whether I was calling him “Boo” “Boo-Boo” “Boo-meister” or “Bender.” Most often it was “Boo” (not an uncommon nickname for cats, right? How many of you call your cats “Boo?”) I’m not sure if my friends know the exact origins of his nickname: Legally Blonde. Yes, that Reese Witherspoon movie. The asshole boyfriend called Elle Woods “Poo-Bear.” I thought it was cute, so I started calling Bender “Poo-Bear”, but after a bit, because his name began with a “B” it seemed more fitting to change it to Boo-Bear. Toward the end, I mostly called him “my sweet little old man.”

He had medical issues which required daily medication; he even had his own asthma inhaler, complete with an infant mask to fit over his nose and mouth. Scarier were the seizures he began suffering when he was about 8. (The vets could find no physical reason for them so classified it as “epilepsy” – an exclusionary diagnosis.) I’ll never forget the first one I witnessed: one second he was standing next to me, the next he was on his back, all four legs in the air, flailing about, twisting, whipping back and forth, as if his body didn’t know which was up and which was down. Even after he managed to get on his feet, the back half of his body continued to dance around for several more seconds. He watched it quizzically, until it stopped, then ran and hid for an hour.

That meant a quarter pill of phenobarbital twice a day for the rest of his life. Sometimes the money got to be a bit much (ever buy an asthma inhaler that’s not covered by your medical insurance?), but I didn’t mind. Those were our special moments each day as I took him aside to administer his meds.

As he got older, he developed arthritis (like a lot of us!) Boy, did he walk really slowly. For the past year or so instead of waiting for him to respond to mealtime, I had been carrying him into the kitchen. Inconvenient? Yeah, sure. But I enjoyed it. The last couple of months I had even begun talking to him en route, telling him what a pleasure it was to carry him to his food dish, and how glad I would be to do it as long as he needed me to.

I wish I was still doing it. Like I wish he was still sitting on the back of the chair behind me, with his feet touching me. (When he wanted attention, he would tap me on the shoulder.) Paco sits there now, lonely, and sad that he has become an only cat.

As scary as his seizures were, they didn’t quite prepare me for Sunday, January 12th. He was sleeping on the ottoman while I was taking care of the laundry. I’m not sure what made me turn around (maybe he made a noise), but he was crouching, leaning to the right, his mouth opening and closing several times. My first thought was “oh, god, is this it?” (Somehow I recognized it as the event that would end his life.) But then, it was over, he vomited a little, and then just lay there looking exhausted and drained. It was mid-afternoon, too late to take him to the regular vet. And I didn’t want to take him to an emergency vet. Not that they wouldn’t have done their best, but I’ve already had one cat (Marian) die in a strange, unknown, vet clinic, tended by veterinarians she’d never seen before. I thought, that if this was the end, I’d rather he go quietly at home with me.

For the rest of the day he slept. Paco cuddled with him for most of the time. (As two old men cats, they’d made their peace – mostly – and become cuddle buddies.) At night, I carried him to bed, and managed to stay awake off and on, checking on him periodically. I don’t think he moved the whole night. I was pleased to see him looking a little brighter the next day, seeming to bounce back a bit, but he wanted no food and or medicine. He’d wobble his way to the litter box every now and then, but mostly slept. I still expected that he might pass some time that day, but he hung on.

I wasn’t too successful at staying awake Monday night and so was dismayed to not find him still sleeping next to me when I woke up Tuesday morning. He’d somehow made his way to the bathroom and was hiding behind the toilet. (The only time he got cranky with me, and growled, was when I pulled him out.) I certainly didn’t want him to die in such an undignified place. It was clear to me that Monday’s “bounce” was a false hope. I knew Tuesday the 14th would be his last day.

Gradually he lost his ability to walk more than a few steps before his legs locked up, causing him to fall over. But he stopped even trying by lunch time. So I wrapped him in a towel, and held him. We sat that way for a few hours, his warmth against my chest comforting me. Even though I was sad, contemplating that this would probably be the last time I held him, all I felt was love. If we could’ve stayed that way forever, I would’ve been happy. I did not want to get up from that chair.

But as the afternoon waned, I began to worry. Worry that I couldn’t stay awake and that he would die while I was sleeping. I couldn’t stand the thought of him dying alone. Broadway Pet Hospital, our vet clinic – with staff who had cared for him his whole life – would be closing in only 3 hours. I knew I that I had to make that call, and let him go with as much dignity as possible. I put on my shoes, told Paco to say goodbye to his brother, and took him away for the last time.

The veterinarian agreed that he was ready. She was very kind, very professional, informing me of each step. (They always administered a sedative to calm the animal before the final injection.) They gave me some time before and after, of course. What I will always remember is how he purred from the moment I took him out of the carrier to hold him until the sedative was given. I know it’s common for sick cats to purr – it’s self-soothing for them in times of stress – but he looked up at me the whole time, and four or five times, he reached up with one paw to touch my face. He was saying goodbye.

Of all my cats, Bender’s death was the most peaceful (the “best” if it’s not too odd to use that term for a loved one dying). I miss those special moments that were his. I miss his little non-meow. But it was the right time for him, and I’ve come to accept it more quickly than the others. Like the others, he is still nearby – his ashes in a small wooden box that sits next to those holding his sisters’ ashes. I still feel his love.

French Polynesia

A year ago today, on the lovely island of Makatea. #SouthPacific #FrenchPolynesia #PenguinAboutTown

Puppies of the Sea

Photo credit to Mark Gottlieb.

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First, I must offer thanks to Mark, one of the others on my amazing South Pacific adventure last August, for sharing some of his photos with the rest of us. One was this photo of a “receiving line” greeting stingrays eager to check us out (or maybe looking for food). One of them squeezed right in between me & another passenger – sweeping against my arm – that was cool. Note: they kind of feel like wet eggplant. Someone – I don’t remember who – referred to them as big gray puppies of the sea. I’m not in this particular photo; I was with a different group off to the side.

I feel like I’m always apologizing for my frequent absences from my blog, but life does get hectic and other priorities often prevail.

So I’d like to start offering you, those of you who have Instagram accounts at least, some people to follow, not just for pictures of the South Pacific (my most recent vacation), but other destinations frequented by Lindblad Expeditions and others I’ve met on my travels.

Definitely check out:

jaydickmanphoto (Nat Geo photographer & Pulitzer Prize winner)

jackdswenson (Nat Geo photographer)

livingcookiesdream (Chris Cook, naturalist)

adam.cropp (Expedition Leader on my last trip) – he has a thing for drone photography!

Mark may also have an Instagram page, but there are several people with the same name on the site, and I’m not sure which he might be.

I’ll save more for later!

Happy July everyone!!

The Mesoamerican Context for Chaco Astronomy — Gambler’s House

Today is the summer solstice, so I thought I’d pop back in to do a post about archaeoastronomy, as is my wont. This time it isn’t about the archaeoastronomy of Chaco Canyon per se, but the larger context in which it would have developed, namely that of the civilizations of Mesoamerica to the south. I’ve […]

via The Mesoamerican Context for Chaco Astronomy — Gambler’s House

The Staff of Ra. Oops, um, I mean the Staff of (the) Orion

That’s a Raiders of the Lost Ark joke. (If you’ve ever seen a short woman walking by with her cell phone ringtone blaring the Indiana Jones theme – that was me.)

Anyway, in addition to wonderful crews, Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic is also known for having fantastic and knowledgeable staff members, ranging from from photographers, naturalists, wildlife biologists, cultural specialists, divemasters, etc.

Meeting new ones has been as delightful as the reunions with those I’ve sailed with before, like Christian Moreno Gonzalez, who was a naturalist on my 2015 Baja expedition. staff6This time he was one of the divemasters in charge of the scuba divers so I didn’t see him very often. And Jay Dickman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning National Geographic Photographer who was also on the Baja trip as well as my 2012 Antarctic expedition. I’m actually cheating here a bit because I only encountered Jay in the tiny Rangiroa airport as he was leaving and I was arriving. staff10Funny story: in 2013 as I showed Antarctic photos to my Denver relatives, before I could identify Jay’s photo, they all said “oh, we know him.” Turns out my younger brother was an Eagle Scout with Jay’s youngest son, pictured here.

You’ve already seen a picture of Doug Gualtieri,  one of the naturalists, in a previous post – he rescued my socks from a mischievous puppy. Other naturalists aboard included Tom Ritchie, who’s been with Lindblad for decades. staff9 In fact, he has his own zodiac named after him. Elise Lockton, who spends most of her time in Denali National Park (Alaska), is seen here wearing a leafy headdress given to her by one of the Marquesans.  staff3And this is Ian Strachan, the naturalist who led several of the hikes I went on, including the infamous “march of mud” up and over the island of Fatu Hiva. (We were looking for the Fatu Hiva Monarch, endemic to this island only, but never found one because of the rain.) staff11  It was a hard hike, and the group could’ve made better time without slow poke me, but it was worth it. The vistas, even in the rain and clouds, were gorgeous. In the photo Tim is standing near Ari, a guest, at one of the summits.

Adam Cropp, seen here drying off after our second visit to the grotto on Makatea (in the Tuamotus) was our expedition leader.staff5

Chris Cook, better known as Cookie, was one of our undersea specialists. He was out there snorkeling, scuba diving, etc. He also specialized in keeping the atmosphere light-hearted – he loved making faces. Staff2

Our cultural specialists were Heidy Baumgartner-Lesage, an archaeologist who’s lived and worked in French Polynesia since the 1980’s, also pictured at the grotto. Staff1

Alex Searle Pineda, from Chile, and Tua Pittman, a traditional master navigator from the Cook Islands, were the other cultural specialists. They’re pictured here with Cookie, and one of the guests, Larry Jackson (ever hear of Loudmouth Golf Clothing?) I know the photo is a little dark – I have more photos to share, I promise. And I’ll try to upload my little video clip of Tua doing the Haka. Stay tuned! staff8

 

The Orion crew

One of the joys of traveling on expedition vessels like the National Geographic Orion, is the crew. Because of its small size (the Orion’s total passenger capacity is only 102), you receive more personal interactions with everyone, from the other guests, to the Lindblad staff, to your cabin steward, to the head chef, and even the Captain.

The crew, primarily Filipino, works several months in a row, continuing on from one expedition to another, before enjoying an extended home leave. Many have worked on board the same ships for years, including multiple generations. We had at least two father/son duos, like Teddy “Without” and Teddy “With” (hair, that is). You can probably guess which one was the bald one. Yes, Teddy Without introduces himself by that nickname.

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The galley crew

While I’ve loved the crew on all my other trips with Lindblad/National Geographic, I think the Orion crew may be my favorite. They created such a joyful atmosphere it was infectious. Then there was “Crew Night” where they put on a musical review show for us. (I got to see the show twice since I was on two back-to-back expeditions). The housekeeping staff danced to “Hands Up” (the 1981 disco hit by Ottawan) and the Galley Crew did “YMCA” for us. Most of the passengers got up and danced too. There were more performers, of course, including Cookie, one of the staffers, who got up and sang in front of a crowd for the first time ever in his life. (We provided lots of encouragement.)

Looking through my crew photos I’ve realized that most of them worked the bar. Hmmm. What does that say about me?

And (the worst omission ever), I have no photo of Teddy Without. What?? How can that be? Not only was he our waiter many nights in the dining room, on Apataki (an atoll in the Tuamotus) he loaned me his flip flops! I had been snorkeling in the lagoon and, when tired, I mistakenly exited the water on the wrong part of the beach. If you’ve never been on a coral atoll, some of those beaches are covered in rough, broken up coral. Talk about pain. My water shoes were several yards away on the other beach, so Teddy Without, seeing me gingerly trying to cross the beach without killing my feet, ran over and offered me his footwear. (Yes, they were too big, but they worked.) What a lifesaver!

Of course, you know what this means. I just have to go back and do this trip again!

Penguins and Paddleboards

When traveling with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic, there are always a number of daily activities you can choose from. Being ship-based, these include snorkeling, scuba-diving (for certified divers), swimming, kayaking (which I’m pretty bad at), and stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP). This is the first expedition I’d taken since they added SUP as a choice and, never having tried it, you know that I had to when we reached Takume Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

Here’s another of my infamous foot pictures! You might be asking what’s with the small stuffed penguin – I think it’s been a while since #PenguinAboutTown has made an appearance in my blog. Paddleboard3 He’s a King Penguin that was an impulse buy from a little green-roofed gift shop in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, on my to Antarctica. He’s since traveled with me to several states, Europe and Africa. (He was quite pleased when he realized his dream of being a #PenguinOfMadagascar.) He’s even found himself in the jaws of a T-Rex skeleton. I didn’t intend for him to be a traveling companion, but on my Baja expedition I discovered a couple from WSU carrying their stuffed Cougar mascot and a young woman from Malaysia carrying a stuffed elephant, all for photo ops. I realized this is a thing, so now #PenguinAboutTown climbs into my camera bag whenever I start packing.

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You might surmise from my lack of kayaking skill, I wasn’t all that great at SUP either. (I really need to work on more upper body strength.)  One of my very first acts was to have to throw myself off the board backward in a vain attempt to not run over a snorkeler. I was really at the mercy of the winds and currents, and kept ending up going in directions I didn’t want to. (This should sound familiar to Sandy, my Antarctic kayaking partner.) I even ended up stuck on a sand bar. If I remember correctly, it was Expedition Leader Adam Cropp who helped me off that and directed me into a more sheltered area within the lagoon.

Here’s my wonderful friend, Bobbie Prees, Paddleboard_Bobbieutilizing the wiser method of kneeling on the paddle board. I tried that too, but it just wasn’t as fun as falling off, getting wet, climbing back on, repeat. Even my iPhone took a brief dunk in the lagoon while tucked inside my life vest (it survived). The only thing that stayed dry the entire time? The Penguin.

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