Sunday, June 29, 2008

Marty and Jim become friends: I set the stage to finally tell the story of the two Barrow cats and of my accident

Those who have caught this blog from it's beginning some six weeks ago will recall that my son, Toast Ed and his family had temporarily moved in with us. Martigny, their calico was completely freaked out by the move and had been spending her time hiding out in Toast Ed and Blossom's room, sometimes peeking out the door.

Given all the traveling and hospital stays I have had since, I dropped the story of Marty's efforts to blend in. Eventually, she moved into the whole house. I kept hearing rumors that she and Jim had become great friends, that they often played tag and chased each other all through the house, that they would wrestle and roll around and have a blast, but I never witnessed this for myself.

Now, finally, they got together to have fun right in front of me. I wondered what they would do.

Wow! Left jab, right jab! Then they took off scurrying all about the house, but in my debilitated state, I could not follow the action.

Okay! Ever since my accident June 12, I have been promising to soon tell the story of the Barrow cats that I had met the night before, and of the accident and jet ambulance ride that followed. Finally, I am ready to tell that story. I have created a large pool of blog-ready photos to draw from and tomorrow I will post a selection.

First, I need to set the stage, just a little bit. When I took my fall, two cameras fell with me. A Canon 5D digital with a 16-35 mm lens on it, and a Canon 1Ds Mk III, with a 24-105 mm lens. You can see what happened to the 5d an the 16-35. All the pictures that I have taken since have been on the 1ds Mk III with the 24-105, both of which seem to have survived the fall that so damaged me.  

I miss that 16-35 terribly. I will get it repaired and I will put it back in action.

There is going to be a big hole in my post-accident pictures. They will not show this boy, Kungasuk, a high school student who had been visiting Barrow from the Arctic Slope village of Point Lay. After I fell, he appeared at my side almost immediately. He helped to gather up my cameras, both broken and whole, and to get them packed up and in safe hands.

He then accompanied me to the emergency room and he alone stayed there with me. He protected me from all the good-intentioned well-wishers who sought to encourage me with a pat to my shattered shoulder. He spoke soothing and encouraging words and he always kept a cheering smile upon his face. He stayed with me until I was X-rayed,  well sedated and safely stored in a holding room to await my jet ambulance. I did not get my good camera back until I had been in the emergency room for about three hours. By then, he had had to leave and so I was unable to photograph him in the act of helping me.

Still, I want thank him and recognize him. I had taken this picture of him on April 27, at Point Lay whale camp on the ice of the Chukchi Sea, 31 miles from the village. He was part of the Thomas Nukapigak crew. I was very impressed with him then, and am even more so, now.

Thank you, Kungasuk! You're not a boy; you're a man - a good man - the kind of man I am so proud and thankful to know.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Charlie! Give that cat a wide berth! Later, neighbor dog sets out to kill neighbor rabbit; I am all but helpless to intervene

So a bit later, Tryskit Charlie and I went walking again, this time without Diamond. Again, Tryskuit carried my camera, prepared to serve as my "living tripod," should the need arise. "Look! A Siamese cat!" Charlie suddenly shouted as we neared the end of the street that I live on.

I looked, and sure enough, there was a Siamese sitting at the front of a terraced walkway leading to a house. Now, I faced a dilemma. The cat was too far away to get close enough for the lens I had on my camera. We could try to sneak up the driveway until we were close enough for the shot, but I feared someone might peer out of the house and that when the bizarre sight of a grizzled middle-aged man with an arm tightly bound in a sling only partially cover by a shirt that also left his belly button exposed, pointing an upside-down camera steadied by a young woman living tripod as a scruffy young man, obviously a musician, looked on, grab a gun and shoot us all.

"Charlie!" I whisper shouted. "Go knock on the door and tell them that I must photograph the cat and that they must not shoot us! And give that cat a wide berth, so that you don't scare it away."

Charlie then walked toward the house, going more or less straight at the cat. "Charlie!" I whisper-shouted even louder, "Give that cat a wide berth!" The Siamese then arose. With joy manifest by its perked ears and erect tail, the cat stepped happily toward Charlie and greeted him with love.

The cat at Charlie's feet.

I was still a little worried, and then a young man wearing baggy shorts emerged fromt thehouse and began to speak with carlie. I could not make out their words, but I could tell by their posture that the discourse between them was amiable. 

It was about 11:oo PM, but this is Alaska, in June and the idea of anyone being asleep in this place at that time is preposterous.

The cats name is Ted and he is very old. His people do not know for certain just how old. They adopted him in Petersburgh, Alaska, five years ago. He had lived his whole life as an outdoor cat and could not be confined strictly to the indoors, and so goes in and out of the house at will. 

He has been known to catch shrews and birds, but not to eat, but rather to present as gifts to his people.

He observes dogs closely, and often tries to mimic them. He will watch a dog roll in the dirt and then he will roll in the dirt. Sometimes, he appears to try to bark like a dog, but he does not bark so well. He lives with two other cats, both of whom are strictly indoor felines. I would have photographed them, too, but, to my surprise, I had filled my compact flash card.

That was the other night. This afternoon, I again took off for a very short walk. I contemplated a return to Ted's house to photograph his two indoor buddies, but I was alone and I simply could not carry my camera that far by myself.

Just down the street on the corner is house where many children hang out and off to the side is a trampoline. In the front, at the edge of the driveway, sits a little pen in which a rabbit lives. The shouts and laughter of many children bouncing at once upon the trampoline reached my ears the moment that I stepped out of the house.

I was glad that I was not carrying a camera, because it would be very hard to walk past all those children bouncing so joyously upon the trampoline and then not to take a picture. It was just a few years ago that the current residents of that house moved into this neighborhood where Sunflower and I raised our children.

Not long after they moved in, I was out walking when I spotted a beautiful adolescent orange cat hanging out in the front as the woman of the house did some yard work. I was charmed of course and asked the woman if she would mind if I photographed the cat.

"Sure!" she said in a friendly voice. "Go ahead and photograph the cat!" So I took a few pictures and then introduced myself. I told her that besides being a professional photographer, I kept a daily photojournal and that I always carried a camera, that I often walked through the neighborhood and that I liked to photograph any kind of scene that caught my eye, including children at play and that I hoped she wouldn't mind if I sometimes included her children in my photos.

"No!" she thundered back. "That's just weird! You can photograph the cat, but don't you dare photograph the children! That's just weird that you would even want to photograph children."

I was taken quite aback by this reaction. In 30 years as a professional photographer, I had never experienced such a reaction from a parent. Quite the opposite. Most often, parents are delighted to have me take pictures of their children. Sometimes they are curious as to why, but upon explanation almost always happy. My photographs of children have hung in museums and have appeared in magazines of many kinds - even National Geographic.

My pictures of children are displayed in books - even children's books, for crying out loud!

And now this lady was telling me that the mere fact that I would even want to photograph children made me weird. I wandered if she had ever seen a candid photo of a child and had liked it. Had she judged the person behind the camera to be weird? Does she believe that all the great photos of children taken on this earth were taken by weirdos?

While the First Amendment to the US constitution guarantees me the right to photograph anything that I can see when I am in a public place, including her children playing in the road or bouncing upon a trampoline clearly visible from the road, since that day I have never photographed her children - and I have seen potential classics.

Not long after that meeting, I was walking down the road and I saw her boys, playing with other boys. "It's the camera man!" One of her boys suddenly shouted a warning to his friends. "He's a weirdo! He's a bad man! Don't let him take your picture! He's a bad man. Run! Hide!" Then all ran, screaming away. They hid.

And so it has been from that time forward. The very sight of me has caused those kids - this boy in particular - to run and hide, to shout warnings to their friends, to warn them that I am a weirdo, a doofus, a bad man.

One of those potential classic pictures that I did not take happened very recently. I was out walking with my camera when I came upon the boy who is the very worst at shouting out the paranoid fears of adults. He was walking his dog. He called to it. The dog came running. The boy opened up his arms and the dog leapt into them, coming down into a warm embrace right against the boy's chest.

"What a wonderful picture that would make!" I could not stop myself from shouting out to the boy. "Surely, your mother could not object if I were to take such a wonderful picture of you and the dog!" A puzzled look came over the boy. I could tell that he liked the idea of being in such a picture.

Then a paniced expression filled the face of his younger brother, who stood nearby. "No!" he shouted. "She would object! Don't take the picture! Please don't take the picture!"

Of course, I did not.

Before today, the last time I saw the older boy was shortly after I returned to the house from the hospital. I was out for my first post-surgery walk. I felt the pain, and I walked slow. The boy stood in front of his house, clutching an air rifle. My arm was in the sling. forcing the shirt that I wore outward and upward, so that my belly was bare.

I knew the gesture to be worthless, yet I said, "hi."

The boy said nothing, but just stared at me with what appeared to be contempt. A wry grin turned upwards on his face. I continued on. Then I heard the poof of an air rifle being fired. I heard the zing of a bb flying over my head; I heard the multiple whaps of the bb as it smacked into leaves of a tree on the other side of the road.

Tell the mother? To what end!

Today, as I neared the corner and the kids bounced upon the trampoline, I saw the dog running circles around the pen. The rabbit within squealed in terror. Then, somehow, the dog was in the pen, biting the rabbit. The rabbit shrieked in horror. Then the rabbit was outside the pen, circling it as the dog chased after. Then the dog had the rabbit down. The shrieking rabbit broke free, but the dog soon had it again.

All of this was happening within line of sight of the children, who were considerably closer to it than I was and if you have ever heard a rabbit scream, then you know that it was producing some high-volume racket. Yet, the kids made such a joyful racket themselves that they could not hear it.

The dog now gripped the screaming rabbit in its jaws, dashed across the street into some high brush and set about to kill it.

I felt helpless. I had just come out of a second surgery and did not want to go into a third. I could not run, I could not dash, I could not even walk fast.

"Your dog is killing your rabbit!" I shouted from the corner. The kids bounced on, laughing and squealing, having a great time. I turned down the street that led past their driveway, moved a little closer and shouted again. The kids bounced on. As quickly as I dared, I advanced down the street, shouting every few feet, and always, the kids bounced on.

Finally, I reached their driveway. I did not want to want to enter it, but I had no choice.

Suddenly, the kids stopped bouncing and looked at me, in horror. "What?" one of the older girls called back to me.

"Your dog is killing your rabbit!" By now, the rabbit had become silent. The dog emerged from the brush, wagging its tail, looking pleased and happy.

"No!" the girl screamed. Her eyes glinted in fright. The whole group of children streamed past me, towards the brush in which the rabbit lay. A boy reached it first. "It's dead!" he shouted. Squeals of grief and sorrow rose over the road.

"No!" a second voice shouted. "It's still alive!" 

The mother came running out. "What's goin on?" she said, then, when she found out, "call the vet!"

One the girls then looked at me. "Thank you. Mr. Camera Man!" she said in the sweetest, most sincere tone. "Thank you so much!" Then every single one of those children walked up to me and said the same. "Thank you. Mr. Camera Man! Thank you so much!" Last to do so was the boy who had always tolds his friends that I am a bad man, the boy who had so recently fired his air rifle over my head. "Thank you, Mr. Camera Man. Thank you so much."

I walked on. While I am optimistic that the effort had not undone my most recent surgery, just the act of shouting and walking fast had put enough strain on my injured shoulder and arm that it hurt like crazy, all the way around the block.

Yet, I felt good, like maybe progress had been made.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Doc says best medicine is to walk: Diamond walks, too

The Doc tells me that the best thing that I can do right now, besides to keep my injured shoulder and arm as immobile and protected as possible, is to walk. I need a cat to walk with me. Tryskuit has come out from Anchorage and has brought Diamond - a good leash cat.

Diamond is playing a game of "Cow." The object is to eat grass and then a bit later to chew cud. We must let Diamond finish this game of "Cow" before she will walk with us.

She does a good job on the "eat grass" part, but I can guarantee you, when it comes time to "chew cud," she will just throw up on the floor. Hopefully, Tryskuit will have her back home by then.

The game ends. We go walking. Tryskuit stays close to me to help carry my camera when necessary, and to serve as my living tripod. Tryskuit's boyfriend, Charlie, mans the leash. Don't forget - you can see larger copies of these images by clicking on the photo. 

Sometimes, when one walks a cat, the cat will just stop. There is nothing for the walker to do but to stop, too.

Sometimes, the cat will run. There is nothing for the walker to do but to run, too.

A dog appears on the scene. Tryskuit chases it away. Without my living tripod, I cannot hold the camera steady in my left hand.

It is Rye's birthday. We had all planned to eat cake and ice cream with him, but we did not realize it was as late as it was. I thought it was about 8:30 pm, but it was 9:50 PM. Rye had to leave right now or be late for his 10:00 PM shift. "It's okay," he said. "I ate too much meatloaf. I am too full for ice cream."

So Tryskuit delivered Diamond's present to him  - the latest book by David Sedaris - and Rye drove off for work. We then went inside and ate cake and ice cream without him.

As for me, I have put the posting of my Barrow cats and injury infliction on hold until Sunday evening, or Monday.

A little bit at a time.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

As Jimmy and I slept and dreamed, many came by to visit

Yesterday, I did make true progress towards telling the story of Jumper and Watson, the two cats that I met in Barrow, plus that of my injury and subsequent medical and jet ambulance drama that followed, but mostly what I did was sleep. This is how the day went:

I arose from bed, and Sunflower fixed me a good breakfast of oatmeal and walnuts, topped off with peach yogurt and a banana on the side. I then came out here to my office long enough to check email and to begin the download of my images from the previous day. Although I had not taken that many photos and my set-up is all high speed Mac, I was too tired to wait for the download to complete, so I returned to bed to take a short nap, and then napped for 2.5 hours.

I then got up again and Sunflower prepared a ham sandwich for me, which I ate on the back porch as Jim frolicked in the overgrown grass and dandelions. Normally, Sunflower makes it a big summer project to take out the dandelions and weed-whack and trim the wild grass in such a way as to allow the wild roses, daisies, ferns, fireweed and such to thrive, but this year, given her new baby-sitting responsibilities, the big Apache Sunrise Dance in Arizona and now broken me, the yard has so far been left to do whatever it wants.

After lunch, Jim and I returned to house, then to this office, where I posted yesterday's entry.

By then, I was overwhelmed with weariness and my afternoon radio programs were about to begin. So Jimmy and I returned to my bed. Very cautiously - he seems to know that something is not right with me and that he must choose his nap-spots carefully - Jim searched around the area of my lap (see top photo), found his place, then curled up atop my legs to sleep.

Then, as Terry Gross interviewed neurological researcher Jill Bolte Taylor about her new book on what she went through after a stroke wiped out her personal memories and she had to build a new life for herself, Jimmy and I dozed off. We would stay dozed off through the remainder of Gross's one hour Fresh Air, two hours of NPR's All Things Considered, and half an hour of Alaska Statewide News.

As I slept, soothed by Jimmy's presence atop my legs, it seemed that my consciousness removed itself from its normal place inside my brain and took up a position on the pillow right alongside my head. I could hear myself breathing, but each inhalation and exhalation sounded like the detached breath of someone else.

As my radio programs played on, people that I know drifted in and out of the room, always stopping to sit down upon the bed and visit for awhile. Interestingly, although I have lost a good number of family members and friends over the past few years, and though it is not uncommon for these deceased loved ones to visit me in my dreams, all those who drifted by during yesterday's dream number among the living. 

None of the people who have actually been physically present in my day-to-day life since my accident appeared. So Sunflower, my children and baby Wry, all of whom I see regularly, did not appear, but my brothers and sister, my nieces and nephews, Sunflower's siblings, mother, nephews, nieces and such, did. Mac, the tall one of my two twin brothers, the oldest of the Krackers, brought his beautiful new Taiwanese-American girlfriend, Shue, who owns two used car lots.

She wore the same red dress that she had worn when she posed in front of a snowy Utah peak, the very tip of which caught a sunbeam at the reception for the American version of Vivek and Khena's wedding.

Brother Rex appeared. I asked how his pig heart valves were doing. "Much better than yesterday," he echoed what he tells me each time we talk on the phone.

Poor little sister Mary Ann. She looked at me and wept, and I wept for her.

A full contingent of my new family in India drifted in and Vasanthi handed me a cup of her exquisite Indian coffee, which she served to me in a tiny, dainty, delicate, Indian cup. Murthy proudly showed me how he had framed the certificate he was awarded after I drove him across the Arctic Circle. Vijay and Vidya, who past readers have met in the Bangalore Magazine store, came too, to show off  beautiful baby daughter Vaidehi. 

Muse Soundarya came clad in the same golden sari that she had caressed the orange and white kitten against. Usually, when she appears in my dreams - and one's muse must appear in his dreams - Sandy wears contemporary, western-styled clothing, sleek and stylish, but now Soundarya was back in her Indian garments, sewn into beauty and grace. Also there was Anil, the man who on her bike drove her and crow to the vet, the man who she has chosen in love to marry, the man who loves her back and promises to take care of my most strong-willed and independent Muse through this life and beyond; Anil, long hair flowing past his shoulders, looking so strong, rugged, yet gentle, there with my Muse.

And there were many, many, other visitors who my readers have not yet met nor even heard of, from Eskimo whale hunters and families who smoke salmon upon the banks of the Yukon River, to a freelance science writer and editor who has served as a bit of an exasperated mentor to me. He was born and professionalized in New York City, but raised as a New England boy and he now lives atop a high hill overlooking the beach at Morro Bay, CA. There, he once walked me past a big rock that juts so strange and beautiful out of the sea. Tiny crabs clung to the lower reaches of the rock, waiting for the tide to rise and take them back into the water. 

He told me that the two of us are growing old, but admonished that we should do so gracefully, as hikers, fit and firm, who on the trail would blow past kids decades younger, but not so fit. He said that we should not do stupid and avoidable things, like break our shoulders simply to get a slightly higher angle on a photo that, really, at its best, would not have been all that spectacular, anyway.

"And what is this thing with cats?" he asked. "I just don't understand this thing with cats!"

And all these people came to visit me as I lay there upon the bed beside myself, listening to myself breathe, as Jimmy, my good and true friend, slept softly atop my legs. 

Come lunchtime, Jimmy heads for the back door. 

Jimmy during our lunch break.

Jimmy, Chicago and me during the evening news. Click on the photo(s) to see a larger version. Jimmy needs to be seen bigger than this. As for me, I am a fright to behold, but you will get over it. 

Pistol comes to join us. Afterwards, I spent some time working on the Barrow entry. Then, despite the massive naps I had taken during the day, I went to bed and stayed there for 12 hours, getting up now and then only to take my pain meds, to gulp down water and to pee.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Home from the hospital, I pose with Jim - but it is Chicago who appears in the photo

Having spent an additional six hours under the knife of the good and skilled orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Duddy (for a total of ten hours), plus an additional four nights in the hospital (for a total of seven nights), I have returned home.

Two weeks have now passed since I photographed Jumper, the Tuxedo cat, and his black, short haired younger brother, Watson (who is as clever and observant as can be), in Barrow, Alaska. Ever since, I have been promising to post the photos and stories of these two notable and worthy felines, but so far have failed to do so.

I understand that this failure of mine so angered a group of loyal Kracker Cat fans in Reykjavik, Iceland, that they rioted, overturned and set fire to three "good humor" ice cream trucks, that a gust of wind then caught the flames and that the whole city is now ablaze.

I feel terribly about this, and ask all of you to  please calm down.

I promise - I will start working on this entry today. I will move very slowly, as I still must type with only my left hand and it hurts. Plus, I grow weary swiftly and so can only stay at it for short bursts. This is how it is going to be for awhile, Doc says.

Still, I will get it done. And I will tell you the whole story of how I got hurt and what it was like to ride in a jet ambulance from Barrow to Anchorage and then to go through two surgeries and how the cats played into every moment of it.

I will tell it all.

I have many thank-you's to give,   - to all those who emailed me, called me on the phone, bought and picked flowers for me, baked oatmeal cookies and brought Moose Tooth Pizza to me, plus Pepsi, and to you, from India to various places in California and the Rocky Mountains, Minneapolis and the searing Arizona desert who left posts of good will, right here, on this blog.

As to the posted photo, it happened last night. Immediately after entering the house, I sat down down upon the brown couch. Jimmy, the black cat, leaped up and then carefully sniffed and looked about, apparently trying to determine where he could safely rest. He chose my lap and there curled up. 

After about 20 minutes, I instructed Rye to get my camera so that he could photograph Jimmy and me together, but by the time he got the camera and I had taken him through the various, necessary, ISO and shutter speed changes, Chicago had moved in and Jimmy had moved on.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Goodbye, shoulder: In just hours, I become a bionic man

Self-portrait - me lying in bed, Pistol behind me.

Everyday since my return from the hospital, Sunday, June 15, it has been my intent to sit down and to use my left hand - the only hand I can use - to slowly peck out the story of my injury. Each time, I planned to go back to the evening in Barrow that I spent with Watson, the black short-haired cat and his oder brother, Jumper, the Tuxedo.

I planned to layout a nice selection of their pictures and to tell their stories of discard, woe, love and triumph. From there, I would move through the accident, the 800 mile jet-ambulance ride from Barrow to Anchorage, the gathering at the hospital, the three-hour emergency surgery that went very well, the return home, and I would show how cats weaved themselves in and out of the whole process.

But  each day the task proved too hard, too painful, and it did so today, as well. This morning, I had thought that I would do it immediately after I ate the oatmeal that I cooked for myself - for I am alone now - just me and my cat buddies. Instead, I returned to my room where I laboriously and painfully built myself a little platform out of cushions and pillows to give myself some angled support over the bed. I then eased myself down upon my back to rest.

I have been absurdly hot and sweaty and so I had both windows open. A light breeze blew across my bare torso and it felt wonderful. I could hear the chirping of many birds and the shuffling of cats as they shifted positions about me. It seemed almost heavenly, and I dozed in and out of peace, punctuated by moments of pain, both sharp and dull, brought on by the wrong movements.

In time, I got up, fixed myself lunch, then escorted Jim and Royce out into the backyard, where, using my left hand only, I clumsily took a few shots of them playing in the grass, dandelions and the wild Alaska roses now beginning to bloom.

Again, I grew too weary to do anything more and so turned on the radio, lay down once again upon the structure that I had built upon my bed and then dozed off again to the NPR programs Fresh Air and All Things Considered for three hours, followed by half-an-hour of Alaska Statewide News. I have no idea what happened in the news today, except that two young women from Outside who had gotten lost in Denali Park called someone from a cell phone and were rescued. 

I am so glad.

After that, I fixed myself dinner - all microwave - and then fell into a deep, dark, depression. My surgery, you see, has come apart. At 6:30 AM I return to Anchorage and the hospital, where the highly-skilled orthopedic surgeon will remove all the hardware that he put in just one week ago - the metal plates and screws - and this time he will remove bone as well. Either half or all of my right shoulder, depending on what he finds when he opens me back up.

I love that shoulder. It has done many things for me. How many baseballs did that shoulder set in motion? How many stones did it help skip across the water? How many kittens and cats have ridden upon that shoulder? Little Guy just loved that shoulder!

Did I not once use that shoulder to drape my whole arm over the shoulder of the beautiful, dark, black-haired Apache woman who, in these pages, I call Sunflower, after the flowers that in late summer and fall cast such a lovely blanket upon the Arizona reservation from whence she comes?

Did not her head subsequently begin to appear upon that shoulder every night before I fell asleep and then again every morning when I awoke? Did not babies then soon appear, squirming, crying, laughing, pooping and peeing, to become scampering toddlers who themselves rode about and hung upon that shoulder?

How about the airplane that this shoulder helped to guide across the wild north, the snowmachines that it directed across the Arctic ice, the bicycle that it has been steering on what, just before I left on this latest trip to Barrow, had become daily 20 mile rides?

And now I must give up this shoulder and accept plastic in its stead?

Oh, well. What is, is.

But I did become terribly depressed. As I say, I am alone with the cats. And all day, I received not a single email, except from Barack O'bama and he just wanted money, and from the lady in Fairbanks who daily sends me the same multitude of humorous, inspiring, political and sometimes just plain absurd forwards that she sends to all the multitudes of people that she meets in this life and she wasn't even thinking about me particular when she sent it. Still, she did cause me to laugh. 

Not a single phone call did I get, except from a Special Olympics lady, and she just wanted money.

I knew my Sunflower would call though, from the reservation, just as she has every night since this happened. And finally about 9:00 PM, she did, from a white pickup truck that Tryskuit was driving from the ceremonial site down the hill from Fort Apache, back to my sister-in-law's house, up the hill, in Hon-Dah. Even though she wept, I have felt much better, ever since hearing her sweet voice, as well as that of my beloved Tryskuit.

I am supposed to be at this Sunrise Dance, too. The whole extended Apache family, including the branch that this ceremony has given us, was counting on me being there. There will be others with cameras, but they will not do what I would have done.

How many cameras, over how many miles, has this shoulder of mine packed?

And now, in just six hours, I will check myself into the hospital to get it cut out to be replaced by plastic.

Sometime after I get back, when I am strong enough, I will back up to that sun-shiny night that I spent in Barrow with the cats, black and Tuxedo, and I will tell you the whole story. It will be worth the wait. Invite your friends over, and microwave some popcorn. Gather your kitties around.

Pistol on my chest.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Grump Complains About Miserable, Worthless, Cat! - A Father's Day Tribute

"What a miserable, worthless, troublesome, good-for-nothing, no good, mangy, measly, arrogant, poor excuse for a furry critter you are," the Grump complains to Mint.

Dear Tryskuit and Nabysko:

You will recognize this grump as your own, dear, Grampa Fire Kracker, Sr. - my Dad.

During the years I spent growing up in whatever place he happened to make home at the time, I never knew him to have anything to do with a cat. In fact, he often grumbled and complained about my legendary dog, Harry - just as he grumbled and complained about almost everything.

Yet, whenever Harry landed in the pound, Dad always bailed him out. As the years went by, I could not help but notice how, whenever Dad would be grumbling about Harry, about what a worthless, miserable mutt he was, he would be fondly scratching that miserable, worthless, mutt behind the ears.  As was her way, Mom would often kick Harry out of the house. Dad would then divert her attention, and sneak Harry right back in. 

Your grandfather, you see, is a grump of the kindly, soft-hearted kind.

When your Aunt Sal Tien fell on hard times, she found herself with four kids and four cats and no more husband to help care for any of them, so she, kids and cats all moved in with your grandparents for a spell. Your grandpa grumbled mightily about those miserable cats - yet, if you were to peek around the corner when he didn't know you were looking, this is the kind of scene you were likely to see.

This is Mint. Mint is taking great comfort from The Grump. Although The Grump would grumpily deny it, The Grump is taking great comfort from Mint.

In later years, a neighbor would run over Mint, stuff his body into a garbage can and then cover him with grass clippings. Fortunately, another neighbor witnessed this cowardly treachery and told the family, so they did not have to worry for weeks and months, wondering what happened to Mint. 

They gave Mint and proper and respectful funeral and then put him away for good.

I don't recall exactly when I wrote the above story, but it is in the form that I originally catalogued the stories of Cats Met Along the Way after I photographed them for Tryskuit and Nabysko - as little missives to my two daughters.

During the final fourteen months of my father's life, I tried to call him everyday. One day, as I entered the office that Jim so generously shares with me, intending to call, I was surprised to see splots of water everywhere.

There was water on the floor, water on my work table, water on my desk, water ON MY COMPUTER, MY MONITOR AND MY HARD DRIVES!!!! 

Then I spotted Jim, sitting in the gap between my desk and the 90 gallon oscar tank, looking at me. His eyes were wide and he looked perplexed. His fur was drenched. So I looked into the oscar tank. There, in the gravel on the bottom, was the lid to the tank.

So I called Dad and told him what had just happened. In his misery, he laughed. He just kept laughing. From then on, whenever I called him, he asked about Jim, "The Skin Diving Cat." He developed a great fondness for this little mischief-maker, so I made him a print of the above image.

I then traveled down to Salt Lake City to visit him in the Highland Care Center - the place where he would die. There, hanging on the wall over him, right next to a picture of my late mother, was Jim and the fish.

One year ago this month, some young soldiers stood guard over my Dad in silence as pure as any that I have heard. Three volleys were then fired for him, a bugler played Taps and then he was put away for good. 

Dad was not only Fire Kracker, Sr., but also Rex J. Hess, Sr., World War II veteran of the air war against Germany in Europe and North Africa. Many times, he flew into flak and bullets and dropped bombs and, as a child, many were his medals that I snuck out of his drawer to play with and then lost.

My eyes water even as I type this, and so I will stop.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Message from Tryskuit: Mr. Kracker in the hospital, will return in a few days

Tryskuit reporting for Grahamn,

Just a warning, no weeping needed, but my dad decided to climb up on a chair with wheels, which, as he can tell you, is not a good idea.  I'm sitting with him here at the hospital as he rests after a flight on a jet down to Anchorage from Barrow for a couple nights stay in the hospital.  He'll be fine and is in good spirits.  Stay tuned though, in a couple days he'll be back to blogging and there is already something in the pipeline for father's day.  He did find two cats in Barrow to photograph and I imagine they will show up on here shortly.  


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Little Wry Reaches Out to a Cat for the First Time

It was only today* that little Wry mastered the skill of reaching out to touch and grab. Right here, right now, oh privileged reader, in this image, you are witnessing the first time ever that little Wry Kracker, held securely by his Uncle, Rye Kracker, reached out to touch a cat.

The very first time!

And what cat was it? Royce! The orange boy who is always searching for love.

*I actually made this post and wrote these words on Sunday, June 8, the day before I left on my latest round of travel. So, today, June 11, I am somewhere on the great Arctic Slope of Alaska, most likely Barrow, but not necessarily. I am keeping my eyes peeled, looking for a new cat to meet, so that I might post if for the enjoyment of my millions of faithful readers - you who would follow me right into the firey flames of Hell, if need be.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

India Connections: Alaska Kracker Cats Jump On

As Blossom looks on, Royce, ever in search of live, and Jimmy, always looking to create mischief, welcome Narayanamurthy to Alaska.

Nearly ten months have passed since I left India, yet India has not left me. In my mind, I go there everyday. Last month, before the American wedding at Alta, India came to me, when Vivek's parents, Narayanamurthy and Vasanthi, paid my family the great honor of visiting us right here in Alaska.

When they first entered the house, I was a little worried, because I knew that they would soon be engulfed in Kracker Cats - Royce, in particular, who, as I note in the sidebar, is always searching for love.

And yes, as soon as they came in and sat down, cats started coming. "Royce! Get down!" I scolded. "Jimmy!"

"No, no, it's okay! Let them come," Narayanamurthy, who does not keep pets in his own house, said.

And so they came, and guess what? My new Indian relatives, who do not keep animals as pets, enjoyed the friendship of the cats. They stayed with us for a week, and each day they insisted that I let Kracker Cats come and baby them.

So take heart, Good Niece Vidya. Maybe one day....

Narayanamurthy and Vasanthi stand atop 600 feet of 13,000 year old ice on the toe of the  Matanuska Glacier. Murthy was determined to cross the Arctic Circle and get a certificate, and so, a couple of days later, I drove them onto the *Haul Road, crossed the Yukon River and then the circle, and continued on to Coldfoot. Murthy now has his certificate. He plan to get it framed and then he will show it to all who enter his house. He will tell them about his great adventure in the Far North.

And maybe, just maybe, he will also drop in a word or two about the Kracker Cats.

*The Haul Road parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and serves the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. It is the only highway that penetrates the Arctic

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Forlorn Cry In The Street: Bangalore, India, Part 6

On the final morning of what I hope is only my first trip to India, I set out to take a long walk. My new Indian relatives were very worried that I would get lost, but I assured them that I would not. 

Among the many people that I met on the street were a group of Muslims, who had a butcher shop, and they invited me in and gave me coffee. Only one, an elder, spoke English, but he translated my words to the others and theirs' to me. They all wanted to come to Alaska. Everytime I emptied my plastic coffee cup, the elder filled it right back up again. Fortunately, coffee cups in India are tiny. Very tiny.

When finally I prepared to leave and move on, the elder grasped my hand warmly, in both of his, and expressed his joy that we had been able to meet, that he had brought me into his butcher shop; that I had enjoyed his coffee.

I continued on my way, past a bus stop guarded by a statue wielding a curved sword and then I just kept going - through residential and commercial districts. Bangalore's population is about the same as New York City, but will likely soon leave New York in the dust. Everywhere, people thronged, all moving, walking, driving cars and motorbikes, riding in cabs, little trucks, buses and tiny, two-stroke auto rickshaws that emitted choking fumes.

So much energy!

As I passed through a noisy, dusty, commercial district, lined with tiny shops with open fronts I suddenly became aware of a faint, pitiful, desperate cry somewhere behind me. I stopped, to listen carefully.

It was the cry of a kitten!

I turned around and searched, and then I spotted it - tiny, tiny, tiny, so terribly, terribly - too tiny to be away from its mother, I was certain - frightened - standing in the doorway to a shop as sandled feet passed by indifferently in front of it.

Two very young men minded the shop. I tried to speak to them, but neither understood nor spoke English. Still, I was able to communicate that I wanted to photograph the kitten. The young man who seemed most in charge, picked it up and placed it on the counter. It immediately turned to face the wrong way, so he put his hand on it and spun it around to face me.

Then he picked it up and it crouched in the palm of his hand and looked at me, terrified. The young man glanced down, and smiled at the kitten. I wanted to know about this kitten. How did it come to be here? Was it a pet of the young man? Had it been here long, or had it just wandered by today, perhaps, alone, separated too early from its mother, and so had he let it take shelter there? Or had he maybe been walking to work, and found it somewhere, lonely and abandoned?

Did he plan to keep it, nurse it back to health and give it a good life? Or, when this day ended, would he return to his home and leave the kitten to fend for itself? Did the kitten have a name?

I had no way to ask these questions, no way to learn the answers. Judging solely from it's  appearance, the kitten's future appeared grim. I wanted to buy the kitten from the shopkeeper.

But then what? I would soon board a plane and I would not be allowed to bring this kitten home to the US. As much as Niece Vidya wanted a cat, my new in-laws did not keep pets and it would be very unfair of me to spring this one upon them, in the hope that they might change their mind.

Only one thing gave me any optimism for the future of this kitten - the fact that the young man had smiled at it and that I had caught the glint of affection in that smile.

In my mind, I continued to hear the desperate, frightened, pitiful plea of that throughout my flight home, and even after I arrived home. I wondered about the nature of creation and the God of this earth, that something so beautiful, so filled with the desire to live, would begin life in such a seemingly impossible position, as are so many, of all species, every day, over and over and over again.

A few days after my return to Alaska, I emailed pictures of the kitten to Soundarya.

She emailed me right back, demanding to know just where I had come upon that kitten. Her current landlord did not allow pets of any kind, but she didn't care. She was going to rescue this kitten, and bring it back to her place. I gave her the best directions that I could, and sent her pictures of nearby settings.

Soundarya got on her motorbike, and searched until she found the shop. The kitten was not there, nor were the two young men. Just an older man, and he scolded her when she asked about the kitten. 

I was disgusted with myself. I should have known that Soundarya would want to rescue it. I should have offered to buy that kitten, and then had Vidya keep it just long enough for Soundarya to come by pick it up. I should have known, and I beat myself up for this failure. It seemed to me that the odds that the kitten still lived were small. 

Why else would the old man scold her, and not tell her what had become of the kitten? And yet, the young man had smiled at it... my only hope.

My reaction to this kitten caused me to wonder about myself, to wonder just what kind of person I am. India is a growing, bustling, vibrant place, yet still multitudes by million suffer poverty and hardship. Many are those who beg in the street, where, although I saw no signs of starvation, people tend to be thin. I saw the bodies of people killed in an accident, lying unattended on the highway.

Yet, as I flew home, and after I got home, it was the cry of the kitten that tore at my soul, not the plight of the humans. Why? What is wrong with me? Why did not the pleas of the people, the little children, and the women holding babies and empty milk bottles (yes, I recognized the bottles as props) with outstretched and open hands, begging for money, reverberate through my head, just as the cry of the kitten did?

Perhaps its because there was too many of them and, while, against the advice that I was given, I did give a dollar here, a few rupees there, it was beyond my ability to do anything substantial to help any of these people. I lacked the resources to do that. I knew they would not starve to death and, one way or another, they would survive after I left, just as they had survived before I came. I did have the resources to completely turn that kitten' life around.

The people who I had seen did have an understanding of the forces around them and the power to do something about - even if that something was to hoist a baby and an empty bottle and to extend an empty hand to a stranger. The kitten had no understanding and no power. Only a great desire to live, muted by terror.

Then again, perhaps, for me, the kitten embodied all the suffering, not only of India, but of all us, of all species, who reside here upon this earth.

Maybe that is why I felt so bad about it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Magazine Store Cats - I wonder if any of them used to be customers?: Bangalore, India, Part 5 (of 6)

This Magazine Store Persian is an expert on business travel.

When it comes to learning the actual stories of the cats that I photograph, I am afraid that, in India, I did not do well at all. Persimon Munk would have been disappointed in me. Perhaps, depending upon what one's version of the afterlife happens to be, Persimon Munk IS disappointed in me.

Concerning the cats of the Magazine Store and my failure to learn their stories, here are my excuses:

1: there were ten cats in that store and I was there for a very short time. The only one who could tell me the stories of the cats was the store owner, and he was very busy.

2: It took me 39 hours to travel from airport to airport, Anchorage to Bangalore, and when I left Anchorage I was already exhausted beyond reason, having just returned from Salt Lake City, where I saw my brother through open-heart surgery. Furthermore, it was hard to sleep in Bangalore, because, while the days were not nearly so hot as I had expected, the nights were hot and they were muggy and I am not used to that.

So I was exhausted, and it is hard to gather and remember stories when you are exhausted.

Still, I did talk to the store owner, Yahya Sait, briefly. Here is the little bit that I remember of what he told me:

He loves, cats, loves all animals, and whenever he takes a cat in, he does so for life. He does not sell the cats or give them away.

He has the biggest magazine store in Bangalore, perhaps in all of Asia (indeed, it is the biggest magazine store that I have ever been in). Most of the magazines are American or British, but he carries all the major Indian magazines as well. People flock into his store, but many of those people come just to see the cats, and not to buy the magazines.

Even so, these cat lovers do look around, and sometimes they buy magazines. 

Most shoppers are thrilled to see the cats. He has to keep an eye out, and make certain that they do not handle them too much.

Occasionally, a mean person comes in who will swear at a cat, or even kick it. These people really irritate him; he wonders what is wrong with them, that they would behave this way. He must show them the door.

Many people tell him that after they die, they want to be reincarnated as a cat in his store. They believe they will have a very good life there. Remember - this is India, so when people talk about being reincarnated, they mean it.

You will remember this little fellow. As you can see, Niece Vidya is not the only person who fell in love with him that day.

The little brown kitten protests all the love and attention.

"Ahhhh," they say. "It's okay! It's okay!"

As lunch time approaches, an audience gathers to observe the cats. 

Is he praying, or using the merchandise to sharpen his claws?

Patiently and with grace, this Persian poses for pictures.

A typical scene on a typical day in a typical store in the typical city of Bangalore, Karnataka, India, where nothing is typical at all.

I am pretty certain that this cat is trying to figure out how to tip over and break the vase, which might have been made by a famous potter.

If you click on this and blow it up, you will see that the Little Brown Kitten has stolen still another photo.

I wonder who this cat might be, and what was his life like before he came here?

A great moment in international literature, captured on compact flash.

Wha'cha looking at, cat?

I should note that the fellow on the left is Yahya Sait.

A most intellectual Persian.