Thursday, May 27, 2004


I guess I should feel guilty that I wish all and sundry of the cats "Happy Birthday" here but completely slighted my brother, David. So, Happy Birthday, Bro, a bit late. I *was* thinking about you...

Of course, the cats have much fewer birthdays than we do, as a rule, so each one must be that much more meaningful--at least to those of us who count time by calendars.

I sometimes wonder who the world must appear to a kitten born in the spring or summer when their first winter comes The lush green world grows colder and darker and they have no inkling that those golden days of kittendom will ever return. The world has become an unwelcoming place. So what a miracle, seen with fresh eyes, it is when spring returns.

No wonder Lola and Clarence have been so enamoured of sitting in the cat condo and just watching the world turning green.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Sumer Is Icumen In...

Another gorgeous day--sunny, high scattered clouds, cool sea breeze. Wisps of fogs drifted across the bluff this morning but by the time I went into work, the fog had retreated to the far side of the bay.

I have started wearing cooler clothes to work--tank tops and jeans under jackets. I can take off the jacket when it gets too warm in the building, and slip back into it for a more professional look when we get walk-in traffic. The guys like running the AC but it is so noisy you can miss faint radio calls, so I prefer to open the upstairs door to the sea breeze and turn on the fan to circulate the air.

Sumer is icumen in...

I allowed myself to sleep in until about quarter-of-nine this morning. Fighting allergies has made me so sluggish but the 12-hr Contac Cold PD gave me at work yesterday has really helped. At least I can breath clearly without the Benadryl hang-over.

I did manage to get the cat-chores done and the dishwasher loaded before I left for work, despite being slow off the starting blocks. I brought the cobalt-blue glass dishware that has been sitting in its box in the back room for at least two years (possibly three) downstairs and unpacked them about a week ago. The boys in the back had been using the box as a scratching post and finally had clawed their way inside, so I figured it was time to do something with the dishes. So they have been sitting on the counter waiting for a run through the dishwasher. Hope they are dishwasher safe. I guess we will find out.

Yesterday's big excitement was a capsized boat off of Bluff Point. A local pilot was first on the scene and reported it to me. After a moment's consideration, I called the police dispatcher, who turned out to be CC's wife. We traded calls and information for about thirty minutes as I relayed information from the plane and asked questions for the trooper. The lucky souls managed to swim to shore where several people helped them from the water, which had numbed them into hypothermia by that point. The beach was inaccessible by that time for wheeled vehicles, due to the tide, so a helicopter was dispatched from Maritime Helicopters to take them to the ER. I hope they will be okay.

Of course, all this happened during the busiest part of the afternoon, with the usual snarl of traffic: IFR student pilot shooting a long approach while the ERA Dash-8 was waiting for clearance outbound, local air taxi pilots cutting in front of the transients in their mad haste to land, pilots unfamiliar with the field landing on the numbers of 21 and taking forever to taxi clear, and of course the constant requests for the location of transient parking.

Yes, summer is here.

So far today, the biggest annoyance is the frequency at which two aircraft will transmit at once, cancelling each other out and resulting in no information being passed. Over the years, it seems like there has been more and more undirected chatter on the frequency, which is worrisome when it seems pilots are substituting talking for listening and looking. Especially as they think they have transmitted and are unaware that the rest of us didn't hear them.

Of course, on the flip side, I had two NORDOs (no radio-contact) this evening. At least when planes are transmitting, you know they are out there. After I had assured Andy that there was no reported traffic (emphasis on the reported), he back-taxied to depart Rwy 21. Just as he was turning to depart, he saw a Cessna on short final for Rwy 3 (the opposite direction). he stopped short as the Cessna did a go-around.

Even more scary, earlier a local had taxied out and gotten the "no reported traffic". He came back with "Is that plane down the runway arriving or departing?"

Just as I looked up, I could see the wings and tail of a dark-colored twin (it looked like a Navajo) disappearing over the hump that is two-thirds down the runway. Now, because of the hump, the approach end of Rwy 21 is invisible from the main portion of the airport. This is one reason why none of the locals will back-taxi to the end of the runway to depart and when Era has to go all the way back in their larger aircraft, they will make a point of checking and re-checking before they start their take-off roll to make sure the runway is clear.

So whoever this was in their dark-colored, hard-to-see twin disappeared over the hump without a peep. My taxiing local waited on the taxiway until the twin turned and departed, then went about his business, but if no one had seen the twin go over the rise, it could have been bad. Very bad. Despite all the windows in our building, we don't have a very good view outside. The major intersections of runway and taxiways are obstructed and we are usually busy inside with telephones, computer messages or the other frequency. Since we don't actually control traffic at Homer (it is an uncontrolled field), we aren't obliged to maintain a constant watch over the airport--we rely on pilots telling us where they are and what they are doing.

There are occasional old beaters who fly around without radios but those pilots are saavy enough to know how to work their way into the field with a minimum of fuss. I can only assume the pilots in the Cessna and the twin were ignorant of the proper procedures. I mean, our frequency is printed in the Alaska Supplement (don't leave home without it) and the aeronautical map and besides that, it is the standard frequency for airport advisory.

I am glad nothing bad came of these incidents and I passed them on to my co-workers as a reminder that during the warmer months we are dealing more and more with pilots unfamiliar with our field and with procedures outside of a positive-controlled environment. Time to keep our heads up and our feelers out.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Waking up this morning was like swimming up from a great depth.

I took a healthy slug of Benadryl before I turned in last night because I was so stiff and sore. As a result I slept pretty soundly, only waking briefly at four and at six, but I have trouble shaking off the effects of the drug, so didn't get out of bed until after nine and things went slowly all morning.

I always pile up a list of things I would like to accomplish before Denny gets back home--as a result, I find myself rushing to get done those things I have decided must get done--laundry, vacuuming, etc--and wearing myself down to a frazzle. The thing is, I don't think he cares, or even notices, if there are skiffs of cat hair under the cabinets.

Anyway, after the physical activity of yesterday, I felt old and worn today. It took a nice long shower and several cups of coffee before I felt alive enough to tackle the morning chores. At least Johnny seems back to his old self, so I didn't have to given him meds or fluids.

The morning was mostly sunny, with occasional tendrils of fog blowing across the bluff. When I opened the door and windows to let in the cool air, I caught a wiff of smoke in the breeze, probably blown down from the wildfires in the Interior.

I stayed up until after one last night, waiting for the sky to darken enough so I could try to see the comet. Unfortunately, by the time I figured I should be able to see it, a thin veil of clouds had moved across the sky, masking the stars. When I woke up at four, it was already too light to see any stars and as our hours of darkness shrink, so do my chances of seeing the comet, especially when the weather is factored in. This evening looks to be nearly clear, so perhaps I'll have better luck tonight.

Ah summer--the season of burning one's candle at both ends. The main trouble is that in these latitudes, the two ends tend to meet in the middle.

Oh, lest I forget--Happy Birthday, Bunny-Buns! Our little blind, stub-tailed kitty was born eight years ago today. What a pleasure it has been to have her in our lives.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I buried Lucy last evening.

I went out back in the afternoon, after I got home from town, and finished the sad task. The warm weather of the past week have finally eroded the layer of frozen soil to a mere inch or so. Once I broke through it, the earth underneath was easy to excavate. Under the top layer of roots and vegetation, the soil in our woods is fine and stone-free. I dug down about three feet until lifting the shovel became awkward, then lay on the ground and scooped earth out with a old metal bowl for another foot, digging into the past history of this place, back to the edges of the last Ice Age.

Then, exhausted and hot, I went inside, stripped off my dirty clothes, and lay down for an hour or so of sleep, surrounded by the house cats.

It was cooler when I woke up, the day turning into evening. I went around the house lighting incense, then put some appropriate music on the CD player downstairs and let the music and chanting drift out the open patio door into the back yard. It was time to lay Lucy to her final rest.

I place the sad parcel down in the smooth cavity I had made for her, leaning into the earth to place my hand against the familiar curve of her back one last time, to feel the resilient softness of her plush, immaculate coat through the thick vinyl. One last time. How many years, or centuries, would pass before that sad parcel saw the light of the sun again--if ever? I was consigning Lucy, like a time capsule, to the future. I hoped whatever hands might find her would be gentle ones.

It wrenched my heart but my grief had worn away to mere sadness and I was dry-eyed as I filled the grave.

As I straightened from my task, three cranes flew overhead in a two-one pattern, their mournful cries filling the silent spaces of the evening quiet.

These good-byes are inevitable. But that doesn't make them easy.

"To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come;
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome;
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be, and are;
To the place where God Himself was homeless,
And all men are at home."
--G. K. Chesterton

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Sweet Sixteen

Happy Birthday, Johnny!

Johnny seemed brighter this morning. he greeted me, clear-eyed, when I went to his bed and he moved around the shop a bit after I gave him his medication. He sniffed at some food but didn't want to eat, even when I offered him some birthday shrimp. I gave him a few small tastes but didn't force-feed him. Up to a point, his desire to fast might be beneficial to fighting his infection, so I'll let him go a bit longer. If he doesn't eat tonight, I will give him some Nutri-Cal and some more fluids.

All in all, however, he seems to be feeling better and I am less apprehensive today than I was yesterday.

I woke up with a plugged head from allergies, so took a Benedryl and went back to sleep, finally waking about nine and forcing myself from bed. The alder is flowering in town and after that it will be the spruce pollen. I think I will take a Benadryl tonight before I go to bed, just to get a jump on it all.

Friday, May 14, 2004

I noticed that Johnny didn't stir last night when I was feeding the cats; Johnny, who is always interesting in what's for dinner. Instead, he stayed curled in his sleeping spot. Just a few days ago, I was relishing how fit and healthy he was--his eyes bright and his coat shiny. To see him lethargic and quiet is unsettling so close to Lucy's passing.

So this morning found us at the vet clinic. I sat there, stroking him gently and waiting. I know we will be losing him--sooner more likely than later--and I know it will hurt like hell. But I had to send up a silent prayer that his time isn't nigh just yet.

Dots remarked that it was almost a year ago to the day that I had him in for a similar complaint. Curious.

We came home with antibiotics and fluids. I tempted him with morsels today and he ate a little. He was also wandering around the shop a bit today, so already the medication is having some effect.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

I woke up in the middle of the night, hot and thirsty but so stiff and tired from working in the yard that the thought of going downstairs to get something to drink seemed like too much effort, even though I briefly considered crawling to the stairs. What little I have been able to dig on Lucy's grave has left me sore from muscles gone soft during the winter.

Despite the sunny days, the air temperature has been cool. If I leave the windows open, the house gets cold around the time I am going to bed. Still, I wake up with night sweats and a stuffy head. With five or six cats vying for position on the bed, I am regularly pinned in one position for hours at a time, until the discomfort wakes me and I have to negotiate with the cats in order to shift position.

The "bed cats" have their favorite spots. Bunny and Punkin claim the pillows (which doesn't leave much for me but I manage), Tiny likes to sleep curled up next to my face on my right side, while Dinky prefers to be under the covers next to my chest. She favors the right side but will take the left if I am facing that way. Lola has taken to sleeping on the bed on occasion, usually against or between my legs. Frannie, Charcoal and Lena are occasional nocturnal visitors, as is Pickle Boy if he isn't bunking with his bros.

Is it any wonder I rarely sleep for more than two hours at a spell?

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Letting Lucy Go

I had hoped to keep her going for longer--another week, another month--but it wasn't to be. I drew some joy from being able to feed her this spring's fresh grass and to see her sitting out in the cat yard, taking in the evening sun. But those pleasures were transient. Perhaps it is a blessing that she went downhill so quickly, as it abbreviated her suffering, but twelve years seemed too brief a life for such a sweet cat.

Over the weekend, I could tell that the Metacam wasn't keeping the pain at bay. Lucy retreated to her spot behind the engine stand and by Sunday evening, she had stopped eating. I tempted her with her favorites and made sure she had her daily dose of pain medication, but she withdrew inside herself, responding only to my caresses, leaning her face against my hand and purring.

Hope is such a tenacious thing. All day Monday, my mind was running in circles. Was it too late to operate and see if Lucy's pain could be alleviated? I knew the answer but I hate admitting defeat. That's when I realized I was keeping her alive for my sake, not hers. The Monday night dose of Metacam didn't do much good--Lucy still turned her face away from any offerings of food. I kept wishing for one more good day, one more hour sitting in the sun...

Tuesday morning, Lucy was laying by the refrigerator, as if she had been on her way to the water fountain (even though there was a water dish near her bed) and just lost strength. I gave her another dose of pain medication then carried her to the pad by the fountain. After I called the vet clinic and left a message for Dots to call me, I sank down beside Lucy in the dim light, stroking her head until she purred, but even her purring sounded strained.

I had brought my first cup of coffee out into the shop with me, so I sat there, petting Lucy, sipping my coffee, and letting hot tears run down my cheeks. I kept rubbing her head and saying how sorry I was that she was hurting. I tried to ground myself and draw the pain from her, but instead of a drawing-out sensation when I touched her, I could feel an energy--like radiance--pushing against my skin--as if something inside her were longing to be freed.

I always knew there is a strong force for survival--something that keeps us hanging on through suffering and past all hope. But I hadn't realized there was this second force--not quite in opposition but perhaps complimentary. A spark of the eternal radiance that seeks to return to its source. Something that finally bursts free when we are sick or injured or worn out.

A fire inside Lucy was straining to go home. All that remained of her life was a long corridor of pain with that final brilliance waiting at the end. I couldn't change the inevitability of that path, but I could release her from the pain, shorten her path and let her go home.

My heart clocked the morning routine of the clinic and when the phone rang just after nine, I knew it would be Dots. I told her nothing was keeping the pain from Lucy any more and we needed to end her suffering.

"Come on in," Dots said.

I went upstairs, threw myself on the bed and had a good cry until a concerned feline contingent embarrassed me into getting up, dabbing my face and squaring my shoulders. I carried Lucy out of the house for the last time in my arms.

Afterwards, I drove out to Reid's Greenhouse and bought violas and pansies and marigolds in a state of numb grief. I went out back when I got home and decided on a spot--near Newt and Rosie--to lay Lucy to rest. I tried to dig but the ground was still frozen about six inches down. I scrapped away the topsoil to allow the ground to thaw, then spent an hour or so cleaning our little cemetery--re-marking the graves and clearing away fallen branches. I guess it was therapeutic but when I considered the lives that have touched ours and moved on, I felt a weird combination of love and loss.

I only broke down once, later in the day when I went out to feed the cats in the shop and noticed the gap in the ranks. I cried plenty for Lucy when she was alive and suffering. Now all that is left is grief.

And somewhere--in the eternal ether--Lucy is dancing in the light, home at last.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Beautiful Lucy Sue

Lucy Sue
September 28, 1991 - May 11, 2004


I'm not gone...not really.
I haven't gone away...I've only gotten bigger.
My eyes, so bright, now shine among the stars.
My voice sings with the wind in winter, as I leap
And dance among the tree tops.
I stalk the blown leaves in autumn, and brush the
Flowers gently in the spring.
I come to you in dreaming, on feet grown dreamtime soft,
And lay my cheek against yours, and whisper:
"Peace be with you."
Someday we will play again together, you and I, among the stars.
'Til then, fear not to love, for your love gave my life meaning.
And I return that love to you...a hundredfold...a thousandfold...

Copyright © 1996 by Audrey E. Nickel

Monday, May 03, 2004


The birds are back.

I have been aware of birdsong in the morning twilight as I left for work the past two days. Funny how striking the sound is after the long, quiet winter.

Denny met me at the car when I got home after work to tell me that the swallows are back. I couldn't believe it. This is three weeks earlier than usual. But there they were--chripping and swooping around the front of the shop.

We need to get the second bird house put up, I guess.

Lucy was in the cat pen yesterday evening, sunning herself. The sight made me feel marginally better. I hope she can have a few more nice days.

Sunday, May 02, 2004


The sky is staying light all through the night--not the twilight of high-summer but the sky glowed all night long with a pale light that was not entirely due to the full moon.

I woke up about three. Cool air had filled the house, and the folks a couple lots over were having a party of some kind--I could hear their voices through the open window. I closed it--more to keep the chill air out because they weren't really loud enough to disturb.

Only Bunny and Dinky were on the bed, so I wandered downstairs to see where all the other cats were. Frannie was on the sofa and Lena and Clarence were on the cat bed. Punkin has taken to sleeping on the chair in the back room from time to time. All was well.

When I stepped outside to come to work this morning, I could hear a robin earnestly singing from the treetops, welcoming the dawn. The Wheel has turned incrementally toward summer.

Winter is over.