Friday, October 29, 2010


I'm sorry to report that Maizie died of her cancer. Her surgery went well but during recovery she was in the middle of fixing up her nest and she just instantly died. She was not in pain, however, and was acting completely fine - eating, being curious, grooming, making her nests. The doc got all the cancer out because it was localized to her leg, but sometimes there is a delayed reaction to surgery in these very tiny animals, called DIC, I think. I was heartbroken and couldn't bring myself to write about it for awhile.

I have fallen in love with a species that only lives about 2 years. Some of my hamsters live up to 5 years because I take extremely careful care of them, giving them supplements, getting to the vet with any problems, trimming their teeth if they have overgrowth, all the upkeep that takes attention to detail. But still, they just don't live all that long.

I've considered not having hamsters because of the ongoing heartbreak, but I've decided it's worth the heartbreak just to know them. I'd rather deal regularly with the cycle of life and death, love and loss, than live without them at all. They are such amazing, complex, magical little beings. Who knew that the Syrian Ground Squirrel had so many charms?

Many of my hamsters come to me when called by name, and they get all excited when I walk into the room, coming to the door of their cages so I can easily pick them up and snuggle with them. They kiss me on the nose and snuggle under my chin to sleep, they bark at me when they want attention...

One way I've dealt with the constant loss is to breed a special hamster so that when he or she dies, I have her or his babies. In that way, hamsters from the past still live, generations later, through their offspring.

I don't breed a lot, but maybe one litter per generation.

It's the same way with us, isn't it? We achieve some kind of immortality through our children or through those we affect, love, mentor, teach, give to...

This time, though, I bred 4 very special sisters all at once, 2 years ago. I did that because I've found that if one hamster becomes a nervous mother and starts to be unable to care for her babies properly, I can quickly foster those babies into the other litters as long as they're all the same age. So I bred these 4 sisters all on the same night (they seem to go into heat all together at the same time). It worked out well, although for the last 2 years I've had a LOT of hamsters to take care of, or to pay someone to take care of when I travel.

But that's ok. I'm home in bed most of the time and am almost always cuddling with a hamster, so they all get plenty of attention.

But now it's going to be a very difficult season, since they're all getting very old at once. I knew, of course, that this would happen. But that doesn't make it any easier to be losing so many precious friends one right after the other.

Again, it's worth it. And as I've said before, the fact that we outlive our pets is a blessing in that we are able to shepherd them gently through their old age and illnesses and death, rather than us dying first and not knowing if they'll ever be loved or treated in the way we would love and treat them.

I have made arrangements for my animals should that happen, and I highly suggest doing this. Cat and I have mutually agreed to adopt each others' dogs if something happened to one of us, and I have someone who would take my hamsters. I had someone who would have taken care of Wesley, but still, I wouldn't have wanted to have to take any chances with his future, especially with him being so sensitive and so "one person" oriented.

I guess this isn't a real "pick me up" subject, but it's part of having and loving animals, and when we take on an animal and open our hearts, we take on this part of it too. That's ok. I'm so glad I was able to be with Maizie all along and to have spent so much wonderful, magical, joyful time with her. I feel honored to have known her and to have been so trusted by her - and her such a tiny little thing, too.

I'll always love my little Maizie Daisy and will never forget her. Each one of them is an individual and is so special and so full of their own personality. It's pure delight to have shared this beautiful green earth with them!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pic of me and Wesley kissing, news of Fiona

Wow! What lovely comments from old friends and new! Right now I'm holed up writing. I tend to hole up away from home in order to stay away from distractions. Some hotels are very doggy friendly and hamster friendly, too. Fiona, however, is with her brother and her "other mom", Cat. Yes a woman named Cat, which I imagine is short for Catherine, but I've never asked her. How odd that two of my close friends are Cat and Cait!

Anyway, Fiona is in heat, and it seems to be her first true heat, even though she's 2 years old almost. Fortunately, brother Drinian is "fixed". But still, he was thrown off by the "new" Fiona and was really upset by her being in heat at first. Now, he seems to think he is supposed to guard her, which is fine with me! Cat tells me that Fiona is starting to howl, though, so I may have to go get her for the sake of Cat and her neighbors. I don't know how bad it is or isn't.

She puts the dogs in at night, because, being instinctive guard dogs, they will run the property all night barking at every coyote or owl that comes near. They are supposed to do that kind of thing, and Colorado Mountain Dogs are working WONDERS in places like Colorado, Wyoming, Montana - places where the wolf and the mountain lion have come back. Ranchers who have Colorado mountain dogs are reporting that they now have zero losses of livestock. The Colorado Mountain Dog is part Great Pyrenees and part Anatolian Shepherd, and both of those breeds have been keeping flocks of sheep and goats safe in Europe for time immemorial. When I read about ranchers in the midwest being upset about wolves going after their goats, I think, "Well for Pete's sake, get yourself a couple of Colorado Mountain Dogs! Or if they're not available, a couple of Great Pyrenees!" The reason the Colorado Mountain Dog is a little better, is that the combination of the two breeds gives you a lithe, wolflike dog that moves like a cat on the big rocks, can turn on a dime, can leap like crazy, runs like the wind, yet has the umph of the heavy great pyrenees. A Perfect dog for those mountains.

Anyway, because Fiona and Drinian think that's what they're supposed to be doing, they are too boistrous outside at night, and Cat lives along a canyon that reaches to the sea (in fact, she can hear the horns of the big ships as they pass out at sea, echoing up the canyon right to her house).

So...they go into their own sleeping area in the garage at night. Cat says, "Go to bed" and they race to their respective beds. Fiona likes to sleep in a big airline crate for extra large dogs. There's no door on it, so she doesn't have to sleep in there but she likes it. Cat has already put a biscuit on each of their pillows. yes! So Fiona goes to her bed and eats her biscuit, and Drinian goes to his pile of blankets right outside the door of Fiona's case and eats his biscuit. Cat was curious about what their routine is when they go to bed so she started spying on them. She has a nightlight on in there for them, so she can see what they're doing.

They each eat their biscuit, then Fiona comes out to check to see what Drinian ate and look for crumbs. Drinian sticks his nose in her mouth to smell what she ate to make sure she got the same thing he did. They're so funny about food when it comes to each other. On her own, Fiona turns her nose up at food and pretends she couldn't care less about it. She doesn't like treats, for example. She will not take them. When I feed her, she doesn't run to her bowl but looks away as if bored. Eventually, she ambles past her bowl, swinging her head down and swiping a mouthful in one movement, so it is hard to tell she even took a bite. She walks away from the bowl, WELL away from it, then you hear the crunch crunch crunch and you know she's eating the bite. Then, a few minutes later, she ambles past the bowl again, swipe, amble...crunch crunch crunch. I have no idea why she is so "cool" about it, so cavalier.

BUT, when she's at Cat's house, Cat has to separate the two dogs into two different yards because they are suddenly fascinated with each other's food. Fiona is suddenly a food maven, a ravenous beast. As soon as they've both eaten, Cat opens the gate between them and they rush to finish any little bits left in each others' bowls. Sigh. silly dogs. She even gains weight when she's at Cat's because of her competition w/ Drinian over food. The grass is always greener on the other side, it's really true that people and animals think that way. It cracks me up.

have a lovely week, everyone!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

i'm really here, if you are...

Hi! If anyone is still watching for this blog, after my severe neglect of several months, THANK YOU! I've been on a LOONNNGGG retreat, away from the internet and all the emotion and noise it can generate. I never do very well in the summer with my health, and this summer was no exception. The heat just ruins me and it's one migraine after another, and when there's no migraine, I'm recovering from the exhaustion of having had so many migraines in a row. Not that I'm complaining. I know I'm lucky to live in the USA where there is so much opportunity and comfort. It's ridiculous to even think about complaining when you're lying on a comfortable bed with enough to eat and a roof over your head. So I'm not. I'm just explaining why I haven't been getting on the internet. I did go on a long retreat, also, and when I do that, I never say when I'm going to do it or where I'm going or for how long. I've always had that tendency. And while I can no longer trek off into the high sierras alone at a whim, I can still disappear like I used to do, and think and sleep and think some more.

I've been thinking about the Barn Owl Alliance and all the work that you guys have been doing. Charlotte has been keeping me updated through Keith Malone. I haven't given up on that at all, it's just that a person can only do so much, and can only do one thing at a time, at least this person can only do so many things at one time. When I was younger and healthier I could do everything all at once, or at least I thought I could. It's an illusion of the young, I think.

I'm still on a retreat, esconced in a random hotel for now, dealing with my hamster having major surgery. This hotel allows animals and has mondo air conditioning, which is the main reason I'm here. We had the hottest days ever in recorded history in the past couple of weeks and I just couldn't stand it, even with the air conditioning on at home. California homes, even nice ones, are not built with insulation in mind. The feeling is that things never really get all that bad - heatwise or coldwise, so there's no need to get all excited about details like insulation, so a lot of the heat or air conditioning goes right out the sides of the windows, under the doors, through the mail slots. No one really worries about "drafts" in winter either. Unless they're way up in the mountains where it counts for something.

Anyway, I do apologize for being rather impossible to reach via the internet. On the other hand, I think the internet can be very invasive, so I have mixed feelings about it. But I had established a lot of contacts and feel bad about just dropping off the face of the earth. I do tend to do that, as I said, though.

I'm writing another book, now, so a lot of the writing energy that I would have been using on the blog is now being used for the book. I'm deep in the rough draft right now.

I adhere to the Steven King method, as he explains in his book, "On Writing". I didn't KNOW I adhered to his method until I read the book and thought, "Wow, that's exactly how I do it, too." Not that it's rocket science - few things are.

There are only so many ways to go about it, right? The first thing I do is what I call "Making the fabric", where the finished quilt would be the book. Before you make a quilt, you have to go out and buy yards and yards of fabric, some of this, some of that...if you're not really sure how it's going to look yet, you end up buying a lot of fabric that will not make it into the quilt at the end, but you may take some pieces from each of the fabrics for the final quilt. But you can't put pieces together if there is no fabric to mess around with in the first place. Making the fabric - or the first draft - is done in private, almost in secrecy.

I just let my subconscious run in all kinds of directions, free-flowing. And I'm often surprised by what my subconscious is up to when I see it on the page. It'll take me a while to get all of that out. With the first book, I wrote 400 pages single spaced.. using a font sized 12, Times Roman.

When I went back to the raw fabric to pull the book together, I cut a ton of that, about half of that ended up in the book.

This time it's taking me longer to write the rough draft, since w/ Wesley the Owl, I wrote the first draft in a passionate whirlwind after he died. It's how I processed my grief. This book is being written under a lot less duress, although my passion for my subject is keen.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, please be patient. I may not be the blogger I used to be during this time of writing, because my writing energy will be channeled into the new book.

Today has been intense because my hamster, Maizie, had major surgery to remove a huge cancerous mass that was wrapped around her femur, and she had to have that taken out, plus reconstruction of her muscles around the femur they could save, and they had to amputate the rest of her leg. She was otherwise just fine and healthy, so it was worth it to take this out and let her go on living her life. She clearly has a very strong will to live and wasn't letting the cancer get in her way. But it was becoming very painful and slowing her down. Now she's in recovery and on very strong pain medications. The vet, my hero, Dr. Coward, is taking her home for the night so he can keep monitoring her. This guy is really amazing. He gets so involved with his patients - even a tiny gray hamster like my little Maizie, who I adore.

So I'm going to be worrying about her - I can't help it.

Well, I'll try to blog more often now, and again, sorry for the long absence! I hope you all had a great summer!