Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thunder Paws: How he told us his name

As she stands on the front porch, the kitten squirms to escape the grasp of the adoring Nabysko.

I had naturally assumed that Nabysko had wanted the kitten to have as a friend. Shortly after we arrived home, I turned the two loose in the yard and was soon shocked when I saw her place the kitten in a stewpot - Nabysko wanted to boil the poor little critter! She wanted kitten soup for dinner!

“Nabysko!” I shouted, horrified.

The kitten escapes, and dashes under the porch.

Nabysko searches, but cannot find the kitten.

I needn’t have worried. As the kitten would prove again and again, he was a thinking cat - thoughtful, analytical and resourceful. He analyzed the situation, thought up a solution and took action. A quick leap sent him soaring out of the stewpot to safety and freedom (see photos from Thunder Paws, part 1).

There's the kitten!

How the kitten loved his freedom! How he loved to explore, to see new things - bugs, grass, butterflies, rotting logs and hopping frogs! He studied all that surrounded him and he learned from what he saw.

Fire Kracker and the kitten walk together.

Deep into bright, sunlit, evening, the kitten roamed, sprung, pounced, and contemplated, exploring the lawn-free Kracker yard as Nabysko followed gleefully behind. Once, as she pedaled her tiny bike, the two charged straight at each other in a daring game of chicken, and, were it not for the quick application of brakes and paws, would surely have collided head-on.

Rye sneaks up on the happy kitten.

Each of the older children came home in turn and all were delighted to see the kitten. Rye picked him up and used him for a tommy gun. Sometimes dragging a string, sometimes not, Fire trotted across the yard as kitten, his tail held high, pounced at his heels.

Rye snatces up the kitten and uses it as a tommy gun.

“Oh, cute!” exclaimed Tryskuit, who had just come home from the ice rink, euphoric at having landed her first axle. She snatched the kitten gently from the ground to pet and stroke him. At some point, squirt guns and bottles mysteriously appeared and then the kitten found himself cradled precariously in Nabysko’s protective grasp as the battle raged around him. Blasts of water zinged through the air.

The kitten tries to take a shoelace away from Fire.

Toast Ed alone was not happy to see the kitten. Toast Ed was upset that I had let Nabysko bring it home. “What’s this going to do to Kaboodle?” he accused me. “Kaboodle is not going to like this at all. I doubt this kitten will ever be half the cat that Kaboodle is.”

Reader, remember these words spoken by a bitter Toast Ed! See what turn history will take!

The orange and white kitten walks toward me.

As for the Whole Kitten, Kaboodle, he was terribly distressed and even bitter with me for inviting this silly little creature into our home. After discovering the kitten, he followed me as I walked around the house. With each step, he “mowred,” growled, griped and complained angrily.

When we reached the place in the back yard where the green canoe lay overturned, he jumped up on it and gave me a swat with open claws.

The kitten walks on a log.

“Kaboodle!” I scolded, as I placed my hand down firmly on the back of his neck. “Don’t you ever do that!” Kaboodle jumped off the canoe, and bound away straight into the woods, where he disappeared. Dummy! When it came to cats, even Kaboodle, whom I had now known for over ten months, I still had so much to learn.

I felt sick inside. I feared that none of us would ever see Kaboodle again. Yet, the great frolic between the kitten and the Kracker children, the angry Toast Ed excluded, continued unabated.

The kitten walks away from me.

Even here, in Wasilla, Alaska, where the night sky of late spring holds no darkness but glows through the midnight hour with a sweet, lovely, softness of light, energetic kittens and rambunctious little girls grow tired, and must come inside to sleep. So, come the light of night, Nabysko found herself overwhelmed both with drowsiness and with affection for the orange and white kitten. “I love my pretty kitten,” she cooed. “I want him to sleep with me.”

Nabysko and the kitten almost collide.

The two settled down in the bunk below Tryskuit (who, for what you can see was a most troubling reason, had gone to bed without Kaboodle). I lingered to tell the girls a true, made-up-on-the-spot-cat-story and as I did, the kitten dozed off. When the story ended, I reassured the girls that Kaboodle would be okay and that he would come home as soon as he had a chance to contemplate and understand the situation. I then stepped softly out of the room and gently closed the door behind me.

Nabysko protects the kitten as a squirtgun battle rages.

As I settled down into bed alongside Sunflower, I heard the surprisingly loud thud of kitten paws suddenly strike the floor in the next bedroom. This was followed by the furious scratching of tiny claws against the door, and by a tiny, constant, pleading, meowing. I then heard the sound of Nabysko’s feet as they tromped across the floor to the door, then tromped back to her bed.

Rye drives Nabysko away from the kitten with his squirtgun.

It was then quiet for maybe a minute, then once again, kitten paws struck the floor and the whole process repeated itself. This happened several times, until finally I heard the door to the girl’s bedroom open into the hallway. I then heard the sound of kitty paws dash into the hall as the girls’ bedroom door closed behind them. I heard the groggy footsteps of Nabysko as she plodded back to her bed, there to sleep devoid of the company of the kitten.
After going into the house, the kitten wants to go back out again.

Throughout the night, my sleep was disrupted not only by the worry I felt for Kaboodle, but also by a sound like galloping thunder as the kitten raced up and down the hallway as it’s tiny, dainty, paws pounded the floor. It sounded as though a thunder storm raged right in our hallway!

The next morning, I stepped into the hall to see the kitten thundering straight toward me. He braked at my feet, greeted me with a trill, then twisted his head all the way upside down, an action that caused his body to flip over with it. From beneath white, pink-bottom-padded, upturned paws, the kitten gazed up with bright, sweet, blue eyes into my bleary brown ones. 

“You have Thunder Paws!” I groggily gripped.

Sleepy though both may be after a hard day's frolic, Nabysko and the kitten bathe in each other's love. Nabysko wants the kitten to sleep with her, but, on this night, her desire is not to be.

Thunder Paws.

And so he was named.

Friday, November 28, 2008

We give thanks for Boxcar Bean and Baby Wry

Tonight, I had intended to tell part 2 of the story of how Thunder Paws came to live with us, but today we journeyed to Anchorage to the home of Fire, our youngest son, and his wife, Lilac, for Thanksgiving dinner. When we stepped inside, we saw Boxcar Bean sauntering across the floor.

This made us feel very thankful, so I decided to interrupt Thunder's story just long enough to present Boxcar Bean as he appeared on Thanksgiving Day, 2008.

Here he is, on a chair in the kitchen of Fire and Lilac Kracker.

How could we not be thankful?

Boxcar was very curious about baby Wry. He seemed to be surprised that humans could be so small.

Boxcar is puzzled.

Boxcar Bean, Baby Wry Kracker and Tryskuit Kracker. For those of you unfamiliar with how Boxcar Bean gave up his life as an Angel to become a Kracker Cat, you can find the four-part series here.

Also, anyone who reads "comments" here is familiar with the name, Standtall. Standtall keeps her own fine blog, based in Lagos, Nigeria, and not too long ago she decided to set Thursdays aside to publish interviews that she does with other bloggers. Today, she honored me and made me her Thursday interview. You can read it here.

Thank you, Standtall, and please keep up your good work.

And, as long as I am inserting links, I plan to put the Krackers' Thanksgiving Day up on my Wasilla blog. It won't be up until maybe 12 hours or more after I post this - although, in the meantime, you might find some of these images of Boxcar there as well, plus Muzzy and a couple of snowshovelers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thunder Paws: How he came to live with us, part 1

Thunder Paws

Sometimes, the best cat is the one that you do not seek out; the one that appears unexpectedly before you and then, without making any effort to do so, inserts itself deep into your heart and life to bring you warmth and pleasure, causing you to laugh with delight and to marvel at the wonder that is a cat. So great is the love generated by such a cat that when, unexpectedly, it is torn from you, it’s absence leaves you and its whole host of human loved ones grieving; yes - even weeping.

Thunder Paws was such a cat.

I now begin his story:

After persuading me to bring the kitten home, Nabysko decided to boil him, so she put him in a pot.

On May 15, 1992, the sun rose into a crystal-blue sky and there poured it rays down to generate the first hot day of the year in Wasilla, Alaska. Unable to cope with work on such a day, I abandoned it, grabbed Sunflower, Nabysko - the only two people who were nearby and drove them up the Matanuska Valley to take a glacier viewing expedition,

By the time we turned around to return home, we had been parched by the hot sun, so we stopped at a gas station in Sutton, not for fuel but for cold, liquid, refreshment. We rushed inside, thinking not of kittens, but only about the chilled drinks that we would soon guzzle. In my case, this meant Pepsi. 

There, in the gas station store, just beyond the soft drinks, a low box sat on the floor and in it was a beautiful calico cat, attempting to groom two kittens with her raspy tongue. One, a rambunctious tiger-stripped fellow, burst out of the box and went leaping, scurrying and hoping wildly about the store.

The kitten did not wish to be boiled. He jumped out of the pot.

The other, an orange fellow with a white face, breast and paws, nestled snugly against the soft, furry, underbelly of its mom and looked up at us through dreamy, curious, puzzled, intelligent, blue eyes. “Oh, cute!” Nabysko squealed. 

Her chubby little hands shot downward, gripped the startled kitten and yanked it up from the warmth and security of its mother’s tummy. Nabysko tucked the bewildered creature close to her cheek. Squirming, the kitten maneuvered itself into an upright position, placed its paws upon Nabysko’s shoulder and looked out apprehensively.

“Do you want him?” a skinny, wrinkled, old man asked.

“Yes!” Nabysko squealed happily.

“No!” I thundered. “We already have a cat!”

Free now from the pot, the kitten moons Nabysko.

“No one will take these kittens,” the old man sighed, “I guess I’m going to have to take them to the pound.”

“Please, Daddy,” Nabysko begged as she cuddled the tiny orange and white fellow. “This kitty can’t go to the pound!”

“No, Nabysko” I stated firmly. “We can’t rescue every kitten. We just can’t! Kaboodle would not be happy.”

“Daddy! Kaboodle needs a friend. Please! Daddy! I need a cat to sleep with me. Kaboodle always sleeps with Tryskuit!”

“No!” I guided Nabysko out the door and to the mini-van, where I strapped her into the safety seat behind her mom, the beautiful Sunflower. I took my own position behind the wheel, inserted the key and gave it a twist. 

The engine sputtered to life and began to purr. I put the gear in reverse, brought my foot down upon the gas pedal and started to back up. As I did, the happy image of Nabysko cuddling the kitten swept through my mind.

If, as stated below, I regretted taking the kitten, then why did I nestle him like this, later that very day? Why now, despite the joyous decade that he gave us, do these pictures cause my eyes to water, and this screen to blur, even as I type these words?

“Heck!”* I stammered, “I tell you, something is wrong in this world when a father can’t get his own daughter a kitten to sleep with! C’mon, Nabysko!” I braked. Leaving a perplexed Sunflower alone in her seat, I led Nabysko back into the gas station, where she scooped up the kitten.
As the three of us left the store and headed back to the car, the old man called out after us.

 “That’s a fine kitten! You won’t regret it!”

I thought about Kaboodle and how unfair this was to him. 

“I already do!” I shouted back.

*I actually said, “Hell!”, but there might be mommas who read this to their sweet, innocent, children and so I have toned down the language. I would note, however, that Nabysko survived hearing repeated utterances of the epithet uncorrupted.

Ps: Please note: These photos did not look so dark and muddy when I saved them in Photoshop, but somehow they translated this way online. I thought about removing this piece until I could get a chance to redo and replace them, but by then the post was already up. Plus, those of you who have tried to replace a series of photos already placed in blogger know that it is not a straight-forward, simple process. 

So, for the moment, I will leave them like this, but I hope to replace them with copies that translate better, very soon.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Royce knew Thunder Paws; he knew him well

As you all know, this is Royce, but what you have no way of knowing if I do not tell you is that I took this particular photo in the wee hours of this morning, right after I returned home from Fairbanks. 

By wee hours, I mean a bit after midnight. Although I truly did take this photo early this morning, in just five minutes from now I will have taken this photo yesterday. And so, tomorrow, now four minutes from now, anyone refering to this photo would likely say that it had been taken last night - although truly, I took it this morning.

Tonight, I had intended to tell the story of how Thunder Paws, the thinking cat, the second of the original Kracker felines, came to live with us. But it is late and I don't have the energy right now.

So, instead, I present this photo of Royce, who knew Thunder Paws well. 

Tomorrow night, I will tell the story of Thunder Paws.

Well, what do you know... the clock has passed midnight, once again. I did not take the above picture early this morning, as stated, but yesterday morning.

I no longer plan to tell the the story of Thunder Paws tomorrow night, but rather tonight. First, though I will try to get a good night's sleep and then put in a full day.

I kind of like having the picture of Kaboodle as the big picture, so I will leave it there until I post the Paws story. Royce has had, and will have, many opportunities to be in the big picture.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 14: Kaboodle - we make it through the winter, but I damn near die

As much as we loved him, we could not let Kaboodle freeload off us. So we set him to work, splitting wood with his sharp claws. He did a good job.

To any newcomers, or any old-timers who need a review, I suggest that before you read this, you click either on the label, "Kaboodle," or "How the Kracker Cats Came to be." 

I must wrap the Kaboodle intro section up, so that I can introduce the remainder of the original Kracker Cats. I have to leave to catch a plane to Fairbanks in less than an hour, so I will keep this very short.

In short, despite the great ignorance that I had in me toward cats, we made it through the winter, with all of us very much in love, even if there was a certain amount of strive and contention in our lives - because Kaboodle was that kind of cat - sweet, yet combative and contentious. 

And, as I said, he played rough. So it happened that when spring finally came, I was out on the Iditarod Trail, following a specific musher with my airplane, the Running Dog, as he ran his dogs from Anchorage to Nome.

In the village of Kaltag, where the trail turns off the Yukon River and makes its way through a low range of mountains toward Unalakleet, at the edge of Norton Sound, I chatted with a vet as he gave the dog team I was following an exam.

I asked him about cats, and if they ever scratched him when he examined them.

One day, I stepped into the living room and found him like this. He had worked so hard to split that wood, I figured he deserved to chill out and relax.

"Oh, yes!" he said. "Frequently. Getting scratched by cats is part of being a vet."

So I took off my various coats and jackets, rolled up my woolen sleeves, and showed him the scars and scabs Kaboodle had left on my arm - not in meanness but in play.

His eyes went wide. "Wow!" he said. "You have an extraordinary cat!"

As the race moved toward the finish line, I grew every more sluggish and lethargic; my body and limbs seemed to be stiffen. Ordinary movement became more difficult. I chalked it up it to the physical demands placed upon even a photographer who follows this grueling race, even in a little airplane.

But when I got home and tried to catch up on my rest, it did no good. 

The sluggishness grew worse, and I stiffened more. Pain set into my legs and joints and then grew to become unbearable. By late April, I could hardly walk, it hurt so bad. But the ice on the lake that I had parked the Running Dog was about to rot and melt, so I made a heroic effort. In great pain, I taxied the plane off the lake onto the shore, removed the skis and put my wheels back on.

This left me in such pain that Sunflower rushed me to Anchorage. The doctor looked me over, speculated that I had sarcoidosis - a disease that can kill and recently did kill the actor, Bernie Mac. The doctor subscribed Prednizone.

I got well again.

Later, I was reading something, somewhere, and I saw the words, "catscratch disease." I read the article. The symptoms were identical to what I had suffered, what the doctor diagnosed as sarcoidosis. 


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It has been a long time since I have reported on any activities of the contemporary Kracker Cats. First, I began to tell the history (which I must soon get back to) of the original Kracker Cats, beginning with the Whole Kitten, Kaboodle. Then I spent a week running around New York City and I had no chance to post, period. Next, I ignored the cats who live here so that I could tell stories about the cats I had met in New York.

So it is time to catch up a bit on the activities of the Kracker Cats.

This particular activity took place on October 29, right after I got back from New York. As you can see, Martigny is extremely excited about some dramatic event that is happening right outside our back door.

Just what, I don't know.

Royce is less excited; he is just slightly curious.

Now Jim comes over to check out the excitement. As you have probably already noticed, baby Wry observes with nonchalance.

Whatever it is, Jim and Marty are transfixed. As you can see, Royce has left the scene.

Perhaps it is because he has 15 years or so of wandering in and out of the house at will, or at least when he can get someone to open the door for him, and so things from the outdoor world that are a wonder to the indoor cats are commonplace to him, but, for whatever reason, Royce loses all interest and curls up beside me to take a nap.

Now Jim has stepped out of the picture - but not because he has lost interest. He just seeks a better vantage point. Sunflower is growing very curious and wants to know what has captured the cats' attention.

I want to know, too.

As Barack Obama campaigns on TV, Sunflower and Wry get up to check out whatever it is that have the cats going so. Sunflower can see nothing. Maybe Baby Wry sees it, but we don't really know what Baby Wry sees, even when he looks at exactly what we look at. Sunflower even goes outside, onto the back porch, to see if she can spot the item of interest. She cannot.

Baby Wry's attention goes elsewhere. Marty remains intently focused on the great mystery.

Jim has found a better vantage point.

Royce lazily opens his eyes. Silly young housecats, he seems to be thinking.

The silly young housecats remain intently focused upon that which remains a mystery to us humans.

How stupid can you be? Marty's eyes seem to say, don't you understand the magnitude of what is happening, just beyond our back door?

No. I'm afraid I don't.

The cats got me here. Sometimes, we think they don't comprehend so many things that are obvious to us but to which they are oblivious - like, say, a Viagra commercial on TV. They don't get it at all.

Yet, even so, they are comfortable in their complete understanding of the world. And, as is clear here, it is obvious that they see, hear, observe, and know many things that we foolish humans are just as oblivious to as they are the Viagra commercials.

Obviously, these two are very bright. They understand that which eludes us.

Marty leaves in exasperation, perhaps to go to another window in a bedroom. Jimmy continues his studies, as does Wry, although they study different subjects.

And Royce sleeps peacefully, because he knows more than all of us, including the house cats. The house cats will never know what Royce knows. I hope they live as long and healthy as he has.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I am buried in cats

I had a different plan for tonight, but I haven't the time to execute it. So I am going to a break and let Charlie be tonight's photographer, and me be the subject. As you can see, I am buried in cats - Royce and Chicago, to be specific. Outside, it is cold, but it feels very warm beneath these cats.

Sometimes, I am buried in more cats than this. Although, because there are rivalries among the cats and they can have disputes in the middle of the night, only Jim and Pistol are allowed to come to our bed every night. But sometimes, on the weekends, when Sunflower goes to work early and can't close the bedroom door all the way, they all come in.

For some reason, they tend not to fight when they come in early in the morning, and I wake up buried in five cats.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Successor to the new New York deli cat should be enjoyed with coffee

Oreo had made her bed atop the coffee bean dispenser. She was asleep.

You will recall King - the king of all the New York deli cats. I had hoped to see him again. Needing to save a little money, it had been my plan to find an economical motel somewhere away from the city, near a train station tied into the subway system, because, you understand, in New York City, downtown Manhattan, even a cheap hotel is expensive.

Still, my sister Sal Tien was with me and had never before been in New York City, so it seemed only right that before doing anything else, I should first drive her into the heart of The Big Apple. Of course, I also wanted to impress her with how I, an Alaskan country boy, knew my way around the biggest city in the United States, just like it was nothing.

So, not long after driving her into Manhattan, I said, “Central Park is just ahead.” Sure enough, I drove another three blocks and Central Park was right there.

Oreo hears me taking pictures. She wakes up.

“Now,” I said to Sal Tien, “I’m going to drive you to Times Square. You don’t think I can do it, but I’m going to take you there - just like it was nothing.”

And, sure enough I did. Suddenly, I felt far too tired to drive out into what they call hinter lands in New York to find a cheap stay. And there was the Hotel Edison, on 47th, just off Times Square. So we checked in, then stepped out onto the street to take a walk. (Please note: this was in 2002. There is no way I could afford a New York hotel today. Fortunately, on my latest trip, I was a guest in a very fine home of some people who used to live in Alaska.)

Naturally, Sal Tien wanted to head straight to Times Square. “No,” I said, “Let’s go this way,” and headed in the opposite direction. She was puzzled, but followed. I found a certain Deli and went inside, searching up and down the aisles, looking for a black cat, but I did not see one.

“Where is the black cat?” I finally asked the owner, who was at the cash register.

“The black cat?” he answered, sadly. “You want to know where the black cat is?”


Oreo seems to be wondering if she is still asleep, perhaps having a nightmare. She hopes she is asleep. 

“The black cat is gone.”


“Yes. Gone. She was 15 years old and she died.”

“Oh, no,” I said, puzzled that he was calling the cat “she,” since I had understood, or perhaps misunderstood, her name to have been King.

“But look,” he said, pointing to a coffee bean dispenser perched high above the floor. I looked and there, sleeping atop the coffee, was a comfy tabby.

“Her name is Oreo,” he said. “She is one and a half years old.”

“Oreo!” I said admiringly, even as Sal Tien oohed and aahed with praises of her own. “Where did you get her?”

The deli owner, who appears to be of mid-eastern origin, looked at me as if I were stupid. “At the pet store,” he answered in a derogatory tone, as if all cats come from pet stores. I asked for a story, but he was not a story teller - at least, not in English. “She is like a human,” he answered. “My customers all love her. A customer bought her a collar. She is just like a human.”

And that is all that I learned about Oreo. I wonder if she likes to dip herself in coffee?

Oreo figures out that she is awake. This is not a nightmare. This is real life. She begins to scream. It comes out as a yowl.





"Don't you dare dip me in your coffee!"