Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Not With a Bang, but a Whimper"

A few years back, at the Catholic hospital I worked at, the Money Men (those CEO gunslingers who had replaced the Sisters as administrators) decided to do some staff pruning. One of the people they decided to cut was a venerable Nursing Supervisor in her sixties who had worked there over forty years. This woman still dressed in white uniforms and wore a white nursing cap. She was mother and grandmother to many, a true daughter of her church. And loyal to the hospital.

There was once a photo of her on the front page of the Tennessean newspaper. A photographer caught her as she talked to a member of the SWAT team on a night when a drunk showed up in the ER with a gun and shot up a couch in the waiting room.

She was not let go. The doctors stopped the hospital from deleting her. As a pulmonologist there told me"If this is the kind of thing we have to do to keep this hospital open, this hospital may not be worth keeping open".

A friend emailed me last night that this same hospital has once more brought out the shears. And these cuts will bleed.

The chaplains who worked the evening and night shifts are gone. The people who came to sit with dying patients, who came to calm distraught daughters, who came to listen to nurses conflicted about when to stop life support and when to go on-


Meanwhile up in the Executive Suite it is all fresh flowers, clean carpets, pipe dreams about "market share".

If this is the kind of thing they have to do to keep the hospital open, maybe the hospital is not worth keeping open.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Timely Bit of Doggerel

Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher, had an idea for a prison where guards from one vantage point could see all their prisoners all the time.

He called it a "Pantopticon".

I dedicate this little piece of doggerel to the tireless folk at our beloved N.S.A, who are on a mission to turn our country into Bentham's prison, all the better to know which senators, Supreme Court Justices, and TV talking heads they can blackmail.

Here is to you N.S.A.! And a merry Fourth of July to you! May the Farce be with you-

Pantopticon- A Bit of Doggerel by ME.

To those who live in foggy fear

Of the Ever Eye, and the Government Ear

Consider this about the powers that be

The more they have to watch

the less they will see.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


People collect all sorts of things. One need only go to an estate sale or to our mother in laws' house to prove it. There are the Hummel figurines, the McCoy Pottery bowls, the old state license plates, a locked cabinet of bass plugs and fishing lures.

Till recently I worked with a woman who collected dolls.

Dolls of every size and vintage. Hundreds of dolls. She showed me the pictures.

There they were-in chairs, on the window seats, on a bed. Everywhere.

But not in her house. They were in their own little house, built by the woman's husband. Large enough for full grown people to walk around in, but private enough for the secret life of dolls. Who knows what they were up to when she was not looking-

A few weeks ago I went through an old trunk where I kept watercolor paints, pastels, old short stories never seen by anyone other than myself, and I found an old monograph on the David Austin roses that I had written twenty years ago for the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens here in Nashville.

I did not remember writing it, and did not realize I had saved it, but the first line I wrote took me back to my own collecting days.

"In my Bellevue garden", I wrote"I grow over two hundred fifty varieties of roses".

And I did. Until the trees I planted shaded the beds out. Until I began to be unfaithful with other plants.

Many gardeners have been afflicted with this mono-cultural monomania for roses ever since the first roses came out of Persia and China. It is a passion even the layman, the non-gardener can understand.

But other gardeners develop a taste for other plants not so admired by ordinary people.

The Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina sells twenty plus varieties of Arisaema , otherwise known as Jack-in-the Pulpit. These are woodland plants, and if I had a shaded garden and room for them I might have a cluster of three or four of the common variety found in the eastern woods. This would be enough for me.

But to a collector, enough is not enough. He, or she is infected with a horticultural Pleonexia.

If a plant explorer finds a 1/2 inch tall Arisaema growing in moss on the north side of a Nepalese rock, the collector must have it.

Back many years ago,when I was out and about in horticultural world more than I am now, I visited several collectors' gardens.
No Jack in the Pulpits there. These were gardens for day lilies and for rare species tulips and daffodils.

The latter garden belonged to a sweet elderly Yankee lady who belonged to the Daffodil Society and the Herb Society. (The Herb Society being a social signifier, since membership was by invitation only to the right sort of people, a group to which I have never belonged).

This lady, for she truly was one, had tiny, rare species of spring blooming bulbs that came from the dry regions of the world. From Turkey, from Iran, and the Caucasus. Since winters in those places are dry, and Nashville winters are soggy, these bulbs would not survive here without special measures.

The day I visited her duplex in a cul de sac , I saw those special measures. There were two of them. Two six foot conical mounds of dirt and grit on either side of the front entrance walk. What the neighborhood association thought of this I do not know, but I expect they were not happy to see dirt piles that looked as though some race of giant fire ants had moved in to start their assault on the city.

For the purpose of these strange cones was to keep the little tulip bulbs dry with sharp drainage.

Perhaps it was the lady's graciousness that kept her neighbors mum. Perhaps it was the blue gingham shirt waist dresses she always wore, remnants from a more genteel time.

I saw this garden in summer, sans tulips. The owner had planted some creeping verbena on the mounds, but it was insufficient camouflage.

Barbarian that I am, I remember commenting to the Lady that her garden mounds must be beautiful in spring. I was gently rebuked by another Garden Lady, one of the owner's friends, who reminded me that this garden was beautiful now.

The daylily garden was on a side street off Woodmon Boulevard. And it was not in the lawn or in beds around the house.

It was the lawn. Every inch of it.

Daylilies are a common plant. Most everyone knows what daylilies look like, and if they do not, they need only to drive Highway 70 into my suburb of Bellevue to see feral orange daylilies blooming in the waste areas along the road.

Orange was too narrow a color range for hybridizers. Tasteful gardeners wanted pale yellow,pale pink, apricot, butter yellow.

Add bronze,rust,red, and brown to these tints, and make the plants miniscule or altissima.

They were all in this garden. Hundreds of them, and carefully labeled. I do not even remember if this house had foundation shrubs. All I remember was daylily after daylily, different colors, but all alike.

I did not comment on this garden to any of the other visitors. Words seemed superfluous. But even now I can remember the last daylily I looked at before I fled to my car. It was small and brown and ugly, hybridized by someone with a sense of humor. It had a label, and a name.

It was called "Little Wart".

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hiatus Cancelled. Back, but Temporarily Without Photos

I fear that gardening and culinary posts will be difficult without pictures, but there are free photos on Wikipedia Commons that I might use. Little essays and opinion pieces do not need visual aids, as Kay G. pointed out to me.

So- Blog resumes Monday.

And I do still have photos I have never used in my picture gallery on line!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Blog on Hiatus

I regret that this blog must be suspended for an unknown duration of time. My Sony camera, an antique, has died. I do not know when I will be able to afford another-

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tales of a Nashville Gardener- Crinums in Nashville Gardens

The crinum in these photos is an old "Milk and Wine Lily" from the garden I once had here in Bellevue. When I lost my house, a friend went with a shovel and rescued all my crinums and took them to her garden in Green Hills. These bulbs came from the old Mary Walker Bulb Farm in Georgia. I bought them in the late 1980s, and they have been living outdoors in Nashville dirt since then, which should settle any questions about hardiness.

Crinums are a form of hardy Amaryllis. Like so many of our fine garden bulbs they came from South Africa, and when they arrived in America they became a plant of permanence in old gardens across the South. In the gardens of New Orleans. In the gardens of grandmothers from South Georgia to the coast of Texas. They were a "pass along plant", given to daughters and handed over the fence to neighbors.

Their flowers do not last long, but established clumps do send up new scapes. A week before I took the photo of the Milk and Wine, it had had already bloomed once. This plant is in average soil in a garden that lives on only rainfall. It is not irrigated.

I have never seen crinums offered by any garden center I have visited, and I have been to many. One must seek them out from specialty growers. Several mail order nurseries offer many varieties.

In their his "Heirloom Gardening in the South", William Welch wonders why crinums are not grown as much as they should be.

I think this is because any plant not lined up at the garden centers is a plant invisible. Ordinary or new gardeners have not heard of it,or would not order it by mail even if they had. And crinum bulbs sell for $22.00 and up. One bulb might take a year to bloom and years to form a colony. One must have patience, especially in a garden, where plants grow by their own calendar and not by ours. Some things are worth waiting for, which we forget in our "I want it now" world.

Excellent books that have information about crinums are the aforementioned "Heirloom Gardening in the South" by William C. Welch and Greg Grant and "Garden Bulbs for the South" by Scott Ogden. Ogden's chapter on Crinums is exhaustive with dozens of pictures. Of crinums he writes:

"Their continued presence in gardens is a living testament to the movement of people through the warm climates of the world. Several old crosses are so robust and vigorous that they have outlived their creators and, like Methuselah, seem destined to outlive us all".

Here are some nurseries that sell crinums on line.

Old house


I have bought a number of plants from Plant Delights, and have always had good luck. The other nurseries I have yet to buy from.

*The Milk and Wine Lily gets its name from having pink stripes on its white bloom.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An Ugly Incident

Last night two of my neighbors-an attractive couple in their mid-twenties, drove away from these apartments , having spent the last two days loading up a U-Haul.

Good riddance to them I say.

For what were they doing just before they drove off?

Throwing twigs and little pieces of gravel at the barn swallow nest and nestlings just under the eaves of the parking shed.

They stopped when I went put onto the porch and yelled "Hey" at them. They stared at me ,and I stood out there staring them down until they left.

What kind of people are these? Did their parents teach them nothing? What good is it to be handsome and young if you are devoid of values and of any inner life that might make you decent?

I recall the scene in C.S Lewis's "Perelandra", where a new Satan on a new planet walks along tearing apart any small animals he finds just because that is who he is.

Evil does not have to be large. It can be small and banal. It is always with us.

What a stain on the Universe.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Tee-Tiny Experimental Kitchen-Potato Salad with Pickles, Peaches, and Diced Ham

It is a happy day in summer when Johnnie Howell's farm truck comes on Tuesdays and Fridays to the Davidson Road Methodist Church parking lot. Now we shall have Southern peaches. Lady peas. Blackberries, and those gnarly medium -sized red potatoes one can boil right in their jackets.

And having boiled them, we can turn them into potato salad.

I have been thinking about adding diced honey ham to potato salad for a while. Last night I did it. And then I thought how good a nice kosher dill pickle spear tastes with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. So I added diced up pickles to the salad.

Ham loves fruit too, so why not add some. I diced up a slightly under ripe large peach and added that as well. Had I had a can of diced pineapple I might have added that instead.

Onion was necessary, but I had to be careful. Nothing ruins a potato salad like the over addition of an aggressive onion. I added a heaping tablespoon of finely diced purple onion, and that was enough.

The Recipe

5-6 medium sized red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into one inch chunks and boiled in their jackets in lightly salted water until tender.

2 Kosher dill pickle spears, diced into smallish pieces

1 heaping tablespoon of red onion, finely diced

1 large peach, its flesh diced. Add another peach if you like-

1 cup mayonnaise

1 heaping tablespoon of Dijon mustard

1 cup diced up Honey Ham

Several shakes of Creole seasoning-optional

Drain the potatoes, then add everything else and mix well. If you like spicy, add a shake or two of Creole seasoning. I, as always, use Tony Cachere's.

This should feed 3 or 4 people. I made this last night, and it is almost gone. Every time I walk by the refrigerator I eat some more.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Two Highly Recommended Blogs

For gardeners I recommend, written and photographed by a Danish gardener who is a boxwood, stone, and planter artist. His garden is unique, for it is a garden of ideas that mixes the unbridled with classical order.

For anyone who wants to read the memoirs of an interesting woman who has lived a fascinating life I recommend Vagabonde's new post is her account of leaving Paris to immigrate to the US during the
Kennedy years. She lived in San Francisco where she was surrounded by musicians and artists. The post has many wonderful photos of those years. And there is a part 2 coming!

Zucchini and Sweet Onion Pasta Sauce/Condiment with Three Cheeses

This is a delicious vegetable only pasta sauce that uses no butter or cream. Just olive oil, zucchini squash, a Vidalia sweet onion, and Ricotta, Parmesan, and Pecorino Romano cheeses. You need not chop or dice, as the vegetables go through the shredder disk of the food processor. The onion is not sauteed first since shredded onion softens and cooks quickly.

2 medium zucchini- each about 8 inches long

1 large sweet yellow onion such as a Vidalia

3-4 tbs olive oil

Kosher salt to taste

Two shakes of Italian seasoning

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, loosely packed in measuring cup

1 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese, loosely packed

Put the zucchini and onion through the shredder disk of your food processor. Heat a saute pan with the olive oil to medium heat and add the vegetables. Toss to coat, then saute until the onion and zucchini are cooked through and soft. Add the kosher salt at this time, to taste.(Remember that 2 of the cheeses are salty.)

Now add the cheeses and lower the heat. Let the cheeses melt and stir well.

Before spooning the sauce over your pasta of choice, add a ladle full of pasta water to the sauce if it seems too thick.

This, and a pound of pasta, should serve four.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Neat. Sweet. Petite."

A small weeping Eastern Redbud in bloom is a pretty sight in the spring garden. Its magenta-pink flowers line its weeping boughs that trail to the ground.

And then the flowers fade, and the leaves come forth, and this little tree assumes its summer form. It has a prominent place in the mixed border of perennials and annuals.


So here it sits, a green lump that begs the question "What were the plant breeders thinking?

As for me, I plant around it and try to ignore it.

And when I cannot ignore it, and have to talk about it, "It" is the word.

As in"Cousin It".

For "It' is indeed" creepy and kooky, mysterious and ooky, altogether spooky".

An Addams Family Tree!

Why We Do Not Have Kings

We do not have kings because the people we put in office are public servants who carry out the will of the people.

We do not have kings because kings can start wars without consulting anyone other than their courtiers and their fawning privy councils.

We do not have kings because the American people will not tolerate secret police such as those who once worked for Reza Pahlavi, the once Shah of Iran, and who made people disappear and families weep. "See something, say something, and turn in your neighbors" says the King's Security Minister.

We do not have kings because kings can have their minions arrest people without warrants and throw them into prison towers for years without trial.

We do not have kings because kings can send out tax collectors and their Sheriffs of Nottinghams to tax and confiscate until people bleed, especially those who question the realm and the king's power.

We do not have kings because kings drain their treasuries dry for their own private amusements. A king will not hesitate to travel lavishly to foreign lands, spending 60 to 100 million dollars to have fighter jets overhead, a hospital ship just offshore, and hundreds of security people surrounding him.

And why do we not have queens as well?

We do not have queens because when told that their subjects are hungry and cannot afford bread reply-

"Let them eat Ramen noodles!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Annals of Bygone Nashville- Rachel Jackson's Honeysuckle

This strange looking plant, with its bracts that look like clowns' collars, came from a plant sale a friend and I went to a few years back at The Hermitage, the plantation home of General Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, and the first man from the boisterous and rising West to win the presidency. Prior to Jackson our Commanders in Chief were New England patricians and aristocrats from Virginia.

Jackson's name and legacy are everywhere here. His nickname was Old Hickory, and I live just off the long and winding Old Hickory Boulevard. Nashville has the General Jackson River Boat, Old Hickory Lake, the Hermitage Hotel, the suburb of Hermitage.

His wife Rachel, shy and religious, had a garden at The Hermitage. It has been preserved, along with antique roses like River's Charles the Fourth, a rose I bought at that plant sale and grew in my garden in Bellevue. This rose must have been grown all over the state, for to my astonishment I once came across a feral bush alongside a slough near Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee.

Rachel loved her garden, and when she died in 1828, the year Jackson won the presidency, her sad husband buried her in it. She never made it to the White House as First Lady. She died from a bad heart, and some say a broken heart from a scandal over whether she was ever legally divorced from her first husband. Washington never changes. Then as now, the Smear lives.

I believe this Honeysuckle is Lonicera reticulata. A form of it called "Kintzley's Ghost was propagated in the 1880s.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"The Art of Losing Isn't Hard To Master"

So begins Elizabeth Bishop's poem "One Art". And , with irony, she continues," so many things seem filled with the intent/to be lost that their loss is no disaster".

I thought of this poem this evening when I walked out on my apartment porch, and for the third time in as many months, watched the repo men load up another one of my neighbors' cars and drive away. Twice they came in daylight. Once at 5 am. I saw them as I drove out to a shift at the prison clinic, and there in the dark they had a Metro cop parked beside. In case there was trouble.

The suburb I live in is not wealthy, but solidly middle class. It is thirteen miles south of Nashville, and most of its population lives in Apartment villages, senior housing, and condominiums. These are people who once paid their bills, could handle a car note and rent and gas money and groceries.

No more. Now they have to choose. And under their feet ,the ground is cracking.

Nashville is a wealthy city. An immigrant portal. At night the clerk at the Mini-Mart is a hopeful immigrant from Togo. The cabbie who drives you to work because your battery is dead is from Lebanon. Both came here for opportunity.

If it still exists.

Two days ago The Tennessean, our city's daily, reported that the Bank of America is foreclosing on the Nashville Symphony's concert hall downtown. The Symphony is bankrupt.

The Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Art Museum is perpetually in financial trouble, no matter how many stunt light shows and model train exhibits they offer to try to get real people to come. The rich play there. They have their Swan Balls and "Highballs and Hydrangeas" cocktail parties. But their pocketbooks are slammed shut.

They are keeping theirs.

A friend who works still at the Catholic hospital where I worked for twenty seven years reports there has been another purge of employees deemed superfluous. Nurses who have worked there for over thirty years and have shifted into desk jobs are being fired.

And the hospital no longer offers a pension plan. It is a non-profit money pit where the uninsured are being dumped while the profitable for profits such as Hospital Corporation of America cherry pick people who can pay.

Meanwhile I see, some mornings, a young man two doors over get on his bike with its trailing wheeled basket. Is he going to work? I saw him -he was one of the three- with his hands on his head in dismay as the truck came for his car last month. I see him walking his German Shepherd. How far is he from falling off the edge?

Gone is the optimism of my youth in the fifties and sixties. We had prosperity. A space program we could pay for. A charismatic youthful president with an elegant wife. Workers had pension plans. Wages went up. Parents could afford college, and when their children graduated they were not destined to menial jobs at Burger King.

I have quoted Nathaniel Hawthorne before, and shall do so again now-

"In this great Republic of ours someone is always at the drowning point".

Yes they are. And not just someone, but America's Middle Class.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gardening with Puppies

Here is the patriarch of the Heathen Sheltie Hordes that tried to make off with my Cape Cod weeder again today.

And here is their mother Ginger, who does not realize she gave birth to juvenile delinquents-

And where are the photos of these puppies?
These puppies move too fast to be photographed. They move so fast that they stole my weeder off a container before I could blink. I looked for it, then saw it dangling from the puppy Peanut's mouth as she trotted off into the front yard with it. After much yelling and chasing and running around in the front yard, she dropped it, and I saved it. Then she and Cato and Bismarck and Sascha were off to destroy an empty quart flower pot.

I did not mention one of their favorite games is "Who Has The Dead Mummified Toad". This is a crowd favorite, even for the senior dogs, and it involves stealing, tossing, fighting, and playing hide and seek under a juniper shrub.

Tales of A Nashville Gardener-The World's Best Gardening Tool, The Cape Cod Weeder

In one of my friend's gardens there is a large hackberry tree that rains down berries on the shade garden below. Last season I dug out hundreds of tree babies, then shoveled on mulch, thinking this would solve the seedling problem.

Mulch is a better idea than it is a solution. Sometimes it is a Hail Mary Pass, sometimes an overrated garden fixer. It looks neat(for a while). It makes a garden look as though someone cares. But Bermuda grass tunnels under it, and tree seedlings find it an ideal nursery.

Horrifying it was this spring. to find this shady garden bed nurturing even more little hackberries than it did last year. What good was a hand-held 3 prong cultivator against this little army? Would I need to spend hours picking out every one?

But because I bought a Cape Cod weeder from Amazon, I cleaned up the garden in under ten minutes.

The weeder blade sliced through the mulch and uprooted the weedlings in short order. It saved minutes. It saved hours. Time that is precious-those cool morning gardening hours before the sun takes aim and before the humidity exhausts the gardener.

Today will be over 90 degrees. Tomorrow hotter. And in a few hours I will be heading out to garden tend, keeping my Cape Cod weeder close.

In this particular garden, very close, for the last time I was there, my friend's pack of Sheltie puppies stole the weeder from the wheelbarrow and were about to make off with it. I got it back-minus the rawhide strap one of the heathen Shelties had chewed off.

"They are like monkeys", my friend's husband said ruefully, "They are always up to something mischievous-"

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Far Country

The romance of clouds. They look like a far country of white mountains that vanish and reappear like Shangri La. These are the aftermath of storms that went through today and brought high winds and a tornado warning to Franklin, Tennessee.

A Note To My Readers

I will be moving my gardening posts away from my second blog on Wordpress, which I am shutting down due to technical problems with Wordpress and lack of readers. Some may not be interested in reading about gardening, just as some are bored by recipes, but excited by natural history or estate sales.

My blog is not a personal weblog. I think of it as an online magazine which covers many topics. No one reads every article in a magazine and I do not expect every one to do so on a blog.

This blog is by no means a success. It has only a handful of readers, and I have often come close to abandoning it. But I do appreciate what readers I have, and I know some enjoy my posts, so I keep on with it.

And remember that though all gardening is local, the love of gardens is universal even for people who cannot bring home a tomato plant and keep it alive.

Savory Buttermilk Pancakes with Zucchini and Parmesan Cheese

The basic buttermilk pancake recipe for these is from Marion Cunningham's excellent "Breakfast Book". The zucchini and Parmesan are my embellishments. Zucchini pancakes used to be a staple when I lived in New England. Squash there seemed less troubled by borers than they are in Tennessee, and there were always zucchini to spare.

1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
3 tbs melted butter
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup grated zucchini
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Grate the zucchini,then put it in a strainer and press down on it with a spoon to remove excess water. Then place it in a bowl with the egg, the cheese, the buttermilk, and the melted butter and mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, the salt, and the baking soda. Then take a fork and mix well to incorporate the soda and the salt.
Combine the wet ingredients with the flour mixture and mix together with a spatula. Do not let lumpiness concern you!

Heat a griddle pan greased with a little butter to medium high and spoon the pancake mixture on to form 3 inch cakes. Turn when bubbles have broken through on top and the bottoms have browned.

This makes 13-14 three inch pancakes, 7 five inch pancakes. Top with Maple syrup or guava jelly.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ratatouille Pie

I made this tonight with left over Ratatouille. Simply mix 3 cups of left over Ratatouille with 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and five eggs. Use a nine inch pie crust, add the mixture and cook at 375 for 45 to 50 minutes until the eggs are set.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Most Beautiful Clematis- Duchess of Albany

I photographed this today in the Nashville garden of a friend. I gave her this clematis last autumn as a birthday present, and it is thriving. It looks like a bloom one might find by moonlight in "A Midsummer's Night Dream". A sprite's drinking goblet perhaps-

Click on photo to enlarge.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Tee-Tiny Experimental Kitchen-Cooking Nobody's Favorite Vegetables

I have written about turnips before, and about the Southern love affair with their greens and dismissal of their roots.

Richard Olney baked parboiled roots in cream and Gruyere, and having learned that recipe from his"Simple French Food", I have stayed with variants of it. But today, having three medium turnips that needed a sense of direction, I decided to julienne them in the food processor, then cook them as I would potato home fries. I put them in a 9 inch cast iron skillet with a little olive oil and 1/3 stick of butter and tossed them in the fat to coat them. Then, on medium heat, I cooked them until they were soft and golden, with some even crisped to brown. I tossed them frequently after adding salt and a couple dashes of celery salt to taste as they were cooking.

Next, I added 1 cup of diced spiral Honey ham and 1/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese. I continued to saute the turnips a minute or two more to melt the cheese and warm the ham. I checked for seasoning.

This is a delicious turnip treatment, tasty beyond measure. If an old timey Southern cook had invented it, she would have called it a "Feed the Preacher" side. But even I, a New England old maid, know something good when I eat it-

This should feed two to four.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Major Tom and the Two Bagheeras- The Porch Panthers

In these apartments there is a cat colony. It is a small colony since the woods surround with coyotes, and Barred and Great Horned Owls, and with a pair of Red tailed hawks who fly low over the parking sheds and the parking lots where I am certain there are no rabbits.

Whether the colony began when renters left their cats behind, or whether it started with refugees from the Great Nashville flood I do not know. I do know that I once fed chipmunks, then a possum, then a raccoon trio,( and with such delicious kibble), that it was natural the cats would come.

Last summer it was a gang of four, three black and one slate gray. They were at the kittenette stage of life and slept on my porch daybed on summer nights.Over the winter I put blankets under the day bed for them to shelter. By this spring the slate gray, who was possibly too conspicuous for its own good, had disappeared. As did an old tabby.

Now the colony is run by two sleek young Bagheeras with lustrous black fur and yellow eyes. They are as flirtatious as houris in a Sultan's harem, and their Sultan is Major Tom, who looks as though he could use a box of band aids. He is Chandler's Moose Malloy, and the females are his Velmas. As chic as Chanel models they charm him and rub him with their tails and drive him to distraction.Sometimes their charm overwhelms him and he will grab one by the neck and pin her to the ground. If a man tried that with a woman he would have had a cast iron skillet come down on his head, but the Bagheeras are there to serve and seem not to mind. Of course there are consequences to being so accommodating, and a month or so three of them arrived.

I saw them first on a weekend when Nashville had a 6 inch rain. Whether the colony lives in the drain pipes or under the foundation plantings that much rain was dangerous to kittens. The Bagheeras came streaking onto the porch with kittens hanging by their necks. Under the day bed they went. The next day they were back to where they hide.

Over the next two weeks I began to see them more often. They started to eat soft cat food and started playing through the railings with each other and with the leaves of summering house plants. All was well until it wasn't.

Two days ago I found a small chewed bone of some small animal on the porch. I feared then that the coons had gotten one of the kittens. I did not see them again until today, and there were only two. The coons come every night and by morning the kibble cupboard is bare. But maybe it was not the coons. Maybe it was Major Tom, with a preemptive strike
on a male rival to be. Tom cats have been known to murder.

I have failed to mention the third female in the pack, who I think may be the mother-in-law. I call her Shaky Cat, for she shakes and walks every which way but straight. She still manages to find the food bowl. Perhaps a hawk got her then dropped her, and ruined her life as a diva. With her long black hair and addled attitude she seems like
an old actress gone to seed.

I am more of an observer than an admirer of this colony, but I cannot say the same of my little dog Poppette who watches them by the hour from the living room window, growling and shivering. If I call out "Where are the cats?'
he will even leave his warm bed for a glimpse.

Feral cats have their admirers, though some people want to poison them with Tylenol. Not long ago the Times had a story about an Audubon Magazine columnist who proposed this, and almost ended up in Witness Protection.

As for me, I am now conditioned. The Bagheeras raise their tails and saunter toward me, and the next thing I know, I am off to Kroger at 3am for bags of Tender Centers.

* For those who have never read Kipling" "The Jungle Book", Bagheera was the black panther in the story.