A Silliness Compendium

It’s been a busy few weeks here at the Abbey. Just when you thought the silliness levels couldn’t get any higher around here, they did!

First, we celebrated Easter:

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“Who on earth laid THOSE?”

Then, we indulged our Walter Mitty-esque daydreams:

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“Here’s the Smilodon waiting to ambush the giant sloth . . .”

We brought camouflage to a level of performance art:

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Which is the ball of yarn, and which is Linus?

We vowed revenge on the stupid human who made us wear this ridiculous piece of protective clothing:

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“I know you’re saying it’s to protect my neck from being pecked, but I know humiliation when I see it.”

*(Yes, that is a hand-knitted neck protector. I have officially made my first piece of chicken clothing. She kept it on for all of 5 minutes.)

We learned how to play tether ball with a head of lettuce:

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“Heads up, Sally!”

We discovered the best seat in the house:

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“Sorry, Shatner. The Starship Enterprise has nothing on this.”

Even the wildlife got in on the act:

 

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Yes, those are deer playing on piles of dirt.

There’s quite a lot to catch you up on: Octopus and other aquarium encounters! Chicken politics! BOBCAT PHOTOS!!!!!! Stay tuned!

 

Phew! And . . . a very humbled wow.

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All had been calm and comfy just hours before the great escape.

It was bound to happen at some point. Since Linus came to live with us 16 months ago, he has assiduously ignored any open doors to the outside — even scooted away from them fearfully. (Cookies, on the other hand, will seize any chance to head outside, check the haps, and eat grass.) Today, however, Linus was presented with an opportunity he couldn’t refuse, and aided and abetted by Cookies, actually left the house.

The problem was that it was a very windy day, and sometimes on windy days our side door doesn’t quite pull shut all the way. That’s exactly what happened today. I returned from bringing something to DS to find Cookies in the front yard, and Linus on the steps. Cookies I wasn’t worried about; I grabbed him and tossed him back in with a “You shouldn’t have led him outside!” Linus, however, was a different story. While inside I can walk over to him and pick him up (and kiss his head), I could see that outside there was no way that would happen. He had immediately reverted to being a wide-eyed, scared little feral cat. He stared at me in disbelief and disappeared under the porch into what had been his usual hiding place for a year. I tried very hard not to convey the fact that I was having several heart attacks while he peeped out. I called to him, I held out my two fingers; he tentatively came out and touched my fingers with his nose and zipped right back under the porch. After a few minutes of watching him like this, I went back in to get

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The moment of his first choice, in 2014.

some treats. (Cookies greeted me with a “I’m sorry! Where is he?” meow.) As I had done on that November day when he first came inside, I put some treats on the porch near the door, then inside the mud room with the door open. As he had done that day, he cautiously came and ate the treats on the porch, then looked at me.  He looked around over his shoulder, and then I watched him decide, once again, to trust me and to come inside. I shut the door and he ran past Cookies and went somewhere to hide. It took him some time to come out of feral mode. I let him be, and just told him I loved him. When he had sorted himself out, he came over for rubs and snuggles, saying “I’m sorry. I really do want to be here.” He has remained extra affectionate throughout the evening.

What if he had stayed outside? I think eventually he would have returned (I would have camped out on the porch until he did). He is wearing a collar, so even if someone else couldn’t get near him to read the tag at least they could tell he has a family. But given that he is out of practice of dodging coyotes (and now a bobcat), I would have been so afraid for him. Thankfully now I don’t need to worry, and I can look forward to feeling him snuggle against me in the wee hours of the morning, purring and sticking his head under my hand for rubs.

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“But who would rub my tummy if I were outside?”

Thank you, Linus, for choosing once again to be with us. You didn’t have to; you could have disappeared in a flash the way you used to and decided to be an outdoor car once more. But you didn’t. For that I am extremely humbled, and grateful.

Happy Cookies Day!

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Nose to nose for the first time.

Three years ago today, the best cat in the universe showed up in our garage and refused to leave. Eventually we caught on and let him in, and he has been taking excellent care of us ever since. It’s hard to believe he has been here for over half of DS’s life now. We also have no idea what we did with ourselves before he joined us and took on the role of caretaker, watch cat, babysitter, doctor, snuggler, and spiritual adviser. We love you, Cookies. We couldn’t possibly repay you for all you do.

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We are wrapped around these two white paws.

 

Monday Morning Visitor

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Saber-tooths in action.

Ah, Monday, when the hubbub of the weekend subsides and the house is quiet. It’s the perfect time for some animal watching, and today didn’t disappoint. I was about to go downstairs when DH whispered to me and beckoned me to the landing. I saw Linus in full saber-toothed cat mode, staring hard out the window. Then I saw our visitor: a wild turkey hen! She and Linus were having a staring contest, but my movement on the landing caught her eye and she backed off a bit. Cookies joined us on the landing to see what was going on, and when he noticed her he went into saber-toothed cat mode too. Never mind that the potential prey is about five times his height . . .

20160314_110926-1.jpgWe watched her as she strutted along the patio and the side garden, pausing here and there to nibble something but mostly seeming as if she were waiting for somebody. It’s kind of strange to see a turkey on her own since usually they stick together in flocks, especially at this time of year when breeding season is nigh. In the past we have seen flocks of over twenty turkeys in the back yard, sometimes with four males displaying (and the ladies ignoring their efforts). One even displayed at me through the back door once — I guess I make an attractive turkey. But over the past year we haven’t seen them as frequently; perhaps the increased coyote (and bobcat!) presence has induced them to shift their base of operations. I miss them and was happy to see this one back and doing her thing.

I went back into the kitchen for some coffee and, a few minutes later, my eye was drawn to the back door again:

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“Excuse me, is there room in your organization for a turkey?”

Could you resist this face?? I wonder if she would come in if I left the back door open, though having a panicked turkey in the living room probably isn’t a good idea — that wingspan is pretty huge. DH thinks perhaps someone has been feeding her, and the temptation to do so is certainly there. Unfortunately all my suitable turkey treats are in the barn,  though I think I see a small cup of cracked corn being set aside in the house in case she returns. Perhaps also Cookies had a chance to explain how things work here at the Abbey:

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“Of course we have room for a turkey. Let me give you a tip on how things work around here: if you keep showing up and being cute, they’ll let you inside.”

EDITED TO ADD: After I published this post, I went back downstairs and the turkey was still there; she ended up spending about two hours hanging out on the back doorstep, and even came and tapped on the window of our back deck. Every so often the cats would go to the door and have a look at her. At one point while we were eating lunch in the kitchen, we heard Linus making little trilling/chirping sounds that we have not heard him make before; it sounded very much like the soft trilling that turkeys make to each other as the flock moves along foraging. I know some cats chirp when they are viewing potential prey from inside the house, but I have watched Linus hungrily watch chipmunks and birds from the window many times before and he has not chirped while doing so; moreover, jokes about being a saber-toothed cat aside, Linus knows very well that an adult turkey is not prey for him. To us, it really seemed as if Linus were trying to communicate with the turkey. He certainly would be familiar with them from his outside days. It was pretty amazing to hear, and I’d love to try to record it if it happens again. Who knew that we had a tri-lingual cat??

 

Bob’s Your Uncle

The Abbey has a new denizen! Well, not exactly new, since we first made his acquaintance just under a year ago, but he and others of his kind have recently been making appearances at the Abbey and its environs. Four clues to who it is: (1) It is grey-brown with spots and tufted ears; (2) it is shy and secretive; (3) it is an apex predator; and (4) it’s a member of an animal family whom we at the Abbey adore. Did you guess bobcat? Go you!

We first met the bobcat last April, when I happened to catch some motion out of the corner of my eye as we were sitting down to dinner. I looked up and saw something large strutting through the field behind the house that was about coyote sized but didn’t move like a coyote. Moreover, I could see that it had a short tail. Bobcat? Lynx? Around here? In a flurry, DH, DS, and visiting DG (Dear Grandpa) hightailed it outside with the camera to see if they could catch a better glimpse. In a flurry, I hightailed it out to the chickens to put them back inside the barn in case our guest was hungry. Meanwhile, DH, DS, and DG got another good look at, and received a good look by, the bobcat over in the field. By the time they reached the field it was going over a little bridge, and when it heard them it turned to appraise them. They could clearly see its white chest and cheek tufts, and when it turned away again they saw the short tail. It was completely unafraid, as befits its feline nature. When we regrouped we were all very excited, but that was that was it as far as any further sightings, until two weeks ago.  Again, I caught some motion out of the corner of my eye, and there padding along the top of a stone wall was the bobcat. DS and I watched it from the windows as DH, in a flurry, hightailed it outside with the camera. Alas, it was gone, but our excitement had returned in full force.

The first order of business was to get the game camera set up. We stationed it so that it had a view of the stone wall, which we knew to be a favorite predator highway before the second bobcat sighting. We even put out an old piece of liver to sweeten the enticement to pose. Alas, we need to make adjustments to the camera’s shutter speed because something with a large, furry behind ate the liver but managed to evade more specific photographic capture. (We think it was the raccoon from the previous post.) We did, however, get some pretty hilarious rodent photobombs:

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“I am a noble beast, too!”

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“You were perhaps expecting a bobcat? Sucker!”

We also caught a coyote, exiting right (stupid shutter speed):

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“Here’s my gorgeous tail! Take that, BOBcat!”

The second order of business was to do some further research about bobcats. One thing we learned is that bobcats pick certain trees to scratch as both a territory marker and also just to keep their claws in shape, so I went out to take a look. I found this:

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It’s a bit hard to tell in the photo, but there are vertical grooves in the wood, unlike where a buck would rub his antlers, which tends to leave smooth wood. So, this may be a scratching post, or it may not.

We then moved the camera to another known wildlife crossing point and put out more bait. Again, thanks to shutter speed issues we don’t know who made the bait disappear completely despite a roaring rain storm. We did, however, capture another coyote exiting right, and another indignant deer:

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Our lack of sightings was partially made up for, however, by what seems to have been a very loud bobcat sound in the woods the other evening, during DS’s bedtime. Bobcats are most famous for the sound that males make when they’re arguing about breeding rights — people say it sounds like a human screaming — but they also growl and make other assorted noises. What we heard was very much like the sound at 16 seconds in to this recording (click the link, scroll down to the first of two audio files embedded in the page).

So that is where our current attempts to “capture” our new resident stand. Hopefully a rejiggered camera will bring some success and we can get a nice mug shot of a furry bobcat face. Meanwhile, Cookies has something to say about my attempts at making contact with his wild cousin:

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“You went bobcat hunting and didn’t bring me along as translator????”

 

Camera Obscura

After years of examining footprints in the snow, listening to sounds in the night, and catching fleeting glimpses, we at the Abbey finally got our act together and put out our game camera to get actual pictures of all the other creatures who live here with us. The game camera is one of the best inventions since sliced bread. Using motion sensing technology and an infrared light, this solid, waterproof camera can be set up in the woods and programmed to take still or moving pictures, which are date and time stamped (you can even record the phase of the moon!) and recorded on an SD card. When you’re ready to view the pictures, you pop out the SD card and upload them onto a computer and don’t have to move the camera. They have been absolutely huge in wildlife research because they are non-intrusive and help avoid — to a certain extent — the Heisenberg principle. For wildlife lovers like the Abbey denizens, it’s a great way to see what everyone is getting up to out there where we can’t see.

Our first two nights yielded some hilarious photos. First, a herd of deer demanded to know what on earth this thing was that had been left on the side of their road:

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“WTH is that thing???”

We also got a pretty neat action shot of the deer:

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Finally, we made the night of a raccoon who ate the liver we had left out in the hopes of enticing one of the numerous coyotes to the camera:

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“Liver nomnomnom.”

(Note the white dots on the ground in front of the raccoon: they are freeze-dried raw duck cat food that Cookies and Linus refused to touch. The raccoon didn’t touch them either. That must be some pretty unappetizing cat food if even a raccoon won’t eat it.)

I absolutely love the shot of the deer checking out the camera. Deer have a reputation for being sort of stupid but they are actually quite intelligent and curious. The woods are their home and they know every inch of it, so something new needs to be inspected, for safety’s sake at the very least. It’s also great to have the observed become the observers. (The raccoon was too excited about the liver to notice the camera or care, which is probably a good thing since those dexterous little hands could easily dismantle it if the raccoon were so inclined.)

Since it is going to be arctically cold here the next few days we will have to bring the camera in for a bit, but we’ll see what we get when we move it to a new position next week. Stay tuned!

The Pharaoh’s Bird

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“Move over, Ra. There’s a new sun deity in town.”

Today’s long-overdue profile in silliness is of Nutmeg, our sweet, soft-spoken Golden Laced Wyandotte. Pumpkin’s best buddy and a huge fan of DH, Nutmeg is the type of personality you’d want in any group: friendly,  laid back but not a pushover,  not afraid to speak her mind but does so diplomatically,  and funny. As I write this she is ordering Jenny and Sally around as they all select dust bathing spots, putting herself at the top of the hierarchy (for today, anyway). Before that, she went back inside the barn to fetch Pumpkin, who was nervous about coming out because a hawk had flown through the neighborhood 15 minutes earlier. “Come out into the sunshine! You’re not alone, you’re with me!” said Nutmeg, and the two zipped out of the barn together and joined the rest of us in the sun. Confident and considerate, she’s a cool chick to have around.

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Hard-working girl.

Nutmeg also has one of the sweetest chicken voices I’ve heard, a soft “doot-doot-doot” that varies in inflection depending on whether she’s asking for a treat (“doot-doot-doOOT?”), telling me her feet are cold and could I please warm them for her (won’t transliterate that one, and yes, I have warmed my chickens’ feet when they are cold; doesn’t everyone?), or telling me she needs to lay her egg. As a chick, she was the quietest of our flock and this has remained the case. It’s an interesting contrast with our other brash ladies who have no qualms about saying things loudly and proudly.

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A beautiful chicken like that? She deserves more than one balloon!

Finally, in addition to having all the aforementioned lovely personal qualities,  Nutmeg is drop-dead gorgeous. Her black and gold feathers grace the banner at the top of this blog, but that photo does not do them justice. When the sunlight hits her, the gold lights up like flame and the black reflects iridescent green. Since her comb lies close to her head, she has somewhat of a falconish look to her and resembles Egyptian tomb paintings of beautiful birds from the afterlife. Any pharaoh who met her on the other side would have truly been blessed. Lucky me, I get to go out to the barn and hug her each day. We love you, sweet little golden Nutmeg. You can have as many balloons as you like.

 

 

Indoor Recess

 

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“My good woman, I hope you brought us something especially delectable.”

Here at the Abbey it is really bloody cold today, with the wind chill making things a distinctly uncozy 13 degrees. For the ladies, spending the day in the chicken tractor was definitely out, even with it buttoned down in wind protection mode; once the wind is hitting over 20 mph there’s no point, since the tarp tends to take on a life of its own and threatens to sail the whole thing off to Oz. So they have the run of the barn, which isn’t the most fascinating way to spend the day but it’s better than being cooped up. There are different options for perching — the rafters and the table saw are favorite spots — and spots for dust baths. And, of course, fresh snacks and water are provided every few hours by the helpful human staff.

 

 

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Pumpkin presides over the smorgasbord.

Said staff was invited to relax for a while with them after making the early afternoon snack delivery. Between the weather, illness, and schedules, there haven’t been many chances to just be with them while not doing chores, and I’ve really missed it. After bundling up, and bundling up, and bundling up some more, I parked myself on the tractor seat to enjoy listening to their Zen-inducing chicken sounds: scratching in the shavings, the occasional soft cluck, stretching and flapping wings, feet perching on roosts. It was incredibly peaceful. Chicken Zen is different from cat Zen, although each is soul-centering. Cat Zen is the Zen of being poled up the Nile on the pharaoh’s barge in the late-afternoon sunlight while lounging on a velvet cushion. Chicken Zen is the Zen of quietly but steadily getting things done around the house, with pauses to sit on the porch and drink lemonade. It’s a treat to be able to move between these states in the course of a day.

 

 

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“You mean, this scarf is for you?”

And speaking of coziness, cats, and chickens, the Coop Mistress’s latest knitting project was inspired by the Abbey crew: a pet scarf! I found variegated yarns to approximate the chicken’s feathers, plus black for the cats and deep red to give it a little color. So far it depicts the Faverolles, the Barred Rocks, and the cats. If this weather keeps up I have a feeling there will be requests for scarves coming in from the barn . . .

 

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No one out-Zens Linus Kitty.

I Choo-choo-choose You

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“Yes, your desk will do nicely for my next nap and dictation session for my screenplay. Have you heard back from Shatner yet?”

When spending a lot of time with animals, it gets easy to take for granted a fundamental aspect of the relationship: that they want to be with you as much as you want to be with them. As I write this, Cookies is on the desk next to my laptop (leaving little room for anything else) and Linus is right at the base of my chair (leaving little room for movement to the right). They have a whole house with many comfy spots and sunbeams to relax in. Yet here are they are, each within a few inches of me. Earlier this morning, five busy, chatting hens cheerily followed me out of the barn, around a corner, and across a field to their tractor as soon as I said, “OK, girls!” Yes, there were treats involved, but they also had a wide world of other activity options, including eating snippets of green grass and dustbathing. Yet, they chose to follow me. A neighbor’s cat (Sinbad), who lives about a quarter of a mile away and whom I don’t feed, knows my chicken-keeping schedule and shows up for petting and chatting at exactly the right time, several days a week. I give him lots of rubs, he hangs out while I do my chores, he and the chickens give each other the side eye, and we all have a very chill time. He has a whole territory in which to hunt and explore and other humans to charm, yet he chooses to come up for a visit.

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“A little more to the left — ah, thank you. What are you guys up to today?”

I try not to forget that these daily occurrences at the Abbey are wondrous displays of free will. By living with us humble humans, these animals do receive shelter, safety, comfort, and food (on voluble demand!). These are no small things — just ask Linus and Cookies, who certainly knew life without them. But just because we provide for them doesn’t mean they owe us their companionship.  True company — being together mentally as well as physically — cannot be imposed. It is the most fundamental gift of the self.

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“I choose to be extra fluffy and adorable.”

A review of a book about animal consciousness — specifically, that of octopuses — is forthcoming from our resident staff of critical readers. The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery, is an excellent book, but like many other books on animal intelligence/sentience, it falls prey to the gee-whizzery of the idea that — gasp! — beings other than ourselves have the capacity to make decisions too. I think many of the authors of these books understand that everything, from the “lowliest” invertebrate to the best cats on the planet, must make decisions every minute of every day in order to survive, but feel the need to press home the gee-whizzery because of the limitations of their human audience. Unfortunately, this is a real need; most humans are fairly oblivious. Unlike many other books, however, The Soul of an Octopus dwells on the decision to seek out and to give companionship, and how special that is.

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“I choo-choo-choose to be in this house of snuggliness rather than under the porch.”

So stay tuned for the review. And if you happen to be lucky enough to be sharing your space with an animal at the moment, let him or her know how much you appreciate being together.

This Time, We’re Really Back!

Happy 2016, everyone! After way too long of being sick, plus holiday shenanigans, it is back to work here at the Abbey. Here’s a recap of the recent goings-on:

We decorated for the holidays:

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“Ooh! Our humans put up this blinky tree full of cat toys just for us!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

We entertained the neighbors:

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Nutmeg, meet Sinbad. Sinbad, meet Nutmeg.

We gave speeches:

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“If elected, I promise to exclude all humans from public office!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We snuggled:

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Does it get much cuter than a pink tongue and white whiskers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We molted, and tried hard to hang on to our dignity:

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“I may have just one tail feather left,  but I still have my pride!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And we undecorated after Christmas:

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“You’re not taking away the cat toy tree, are you????”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you have it, the update as of early January. Coming soon, book reviews! Lessons learned from taming feral cats! Chicken ridiculousness! And maybe some new species to hear from once Coop Mistress’ lungs cooperate and she can get back in the saddle!