Jupiter

 

JupiterOur cat Jupiter who held dominion over our house for nearly 20 years – a third of a lifetime — passed away yesterday morning. 

Jupiter was born in the summer of 2001 in the Taft dairy barn in Huntington, Vermont.  She had the colorings of a Holstein. And though small, and short of leg, her muscles were strong and her temperament was fierce.  She spent her first days with us in a small bed in the kitchen of Jubilee farm along the Huntington River.  And a few weeks later a stranger brought her to us in Seattle as a carry on.

Jupiter had more volition and more natural ability than some people I know.  One evening in Seattle when she was still a kitten, we came home and found her locked out of the house.  She sat on the porch and glared at us through the pouring rain.  She turned, walked to the door, leapt up, looped her paw through the front door handle, hung there and stared at us while she swatted at the latch attempting to open it. 

Each day she would awaken before the sun rose, climb on my chest and tag me in the face.  Sleepily, I would crawl out of bed and follow her to the kitchen.  She insisted on leading, yet would stop every few steps, turn and tag me on the foot, as if to say, stay in line and follow in step.  

For two decades all animals and people that came into our lives would sit or stand in abeyance to her.  The dogs would refuse to mount the stairs or go through a door until she had stepped aside.  

She lived in Vermont.  And Seattle. And Hopi where unlike many other cats she managed to survive.  She came to California.  She prevailed through fires and floods and moves and evacuations.

Seven years ago, a Thai hunting dog seized her in his mouth and shook her like a rag doll. Even then she held her own, rendering the dogs snout into ribbons of scratches.  A few years later, her appetite waned and we took her to the vet.  He looked in her mouth. She has cancer he said.  He gave her one to two days to live.  We returned home and fed her milk as a form of palliative care.  So much for cancer.  The two days turned into four years.  

Our daily routines became more contorted around her needs and desires.  We would evict the other cats so that she could eat in peace.  At other times the dogs would sit and stare from a distance. She would eat a small amount, cast them a glance and then walk away so that the dogs could have the rest.  This is how she held her power.  

In her last few months she refused to give.  Friends would call and through the telephone they would hear her meow loudly.  Is that Jupy? they would exclaim.  

And in the very last month family members begged me to put her down. But even in her weakened state, she would exit the bathroom where she slept and make her way down the stairs to be with people and all the other creatures.  She spent Thanksgiving surrounded and stood over by friends and family.  Jupiter, of all animals, if she had the will to live, then dang it, she deserved to live.  

During her last two days we were in San Francisco.  The daughter of a friend spent the days at our house and fed and bathed her.  When we returned home, Jupiter could no longer stand.  I picked her up, lay on the couch and placed her on my tummy – her favorite place to be when she was a kitten.  She purred and fell asleep.

We buried her this evening with a foundation stone and some manure from that dairy barn (long since torn down) where she came into this world.  Beside her we placed some Taft maple syrup from the sugar bush just up the hill from where she was a born.

That cat kept everyone in line.  Get up, she would say.  I demand to be fed.  It doesn’t matter if you are tired or sad or disheartened.  This is not your time.  Get up, she would insist, and get with the program.

Kincade

 

First and foremost, Anna and I would like to thank everyone for their concern.  We and all the animals are safe and things are temporarily stable. 

In short, it’s kind of like in the olden days when every so often you‘d go outside and see a big fire breathing dragon a few miles away up on the ridge line.  You knew that at least for a little while you might be fine.  But then….  It’s kind of like that.

And for those wanting a little more narrative detail, here you go.  There might be some helpful tidbits for those who find themselves in a similar situation:

Our dog Tierra and I had been in San Diego for the previous 10 days.  On Wednesday, a Sebastopol neighbor called me after midnight (thank you, Toby).  He was out of town, but had word of a blaze that had ignited near Geyserville.  He was worried, he said, about the wind speed on the ridges.  The winds were gusting at 90 mph, driving the flames 200 feet in the air.  The next morning I looked at the weather projections for the coming week and my amygdala went into overdrive.  In anticipation of the current situation, I composed a meticulous multi-paged fire preparedness punchlist, organized by event and threat level, and I emailed the list to Anna.  And yes, in case you’re wondering, Anna’s attorneys could easily put forward the document as evidence if she were ever to initiate divorce proceedings.  

Sick as she was with a bronchial infection, Anna started preparing on Thursday.  She wet down the property (before the well power would go), filled buckets and trashcans with water, schlepped family archives and photos and journals to the steel shipping container (still on the property from when we rented out our house to Tubbs fire victims), loaded the cars, charged her electric car and all devices, etc.

We stayed in intermittent communication. She prepared all through Saturday until the power was cut.  She could not access the internet (even on her phone), but I was able to keep her apprised of the situation and sent text updates from San Diego.  Evacuation warnings were issued that evening. By then I had decided to come home, but couldn’t leave because I had misplaced both sets of glasses. With limited night vision it would have been foolish to drive the 10 hours in the dark.  I lay down at a midnight, but continued to check notices on my phone through the night until the mandatory evacuation order was issued at 4:30 am. 

Tierra and I got on the road.  I figured it would be light by the time I hit the Tejon Pass and I could drive blind until then.  A dear friend texted and said I could pick up some Latvian pirogs on my way out.  I stopped in Oceaside at 5:30 am, scrambled some eggs, placed them on a stack of Latvian rye bread, and grabbed the pirogs (Thank you Raz and Velta Sulcs!).  Most important of all, Raz gave me her glasses (Thank you again, Raz).

Back home, our friend Toby helped Anna carry the remaining irreplaceable items into the steel container.  The thousand dollars of All Clad? Replaceable.  The moldy journal from high school?  Not.   Anna loaded three dogs and three cats into her car.  She left the chickens.  With Jupiter clambering back and forth on the dash, she called for advice on evacuation routes because she could no longer access Google Maps.  I pulled over at the Las Pulgas rest stop at Camp Pendleton and took a look.  The patterns were self-evident. Rather than descend into the line of dead standstill evacuee traffic on the Gravenstein Highway, I encouraged her to drop off the back ridge from our home into Valley Ford from where she was able to quickly make it to Petaluma where one of her patients had generously offered up a one room cottage.   

I continued on up the 405 – fortunately the Getty blaze had not yet ignited. The Central Valley was a sea of dust.  The winds were sufficiently strong to create white caps on the California Aquaduct. 

Dropping in to the Bay Area, the skies were eerily clear and things felt strangely quiet.  Power had been shut off to much of the Berkeley and Oakland hills.  I thought it curious how even close to major situations, life can continue to feel quite normal.

I arrived in west county around 1:30 pm.  With no power anywhere in Marin, I couldn’t get gas, but I did find a zone in Petaluma that still had functioning pumps.

In Petaluma I entered a 21st century climate change version of Noah’s Ark.  It’s definitely not as big as they make it out to be in the Bible.  But we are so very grateful and it is definitely cozy and welcome.  I, along with all the animals and a sick and exhausted Anna, are now clustered together in the small room. We have internet via our phones.  And we’re close enough to home where I can check on our property.

I visited the house last night and it was definitely a little spooky and forlorn. The winds have desiccated many things.  Water and power are off.  A pallor of smoke infuses the air.  I ferried more things to the shipping container and fed and watered the chickens.  Tierra sniffed and explored the perimeter.  I checked adjacent properties for fallen trees.  I found my first edition copy of Stephens Hopi Journals and Titiev’s Study of the Hopi (one of only two type written original copies that exist in the world) and placed them in the car.  After I locked up, I felt like I was forgetting something.  I returned to the darkened house.  I rummaged in the warming freezer and there I found it.  I grabbed the foie gras.

I drove south through the smoky pitch.  By the time I reached Petaluma, the winds were receding.  Anna was passed out.  I crawled into bed.  Tierra jumped on top of me and we fell fast asleep.

As for the current situation:

Last night fire containment slipped from 10% to 5% and the grew from 55k acres to 66k.  Firefighters were battling most of the night to control the blaze in the Foothills Park neighborhood in Windsor (you can see the concentration of hotspots on the Sonoma Incidence map).  They are also working to hold the line at the 101 Freeway.

Depending on the shifting winds, smoke can be pretty bad.  Presently (Monday afternoon) much of it appears to be blowing south toward San Francisco and the Bay.

The biggest present concern will be what happens when the second wind event hits tomorrow afternoon thru Wednesday.  The 50 mph winds will be coming from the north east.  If they carry embers over the 101 it will be a big problem and could spread quickly down the entire Russian River corridor. Our property would be in the path of that event. 

For those who are concerned and want to follow, you can check out the dynamic incident and wind maps I posted on Facebook.

At present, however, we are all fine and any effect has been largely collateral:  At our home, no power and no water.  Lots of smoke.  And us and our animals living in our own private refugee camp in Petaluma.  

For those who know the full demographics of our household, Jupiter, our 18 year old Vermont barn cat (thank you Bruce and Mary Taft!) is napping in the cottage bathroom. Every so often she comes out and demands that we get with the program.  I love having her here because she is the definition of fortitude and resilience.