Mountain Bluebirds

In the fall and winter, Anza- Borrego Desert State Park is visited by the mountain bluebird. This medium sized bird is an insect eater and comes down from higher elevations in the winter to escape the cold and to find food. We have a flock of at least 60 birds that pivot and swoop and enjoy my birdbath with almost total abandonment.

They are hunted by the sharp- shinned hawk, who is an extraordinary flier and is one of the fastest hawks that prey on songbirds. Because of this, there are always lookout bluebirds hanging out in Callie’s beloved olive tree just in case a hawk is spotted. If they sense danger, you can hear an alarm call go out and they scatter in all directions in an explosive blast of feathers and chirps!

I have placed the birdbath so that Callie can admire them from her perch on the windowsill, and so that hawks will not be able to make a clear cut pass over the bath. If a hawk were to hone in on these lovely birds, the lookout birds would see the hawk before it became a threat and send out an alarm call!

And as you can see, they love taking baths and because they are so boisterous in their wing flapping, I have had to fill the birdbath up every day or it is emptied quickly by all the splashing in the late afternoon.

Callie can just about taste these delicate morsels on the wing, and her tail twitches and jerks in anticipation of a meal, totally NOT within her reach!

Quiet by Day- Wild at Night

Oh the joy of a quiet day of solitude, and a good book to read. I stayed cuddled up with Callie under a white, handmade quilt from my deceased mother and read most of the afternoon. Callie took it upon herself to take advantage of it, and slept curled up by my side. It was a lovely day, and I enjoyed it so much. There is nothing quite like a good book to read. All was perfect until night descended, and it was time for me to sleep. Since Callie had slept all day, she had insomnia during the night, and that translates into me not getting much sleep.

But she is such a sweetheart about waking me up, and asks ever so gently for attention. First there is a delicate tap of her paw on my face, and with just he slightest touch of one claw extended. Once she sees that my eyes are open, I get the chirp and a meow of “Hello, are you awake?” Her eyes are like soccers and she is cold, and only wants the warmth of my body, with some attention thrown in on the side. Because I toss and turn so much, caution is in order about finding a safe spot to curl up in. Of course this takes some time, and she paces back and forth and in a circle, before settling down by my side with a contented sigh.

Once she finds her sweet spot, she lets out with an explosive purr and little chirps of gratitude that make me smile. By now, I am wide awake and have eyes like saucers, but at least she is warm and happy, and starting to fall asleep. It is hard to stay mad at her though!*

Fortunately for me, I am retired now and only have to do whatever it is that I want to do for the rest of the day.

Callie is a cat that needs constant stimulation. She is not a couch potato and prefers a life of action. When we are on the road, she is entertained by all the activity and can look out the window on the dash. I also take her on frequent walks. She sleeps much better, and mostly through the night when we are on the road. Once we arrive back home to our desert house, the first 3 days or so are heavenly because we are all exhausted and need the rest. But after 3 days, Callie wants action again.

I will have to start dragging her out in the bike basket again. Riding in the basket is a mixture of both fear and excitement for her. The last time I took her out, I forgot to put her in her backpack first, and while not paying close enough attention, she jumped out and took off running. The backpack had provided just a little more support and comfort. and she was able to duck down into it if the scene whizzing by was too much for her. I didn’t handle the situation very well myself, and panicked, which only made the situation worse. Fortunately she ran up a nearby orange tree, and I was able to coax her back down. She was frightened, and so was I. The next time we go out on the bike, I will pay closer attention to her.

There is always some risk when walking a cat on a leash, backpacking, or riding in a basket on a bike. They certainly are not like dogs, and can pull out of a harness in seconds flat. There are some new designs out there that appear almost t-shirt like, and with a turtle neck that seem more confining.

Lately, I have been seeing more and more cats out there being walked, and it appears to be getting more popular. When I first started out with Callie several years ago, she was mobbed by the novelty of it all. In spite of the risks, cats like Callie need the stimulation, so it does my heart good to see other cats out there doing the same.

* I do have a portable heater churning away in the living room so that she can sleep out there by the warmth. Of course she prefers waking me up so that she can sleep with me though.

Are Cats getting Smarter!

Forgive me if I am wrong, but I believe that domesticated cats are getting much smarter than say, 62 years ago when I was a child. For instance, Callie taps me with her paw to get my undivided attention, meows and stares me in the eye before she starts chewing as if she is hungry. She is asking me to feed her. How obvious is that? It cracks me up every time she does it, and her actions are then positively reinforced. She doesn’t want leftovers, and asks so sweetly for fresh food on demand. If she wasn’t so damn cute, it would quickly escalate to nightmare status.

At least for now, I have trained her to jump down from the bed at night, where I have placed a dainty glass bowl of fresh kibble by my nightstand. That is a huge improvement. At one time earlier in our relationship, I was a slave to getting up several times at night in order to feed her frozen kibble. I know it sounds like I am a pushover, but Callie sure does know how to lay down the law! I mean charm….

Queen of the Dash

We made the epic journey back to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park yesterday after 2 long days of driving. On Friday we experienced heavy traffic due to the New Year’s holiday, and even the diamond lanes were congested because families were on the move.

Callie was the QUEEN of the dash and takes her position in front of me as soon as the RV motor starts up with a roar. Her desire to be a part of the action is so adorable. She is such a good sport about being on the road from morning to dusk, and takes it all in feline stride.

It feels good to be home, even if all the off roadies have kicked up so much dust and sand, that it looked like a major storm was blowing across the dry, desert sand. My sister Gayle and her family are camping at Ocotillo Wells over the weekend, so we are going to check out what kind of fun she is experiencing some time later today. She has 2 sons and a husband who love to off road. We are on opposite camps when it comes to enjoying the desert. Gayle is also introducing her 2 dogs, Murphy and Mazy to a life of camping, so it will be a treat for me to see how they are handling all the commotion too!*

Anza- Borrego Desert State Park is divided in two by the off roadies who want to roar over the sand in dune buggies at blinding speed; feeling the wind in their faces and the thrill of wide open terrain below their wheels, and those that admire the solitude and quiet of the desert, but try to have as little impact on all the plants and animals that call this place their home. Both groups must share this unique desert, and this weekend, what with mild temperatures, and it being a 3 day holiday, it has brought an unusual amount of human desert enthusiasts to my usually quiet, desert home.

* On a footnote- Michael and I were able to visit my sister and her family on Sunday, and we found them in Ocotillo Wells after searching for about an hour. The dust was so thick that you couldn’t see very far, but the smiles were huge on their faces, and it was obvious that they had had a fabulous time. Families everywhere were having fun in spite of it being a very different crowd than what I was use to. It was a good experience for me to see the other side of having “fun” in the desert!

Earth Wind and Fire

It has been a difficult time for Southern California this past week. The fire up in Ventura, California is where my parents spent their retirement years. They are both gone now, but left the dream of a botanical garden a reality by donating funds toward its creation. They are founding benefactors and will some day have a plaque on the third tier of the trail leading up the hillside. On the plaque will be the words- BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED! lovingly embossed for all to see as they hike. I try to live by this motto and am applying it to my own life as I live in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t always easy to bloom in the desert! The plaque is still in storage and the gardens are far from finished. Earlier this week, fire consumed the infancy stages of this dream garden and destroyed much, much, more in its wake.

One of my parents rental houses succumbed to the flames and neighbors and friends fled for their lives in the middle of the night. The botanical gardens will hopefully some day be rebuilt, but the damage to Ventura and neighboring Santa Paula is horrific. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed and over 200 square miles scorched to the ground. The fire is far from contained and is now roaring toward Ojai and Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile south in Bonsall, the Lilac Fire is raging and bore down on San Louis Rey Downs, a thoroughbred horse training facility. It has killed many horses in its wake as it burned out of control yesterday afternoon. It started in the early afternoon and crossed over the 15 freeway and barreled down the 76 at a staggering pace. The horses that died were mostly trapped in barns and stalls and couldn’t escape. Hundreds of horses were let loose in hopes of surviving the horror, but because they are such pampered, sports animals that are frequently hand walked, many panicked, and stampeding occurred. As herd animals, some ran blindly towards the smoke and flames instead of away from them. Del Mar Fairgrounds has taken in over 1,000 animals and a day of mourning was scheduled for today at Santa Anita and the Del Mar Racetrack because of all the horses lost- possibly 47 or more!

The dry conditions of Southern California and the infamous Santa Ana winds contributed to the overall perfect storm. These fires are still burning out of control, but the winds have hopefully died down. The rains that came last year produced a bounty of foliage which has dried out and become fuel for the raging fire.

And to top it off, Borrego Springs has been experiencing a series of earthquakes that have rattled the house and my nerves when it shook 4 times in less than 24 hours. Is Mother Earth sending out a message that the “big one” is on its way?

When are we going to acknowledge climate change, and most importantly, that it is human induced!? What is it going to take as a country to recognize that we have a responsibility to this planet and to our children, and that we need to curb our gas house emissions? It is too late for those beautiful horses and to all the people that have lost their homes. But let us please try to find common ground and do something about climate change before it is too late for all of us!

Callie in the mean time is doing what cats do best, sleeping the day away and getting herself ready for another road trip. We are planning on taking off again some time next week. Be safe dear readers and take care of yourselves during this holiday season.

The Crows in the Oak Trees

While camping at the Monterey Fairgrounds this summer, we would take Callie out for walks on her leash so that she could explore her surroundings. The oak trees were protected and couldn’t be cut down and had grown quite massive in size. The crows would fly in as a flock of 50 or more to feed on the trees in the late afternoon.

Dusk was just starting to fall and the light was fading. You could hear them long before you saw them. We would look up at the sky at the sound of caws in the distance and see specks of black dots moving toward us like a darkening cloud of locusts. Soon they would descend on the oak trees as a mob and peck at the bare branches and the plump acorns in a frenzy of feeding. The acorns would crash down noisily onto the aluminum roof of the livestock showing pens, and plop with a crunch on the dried up leaves at the base of the tree.

The sound was deafening and the birds would be screaming and shouting at one another the whole time they fed. It sounded like a version of happy hour for these birds, and it was really quite the sight to behold. The clicks and caws and screams could be heard all over the campground and there was a special alarm call when they spotted Callie! Three crows in particular stayed put and kept looking at us from up above in astonishment that a cat was down below. When we got too close, rather than fly away in alarm, they shouted obscenities at us and hurled insults like a gang of misbehaving children. As Callie passed underneath their particular tree, I swear they made an effort to bomb her with debris. Callie would have liked nothing better than to climb the oak tree and give them a piece of her mind.

At the end of the day, not having packed toys for Callie, she had to make do with a paper bag in which to work out her pent up aggression!

Wonder Cat

I have had two distinct moments in my life where my cat has risked death or injury to warn me of potential danger. The first time was when my daughter was a preschooler and was playing outside in a sandbox in the backyard. I give myself credit for recognizing that my cat’s behavior was odd and doing something about it, but never the less, my cat was a hero and held her ground and stayed between a rattlesnake and my daughter.

I went over to investigate because my beautiful black cat named Fanny, was crouched down low to the ground and while staying perfectly still, she was staring intently at the bushes. When I knelt down to see what she was looking at, I came face to face with a 6ft rattlesnake crouched and ready to strike. I jumped up quickly and grabbed Fanny and my daughter so that I could put them safely inside the house. I then called 911 and asked what I should do? The operator called the fire department and 5 men in full armor showed up 15 minutes later.

I assumed that they would relocate the snake, but no, one of the fireman chopped it’s head off with a shovel. I was taken aback by that, but the times were different and not as much emphasis went into the lives of wild animals in your backyard. They handed me the rattle, which I promptly gave to one of my nephews, and served them lemonade and then thanked them profusely for their heroism. As they pulled away in their great big fire truck, Lara and I stood by the curb and waved them off. I then went back to Fanny and praised her for being such a good kitty.

So last night as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed Callie on the floor in a crouched position and she was looking outside at what I thought was the black and white cat. Usually she jumps up to her loft Kong bed, but this time she was crouched under a chair and looking outside very intently. I patted her and closed the curtain and didn’t think much of it until she moved over toward the bed and stared under the bed. When I asked her what she was doing, she gingerly went over to the bed and started to reach out and tap something ever so cautiously under the bed. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something move that was the color of the carpet and it darted into the shadows. I thought that it was maybe a cricket or spider, but thought it best to know for sure and went to go get a flashlight.

When I bent all the way down and laid on the floor, I stared at what was maybe a piece of carpet that had been pulled up. I aimed the flashlight directly at it to see it more clearly and tried to focus on what it could be. It was dark under the bed and the beam of the flashlight just barely lit up the creature. When Callie once again went up and tapped it ever so quickly, I realized that it was a 2″ scorpion and I yelled for Michael to come and help me so that we could kill it! With Callie on one end of the bed and Michael and I on the other end, Michael was able to smash it with the tip of a broom.

Once again, I would rather allow animals to live out their lives, but when it comes to the desert and boundaries, they can’t come into my house. Everything in the desert has survived because of fangs and venom and I do not want to be the recipient of a bad encounter taken by surprise. The tarantula was a whole other story though, and I was happy to escort it back out into the desert. But scorpions, ants, killer bees, cockroaches and other such pests need to go.

So last night was special and I truly have a wonder cat and am so appreciative that I paid attention to her. She clearly didn’t want me going to bed until I checked out what she was guarding. She was not going to let the scorpion out of her sight. She knew it was dangerous or at the very least, a pest that would give me a painful sting and she wanted to protect me. Thank you Callie! I went to bed and marveled at what an awesome cat I have and slept soundly and in peace for the rest of the night. I will still walk around barefoot, but will always heed Callie’s subtle warning!

I did some further research on scorpions and while most have a sting comparable to a bee, the Arizona Bark Scorpion can be lethal. It is flesh toned, loves to invade homes and are small- less than 3″. That sure sounds like the scorpion Michael killed yesterday. I am not sure if they travel this far south, but with climate change, who knows? Better safe than sorry.

Miss Adelaide

I am always writing about Miss Callie, but every once in awhile I will refer to my deceased Jack Russel Terrier, that passed away just months before Callie came knocking on my door. I was still grieving and in no way ready to adopt a cat for God’s sake, when Callie came scrambling up to my front porch, very frightened and lost! She had other ideas though, and clearly adopted me as much as I reluctantly adopted her. I have told the story of reluctantly deciding to adopt her several times and won’t get into it again, but thought I would instead show off an acrylic on canvas, self portrait I did of Adelaide and me years ago.

She was an incredible dog. Really funny looking, but brave to the point of fearless and spoiled, rotten, crazy beyond words. I always joked that if her legs were any shorter, she would be upside down. If Addy gained too much weight, she looked like a little pig and was addicted to chasing tennis balls. If you got tired of throwing a ball for her, she would soak it in water before dropping it in your lap. That always got an immediate reaction out of you!

When Addy became an only child after our beautiful and regal white shepherd Coya, was put down at the age of 12, Addy never even grieved for her. Coya was always protecting Addy and she really should have been missed. But Jack Russel Terriers are extremely narcissistic and the thought never crossed her mind.

One time, Addy was carried off unceremoniously by a coyote and the coyote had her by the throat, but lived to tell the tale. I heard her screaming for backup and the white shepherd and I both dashed outside to come to her rescue.The coyote let her go at the sight of both of us bearing down on it, only to have Addie go right back after the coyote in outrage. Fortunately the coyote had had enough and took off running with my shepherd running after it.

So Addie was the love of my life and we did everything together. When she died, I never, ever thought another pet would take her place! Well, Callie has managed to do just that, and she has become one of my all time favorite pet companions. When she first arrived, I told her that if I was going to adopt her, she would have to try really hard to act like a dog, because I wasn’t thrilled about having a cat. Callie heeded the warning though and walks on a leash, rides on the dash of the RV, as well as a basket on my bike. You can’t ask for more than that from a cat. Everywhere we go, I get the same response from people. “Is that a cat on a leash?” and “How did you teach that cat to walk on a leash!”

And even though I have said my goodbyes to Miss Adelaide. I didn’t have much time to miss her because Callie wouldn’t have allowed for it. From day one, Callie has stolen the show, as well as my heart.