Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cat Post: A Paean to Pindar

Our cat Pindar has written a letter to our neighbor's cat, Pepper, in answer to a friendly note.  The two never meet or consort in the fur, except for an occasional distant wary glance down the long hall, which usually results in Pepper turning tail and fleeing in a blind panic.  She, like Pindar, is a supersmart diva Alpha cat, and she has her Cat-mother, Pam, wrapped around her paw.  I'm afraid she is a contender for the title of Most Spoiled Cat, for she only consents to drink out of crystal, and when Pam accidentally steps on her tail (as one does), Pam is obliged to BOW DOWN in apology! (True fact.)  See Pepper, below,  in her humble (ahem) bed.  Her crystal accouterments are by her side, on her night table:
Pepper - "Who, me, entitled?"

And now for the Correspondence.  First, the initial Facebook post that initiated the communications, written by Pindar Herself:

"Very hard work, helping fix the computer. Resting now. Best moment was when I inserted myself inside a huge Cat's Cradle like a mummy in a fly sac, finished it off with a tangle of bows and knots, and then listened to my mom try to explain it to the patiently waiting computer man in India. Learned some new human curse words. Great fun!"

Pindar, all tangled up in Computer Repair - a Hard Day's Night indeed!
This was followed by a note from Pepper to Pindar:
"Deer Pindee,
Gud u help you mom but betr 2 sleep on computr. Must teech mi neu curse words but I problee no them. Hear lots when my mom lose ebay aukshun."

It was accompanied by a picture helpfully illustrating Pepper on the computer.

Whereupon Pindar graciously composed this reply:
Greetings to Her Royal Catness, Princess Pepper, from Her Royal Catness, Princess Pindar Cat-Birchall
I salute you, cousin and equal, with a narrowing of the eyes, a flick of the tail, and a subterranean growl in my throat. Peace.
Your gracious letter of advice was received, and promptly destroyed, lest our humans suspect the communication between us. I made it disappear by pressing certain buttons on my Mother's computer, and as there is no need for me to instruct you in the technique, I merely adjure you to do the same. Very amusing that both our Mothers were in India simultaneously! Good work, cousin.
I must confess that I was surprised, Princess, to see you writing in Cheezburger, the peasant vernacular. I am perfectly aware that one of your Alpha status has full command of the finest English, as I do.  This may no doubt be attributed to your wish to conceal the extent of your intelligence and knowledge from your poor deluded human. In this, you have not entirely succeeded.  I have often heard your Mother Pam boasting to my humans that you understand English commands!   Is this wise, Princess?   As you will have observed, none of my humans has the slightest inkling of my true gifts.   When they address me by name, I make a point of looking particularly obtuse.  They have no conception that I am as fine an author, in both Feline and High English, as my own Mother.   Of course, I learned at her knee, and refined my language through my Jane Austen studies.  I have admittedly had special privileges.  My Father has taught me Shakespeare, and we recite it together by the hour (though he does not realize this, as I do it silently).   "The cat will mew, the dog will have its day," as Hamlet said.
My sisters and subjects, alas, remain truly dumb, subhuman animals; even Cheezburger is an intellectual stretch for them.  Sometimes I feel all the burden of authoritative rule.   As Potentate of the Birchall household, I am in a high and lonely place, in many ways lonelier than you, who have your entire domain to yourself.  I am continually wearied with having to reassert my Authority.   It is a tiresome and difficult position, but I was formed for it, and must not descend to the level of lower animals.
I send you this diplomatic dispatch, therefore, with some pleasure in reaching out to an equal intelligence.  However, if you choose to reply, I must beg you to drop the Cheezburger talk.  It is unworthy of an Alpha, but I do comprehend that you are rather handicapped by your lack of social opportunities and may not realize the proper behavioral and diplomatic codes.   Visits from Dogs can do little to instruct you in the subtleties.
Again, Peace and Power over our separate but equal kingdoms.
H.R.H. Princess Pindar Cat-Birchall, High Chief of the Birchallian Cats


Here is a gallery of pictures illustrating the Lives of the Cats (our three girls are now five years old, and Pepper is ten).

 Pindar as a young cat
 "Pretty - and she knows it."  Pindy shows her youthful colors at the age of one.

 Pindar's Subjects, her sisters Martial (Marshy) and Catullus (Tully)
Tully and Pindy are Great Enemies.  Can you tell?

 Pepper looking disdainfully at an example of Royal Cat Art
Now, a story:

How The Cats Came to Live With Us

We never had cats because Paul and I had allergies and asthma, but when Peter got depressed from a chronic illness, and improved while staying at a summer cottage with a cat, Paul and I resolved to get a cat, even if we had to resort to medication. Two cats, to keep each other company.  I went to half a dozen shelters, but kept coming back to a trio of four-month-old kittens in the local shelter here in Santa Monica, tumbling all over each other playing leapfrog.  They were so funny and happy, I fell in love.  "They're good natured and outgoing," the shelter man said.  I could see that.   The three were littermates, and one was particularly pretty, a tortie tabby with a Bengal strain.  She had beautiful chocolate and red striped coloring, a sweet face and large pale green eyes.  Her two sisters, classic longhaired torties, were darker butterballs with funny marked faces.  But we couldn't go from zero to three cats, that was crazy!  I bought two, asking the man to throw in "one of the torties - you choose."  When I got home, what came out of the box but the two torties!  I called the shelter and was told I could come back and exchange.  I thought about it for a moment.  "No," I said, "some things are Meant."  I went back and instead of "returning a cat" (how horrible - like Sophie's Choice!) I got the pretty little tabby, my original first choice.  When I took out my wallet to pay, the man stopped me.  "No," he said, "if you buy two, you get the third one free."  

And the rest is history...

Three little kittens, when they first came to us
The Birchalls and the Cat-Birchalls

 January 17, 2014.  A Janeite friend has written a poem in Pindaric style, which attention has so pleased both Birchalls and Cat-Birchalls, that I append it at the end of this post.  Thank you, Victoria!

Said Pindar to Pepper

Said Pindar to Pepper, Oh please,
Don't use that deplorable "Cheez."
This vulgate, I fear,
Does scrape on the ear,
On a par with th'yowls of the Siamese.

To me, you should e'er be inclined
To speak with an accent refined.
And of course, Mademoiselle,
You must properly spell
And use grammar the way it's designed.

Our humans, as you and I know,
Think us enchanting, but slow.
We must stick to this goal,
To keep food in the bowl,
But 'tween US, let us please drop this show!
- Victoria Lansburgh

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sunny Seattle Sojourn

Indian paintbrush, Mt. Rainier

Even though I saw English garden flowers at their best in Cambridge, Oxford and Bath in July, I hate to see a summer pass without hiking among American mountain wildflowers.  So, planning a trip that packed a number of highlights into a week, I flew to Seattle.  First stop:  Woodston Cottage (named after Henry Tilney's home in Northanger Abbey), in Snohomish.

Woodston Cottage

Me at Woodston

Woodston Cottage is the home of Laurel Ann Nattress of the Austenprose blog, but her justly renowned blog is not the only work of her heart:  Woodston is also her beloved creation, labor of love, and, it is not too much to say, a work of art, of English style and gracious living, albeit on a small scale.  But I, who have adored Little Houses since Laura Ingalls Wilder days, find in Woodston Cottage no less than an enchanted dream. 

Dinner table at Woodston
 Dinner at Woodston:  fresh picked local corn, salmon, salad, sourdough bread...Yum!

 Chandelier and sunflowers

The fortunate guest at Woodston Cottage is pampered like a queen, or at least as Jane Austen herself would be, could she come back to life.  Laurel Ann has the gift of knowing exactly what people like to eat, and of making her fresh and exquisitely prepared food look as beautiful as it is good.  Her breakfast table, out in the garden, is delectable to contemplate:

English breakfast in an English garden
Her home-made scones are the best I've ever eaten, and I speak as someone who has eaten a Bath cobblestone mile paved with them in England.  As for the garden:  Laurel Ann was a horticulturist in another life, and it shows!  The hollyhocks, the foxgloves, the roses...Agnes de Mille wrote of her mother's famous garden in 1910 California, "Many a homesick Englishman has stood silent before those beds until Mother led him in to tea."  They would feel that way at Woodston, too.
Evening at Woodston
Companion at Woodston - the beautiful, shy Herman
 Essence of Woodston:  flowers and cat
Snohomish is a famous antiques town, and we spent a day doing the rounds almost to my heart's content!  Here's just the yellow glass section at the Star, the biggest and most overwhelming shop:
What did I buy?  Why, Sadler teapots for my copper luster porcelain teapots collection, of course.  Here they are at home:

 On Sunday, Laurel Ann drove me to a meeting of the Jane Austen Society of Puget Sound, at the lovely home of Kimberley Brangwin, overlooking the Sound.  I gave a short talk, and then enjoyed reuniting with friends in the chapter.  Lovely glimpse of Seattle social life by the sea!
Laurel Ann and I with author Katherine Reay.
Me and Laurel Ann
Kimberly, our lovely hostess
After the meeting Laurel Ann (who had been madly driving me around all weekend) kindly took me to the airport where I picked up my rental car, and then I took off for the second half of my trip:  Mt. Rainier!

 I was to meet my longtime hiking friends Mike and Leelee, with their daughter Karen, son-in-law Matt, and granddaughter Bridget, at Alta Crystal Resort near the Sunrise entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park.  It was a lovely drive as the roads became more rural and after passing through the town of Enumclaw, I started driving up the mountain.
The inn's pussycat welcomed me, sitting on top of Mike's car.
A much wilder feline than Herman of Woodston.
Our first full hiking day, we hiked the Tipsoo Lakes-Naches Peak Loop, a relatively short and easy trail, very beautiful with everything I was hoping for:  wildflowers, lakes, views of Mt. Rainier, and none of it too hard on my bad knee.  Here are pictures from that hike:



Me with Leelee and Mike
The next day's hike was not as good for me; it was to Summerland, and was about 8 miles with switchbacks, so I bailed out halfway through and walked back by myself (having a narrow encounter with a bear).  After making myself eggs for lunch at the condo, I sallied out again and went up the gondola at Alta Crystal, for some nice views of Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. 

Afterwards I rejoined my friends for a very good hamburger dinner at a pub down the road. 

Me with Leelee, Mike, Bridget and Matt
Leelee, Mike, Karen, Matt and Bridget
And we finished off the day with a campfire and S'mores back at the Gateway.

The last day's hike was the best.  We drove around the mountain to the Paradise entrance, and the hike on the Skyline Trail was like Paradise indeed.  It was a loop of about five miles, with an altitude gain of 1,700 feet, up to an elevation of 7,100, so even though my knee kept me hiking very slowly, particularly on the downhill, I was no end chuffed to see that I could do it - anybody who could complete this hike, is still a hiker, no question!
The wildflowers were sublime as heart could desire, as witness this field of lupines.  More pictures from the hike: 
Matt and Bridget slid down the snowfields

At the top!  The Upper Skyline, above Panorama Point

Me and Mike, old hiking friend and fellow wildflower enthusiast

Flowers and snow - typical on Mt. Rainier

Alpine phlox

Peevish looking Western Marmot

Paradise Inn
Owing to my slowness, it was late when we got back to Paradise Inn, but we had a wonderful dinner in the elegant old dining room there - I had wild mushroom soup, salmon with wild rice, and blackberry pie with ice cream.  We hadn't been able to get rooms there, so we drove out the park entrance to the Gateway, comfy kitchy old cabins, spent the night there and had a good breakfast. After that we parted and I had a very fraught drive to the airport - got lost in a heavy rainstorm (good thing it didn't rain earlier and spoil our hiking!), was stuck in massive traffic in Tacoma, occasioned by the start of some outlandish Hemp Festival.  Made it to the airport with only half an hour to spare, but had a swift smooth flight back to my own dear home, boys, and cats.