Outside Peet’s at 37th and Hawthorne

I often meet Aly for Spanish lessons at the Peet’s Coffee at 37th and Hawthorne. There are a lot of interesting things to see there. Sometimes there’s a group of young men skateboarding on 37th, blocking traffic and the sidewalk and getting cranky when people ask them to stop. There are often petitioners. For some reason, there are plenty of tourists here. Once there were young women giving free hugs.

And yesterday there was a bare-footed man in dirty clothes, smoking cigarettes and sitting on the newspaper dispenser. He was rather surly and a little…strange. At one point, he took a handful of coins from his pocket and tossed them to ground just outside the window from which I was watching. (Well, I was studying Spanish, but I was also keeping an eye on him.) The young man smoked and stared as people bent to pick up his quarters and dimes and nickels. I’m not sure what was going on there.

But the best thing I’ve ever seen at this corner was a dog. He’d lost the use of his back legs apparently, so he moved around on a makeshift cart. I snapped this photo with my iPhone:

Legless dog
“Whatcha starin’ at, boy? Ain’t never seen a dog with wheels before?”

Our Zoo: The Animals of Rosings Park

For living just a few miles from the center of the city, we sure have a lot of animals around this place! In fact, tonight as I was putting together a video about our bunny, I realized I’ve made all sorts of short movies about the animals of Rosings Park. Let’s look at some of them, shall we? (And, at the end, you’ll get to see footage of Blackberry, which is what Kris has named the rabbit.)

Let’s start at the box factory, though. As you’ll recall, one day a feral chicken showed up in the yard. He lived with us for several months, coexisting alongside the shop cat, sharing its food. Here’s footage of my chicken.

Returning to Rosings Park, the first thing to document is the birds. Our yard is filled with birds, especially in the autumn and winter. Kris feeds them well, and they’re grateful for it. Sometimes there are too many birds. When that happens, there can only be one result: a peanut battle!

One summer, Kris decided to train the scrub jays that are so prevalent here. Using their favorite food — peanuts — she slowly conditioned them to come closer and closer to her. Eventually she could sit at the picnic table and feed them. The collective memory of the jays has no recollection of this now, which is too bad. Maybe we’ll start again from scratch sometime. Here’s a short video of me working to condition the friendly jays.

There are other, wilder animals that roam the neighborhood at times. For instance, there are often raccoons (or bands of them) that sweep the neighborhood, tearing up gardens and chowing down on other foodstuffs they can find. Last autumn, after we kicked Toto out of the house, they discovered her food dish and helped themselves. A younger Toto might have tried to fight them off; the old (and near death) Toto simply watched grouchily.

We have almost as many spiders around here as we do birds. Here are some baby spiders in February; by July, they were full-grown and all over the yard.

The most prominent animals in our lives are the cats, obviously. They run this place. We shouldn’t call it Rosings Park; we should call it the Whisker Den (or something less dorky but just as feline). Here’s a typical morning in which the cats are running the show. (For the record, this is my second-most watched video on YouTube.)

And that leads us to our latest addition: our volunteer rabbit. The bunny showed up last week. I love having it around. It’s hilarious. I like how it chases the cats, but not out of spite — out of playfulness. I came home yesterday to find it lolling in the road with Max. We’ve decided it can stick around, but it can’t come in the house, and we’re not going to actively foster it.

Here’s how cute the damn thing is:

Who knows what animal we’ll keep next? Ducks? A dog? Goats? A cow?

p.s. I forgot about the squirrels! I don’t actually have any good squirrel footage, but they’re a big part of our lives too. Sometimes they eat from Kris’ hand. They taunt the cats. They fight with the birds over food. Last week, we saw one industrious fellow trying to drag a whole corn cob up the walnut tree. I’ll make it a priority to get some squirrel video to add to my collection.

Five Cat Family

It cracks me up that I haven’t haven’t written much lately. As usual, that means there’s actually too much going on in my life, not too little.

For example: As many of you know, Mom is currently in the memory-care unit of an assisted living facility. I won’t go into details (yet), but she had another mental-illness crisis in June/July. The doctors ordered 24-hour supervision, and even if they hadn’t, we would have sought it.

What, then, to do with her two cats? There’s only one real answer: They’ve come to live with us.

Yes, that’s right. After the loss of Toto in February, we were down to three cats. Despite my insistent pleading, Kris refused to budge from that number. Now, however, we’re up to five cats. And man oh man, has that played havoc with the cat politics around this place.

To summarize, we have:

  • Simon, he of prize-winning photos. He loves to climb ladders and to sleep late.
  • Nemo, who is scared of everything except…
  • Max (or Meatball), who is a lovable lug (but frightened of Nemo).
  • Socks, who is a miniature version of Max. She is actually his blood sister.
  • Silver, who is Simon’s blood brother.

At first, I thought Silver was worthless. He hid under the bed. He hissed. He didn’t interact with anyone. Now, though, after two weeks at our house, he’s established himself as Boss. (In the world of Kris and J.D., “Boss” is bestowed to the top cat of a house or neighborhood. Simon used to be Boss of the house, though he quarreled with Oreo next door about Boss of the neighborhood.)

It’s been entertaining over the past week to watch as the cat politics are sorted out. Simon was pissed off about being dethroned as Boss, and he and Silver came to blows a couple of times. Now, though, he’s resigned to it. As long as Mom still scritches him.

Meanwhile, Nemo (who thought he was Boss) hasn’t come inside except briefly. He’s completely cowed by Silver. And Maxwell doesn’t know what to think.

The new cats are chowing through the cat food. Because they were 100% indoor cats, they haven’t learned to use the outdoors for bathroom duties. (Although Silver figured out how to do Outside in minutes. He loves it.) And now our house is even furrier than it was before. The stairs are covered with cat hair.

Five cats seems like a lot. Still, I’m hoping Kris will let me get a replacement for Toto.

Toto – Africa

I’ve had a rough 48 hours. Toto’s death has affected me more than you can probably guess. I knew it would. That cat was like a piece of me, and I feel her absence acutely. It hurts.

“It always amazes me how emotional you are,” Kris told me last night at dinner. “You’re so much more sentimental than I am about this stuff.”

“I know,” I said. “I can’t help it.”

I’ve always had a lot of empathy for those around me, whether human or animal, but especially for those who are close to me. In many ways, Toto was the creature I’ve been closest to in my entire life. Her death hurts me more than Paul’s did, and even more than my father’s.

On Friday, Jen (a trainer at my gym) wished me bon voyage by sending me a link to a music video: Africa by the group Toto.

“I felt so bad,” Jen said at the gym yesterday morning, after she learned I’d just had Toto put down. “I didn’t know your cat’s name was Toto, and there I sent you the video to that song.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I liked it.”

And I did. It’s a strange, strange coincidence, but now that song will forever remind me of this weekend. It forms a bridge between the bad — saying good-bye to Toto — and the good — my first trip to Africa. With its melancholy melody, it fits my mood perfectly.

I’ll do what I can to update this blog from the road, but no guarantees.

The Smartest Dog in the World

Nicole — who knows I love stories about animal intelligence — wrote in to share the tale of Chaser, the smartest dog in the world. Or at least the dog with the largest vocabulary.

Here’s the story, as reported by Animal Planet:

As part of a three year training course at Wofford College taught by psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley, Chaser was introduced to the names of 1,022 toys. Over the three years, Reid and Pilley taught the collie the names of 1,022 toys by introducing them to her one by one, getting her to fetch the toy and then repeating the name to reinforce the association. They say there’s no limit to what the dog can learn!

They’ve even posted video of Chaser in action:

Pretty amazing stuff, but I’d still like to see them do this with a cat… (Plus, I think it’s hilarious that this man refers to himself as Pop Pop.)

Born Free

When I was a boy, I loved nature films. We saw a lot of these in school, of course, but once in a while, Dad would actually take me to see one in the theater. My favorite nature film was Born Free, about Elsa, the lioness who was raised from a cub by humans in Kenya.

I saw Born Free several times before reaching high school — but never again since. I’ve never forgotten about it (and, in fact, think about it a couple of times each year), but I’ve never sought it out, either.

The other day, I was browsing at the always-chaotic (and not in a good way) Wallace Books, a local used book store. Looking through the Africa section, I stumbled upon a hardbound version of Born Free, complete with mylar book jacket cover. Just a quick glance through the book was all it took to know I’d buy it. I plunked down my $9.50 and went home happy.

Born Free

Born Free was written by Joy Adamson, whose husband was a Game Keeper for a region in Kenya during the 1950s. The book tells the story of Elsa, one of three newborn lion cubs rescued after their mother is shot. Joy and her husband George raise the cubs, keeping Elsa for several years before deciding to release her back to the wild. The book documents what it’s like to live with a lion, and is heavily illustrated with Adamson’s wonderful black-and-white photos.

I loved Born Free. It’s not the best-written book (and, in fact, it needs some editing for punctuation and grammar in spots), but it’s a fun story that comes alive thanks to the many photos. Plus, Adamson has a real affection and respect for the animals around her. She’s surrounded by elephants, rhinos, baboons, gazelle, crocodiles, gamefowl, snakes, and more. Born Free could actually be the source of my obsession with animal intelligence.

I’ll have to watch the film again soon. I couldn’t find an official movie trailer for Born Free, but I did find an amateur one:

Plus, the full film has been uploaded to YouTube. (Here’s part one.) As for myself, I’ll try to get the film from Netflix or buy it from Amazon. (Well, first I’ll check to see if the local CD exchange has it.)

Bill Travers, who starred in the film version of Born Free, went on to produce Christian the Lion at World’s End, the true-life story of a tame lion who is moved from London to Kenya, where George Adamson helps him integrate into the wild. I shared the story of Christian the Lion at Animal Intelligence in 2007. Here’s a short video clip that highlights Christian’s amazing reunion with his former companions:

In Born Free, Joy Adamson writes:

I really have no patience with people who maintain that an animal’s life and actions are governed by pure instinct and conditioned reflexes. Nothing except reasoning powers can explain the careful strategy used by a pride of lions in hunting, and the many examples we have had from Elsa of intelligent and thought-out behavior.


Man Bonds with Lioness and Cubs

Via Frykitty, here’s a great video of a man interacting with a lioness and her cubs. She seems to trust him completely:

My favorite part of this video is how the lioness is so cat-like. Her mannerisms are just like those of a common housecat. In fact, if you watch how the lioness acts in the first thirty seconds or so, that’s just how Simon and Nemo act toward Kris here at home. It’s how they say, “Give me love! Give me love!”

My least favorite part of the video? The silly Lord of the Rings music in the background.


It’s been a l-o-n-g time since I had fun with photography, but I’ve been using my cameras more and more recently. I like it. And while my “photography eye” hasn’t quite returned yet, I am beginning to see possibilities.

For instance, today at the Clackamas County Fair, I spied a litter of piglets. I knew right away that I wanted to photograph them. And I even knew how I wanted to compose the photograph. I waited a couple of minutes for their pen to clear of people-lets and then worked to compose a shot. I still have no sense of lighting, but I ended up with this, which both Kris and I like:


“You should enter that photo in next year’s county fair,” Kris told me tonight. Maybe I will.

(p.s. As you’ll read at Get Rich Slowly in the morning, Kris’ triple-berry jelly was awarded “class champion” this year — it was the best jelly in the county!)

Cats Are Strange

It’s been a while since I’ve written about our cats. I know that disappoints many of you, so let me remedy that now.

Our cats are strange.

During the summer, we keep a window open for them so that they can go in and out at will. Last year, this window was in the dining room, and all of the cats (except Toto, who is old and frail) used it. The window was like a cat highway, with furry beasts shuffling in and out at all hours.

We did the same thing this year, but opened a window at the back of the house. Nemo — who I usually think of as stupid — is perfectly happy with this. He jumps in and out whenever he wants (although usually he’s asleep on the bed, or tormenting Max). But Simon? Simon won’t jump out the window. He’ll come in the window, but he refuses to go out, even if we carry him to it. He wants to go out a door. And Max? Max refuses to jump in the window. He’ll jump out the window, but even if we carry him to the back porch, he won’t jump in. Goofy beasts.

Meanwhile, Nemo is a complete jerk to Max. They used to get along great, but somewhere along the way, Nemo scared Max, and now it’s this terrible, terrible relationship. When Nemo sees Max, he bolts at him, and tries to take him down. Kris thinks Nemo is playing, and this is probably true (though he does use his claws), but Max doesn’t think it’s play. Max is truly frightened, and he cowers or runs away. In fact, he often runs out into the street. Nemo chases him straight out the door to the edge of the property, stopping to let Max cross to the neighbor’s yard.

While all this is going on, Toto isn’t dying. She was dying earlier in the summer, but she seems to have recovered. Now she’s just a colossal pest. I had been cuddling with her a lot because I love her and was sad that she’d soon be gone. Well, now she wants that all of the time. In fact, she just got up from her heating pad and ambled over to me at my keyboard, and she’s paw-paw-pawing my face, asking for me to pet her. She wants me all of the time.

On the food front, I’ve been feeding Toto wet food. She loves the food when it’s a new can and the food is warm. But if it’s been in the fridge? Or is a couple of days old? No way. She won’t eat it. Max will eat it, though. He’ll eat anything. That cat is a garbage disposal. Almost literally. He spends a lot of time in the kitchen sink, pulling out the rubber stopper that leads to the disposal, and then he’ll dig around inside to see if he can find any good morsels. What a meatball! Simon, who used to not like wet food, has decided that it’s actually pretty good stuff. He scavengers for anything Toto and Max haven’t eaten. And Nemo? Well, Nemo never eats anything. He always begs for fresh dry food in his bowl (never mind that the bowl is full and that the stuff in the bin is no fresher than the stuff that’s already out), but then he only eats a few morsels before tracking down Maxwell to thump on.

Goofy animals.