Monday, June 22, 2009

Traditional Lyhr Celebration

Today tastes like green glass beads, saltwater mud, and Harold Monro. It must be the solstice, and time for the Festival of Lyhr. This year, it's a tradition1.

I talked about Lyhr the first year we celebrated, where we all came together in masks to rejoice at the birth of the Holly King and mourn the passing of the glory of the Oak King. I confessed to my CDO (a true compulsive knows the only proper order is alphabetical, after all) and my slightly competitive edge (an edge much like a chainsaw, it's true).

And I skipped Lyhr 2008 as I was merely judging and could not compete (tho' the winners of 2008, well, they deserved it. Amazing isn't the word for their work.)

So this year, I decided to play to my strengths, and instead of sculpting, I knitted.

I was thinking about making a beaded shawl, and wanted to see about the technique--did it really work? Would I be able to stand it? Considering beaded goodies have been dripping from my needles ever since, I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes. But then, I needed a small piece to play with and see. A mask looked like just the right thing.

Do you know how hard it is to keep a secret like that for two years???

And then it hit me last year that I needed a shawl to go with it. What separates us from the animals, after all, is our ability to accessorize. And there's a beautiful beaded shawl from PinkLemonTwist and a great story that goes with it, and well, I had my whole outfit together. The mask took an evening, the accessory took weeks. But it was worth it.

I wasn't really feeling competitive--I had the nifty tiara from the first year (which I have worn each succeeding year thereafter) and so, well, what could top that? I thought it would be a funny little joke--Spike the lace knitter, draped in a lace shawl, wearing a knitted lace mask. Tee hee.

Then I saw this year's prize for the Lady of Lyhr.

If there had been mud, I would have lain there and howled for it. Howled for it in a deep lagoon. Covet. Covet covet covet covet covet.

Last year's Lady of Lyhr had made this mask as a prize for 2009's Lady.

Well. And am I going to leave you wondering just who got to take this piece of awesomeness home with her?

Of course not.

So, for next year, I plan to knit up a mantle for the Lady and a Dracoclava for the Fool. ("What kind of idiot wears a full-face wool balaclava to a party in Arizona in June?" "Not just any idiot--the Fool!")

Part of the fun of watching these more intimate gatherings form is watching people begin pushing their envelopes and trying just a little harder. Learning from their mistakes (and others') and seeing just how far they can go.

Pretty damn far indeed.

1. The first time is the thing itself. The second time is the way we've always done it. The third time it's traditional.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Sitting on the mat with Rodentia the other night, I came to realize that the being I missed was not Rodentia as she was just now, but the Rodentia of four-five years ago.

I miss the Minister of Funny Noises 1, I miss Il Dulce2, I miss the cat who slept around my head for a winter 3. I miss the animal who would rub her head on my feet, who would follow me out onto the back porch, the cat who took such unabashed pleasure in catnip.

That cat’s been gone for a long time. I miss the cat who helped midwife me from old kitten to young cat, who showed me that I could take a broken spirit and help mend it, that I was not somehow destined to ruin everything I touched. It’s very much the reason I knit and wear lace.

Gareth asked me if I wanted to go to the pound or ask around for a kitten. This year’s crop should be weaned and ready to be adopted out. For a minute I was severely tempted. A bright bundle of fluff would certainly ease the pain of the protracted farewell, balm for a bruised heart.

But then, but then, but then. Vishnu is twelve (or thirteen? I’m pretty sure she’s thirteen, six years younger than Rodentia) and bringing in a kitten to a home with a well-established older cat is an unkindness. On top of that, Vishnu has wanted to be an only cat forever. If I had known and seen then what became so very clear a few years later, I would have turned down the offer of this particular kitten and sought another beta cat. Vishnu should have her time as a solo animal with all the treats and all the attention.

And one layer down: I would do nothing but put off the inevitable. Remember, a cat’s average span is fourteen years. I hope for another six-seven years with Vishnu, I really do. But I’m not going to have her forever. And maybe I’ll keep that in mind for the next little while, and take more photos of typical Vishnu and write a post or three about my flobbity goofball of puddy fat. I begin to see why my parents and relatives can’t let a moment go by without grabbing the camera and taking photos. I begin to understand the scrapbooking craze, the desire to have many pictures of our child, our pets, and put them together attractively with some notes about what was so significant about this shot.

But yes, even as I pick up and cuddle that sweet little fluffball and play with names (Barong? Gault? Walker??) right now I know that in fourteen years, give or take, I’ll be writing memoriam posts with a tissue wadded up in one hand. I don’t want to handle the double-think right now, where you delight in the frisky young animal and ignore the skeleton in the corner. Sometimes one can ignore it so well that one doesn’t see the scythe until it’s already in motion.

That may change. I hadn’t lost an animal to old age in . . . I don’t know how long. Since middle school, maybe. The other pets who died of just plain organic shuttin’ down did so very quickly–practically between one step and the next, like a Garfield nap attack. I had moved out of my folks’ house long before the family cat died, so I didn’t see her last days of hiding under the table in her cool dark quiet place. This has been a bitter new experience for me, keeping a deathwatch for a beloved animal.

1. Rodentia was always amazed that humans mate out of season. Just as we lit metaphorical cigarettes, she would hop up on the bed, wondering what was up with the funny noises. Of course, she was happy to stick around and have her head and ears rubbed for a minute or two. In a homage to John Cleese, we began to refer to her as the Minister of Funny Noises, and petting her at that time became “bribing the Minister.”

2. When Rodentia began playing with her toys by carrying them around like kittens and meowing at them, we were struck by her resemblance to a furry little dictator issuing orders to her ‘nip minions. “Go out and bring back the cat food! And thumbs! I need thumbs!!!” When you have a mind like a steel sieve, “Il Duce” quickly transmutes into “Il Dulce.” The leader becomes the sweet.

3. Go here and read this.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Turning Another Corner

Todays tastes like sackcloth and ashes, of charred pork and wormwood, of the bitter cold of a snowless high desert winter.

We've turned another corner in Rodentia's journey.

Two years ago, we turned that first corner when I realized she was no longer late middle aged, but affirmatively old.

Cats have a funny-shaped life. After one year, they're teenagers--sexually mature and raising Hell. After three years, they're cats--furry little Republicans (can take care of themselves just fine, thanks, appreciate the perks they have [food, warm house, company] and pay for them [with companionship in return], and don't care much for change for the sake of change).

And then they stay cats for years and years and years, in a slow glide of easy middle age. Not bouncy kittens chasing anything that moves, not yet sleeping round the clock except for creaking over to the food bowl and litter box. Just living the blessed long middle age of a cat, as one vet I used to treat with referred to it.

Then the next corner is turned, and wham! The cat ages like a vampire in sunlight, all the years collapsing in at once.

Two years ago, I noticed we were in the middle of the end. Rodentia was less active, less likely to seek a high perch, less likely to hop up and run at the sound of a can opener. (Treats?? eyes wide and ears up, tail high and crooked at the tip)

But she still played with her toys, picking them up and carrying them about, setting them down and instructing them loudly, a fur-suited Il Duce on the balcony. She was interested in and engaged with the world, lying by the living room window or the back arcadia door, watching other cats on her lawn or porch.

In the last few weeks, that's changed.

She started hanging out in the vestibule of the master bathroom, the place where we groom her and keep the cat treats. One of her problems has always been her cotton candy fur, so fine and prone to clumping into mats. She has a lion's mane, including a ruff under her chin, so it was always hard for her to reach her back and sides--the ruff got in the way. So she'd give up in disgust, and the mats would grow worse and worse until we shaved off her fur.

Then the place where we took her stopped having cat grooming hours on the weekends, so I bought a beard trimmer and did it myself. I started brushing her out, and to make the job easier, started giving treats as I did so. One clump off, one treat. One limb done, three treats. Right at the limit of your patience--four treats, and one more if you don't run away as soon as I put you on the floor.

So I figured that she was hinting she'd like a treat. Or three. And it made it easier this last time, as she was already right there and willing. (We even washed her feet--she's gotten stiff enough that she can't wash them comfortably, and the long hair between her toes was picking up the clumping litter and scattering bits everywhere. Little clay booties on the pads of her feet, poor cat.)

Then she moved into the bathroom proper. Into a dark, enclosed space, where it's quiet most of the time. Where she could lie between the toilet and the wall, where there's just enough room for an old, skinny cat.

I noticed she'd still come and lie on the bathmat while Gareth and I showered. For years, we've put the mats away after we were done, as the cats would sometimes mistake the mat for an alternate litter box. You only have to step into a warm puddle on the mat once to realize something needs to be done about that.

But this weekend, Gareth was going to shower right after me, so I left the mat down, and Rodentia was sleeping the sleep of the just on the mat. I went to move the mat, and she didn't wake up. She didn't wake up until I picked her up to move the mat, and looked at me slowly, not sure where she was or how she got there.

Can a cat have Alzheimer's?

So I've left the mat down. If she misses the litter box on the mat, then I'll wash it. I am of the species with the big brain and opposable thumbs, after all. When the mat wears out from being washed twice a day, I'll get a new one. This one is ten years old; with the money we've saved from using this one, I think we can afford it.

Right now, that's all I can do. Make her corner of the world a little more comfortable while we wait for her last steps to come.