Sunday, August 31, 2008

Big city Kracker Cats come to visit; Little Bear causes big scare

Slick - wild cat at heart.

Yes, I had planned to catch up on all the back-logged Kracker Cat photos that I had taken during the time that I used to tell the Romeo-Diane Benson story, but I did not know that two Kracker Cats were about to come out from the big city to visit us.

I refer, of course, to Diamond and Slick, who live with Tryskuit in Anchorage. Since these two cats took the time and trouble to travel all the way out here to Wasilla, courtesy demands that I devote this post to them. 

Look at Slick as he sits atop an old Ford junker that we cannot seem to sell. Does he look a little wild? Yes, he does have a wild streak - one that was about to take a frightening turn.

Look at those wild eyes!

When Slick and Diamond visit, Tryskuit normally turns them loose in the front yard, still harnessed to about fifteen feet of leash each. Then she and I and sometimes Sunflower and any other humans who desire all stand around in the sun and visit, always keeping our eyes out to be certain neither of these two cats wander out of the yard.

Usually, this is no problem. Usually, they limit their leashed roaming to a very small portion of the yard. Today, though, Slick's wild side burst to the surface. Twice, he momentarily disappeared from eyesight; once, I had to track him all the way passed the wrecked airplane that I keep at the side of the house and into the back yard.

I quickly spotted him and called to him. He came at me with his head hunkered low and eyes set right on me, like a cougar stalking a lamb. The black hairs that cover his spine stood straight up; his tail was pouffy. He must have picked up the scent of strange cats and now he was both frightened and angry.

"Slick!" I soothed, "Slick! Little Bear! Bear Meach! it's just me." He meowed, came to my extended hand and rubbed his chin against it.

Tyrskuit spoke of how irrational, spooked and strange "Little Bear Meach," as she likes to call him, can suddenly become at the scent of strange cats. Once, he had apparently picked up such a scent from within their own home, and had suddenly leaped into attack against Tryskuit herself.

Diamond, who tackled Little Bear Meach.

Diamond reacted quickly, and tackled poor Bear Meach before he could do any damage. In another incident, right here at the Kracker house in Wasilla, the town that spawned VP candidate Sarah Palin, Slick went crazy in the back yard. Again, he launched an attack against Tryskuit. Again, Diamond leaped to her defense and tackled Bear Meach.

"I was so proud of Diamond," Tryskuit said. "I wasn't upset with Bear Meach. I don't hold it against him. It's just something that happens to him sometimes, when he smells strange cats."

Just before I took the above picture, I spotted Bear Meach headed towards the neighbor's yard. I followed, then stepped on his leash to stop him. Since my right arm is still in a sling, I squatted down, picked up the end of the leash in my left, and then gave it a little tug to draw Slick back deeper into our own yard.

This angered the feline Little Bear. His eyes bearing into mine, he came straight at me, hair once again on end. He showed his teeth, hissed, came faster, bared his teeth again and hissed. I tried to photograph the action, but this little point and shoot that I still must use until I gain back enough strength and coordination in my right arm to use my big Canon would not react quick enough.

I backpedaled, wondering if I would soon feel his claws and teeth in my flesh. Just before he reached me, Slick turned to the side. I shot the above image as he shot past.

I decided it best that I not tug on his leash ever again.

Slick was a good cat after that, and spent most of the rest of his time just basking in the sun. As for Diamond, she had picked out a solitary place deep in high grass and that is pretty much where she spent the whole afternoon, until just before dinnertime. 

Tryskuit then put the two cats back in her car and then prepared a dinner of dry cat food for them. I sat down in her car and then took this image of Diamond.

After the posed picture, Diamond then moved down to the bowl of food on the back seat. She growled as she ate, so that Slick would know he had better not touch this food.

Diamond looks up from the food bowl to glare and grow at Slick.

After finishing off the bowl of food in the back seat, Diamond then jumped to the front, and began working on the other. Here, she pauses, ear cocked in the direction of Slick, so that she can satisfy herself that Slick will not try to steal any of his own food that she eats for him.

Somehow, it always comes to this. We have a good visit but it seems terribly short. I want my daughter and her two cats to stay forever but they get into the car to drive back to Anchorage. Note the yellow leaves reflected in the window. We didn't have much of a summer here, and already it is over. 

This was one of the nicer days of it, but, since these three drove away, the weather has turned gray and cold, the way it sometimes does in Wasilla, Alaska, when August comes to an end.

Even before the sun and warmth went away, I began to work on this blog entry. Jimmy hopped onto the window sill of my office. As you can see, he buried his head in his paw and wept bitterly, so badly did he feel over the departure of Slick, Diamond and Tryskuit.

It's okay, Jimmy boy, Jim Slim Many Toes. Those three will be back.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wasilla, Alaska, once tranquil home of the Kracker Cats, suddenly and unexpectedly pulled into the national spotlight by John McCain and Sarah Palin

We could not believe the news we received via a phone call this morning, shortly after we staggered out of bed. We heard that John McCain was going to announce that Sarah Palin, of the Kracker Cats' own little town of Wasilla, would be his running mate for Vice President. 

So we turned on the TV. It was true. John McCain called her out, introduced her and then she started to speak. Jimmy jumped up onto the TV stand for about 30 seconds. He did not voice an opinion. The only politics he cares about is cat politics, in which the debates are short and often involve a quick hiss and a slashing claw.

Now, everybody is going to want to know about Wasilla. National and international news media will pour into this valley like a flood, hoping to learn about this place. Maybe the Kracker Cats and we their people will have to move to a more out of the way spot, from where no one is running for Vice President, just to find a little peace and quiet.

Looks like I have to wait at least another day to catch up on the recent, backlogged, Kracker Cat photos.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kracker Cats to be subject of searing expose

Late this morning, I suspiciously observed a car pull into my driveway. All my instincts told me to grab the cats and run, straight to Mexico, but I was pretty curious and did not really believe that anyone could ever have discovered the secret deeds of the Kracker Cats. So I opened my door to the young woman, Zaz Hollander, who proved to be a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.

I was shocked to learn that not only did she know about each misdeed ever committed by any Kracker Cat, but she had irrefutable documentation of each event, confirmed by three independent sources.

It is a good thing I have no political ambitions, as this would put an end to my career, for sure.

Perhaps Royce saved us all. As usual, the moment he spotted Zaz, he sidled on up to her in his tenacious quest for love. He poured on the charm. It seemed to work. She liked him. He deposited much hair on her and she said that was okay, that her cat did the same kind of thing. Furthermore, Muzzy shook his head and sent slobber flying everywhere. She said that was what cats who look like St. Bernards do. 

We will just have to wait and see what she writes about the Kracker Cats and this blog. Her story will appear next wednesday in the weekly Mat-Su section of the paper.

Last night, I said that tonight I would continue my catch-up of the Kracker Cat photos that I took during the time that I ran the series on Romeo and Diane. I was wrong. I will continue it tomorrow.

P.S. Don't forget - you can enlarge these pictures by clicking on the image. There are only two today, so it won't take that long. I suggest you click.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Intermission II: The exhaustion continues; catching up with the Kracker Cats

Look at Pistol-Yero! Why can't I do this? Why must I lie awake all night, writhing? Not tossing and turning - boy, do I wish I could toss and turn! Even though I now heal rapidly, this shoulder will not let me toss and turn. I must lie on my back, and stay off my sides. So I can only writhe. And as I writhe, Pistol is always there with me - lying on my legs, my ankles, sometimes my chest.

And if by accident my writhing should wake him?

He just shifts a few inches to another position and goes right back to sleep.

Not even baby Wry, playing with a lid, can ruin Pistol's Sleep. Hey! I've got some more good stories to tell, and pictures to go with them! But I am too exhausted. I need a break right now. But I am always taking pictures - everyday - and the Kracker Cats often work their way into them.

So I am going to spend two or three posts catching up on recent Kracker Cat pictures and then I will tell another story. I'm trying to decide which one. 

Jim, Wry and Prickly Pear Blossom. There are some folks down in Arizona, in both Apache and Navajo lands, who really love it when Wry appears on this blog. So, Arizona family, Wry is here today, for you.

Prickly Pear Blossom and baby Wry, with Jim out of the picture.

Royce, Sunflower and baby Wry.

"He's an Indian cowboy in the rodeo, and I'm just another little girl who loves him so..." H'mmm... wonder if any pretty little girl might sing that song for Wry one day? If so, it will be the fault of Muzzy and of Wry's dad, Toast Ed.

Muzzy, Wry and Toast Ed: off-roading. 

I sure hope they didn't run over any frogs out there. There's lots of frogs out there - although not near so many as there used to be. What has happened to all these frogs?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Intermission: so exhausted I don't know how to proceed... but I will

I attempt to nap - self portrait with Chicago

It's true, I am so exhausted I don't know what to do. Please check back tomorrow, and see if I have figured it out; to see if I have revived a bit. I don't think it is a bad thing that I am exhausted. I think it is a good thing. I think it is because I have healed so much that I simply cannot sleep until I heal a bit more.

I am too tired to explain.

And no, the nap with Chicago did not work. I lay awake the whole time. My doc gave me some sleeping pills, Ambien. I took two last night, then lay awake for four hours straight, listening to Sunflower sleep, listening to Pistol-Yero sleep. After that, I slept sporadically for three hours, then got up. I'm pretty sure that I slept sporadically, anyway. I felt like I was awake the whole, yet I kept remembering things that seemed to have just happened but could not have happened had I been in bed, so these events must have been dreams.

Unfortunately, I no longer remember any of them. This convinces me even more that they were dreams.

Oh, if I could but be like these cats! They have no problem falling asleep. They sleep long and often, with no problem at all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Part 5 of 5: His job complete, Romeo takes his leave

This is the lid to Romeo's coffin. It was painted by Diane Benson herself, with love; a work of art to be viewed just one time and then to be put into the earth, to become earth, as will he who lies inside.

The day is Saturday, September 15, 2007. The place: Chugiak, Alaska. Five years earlier, when Romeo was 13, his vet declared him to be terminally ill, with no more than four days left to live. This was an absolute diagnosis. There was to be no hope, whatsoever, but Romeo had a job to do, so he stuck around and did it.

Although without his legs, Latseen is now strong and fit. Diane has been brought through the darkest days of her life and now has new tasks that she must accomplish.

Sweet Romeo - free to take his leave.

Pallbearer Tony Vita leads the funeral procession into the woods behind Diane's house. From my observations, Tony is a rock for Diane; he is a rock for his stepson, Latseen. As he loves the woman, so too did he love her cat.

Funeral services begin.

Diane shares a happy memory of Romeo.

Rose Albert, good friend and exceptionally close sister to the late Howard Albert, the man who took Diane and three-year-old Latseen over the frozen Yukon River on the boy's first dog-mushing trip. In 1982, Rose became the first Alaska Native woman to run the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, 1300 miles from Anchorage to Nome. Rose is Athabascan, raised in the Yukon River village of Ruby.

She is also painter of fine art - in my opinion, as fine as is being produced by any artist living in Alaska.

Richard Gulbraa, Diane's brother, shares a memory of Romeo. All present share their memories.

Diane holds the toy mouse that was Romeo's favorite possession and speaks of how he liked to play with it. (Please remember, if you click on these tiny images, they will enlarge so that you can better see what they actually look like.)

The mouse will go into the earth with Romeo.

A prayer for Romeo.

Diane's final touch.

Romeo takes his place in the earth.

Tony and Dennis, a brother to Diane, give their flowers to Romeo.

Diane passes her sunflower to Romeo.

Romeo is buried.

Sad? Yes, but think what Romeo did! The vet told him he couldn't do it, but he did it, anyway. That's something to be happy about.

Eighteen years - short, but still a good long life for a cat.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Part 4 of 5: A roadside bomb explodes in Iraq; a cat with his human on a dark night in Chugiak, Alaska

On the night that she learned about the bomb that struck her son in Iraq, Diane is comforted by Romeo.

I stepped into my house and punched the button to my voicemail machine. I had one message. “It’s Diane…” Her voice was weak and trembling. I waited for her to say more, but only a long pause followed and then a muffled sob. I could tell that Diane Benson, one of the most articulate people that I know, had fought to find her next word. She did not find it and so hung up, her message unspoken.

“Something bad must have happened to Romeo,” I thought. Perhaps his miracle had expired and he had passed on. I picked up the phone to return her call, but before I could even punch the first number, I suddenly realized that this call call was not about a cat. It was about a soldier.

Over the next two hours, I repeatedly tried to call Diane back, but I connected only to busy signals. Finally, I did connect. "My beautiful son..." she said, then trailed off, to more sobs.

A roadside bomb, an “Improvised Explosive Devise,” had exploded somewhere in Iraq and had taken the legs of Spc. Latseen Benson, of the 101st Airborne. His left was amputated just below the knee, the right, well above.

At 10:00 PM, I knocked upon Diane’s door. She opened it with her phone to her ear and continued the conversation she was already into, her voice weak with tears. It hurt to see a friend who I knew to be so strong suffer such deep pain. It also hurts to show that pain, but I think we, the multitudes of Americans who are sheltered from the realities of this war fought in our name need to understand the suffering of the few who have been asked to carry the burden for us. 

Romeo stood a short distance behind her and to her side. Some might argue that a cat cannot be concerned nor looked concerned, but this is not true.

Romeo looked mighty concerned to me. Still talking on the phone, Diane took a seat on a black, reclining chair. Immediately, Romeo lept softly onto her lap and then, ever so gingerly, reached out with one paw and placed it gently upon her shoulder.

“Well, at least this is good news,” Diane told the person she was talking to - the young woman from Texas that Diane had known as Jessica Peña. The good news? Her name was now Jessica Benson. Latseen and Jessica had quietly married in September, just before Latseen had been re-deployed.

Soon, Diane put the phone down.

She then showed me a large pile of recent photographs, taken in Cancun, Mexico, just before Hurricane Wilma struck. In the photos, Latseen, Jessica, Diane and Latseen’s stepfather Tony Vita (who was elsewhere in the house, placing calls around the world to gather information on Latseen) smile, laugh, and as they dine, shop, dance and swim, snorkel and skim across and through the transparent, turquoise waters of Cancun.

They ride in tiny, two-person tourist boats. Latseen looks happy and relaxed in a way that he had not when he came home from his first Iraq deployment. It had been a vacation with all the stops pulled out and they did it for one reason – Latseen was about to go back to Iraq and he needed a good, fun, blowout first.

“He had a feeling of foreboding,” Diane told me. “A feeling that something bad was going to happen to him on his second combat tour. He just had to have some fun, first.”

A small, red, paperback book of Diane's own poetry, lay alongside the pictures. Both to comfort herself and to be a good host even on this grim night, Diane picked it up and read some verses to me, some written long ago, which also seemed to have a sense of foreboding, including these two excerpts from her poem,
A Letter to My Country:

Dear America,

I mean no disrespect, but you know how I am, how
I believe so strongly in your First Amendment and
Your Constitution. You know this, so please bear with me


You haven’t always been kind to me. I still carry scars of my
Own people who graced your landscape, and faded into the soil
Even with the losses, the times of pain, I believe, I believe in us. When
I speak, it is out of my love for you and my love for a people who first
Fished your waters, hunted on your plains, and thrived in your mountains.

I speak to love of humanity,

It hurts me now, more than I can bear, to watch you send our loved ones

Once again, to war, when we never got to talk about that very well

Diane Benson is known across Alaska for many things: her powerful and insightful poetry, her skill as a playwright and director. As an actress onstage, she can on cue shed a heart-wrenching tear, scream with rage, laugh with glee, project stony indifference, convey courage, conceit, grief or any emotion that a human feels, and do it all very convincingly. But on this night the tears that she shed and the horrific pain and emotion that came out of her was not the work and passion of an actress, but the real-life love and grief of a mother.

The emotion and grief and sorrow and rage and puzzlement bore deep and the pain was searing and she could find no glory in what had befallen her son. President Bush was going to visit Fort Richardson, just ten miles down the road toward Anchorage, the very next day. Diane expressed her desire for him to come visit her. “I want him to explain to me why my one and only son - my only child must go through this,” she said.

During my visit, we spoke of many things and, in a vain attempt to describe the feeling and mood of that night, I had originally written a much longer story than this, but I will now let most of those words go. It is enough to know that Diane Benson, poet, actress, playwright, director and truck is a mother, and on this night, she felt what a mother would feel – something that only a mother, put in her very spot, can fully understand.

After that, Diane left almost immediately to stand vigil at her son’s bedside. Latseen was transported from Iraq to Germany and then to the US Army’s Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC. Latseen would spend months there and so would his mother.

As for Romeo’s activities during this time, I am embarrassed to admit that I do not know. I could try to call Diane and ask her, or I could send her an email, but the primary election is just four days away and she is so busy campaigning that I know I would not reach her.

Busy campaigning? Yes, Diane Benson is running for Congress, hoping to defeat her opponent in the primary and then to take away the seat in the US House that Alaska’s lone Congressman, Don Young, has held since dinosaurs walked the earth. She first took Young on two years ago, with a poorly funded campaign and a lack of media attention.

She astonished Alaska’s political establishment by taking 40 percent of the vote. This year, due to a criminal ethics investigation being carried out by the FBI, Don Young is a weakened position.

And why did she choose to run against him in the first place?

Five-and-a-half months after her son’s injury, Diane had become a regular at Walter Reed and there she had met many people, not only other parents and relatives of wounded soldiers, but high-ranking military and government officials, as well as politicians. Yet, she had never seen her future opponent, a strong proponent of the war, at Walter Reed, because he had not gone there, even though his office was just down the road.

Diane just felt that if a Congressman could cast a vote to send her son to war, then that Congressman ought to make the short drive from his office to Walter Reed to visit and honor that son, once he had made such a sacrifice on the Congressman's behalf.

Of course, while soldiers, veterans and the care of both are central to Diane's campaign, it is about much more than that. This blog, however, is about cats and their relationship to the humans in their lives and not about politics, so I will not try to explain or analyze. Anyone who is interested on learning about Diane Benson's platform can begin by following this link to her campaign website:

Okay. This is a photo that does not work tiny like this. Please click on it, and blow it up to a larger size. Then you will see how concerned Romeo was for his human and how, even in this dark time of such pain and grief, Romeo, the Miracle Cat, truly was a comfort to her. This is the last photo that I took that night - November 13, 2005. I then gave Diane a hug and Romeo a pat goodbye, and drove home.

Eight months later - the second return of the Strong Man:

Now, it is July, 2006 and Latseen is on an airplane that is preparing to land at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska. It will be his first time home since he last left for Iraq, still standing on his own two legs. His progress has been phenomenal. In the spring, he skied in Colorado and now he is returning to participate in the 2006 National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

His progress notwithstanding, and all the time that she spent with him at Walter Reed and the joy she feels at knowing that she will soon see him in his Alaska home, it is also a hard moment for Diane. Her son will roll, not walk, to meet the crowd.

Many well-wishers, including the Tlingit and Haida Dancers of Anchorage and the Naa Luudisk Gwai Yatxi Dancers, have come to welcome Strong Man home. As she anxiously awaits the first glimpse of her son, they gather around Diane and give their strength to her.

A welcome home ceremony is held, just outside the doors to the terminal. It is led by Willard Jackson, also Tlingit, from Ketchikan. The young woman standing behind him is Jessica, the wife Latseen secretly married just before he was deployed to Iraq for the second time.

Again, this picture does not really work small. Please click on it to enlarge it.

This is another one to click on. It is the Fourth of July Parade as it passes through downtown Anchorage. Latseen, his wife, and mother led the parade. Afterwards, the games began.

As Latseen hand pedals towards first place gold in a hand-bike competition, his mother, wife, step-father (far left, with boy on shoulders) and other family members cheer him on.

Latseen pushes his way to another gold medal, this time in the 400 meter wheel-chair race.

As a fellow competitor goes down, Latseen takes a shot during the championship basketball game for his division. They took the Gold. Latseen also won Gold in the archery competition.

A second Returning Warrior Welcome Ceremony was held for Latseen at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, where a group of veterans presented him with the Pendleton blanket draped over his shoulder.

In a Tlingit gesture of peace, Latseen was showered with goose down.
Latseen Benson - the Strong Man.

Latseen's stay at home was very short. After he left to go back to Walter Reed and then to Texas, I found Romeo watching out for Diane as she worked on some of her campaign materials. During a campaign debate three days ago, Diane mentioned that Latseen has taken up scuba diving.

One thing that I feel badly about is the fact that I failed to get a photo of Romeo with Latseen during his second return. It was an extremely busy time for me. Deadlines loomed. It was all I could do to get to Latseen's different events, snap a few photos, and then rush back to my computer.

I figured that the next time Latseen visited home, I would photograph the two of them together. But it was not to be.

Up next, in Part 5: His job complete, Romeo takes his leave.