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More About Fim Fish From Beyond

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 28, 2017

A little while back I wrote about Renaissance man Jim Fish, who died a few days after his 68th birthday, while hiking back down a mountain he had just climbed in the New Mexico wilderness. He was a poet, among other things.

Recently on the grounds of the winery he started, I met several other people, two of whom had a nice long truck, and a trenching machine known around here as a ditch witch. It was handy. We had to tear down a solidly built shed, one that had been built to last. I took a few swings at it with a sledge hammer, and only removed a few wooden shelf braces and some upper storage shelving. To take this thing down would have taken all of us working hard all day, and we still had to load it all on the truck. But, the ditch witch made much shorter work of that shed.

You see, after Jim’s death, we had to clean up around there. This shed had held many of Jim’s personal items: old papers, maps, camping gear, antlers, pieces of wood for carving, etc. and etc. Unfortunately, our local desert rats, or pack rats, had moved in. They pissed and shit everywhere. The mixture has the consistency of hardened epoxy. Really. You have to chip it away. It was all over everything, along with all the bits and pieces they drag into their nests. One idea was to just torch the building, but we decided it was better, and more in keeping with local fire ordinances, to just tear it down. It still took roughly 6 hours of hard work, but we got it down, and hauled away.

During the process, I found some old cards Jim had printed up, and sent out to friends many years ago. He was already into the poetry, so each had a poem, and a photo of Jim’s of New Mexico, where he lived. I had read several of Jim’s poetry books, but not all of them, so I’d never seen these poems, and I don’t even know if they were published in book form.¬† I scanned and cleaned the four cards up a bit digitally, and I’m posting them here, because they are good, and to give others an idea of what he was like. Those are his horses in the second photo image; they are off in the high New Mexico countryside now, just grazing and keeping an eye out for cougars. Jim took a lot of photos of bears over the years, but, as you can see, not this particular one (fourth photo image). He probably made a card each year, but the only ones I found were from 1982, 1983, 1987, and 1988.

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Posted in friends, hiking, Life, photography, poetry, Uncategorized, wine | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Dream About Art?

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 23, 2017

So this morning I had a dream in which I was at an art gallery. I found a sculpture I liked and bought it, for $750. Oddly specific there, that price. Of course price is very important. I couldn’t afford to buy a piece of art for $750 right now.

There was something familiar about the piece. It was a piece of carved wood, shaped like a distorted ellipse, with one part narrower than the other, as though it was what was left of an ovoid after cutting out the center and leaving just a two-dimensional outline of the ovoid. The smaller end was pointed down. There was a piece of wood hanging in the center of the piece also. As I was admiring it, the recently deceased winemaker/sculptor/writer/poet/skier Jim Fish appeared next to it. He looked at me, as if to say, that looks familiar. And indeed, it really did resemble the wood sculptures he used to make; it was even mounted on a stone base, just as he used to do. In fact, I couldn’t tell the difference, but I felt I hadn’t bought it from Jimmie the Fish.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA   042311 (17)

In the meantime, he had reassembled the sculpture I had just bought, and even added pieces from a disassembled sculpture of his. It now resembled a three-dimensional rectangle, and it was ugly. I tried to restore it to its original appearance, but I found it difficult to do so. Suddenly, within the dream, I had the epiphany that it really did matter how such sculptures were oriented in space, and how they were mounted. Jim Fish’s sculptures always seemed random to me, and I had often joked about using them for firewood on frigid winter mornings at the winery when we had nothing else to put into the fireplace. I would have mentioned that epiphany to Jim, but he was no longer there. I wanted him to put my newly acquired sculpture back together, but he had left his smaller sculpture there as well. For some reason I tried putting a small piece of his sculpture in place of the small piece in mine, but I couldn’t make it work.

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And then, of course, I was fully awake. Would I spend money on a sculpture? Possibly, but I already know I have no space for it here. There are photos and paintings and posters all over my walls, and one wall is all overstuffed bookcases. Another wall has my vinyl records, music CDs, old cassettes, TV, and my stereo system. With my regular furniture: a stuffed chair, a faux-leather chair, my small wooden kitchen table and chairs, my desk, and my bed and bureau,¬† I’ve used up all the corners and the rest of the space.

Nevertheless, it occurs to me that I wish I did have one of Jim’s sculptures.

 

All of his sculptures have been removed from the winery. They are temporarily stored in the studio of a painter friend of Jim’s. The plan, from what I heard, is to put Jim’s sculptures into a gallery. I remember wondering how whoever reassembles them will know how to do so, like what wood piece goes on what base, and how each piece is mounted. After a little time goes by, it may be difficult to remember how everything goes. Hell, it may be impossible to know what wood each piece is carved from. There’s apricot, acacia, pi√Īon and cherry, for example, and damned if I know which is which without Jim’s little titles and descriptions. His small, plastic-coated cards were always blowing off the sculptures, and I was forever picking them up off the winery’s floor when I was cleaning. Only Jim really knew what was what for certain.

 

So, I see my dream was not so much about art in general, but really about Jim Fish and his sculptures. I will have to help with those sculptures if they ever make it into galleries. After 17 years of looking at each new one Jim added, and seven years of putting the little cards back on each one, I should have some idea what each one is.

This one ¬†IMG_3286¬† was always “Not For Sale”. However, so many people pestered Jim to buy it, insisting that everything has a price, that he finally put a price on it: $10,000. After that, he got no more offers. I like it a lot.

Some more views:

 

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Another Month Begins; Not Bored Yet!

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 6, 2017

Last month wasn’t very busy. I was paid to work as a background actor on the TV series Graves, just once, and I worked a few hours on a local independent film for no pay. I only hiked three times. I took a weekend acting class. I had an audition – no word on that. There was a shareholder’s meeting, at the 21-year-old winery I have been working at for the last seven years, to try to figure out what to do next after the death of our founder. I had a CT SCAN/angiogram on my heart with a fancy new machine that looked like a giant metal donut. I left a bit woozy from the drug and the scan. I saw my new heart doctor for the results, and I had a pre-exam for my upcoming annual health checkup. The culmination of July was an acting gig for a 48-Hour Movie project, which is part of an international competition among people who make a short movie in 48 hours from start to finish, including all editing, and that led to two events in August.

Director

That’s me (in hat, sunglasses, scarf) as a fake director for the movie within the movie

So August started rolling right away on the 1st, with a day at the winery netting grapes to keep the birds from eating them. We’re keeping the winery going for now. Anyone want to buy a winery? I think that’ll happen soon. I got the see the 48-Hour movie we made on Thursday August 3rd, along with 13 other shorts, out of 41 total. I decided to celebrate with my fellow Group A participants at local brewery Sidetrack, getting a shrimp po’ boy to eat from Crazy Daves’ food truck outside (to balance the two pints of heavy beer). Since the second group of short movies (Group B) finished while we were there, a few of us wandered over to Boese Brothers Brewery nearby for their after party, and I had another beer. A late night, and it cost quite a few bucks, but it was fun.

CCG movie 2017

The Casting Coffee Group who made the movie

Saturday the 5th, there was a meeting of group I’m part of that made the 48-Hour movie. We’re certain we’ve won several awards, but we won’t know until August 18.

After that, I went to the 11th Annual Gala of the Guerrilla Photo Group, a wonderful collection of photographers, models and makeup people, who not only improved my photography skills, but introduced me to the local movie-making scene. There were lots of friends there, a dozen sexy models, lots of photos to view and to vote on as a favorite. My favorite was of a wonderfully sexy teacher/poet with a book centered firmly between her thighs, but it was already sold.

Had another beer at the Albuquerque Press Club’s bar, so I also visited the Pink Ladies’ food truck for a fantastic carne adovada burrito.

Today it was back to Sunday Chatter, the weekly Sunday morning music concert. This one was not as wildly fantastic as the last one I wrote about, but it was nice. A husband and wife duo played music for cello and guitar that they had rearranged from traditional presentations. An orchestral piece by Gabriel Faur√© still sounded damn good for just cello and guitar. Four of Johann Sebastian Bach’s works for harpsichord were recreated by having the guitar play the notes for one hand, and the cello play the notes for the other hand. (No. 8 in F Major, No. 10 in G Major, No. 6 in E Major, and No. 13 in A Minor). Fun!

There followed a piece from Oliver Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”, but of course, only performed on two instruments. And there was “Allegretto Comodo” by Radames Gnattali, and “Reflexoes No. 6” by Jaime Zenamon. The duo is called Boyd Meets Girl, and they’ve just released a CD of their arrangements.

Boyd-Metcalf

Laura Metcalf and Rupert Boyd

There was some great cornbread too: blue corn meal, corn, cheese, and chile, blue corn two pieces of which I scarfed down with my freshly espressed caffè americano.  americano

25 days still to go in the month of August!

Doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning, and a movie audition in the afternoon. More netting of grapes at the winery on Tuesday, and another shareholder’s meeting next Sunday. Hopefully I’ll have news of our 7-minute movie being wildly successful on the 18th. But, for now, the rest of the calendar for August is empty.

 

 

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Jim Fish, Renaissance Man

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 6, 2017

Found out that Jim Fish died last evening. Collapsed up on a mountain where he’d been hiking, but I’m sure glad he was able to have that experience as one of his last.¬† His nephew was also with him, and they were good buddies.

Jim Fish was originally from a ranch in Texas, and loved his horses, and the outdoors. He was also a retired chemical engineer, had once worked for the Sandia National Laboratories on nuclear safety. He was concerned about the destruction possible with a core meltdown, and came up a way to reinforce nuclear plants so they wouldn’t melt into the ground, but his superiors didn’t want to implement the solution, due to cost concerns. Jim took an early retirement from the labs.

He lived in Placitas, New Mexico. After retirement, not knowing exactly what he was going to do, he one day looked around the village, and lamented the waste of fruit, like apricots, plums and peaches, that grow in profusion all over Placitas and don’t get used. He decided to try making wine from those fruits. Over the years he made wine from all the fruits that grow in this part of the country, including a few grapes, and he even made wine from cranberries he had to buy from Ocean Spray, because they sure as hell don’t grow around here.¬†Cranberry It was, as he often said, “A hobby that got out of control.” He eventually built a structure and opened a winery to share these wines with people. He never got rich. In fact, the early retirement from Sandia labs meant his retirement pay was delayed until just a few years back. Jim turned 68 a few days ago.

Jim loved to ski, and in fact, had skied this past winter, despite a bad knee resulting from an injury a little while back. He got a brace for his knee, and skied, he said, the best days he ever had in his life with that brace on. Besides writing books on hiking and the local geology, he recently self-published a book on skiing, titled Dancing The Snow, (A Guide to Skiing for Old Men). It is full of detailed descriptions of trails, techniques, tips, photos and anecdotes. He also wrote poetry all the time, and published a number of poetry books. Poetry occurred often at the winery. There were poets who came from all over as part of the Duende Poetry series, and poetry continued after that series ended. Jim also carved and polished old pieces of “found” wood into fantastic sculptures mounted on large stones and rocks. His sculptures appear all over the winery, and quite a few homes.

While the wines are numerous and often fantastic, like the Wild Cherry wine, and Chokecherry wine, and Synaesthesia – a three-grape wine – the winery hosted many events besides poetry. Belly dancing is a regular event. Food-wine-pairing dinners is another, as well as wildlife presentations, and community meetings, and political events. Placitas is a very old village, yet still very small. There is one church and one school. There are no stores or gas stations in the old village. The Spanish moved in centuries ago, but Native Americans lived there for thousands of years, growing corn, and hunting, as is evidenced by the petroglyphs: designs etched into rocks found all over Placitas, featuring corn stalks, and animals of all types, like cougars and turkeys. In the Southwestern USA, the original inhabitants are known to their modern-day descendents as the Anasazi, or “the ones who went before,” so Jim called his winery: Anasazi Fields Winery.

Jim was a friend to all he met. He encouraged young people to work at the winery, and hoped one day to turn it over to a younger group. Then he would just sit and watch and drink old wines. Jim loved his wines, and found ways to improve them using old European techniques of slow, cool, sugar-starved fermentation, without fertilizers, chemicals or preservatives. In fact, using the whole fruit as part of the fermentation, he found that the fruits’ natural preservatives and antioxidants kept the wines good for three weeks or longer after a bottle was opened! (Even longer if kept in a dark and cool place).

Some of the wines that have survived from the early days, in 1995, 1996, etc. have cellared very well, and it’s always a treat to open one of those. It is difficult to keep wines around there long, as they sell very well, even when Jim had to raise prices to keep the winery in operation. He has a special wine, that one I mentioned called Synaesthesia, that ended up selling for $125/bottle, and no matter what the price, it always sold out. Fortunately, most of the fruit wines are priced far lower than that! Sounds like Jim would have gotten rich, but there are few grapes growing here, and late frosts, birds, wasps, and even bears took their share of those. He always said that he made a grape wine just to prove to his fellow vintners that he could. In fact, using grapes from other vintners, and his own techniques, Jim was able to make those wines taste even better. He liked that a lot.

There’s so much I could tell you about Jim Fish. He was an amazing man. Much of the wine sold was sold through his personal attention to customers, and through the stories he’d tell. He loved to talk about the wines, and skiing, and trails and mountains. He loved to introduce people to the fruit wines, and see their reactions when they paired something like an old tawny-colored and intense apricot wine with venison, or salmon, or blackened tuna. I was amazed to see how much fruitier the wine seemed, and how much better meat or cheese tastes with a complementary wine.

I don’t know what will happen to the winery now. We’ve all learned a lot about winemaking, and we have a lot of stock, so I’d imagine we’ll stay in business, for now. There are around four-dozen partners who have invested time or money into the winery; perhaps they’ll want to sell it. That was always the long-range goal. It won’t be the same without Jim Fish, without that boundless enthusiasm of his, his optimism, and his stories. Perhaps, in his memory, we’ll be able to keep it going.

I met my step-daughter Maya and her friend Jennifer today near the village, at the Placitas Cafe down the road towards I-25.¬†Placitas Cafe They both had worked at the winery, helping to bottle, label, and sell the wines. When they found out about Jim’s death, they were thrown for a loop, so they drove out there from Albuquerque. We sat for hours talking about Jim, with tears in our eyes, and sadness in our hearts. We tried to focus on Jim’s friendliness and great heart, and not be sad, but it is too soon. I can barely write about him without an overarching melancholia. I have too few friends and family that I care about so much, and losing someone like Jim is gut wrenching. You never know how much you care about someone until they’re near death or gone.

So, I keep trying to say good bye to Jim in this post, but I can hardly type. I know I’ll feel better in a while. After all, Jim Fish made me smile, and I always enjoyed making wine with him. He was passionate about his life, whether it was winemaking, hiking, camping, hunting, wood-carving, or poetry. When I found my ownself retired, divorced, and aimless, Mr. Fish added some hard work to my life, giving me a new-found appreciation for wine-making, farming, a caring kind of entrepreneurship, and friendship.

 

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Not Exactly Proof of Death, but Pretty Damn Likely

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 5, 2014

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA  KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA  Charlie II

Charlie

I wasn’t sure at first where to post this. It doesn’t really fit on my Ennui blog. It is kind of random. I just found out today that my missing cat is dead. I was speaking with a neighbor who makes beer, and he promised to bring one by. He asked what my house number is, and I told him, asking him if he remembered the poster I had up for months asking if anyone had seen my cat, since it had my house number and phone number. He remarked that another neighbor said he had seen a cat just like that at the same time (June), dead in our community garden. Well, thanks a lot for telling me neighbor! I’ve wanted some closure since then. It makes me mad and sad at the same time.

I’ve missed that cat so much. He was a cat who waited for me to get home. Even though he had and used the cat door, he’d wait for me to unlock and open the main door. He loved attention, and sleeping on my lap, and bed. At eleven years old, he still loved to play. Sometimes I think I hear him. I’ve posted posters of him, and walked the surrounding neighborhood nearly every day, calling him and whistling for him. He used to come running when I whistled. Two neighbors left me a phone message that they’d seen a friendly cat just like him in the next neighborhood down the road, and I walked there nearly every day for three months calling and whistling for him.

I had always imagined he might show up one day, that someone had taken him in, or he wandered so far away that he’d become confused and lost. Of course, the worst scenario was that he’d been eaten by coyotes. He was such a lean, healthy, strong, and fast animal. It’s hard for me to imagine him not being able to climb a tree or building to get away, and he could run really fast. Aside from the occasional coyotes, it is a safe neighborhood for cats. We are far from the major street, and the speed humps in our cul-de-sac road keep my neighbors driving below 15 mph. Traffic through the compound is very light, and he often slept or played on the large flat roof that results from having six houses connected. He is microchipped, but animal control here had no record of him being picked up injured or dead, so I had some hope I’d see him again.

It’s strange, after all this time, but now I am grieving for him. I missed him before, and couldn’t quite believe he was gone. Now, I have to accept it, and I don’t even know what happened. Was he hit by a car and left in the garden? Did he choke, or was he poisoned by something he ate? Why did no one tell me? That poster was up right by our mailboxes for a long time, and everyone saw it. You’d think the person that saw a dead cat in the garden would have told me. The bad ugly thing is that this happened right after there was an email broadcast to all the residents here from another neighbor that cats were shitting on her roof, and left a turd on her patio, that a roadrunner had been mauled, and that cats can decimate all wildlife in an area. I fired back that, from my experience, cats eat what they kill, and would not have left an injured bird. The email misrepresented the study on cats. The point of that study was the effect of un-neutered cats, proliferating unchecked. Mine have always been neutered. The neighborhood is full of wild birds, doves, pigeons, and all manner of small mammals, and in the seven years I’ve lived here, there has not been any noticeable decrease in the wildlife. Sure my cat ate some birds and rodents, but the roadrunner is a fierce predator itself, even eating rattlesnakes, rodents and other birds. It is not in danger from cats. (Coyotes are faster, but roadrunners can fly.)

My cat went missing right after I sent that email. That’s why I’ve been angry. The thought that some idiot may have killed my cat on purpose really infuriated me.

But that’s over now. I know it’s hard for people to accept that a dead pet can cause such sadness. I know he wasn’t my child or a person, but he sure was a friend, affectionate and loyal, and since he was initially born outdoors, of a feral mother, he never accepted anyone but me, retaining a wildness that I liked, and yet being very trusting and affectionate with me, and the other feral cat that showed up a year later.

The main reason I had moved into this compound was for the safety of my cats, and the fact that there were many trees to climb, and grass to frolic in. Now, I’m not certain that I’ll stay. In my mind, animals need space, room to run and play and hunt. Of course, I recognise that the freedom my cat had probably led directly to his death, and I should accept that. It just makes me so fucking sad.

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Back to the Mainstream

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 3, 2010

Fishing is religion to many people.¬† Fishing in New Mexico is like that – it’s a spiritual experience.¬† Rick loved fishing.¬† He also liked to drink, and he liked to party – “Ajua!” – and he liked to grow and eat the hottest chiles you’ve ever tasted – “Yesss!” – but he loved just a few things: his wife, his sons, and fishing.¬† There probably isn’t a river or lake in the whole state that he hadn’t fished.
“Rick’s dead.”¬† That’s how I got the news.¬† Linda repeated it, because I just stumbled out a “What?”¬† “Rick’s dead.”¬† “Yeah, but, but, you mean, Rick, Hilda’s Rick?”¬† “Yes.”¬† “But, how? when?¬† Was he in another accident?”
Well, anyway, Rick was dead.¬† The deal was this: he was at home, “evaluating,” a friend’s gun to give his wife, Hilda, for her protection.¬† The reason she needed protection is a family secret.¬† Rick didn’t know if he would buy it yet.¬† The story we were told was this: while Rick was loading the gun, Hilda left him to call Damien, one of her sons, and ask him about the value of the gun.¬† Rick didn’t know if he would buy it yet.¬† Rick, who had just the month before wrecked their truck, and who had broken an arm here and a leg there, having a habit of being not quite careful, dropped the gun.¬† The problem with an automatic, however, is that, as it’s loaded, that action cocks the gun.¬† The gun went off when it hit the floor, and the bullet, well, the bullet found Rick’s heart.¬† It had to pass through the sofa cushion, then it severed Rick’s scrotum, and traveled up through his stomach, where it managed to hit a valve in his heart, and no one could save him.
Hilda was devastated.¬† I don’t recall ever seeing a woman’s face so utterly deflated with sadness.¬† All of the skin in her face seemed to droop.¬† She cried, sobbing between spasms of crying.¬† Of course, her family was soon with her, as were Rick’s and Hilda’s friends: those that fished, and those without that particular religion.¬† Everyone came, and we all brought food and beer.¬† You come together to try to accept what has happened, you sit together, you talk, you eat, you drink.
Just days before the accident, Rick had one shot from a new bottle of tequila.¬† He had said he wanted to save it, to make it last.¬† Now, since he was gone, everyone crowded into the living room, the room with that bullet-holed sofa cushion, and shared the rest of his bottle.¬† It was our last chance to share a drink with him.¬† Mart√≠n, Hilda’s brother, sang a corrido in a great full voice laced with sadness.
Curious, I looked at the cushion.¬† Someone had turned it over so the hole was not so visible, but it was there.¬† I put my finger in it. I couldn’t imagine how it had happened.¬† I didn’t know at the time that Rick’s huevos had been blasted off, or I wouldn’t have touched the sofa at all.¬† There was, curiously, no blood, as if the cushion had not been under Rick for long after the bullet passed through it.¬† Perhaps he fell over onto the floor.¬† If there had been blood on the floor, it was gone now.
Eventually people hugged, and cried some more, and went back to their own homes.¬† There had been a church service earlier, but Rick had long ago insisted that there be no funeral, and no coffin for him.¬† He was cremated.¬† His ashes had been brought from the church, and rested in a jar in the hallway.¬† In the morning his family and friends took the ashes to Rick’s favorite fishing spot in all of Nuevo M√©xico.
It was a long drive from Albuquerque, past Bernalillo, traveling highway 550, through Cuba, through Aztec, and on and on near the Aztec ruins, almost to Colorado.  Five trucks convoyed behind Hilda, in the lead, because only she knew the place.  We pulled off the road, and plunged down an embankment to a sudden stop near the water.  There was a short hike along a thin, almost overgrown path.  Damien poured Rick into his fishing hole, a slowly revolving eddy alongside the swift flowing San Juan.  The ashes whirled round and round and round, some of them heading briefly upriver, where they slowly sank.  We all tossed flowers in the water, and watched, and waited for Rick to join the mainstream.
As the ashes and flowers slowly spiraled towards the deep rushing water, Rick’s family stood on the yellow sandstone rock that balanced over the eddy.¬† I thought the whole thing might just topple into the water, and the entire family drown, what with the aunt, the cousins, the sisters, the sons, the dog, and the friends standing or sitting on that cantilevered rock.¬† The sun is mercilessly bright when there are no clouds, and creates silver highlights on the surface of water.¬† The swift splashing water has shadows between the ripples.¬† Perhaps that helps explain what we saw.
Damien saw it first – a fish, probably dead, swirling with the ashes and the flowers.¬† It listed in the water, but wasn’t clearly dead, so Damien poked it with a stick.¬† It swam away! but only for a few feet.¬† It remained there, lazily pulled this way and that by the competing currents in that watery grave.¬† Someone said, “It’s drunk,” and it was almost certainly true.¬† The ashes and flowers had been followed by brandy, and beer, and tequila.¬† Rick was known to take a sip from time to time, well, probably more times than not.¬† The fish was drunk.
It wasn’t long before someone decided that the fish was Rick.¬† It made sense.¬† Rick had been coming to this spot for a long time, and he had just returned for the last time in what was left of his human form.¬† The fish wouldn’t go away.¬† It kept reappearing at intervals, and drifting, drifting, drifting, like it was waiting for something.¬† It seemed to be watching us watching it.
The fish told us that Rick wasn’t dead, that he would travel the San Juan now.¬† That he would hang around the fishing holes, drinking the beer and tequila that slipped from the hands and lips of¬† fisherman down the length of that river.
Gradually, the tears dried, and the sobs quieted.  People laughed about the fish.  The dog barked at it.  The shadows were creeping down the bank, moving over the edges of the water.  It was time to go.  The fish became more animated, swimming faster, reappearing less, and moving closer to the central current.  Finally, he disappeared into the shadowy, reckless middle.
Rick had joined his compadres in the water’s mainstream, and we felt relief.¬† Rick was free.¬† Rick was home.¬† I swear I heard something in the splashing, gurgling water, as we watched the river flow.¬† I swear I heard, “Ajua!”

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A Tale of Two Cats

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 3, 2010

Hey Charlie boy, strange furry little child of mine. You want to go out, do you? Here you go, I said. Charlie, a tiger-striped short-haired domestic tabby, lept out the now open cat door. Why they waited like that puzzled me.¬†¬†Charlie and his other half, a black and white short-haired domestic tabby, come and go as they please. Sometime they stay out all day, sometimes they pop in for a bite and pop right out again. Sometimes one or both sleeps on my bed all day. In summer they sometimes don’t show for a day or two. I never can figure them out. They don’t need me to open the cat door, but if I’m in the room, they sit or lay patiently until I notice them, and wait for me to hold the flap up so they can leap through the hole.
There’s cat litter in the house, but they rarely use it.¬†¬†I hardly ever change it anymore. I can pull out the occasional piece of dried shit.¬†¬†I can often hear them running around over my head. They love the flat-roofed houses around here.¬†¬†There are six houses connected together, so they often run full tilt across the roofs, sounding like herds of miniature horses.¬†¬†Cats and horses, of course, have exactly the same gait, moving both legs on either side in unison, alternating from one side to the other as they run.
Often they wait outside the clear plastic door, waiting patiently for me to notice them. I let them in. Sometimes they eat, sometimes they want to be petted, sometimes they are just looking for each other. Sometimes they want to go right back out.
If I’m too slow to notice them, they start scratching the small throw rug by the door.¬†¬†There’s a small rug by my bed that they do the same thing to, if I’m too long in bed in the morning.¬†¬†Charlie sometimes meows at me, but the other one, Kilala, just scratches like mad.¬†¬†Sometimes they want food.¬†¬†Charlie has a high-pitched meow he uses when he’s hungry, so I always know just what he wants. If he wants attention, he simply jumps up on my lap, or on the desk if I’m at the computer.
Kilala doesn’t ever jump up on me. She likes to rub her neck on all the corners of the walls, and likes me to pet her, mostly just around her neck and head. She was the feral one, showing up out of the blue one day.¬†¬†Charlie was barely a year old when she showed up; I had raised him from a kitten. His mother had camped out in the yard, and dropped her litter.¬†¬†I fed them every day.¬†¬†Since this was the second time a cat had dropped a litter there, my wife insisted I get rid of them quickly.¬†¬†Before I did, I heard one of them mewing and crying away from inside the fence I had recently put up.¬†¬†There were pickets on both sides, and he must have fallen in from on top.¬†¬†Fortunately, I had used deck screws to put the fence up, and I undid the screws on the plank closest to the crying.¬†¬†It was the little striped orange cat I’d later call Charlie.¬†¬†I took him over to his mother, petting him all the while.
After a few more weeks I went to Animal Control for a trap.¬†¬†I set it up early, and put their bowl of cat food inside.¬†¬†Later on, I found the mother and most kittens inside.¬†¬†That made my wife happy.¬†¬†She was glad to see them go.¬†¬†It was the second litter I’d had to get rid of. I’d kept the mother of the first litter, after leaving all her wiry, well-trained mousers at Animal Control.¬†¬†They were such lively, healthy animals.¬†¬†I’d watched the mother train them in mousing, bringing them a field mouse to learn how to catch.¬†¬†I hated to see them go, but my wife insisted, and she wasn’t interested in waiting for people to come by and take them.
I had the mother fixed; no more kittens for her.  She was a gentle cat, obviously a runaway, as she was well used to people, cat food and houses.  But, one day a few weeks after she been spayed, she died in the garden.  My wife noticed while she was watering.  I was sad. I never knew what killed her: complications from her spaying operation? insect poison on the garden?
But, next spring there was another female, another litter.  That was the litter Charlie came from.
When I trapped them, Charlie was the only one who hadn’t gone into the trap. So I kept him.¬†¬†My wife wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, but as long as the menagerie was gone, she was OK with keeping one.¬†¬†Charlie was almost feral himself, still very young.¬†¬†He stayed away from the house, but showed up every day looking for food.¬†¬†While he ate, I petted him, and it must have imprinted, because, to this day, he often waits by his food until I pet him.¬†¬†He’s the only animal I’ve ever seen who will allow himself to be petted while eating. He even purrs as he chomps away.
I think Kilala was no more than six months old then she showed up.¬† I never knew if she’d stay, so she was just “Girl” for the longest time. She was incredibly thin, but then I noticed her belly hanging down. Damn, another pregnant cat.¬†¬†She took to Charlie right away.¬†¬†They hung out a bit until she had her kittens, then she was often missing.¬†¬†One day I found her with her kittens in a small pit under an old, low-slung bench in the garden area.¬†¬†She grabbed one of the kittens and ran to the fence, vaulting it like a champion despite the bundle in her teeth. Later on, I noticed she had taken all the kittens, probably in the same manner.¬†¬†As they got older, they needed more food than Kilala could provide, so she brought them all over to the bowl I had Charlie’s food in. She had eaten there before, so now she was teaching her progeny where the food was.¬†¬†I had to put a lot more out.¬†¬†I was happy again to see the kittens playing, fighting, running around the yard, but my wife insisted they could not stay. Again, I had to round ’em up and take them away.¬†¬†I kept Kilala of course. She was a great companion for Charlie.¬†¬†¬†I can’t stand to see animals kept by themselves.¬†¬†Most animals, especially cats and dogs, are very social creatures. An animal locked up by itself, in a house or yard, is the cruelest kind of life, I think.
Charlie had already been neutered, and I had Kilala spayed.¬†¬†I kept my fingers crossed, and was very happy to see that she survived.¬†¬†Eventually I coaxed the two of them into the house to eat.¬†¬†They had a ball investigating all the rooms in the house, and chasing each other through them.¬†¬†They didn’t, however, like it when the outside door was closed.¬†¬†They loved running out and in, and out and in again.¬†¬†Whenever I could I left the sliding glass door and screen open.¬†¬†In winter, when I couldn’t, I had to open the door every time they wanted in or out.¬†¬†They never ran away. Even if they were out all day or night, they waited by the door for me to let them in again.
My wife hated the way I catered to them.¬†¬†I couldn’t see just leaving them outside, or confining them inside, so I became their doorman.¬†¬†I didn’t mind.¬†¬†They are affectionate to me and each other, although, just as people do, sometimes they fight with each other. Often they mate, even though both are fixed.¬†¬†It is always funny to watch them, curling together like a Yin and Yang painting, then suddenly fighting, or chasing each other around and biting and hissing.¬†¬†But always, they return and sleep curled around each other.¬†¬†¬†They remind me so much of married couples, with one exception: they stay together.¬†¬†Either one could leave, but they never do.¬†¬†No matter how much they fight, they end up licking each other’s face, and cleaning each other’s fur.¬†¬†And always they like to sleep together.
Not like humans.¬†¬†My wife is no longer with me. We grew apart, without much affection passing between us anymore.¬†¬†I loved her, but she seemed, to me, to be cold and hard.¬†¬†Perhaps it was all in my mind.¬†¬†I told her once, after she’d been away, and she kept insisting, drunkenly, that¬†I tell her, that I hadn’t called her because I hadn’t missed her.¬†¬†I had actually enjoyed a little time away from her. I meant nothing radical.¬†¬†It just was nice to have the house to myself, with peace and quiet, without the constant noise of the TV and her nagging, once in a while.¬†¬†I hadn’t meant more than that, but she wouldn’t talk to me anymore, wouldn’t listen to me.¬†¬†She made me leave, and, of course, I took the cats.¬†¬†The cats went with me kicking and screaming, but they adjusted to the new place, and they stay with me. I never heard from my human companion of fourteen years again.

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