Friday, July 27, 2018

Nadia Departs the World 6/26/18

Nadia's grumpy glamour shot
     We lost Nadia today.  I wasn't with her, and that makes me incredibly sad and a little guilty.  Really, I doubt I could have offered her much comfort, and my husband was with her, and a vet she knew.  But I had shared so much of her life, and so many times thought I'd be there at the end...and then I wasn't.  I thought about getting to her but it would take four hours, and there is no way I could justify having her suffer another four hours for my sake.  Never. So I didn't get to say goodbye.  Life and death are unpredictable, and that sucks sometimes.  Last time I was home she was there, and next time I am home, she won't be.
      I met Nadia when I was working with a local cat rescue group and had signed up to foster cats.  I was asked to go to a house in the North End of Boise, where a woman had found a thin stray cat that had just given birth to four kittens.  She had the cat and the kittens in a box at her house but could not keep them. I went and got them and brought them home; I named the tortoiseshell mother Nadia, as she seemed faintly Russian, faintly surly, and yet somehow strong.
     She was a good mother.  I watched her flip her tail in different patterns at the kittens.  Of the four kittens, all of whom I got spayed or neutered and shots and adopted out, two I recall clearly.  One was a tabby I called Randy, or Rubber Randy, because he was super laid back even if he was upside down, and nothing fazed him.  I thought he would be a great cat for a home with kids and he did go to a great home with kids.  I think he was Nadia's favorite, and he was mine from that litter too.  One of the girls was all grey and I named her Greta.  Later, I was saddened to hear she was returned to the rescue.  Some people don't take adoption as forever.  I am just not one of those people, and Nadia really tested that.
     Nadia didn't care much for people in the beginning, or dogs.  But I saw an amazing act of trust on her part I'll never forget.  Nadia was tired of the kittens and wanted a break.  Callie, my Australian Shepherd at the time, loved to be in charge of animals and she was very gentle with kittens.  She would lie and watch Nadia while I played with the kittens.  Nadia never saw fit to leave me alone with her kittens, but apparently, she decided Callie was a worthy babysitter.  One evening she got up, stretched, and walked deliberately and slowly over to Callie.  They touched noses briefly and Nadia stared Callie in the eye.  Something passed between them - I have no idea what kind of inter species communication was possible.  Nadia calmly turned her back and walked off, and Callie got up and went over to the kittens.  They played on her and pulled her hair for an hour or so.  Nadia strolled back in, assessed the situation, walked over, and Callie got up and left.  It happened fairly regularly for the next couple of weeks.  I don't think I would believe the story if someone told it to me, but I saw it myself,.  That cat hired a babysitter for breaks.  Only one other foster cat ever that did that, though there were many, many more.
     Nadia was supposed to be adopted after her kittens were.  We had to go through the horrible heat cycle and the spay and the milk drying up - the worst parts of fostering mother cats.  There was yowling and griping and complaining on a grand scale.  I would not have thought a slender cat could have such a set of lungs but she screamed bloody murder in heat.  After all of that, when she was ready to be adopted, she would have none of it.  Week after week I took her to Petsmart and sat with her in a cage, talking her up to potential adopters.  She turned her back to them and glowered and hunched up.  No one wanted her.  She didn't look friendly.  She wasn't.
A Nadia and Pepper bunking arrangement
     Then we would come home, and she would rub against my ankles, this cat that didn't want me touching her, that I could not pick up, that didn't want to live inside with us and seemed to dream of escape.  She would rub against me and chitter, as if to say "Can't I just stay here?"
     But I did not want another cat.  I had two or three already.  I think two, maybe three, I've forgotten, obviously.  We had Oscar, the first and oldest, and Ophelia, who came not long after.  But I can't remember for sure if we had Lizzie yet.  Probably.  But I know I didn't need another one.  She was not supposed to stay.
     I had people over to meet her at the house on the theory that she would be nicer in a familiar environment.  I was experimenting with cat marketing.  Clearly the pet store adoption fairs were a disaster.  But at home, when we had dinner guests, Nadia would come out and say hello, and beg at the table.  As a stray, she had learned to beg on the streets.  She would sit and look up and put her paws (and claws, inevitably) on your leg and meow and remind you that she was hungry.  So I had some potential adopters over, since the dinner guests were not in the market for a cat.
     Lo and behold, Nadia was never to be found when a potential adopter was in the house.  She was in the basement.  Or elsewhere.  Never making an appearance, no matter how long they stayed.  Within 10 minutes of their departure, she was out and about, seeking my ankles to curl and rub against with a distinct chitter.  I knew she was asking "Can't I just stay?"  I knew it and I kept saying no, you can't.  No.  We wondered how the hell she knew that one person was here to deliver pizza or have dinner and another was here to potentially adopt a cat.  What vibe did we give off?? She never got it wrong.  We stopped inviting adopters.
     My next marketing plan was fliers.  I posted them at vets and grocery stores.  Maybe someone would want to adopt her if they didn't actually meet her.  I took photos of her and put them all over the place - the rescue's website, and stores all over town.  And I did get her adopted that way.  Three times.  Each time she was returned.  "She just hid under the bed."  "She isn't friendly."  "She pees outside the box."  And each time, I took her back.  And she rubbed my ankles harder, and chittered.  And I knew damn well what she was saying.
Refusing to come in for dinner on a fall evening
     So one day after literally nine months of trying to get her a home, I gave up in frustration.  I told the rescue group I thought I'd just keep her, because putting her through all the stress of trying to adopt her was enough already.  I said to my husband "Really, what's one more?"  We were already feeding her.  And she was basically already part of the house.  And yeah, she didn't really get along with the other cats, and she didn't really care much for us, but she did show up for meals and eventually, she did come in at night, which was a constant battle.  He didn't say I couldn't keep her, so she stayed.  (I admit, she might of stayed if he had said I couldn't keep her. We'll never know).
     All cats are required in for dinner and the night, and she was like a slutty teenager, always trying to stay out late and get in trouble and come home after dark, skulky and wanting food despite knowing she'd broken the rules.  Ah, how many hot summer nights was I out searching the backyard, pacing the back deck, calling "Na-d-i-a??!"  So, so many times I was so worried.  A few nights she did stay out all night and I'd get up every few hours looking for her,sometimes bringing her in at 3 or 4 am, both pissed and relieved.  She was difficult and liked to test the rules.
     Nadia had many personalities.  The original version, Nadia 1.0, didn't care for us.  No touching.  No picking up.  No sleeping in the same room.  She would show up for food, eat, and then retire out of sight.  You broke the rules and Nadia 1.0 scratched the shit out of you, and maybe bit you for good measure.  She went outside as soon as possible and came in as late as possible.
     Eventually Nadia 2.0 appeared.  I was allowed to carry her, but only in a certain position, and briefly, and to the food table.  She still did not care to be in the same room with us other than passing through.  One dared not pet her.  She chose to spend as much of her time outside as she could.  Nadia 2.0 peed in the basement.  Everywhere in the basement.  We had to get a dumpster and clean out everything in the basement.  I stocked it with litter boxes after that, and she agreed to stop peeing outside the box in the basement.  I am not sure how we negotiated that, but we did.
     Nadia 2.0 liked to hunt - well, all the versions of Nadia did.  But in her youth she brought in a lot of mice, and she left some of them partially consumed.  The other cats would bring a whole mouse, alive or dead, as a gift.  After all, they were well fed and it was really just a gift to me - intact.  Nadia had been on the streets.  She had it rough and wasn't giving up food...but she would share.  So she would leave half a mouse, now and then. Not too often.
     Once I found Nadia and a paralyzed gopher in my front room.  The gopher was very much alive, but unable to walk.  Nadia was coming up to it and whacking it in the head and it could not run away.  This seemed quite cruel.  I ended up taking the gopher to Westvet to be humanely put down.  I felt like crap about that.  But the thing about cats is they are hunters.  They kill.  You can try and protect the birds and put bells on them and train them and some say confine them indoors and all that - I know.  But they hunt. And they love to hunt.  And when you love predators you have some gore in your life.  That's part of the deal.  Cats are not vegan. They are obligate carnivores. They require meat.  They hunt for fun, too.
     Nadia 3.0 decided that petting was okay, but only for brief periods, which ended with a sudden strike that sunk claws and teeth into a hand.  Nadia 3.0 was scary and unpredictable.  She would sit on the bed next to you and act like she was friendly but then it turned out she was not.  She would stay in the same room as us, but across from us, looking down on us as much as possible.  Literally.  She made clear her preference for high spots.  She liked to be up high, look down, and judge.  She was small, and got picked on by the other, bigger cats sometimes, so she ate in a room by herself with the door shut so they could not steal her food.  Morning and evening she was fed in the room for an hour and then released.  Nadia 3.0 seemed ok with that arrangement, but eventually decided that the litter box in that room was not as attractive as the carpet around the litter box.  So the carpet had to be replaced.  And she had to switch rooms to break the habit.  And it sucked, because no type of litter or box was reliable.  She would use a box until she wouldn't - and it was unpredictable.
     She would crawl onto the top of my pillow at night and sleep on my hair.  Sometimes she would actually chew and gnaw at my hair and that annoyed me and woke me up; it was gross.  She would get up and walk away if I woke up, but most nights, she slept just above my head on my pillow in those years.
Checking out a new table, likely Nadia 4.0
     Nadia was pretty fierce.  When I finally talked my husband into going to Africa, we came across a wild lioness in the Serengeti.  She was a gorgeous lioness, caramel colored coat in tall caramel colored grass, with deep brown eyes.  She walked towards the jeep, swishing her tail. My husband was near the open window.  I was behind him.  Out guide was upfront.  I had seen many lions and so had the guide but it was the first close one for my husband.  I was looking at her face as she got closer, and then all of a sudden she made a swipe at the ground with a paw - a slap towards him.  He jumped back with an exclamation I will laugh about until I'm senile - and so will the guide, who did his best to hold it in but I told him it was ok, so he laughed out loud.  We laughed until we cried. We knew it was a little mock action, a warning.  It was not a threat.  It was a warning. And when he got over it and us laughing at him (which just could not be helped) he said "Yeah, I see it now - she had the same slap that Nadia does.  Same paw.  Same move.  I get it.  But I didn't see it in the moment.  Nadia does that too and it means back off!!" Yeah.  Nadia spoke that universal cat language.  A 400 pound lioness reminded my husband of our 7 pound cat.
     Nadia 3.5 lasted a long time, and had medical issues.  A torn ACL.  Expensive, and she hated being in a dog crate to recuperate, and she gave me the stink eye over it for months. A nose scope because there was a growth that might be a tumor that was removed.  Expensive.  Skin tumors that were removed, several times.  Expensive.  And that is the basic problem, that you realize too late, about the whole "What's one more?" philosophy.  One more can mean a lot more money - a LOT.  And as animals age, like people, costs go up.  So "just one more" is fine to a point but you should not adopt more animals than you can provide a quality of life for, and quality costs dearly sometimes.
     Eventually, Nadia developed what seemed to be a bowel cancer.   She stopped eating. She was in pain.  I thought it was her time to go.  The vet and I decided not to do invasive biopsies as the outcome would not change.  We didn't need to confirm what kind of cancer.  We would provide pain relief and meds and food and quality of life and likely, she would have a few months left.
     She would probably hide in the backyard and die there, and I would not be able to find her one night, and I would go crazy with worry.  I would respect her decision to die alone if that was what she really wanted.  But I needed certainty.  I needed to know she was gone, not suffering in pain for a week or two before dying.  So I did a lot of research and found a cat location collar.  It was expensive. But when she wore it, I could find her with a beeper that got hotter or colder depending on where she was.  And thus began months of not only calling N-a-d-i-a but roaming the pastures with a cat locating device, getting hotter and colder, until I found her - and each time she was alive, and came in for dinner, looking put out about it.  She started eating again.  The pain seemed to reside.  We started B-12 injections.  They seemed to help.  I had to learn to give shots.  I hate shots.  I hate giving shots.  But the thing is, you man up and you do what you need to do when someone in your care, of any species, needs it done.  That's just the way it is.  It sucked.  But, her quality of life seemed ok if I did it - and months became years.  And each annual exam I thought would be her last for several years - at least five - and she kept going to the point that I thought "well, it's not imminent - it's inevitable but not imminent."
     She had bizarre eating preferences.  She loved arugula.  It was her favorite.  She would steal salad leaves at dinner.  She loved asparagus.  It was her second favorite.  Her third favorite was Indian food.  I know.  Go figure.  I imagined her eating out of dumpsters and I wondered if an Indian family fed her or she salvaged behind an Indian restaurant somewhere.  She liked the classics as well - tuna, chicken, turkey, salmon.  Of course.  And Klondike bars.  I always gave her the last bite of a vanilla Klondike.  She would wait, touching my arm to remind me it was hers, and then I would hold the wrapper and she would lick the ice cream happily.  Don't worry, she had healthy (and expensive) cat food too, but there were treats.  There are treats in all of my animal's lives.  Even Nadia.  I admit, today I wish I had given her more arugula.  Made her more asparagus.  Bought the Klondike's last weekend that I was going to eat this weekend so she could have had one last one - she hasn't had a Klondike since last summer.  What would she do for a Klondike bar?  Knife me with a claw.  And she had fine, delicate, needle like claws that REALLY punctured.  I have been punctured by them over and over and over - hands, arms, feet, fingers, legs, thighs, ankles, face.  Yeah, she was fun.
Savoring a Klondike
     Nadia 4.0 was shocking.  My husband and I would look at her and each other in amazement.  She was on the bed.  Between us.  We could pet her.  She didn't go out that much anymore.  She didn't attack very often - really very rarely.  She seemed elderly, dainty yet determined, frail yet enduring.  She liked to lay on my pillow.  If I was on a trip, I would come home to a pillow so laced with her hair I had to wash the cover before I could go to bed.  Nadia 4.0 mostly got along with the other cats, and even was caught napping touching one now and then.  Nadia 4.0 and I reached an agreement on peeing.  After years of random pee events (including peeing on briefcases, jackets, and other clothing - she LOVED to pee on clothes or in a laundry basket), we negotiated a truce.  It was hard work.
     I hired a cat behaviorist.  I bought a camera activated by motion.  I tested litter.  I tested boxes.  I video taped my cats using the box (or not, in Nadia's case) and each night I downloaded the videos and sent them to the vet, the behaviorist, who studied them for evidence of a pattern, a medical issue, anything.  We tried various drugs.  After eight months of this, the behaviorist officially gave up.  We do not know why Nadia peed outside the box but pooped inside the box.  We will never know.  But, during this process I had pee pads down around the boxes and I discovered that Nadia would agree to pee on the pads and nowhere else.  If pads were down she would use them.  If not, she would use laundry, or whatever the hell she felt like, including beds, pillows, dog beds, whatever.  It was easier to have a subscription on Amazon to pee pads and put them out than to clean up random events.
Catification - shelf that leads to cabinet

Catification shelves to high windows
     During this period of trying to truly understand her behavior and make her happy, I decided to "catify" the house, and particularly the upstairs room where Nadia spent time.  I had watched Jackson Galaxy and been made to feel like a shitty cat mom because I did not completely figure out why my cat was peeing outside the box, and revamp her whole environment in case she was bored or insecure or unhappy.  I did not design clever shelves so she could go around the room or house without touching the floor which cats who like high surfaces like she did enjoy.  I was too lazy for all that.  I was working full time and taking care of 20 or so other animals and three acres of land.  I beat myself up about this until I finally broke down and hired a contractor.  I catified.  We took out the carpet and put down tile.  I installed clever little shelves.  I got cat trees.  I made climbing ramps so she could get allllll the way up to the house's tallest windows. She liked it.  She used the shelves and ramps.  She looked down on me with disdain.  And she kept peeing on pee pads and not in the box.
     So I designed a "restroom" that was a very large open closet.  In this closet, in which I had tile installed, I would lay down visquine from Home Depot and tape it to the walls with painter's tape.  Then I would line the closet with commercial baking pans (ginormous cookie sheets) and pee pads.  In the center of all the pans and pads (which went all the way around the edges of three sides of the closet) I put two litter boxes.  With two types of litter in them.  She had a choice.  Cleaning this closet was a righteous pain in the ass, and I used to lament that I had gotten an advanced degree to become a cat restroom attendant.  I could be practicing law and I was changing pee pads.  But what choice was there?  After all, she had agreed to use them.  We had reached an agreement we could both live with on the peeing.  I did not enjoy it and I resented it, I admit.  But I could not face giving a cat with cancer, who needed injections and peed outside the box, to anyone else.  I knew it would mean her death.
Litterbox closet
      And here is the thing.  No living creature deserves to die because they pee and don't follow the rules about where to pee.  Or because they are not as attractive as other creatures and no one wants to adopt them.  I'm not going to live in a world where that is acceptable.  And if that means years of testing alternatives and changing pee pads and being annoyed well, ok - that's better than being the kind of asshole that ships an elderly cat off to her grave because it is inconvenient to fulfill a responsibility of care.  And I did, begrudgingly, reluctantly, and eventually, love her.  It was more of an obligation than falling in love, but it was still true - I had affection for her.  I tried to make her life better.  I talked to her.  I worried about her.  I cared for her.
    The thing is, you are either committed when you adopt, or you aren't.  Whether it's cats, dogs, horses, or children, adoption is supposed to be forever, not "unless it gets really hard."  I know there are exceptions, I've seen them and had to make those hard choices too.  But I think when you take on the life of an animal, you ought to see it through unless it becomes clear that it is better for the animal to live elsewhere.  (Dylan is a great example of this: his owner did not provide a good life for him, finally realized that and gave him up, and now he has an amazing life. Sometimes giving up an animal can be the right choice - but I truly believe the best interests of the animal - or kid - not the person, should be the determining factor after the human makes the choice to adopt - because the animal - or kid - doesn't get that choice).
     When I had the opportunity to take a job that meant being away from home several days per week on a regular basis, I turned it down.  One reason was Nadia.  I knew there was no way my husband was going to be the cat restroom attendant.  I knew with dead cold certainty he hated cat boxes and would resent it to the point we might break up.  I valued Nadia.  I valued my marriage.  I loved my husband.  I loved my cat.  I said no to the job.
     But the job did not say no to me.  We kept talking.  And eventually, my husband convinced me he would take over animal care.  "But what about the cat boxes?"  I knew he didn't want to do that!  And quite frankly, I didn't think he even knew of the massive daily chore of changing the pee pads.  Not just in the closet, but Nadia had a secondary spot in the laundry room outside the box there.  Two pee pad locations and seven cat boxes.
     So I talked to my neighbor.  And we made a deal.  She would come and clean cat boxes and change pee pads so my husband didn't have to.  And then, I could say yes to the job.  Because I could not take the job without a solution to that problem.  There were other issues, but I am not exaggerating when I say that one of my greatest anxieties was Nadia.  I even tried to explore bringing her with me.  My husband was discouraging.  "You're going to rent an apartment and bring the one cat that will pee all over it?"  "Yeah.  I know.  But really, I'm taking her so she's not peeing here and making you resent cleaning it up."  I didn't say that.  But it was true.  I would give up a security deposit if it meant we could eliminate a strain on the marriage.  It would be strained enough by a new job and all the OTHER animal care my husband would have to pick up.  I knew Nadia was a sore spot, so I would just take her with me.  But then, the neighbor.  Thank God for the neighbor.
     Nadia 5.0 appeared quite recently.  She actually sought us out. Laid against us.  Slept in the bed all night with us, between us.  Didn't attack us.  It wasn't a trick.  We didn't really trust it but we marveled at it.  She went out sometimes, briefly, but not often.  Mostly she stayed inside.  She never got so old that didn't enjoy chasing toys, or jumping up onto shelves and looking down with disdain.
     Last Saturday, just five days ago, I took her in for her annual exam.  After so many years of her hanging on, I didn't expect a report any different from the usual - she would be hanging in there.  We would marvel at her, the vet and I.  And we did.  She was down to six pounds.  She got her vaccines.  She got her exam.  She was okay, other than some old age and the known cancer.  No new issues.  It was a busy day.  Other cats were at the vet.  I did not focus on Nadia, I had three cats to take care of that day. But I did pay attention.  And she seemed fine.  And Pepper didn't.  I found out Pepper might have cancer.  And I was really distressed about that, because, as the vet and I discussed, it seemed far more rapid than Nadia's - Pepper is losing weight fast, not slowly.  Nadia was Nadia - doing okay.
     Last weekend Nadia slept touching me.  Her whole body lay along my arm.  All night I was aware of her.  I wondered if she was actually missing me, with the new job and more travel.  I stroked her and tried to make sure she was feeling loved.  My pillow was her favorite spot.  The photo at the top, with her looking surly, was taken by a photographer.  She is against a burgundy pillow on my side of the bed, and she was there for over a decade, off and on, Nadia 2.5 and later.
     I don't have a ton of photos with me but a few, off my phone, for flavor of her personality, since my words can't capture it, I am sure.  A few times I did the terrible mom thing of making them all get photos for the holidays - it was a program for charity at the vet's office.  I wanted something to remember the cats by because I knew they would not always be around - all five will pass on eventually.  And in the meantime it was fun to see their various personalities captured on film.  The cute, tiny scarf.  The reluctant model.  I know, I am against dressing up animals and making them pose.  I promise it was brief.  I rationalized it.  I couldn't resist.  I only did it a couple times.  I do relish the photos.  Nadia, as you can see, did not.
      I am way, way, way behind on this blog and I have many trips to write about.  Nadia did not come on any of them, she was waiting at home. and now she is not.  But blogging travel is fun, and tonight I write to cope with the grief of her passing.  I don't know any other way to get through it.
     When I woke up this morning I saw a text from my husband "Nadia may be in some trouble.  You should call when you get this."  He described how she was too weak to stand and he'd carried her to the bed.  On my pillow.
     He tried to let me FaceTime with her but had trouble aiming the phone.  I could see though that her time had come.  I looked into flights.  I could be there in just under 4 hours.  I looked at her eyes.  I knew it would be 4 hours of suffering.  I told him to go to the vet and that likely he would have to put her down immediately. I called the vet's office to warn them, they were not yet open.
    I cried in the shower, just like the day my dad died.  Knowing that someone you love is dying and you can do nothing about it just hurts in a way that nothing can wash away or soothe.  Whether human or feline, canine, equine, avian, love hurts...loss is inevitable.  As I walked to work my husband texted they were at the vet.
     When I got to my office the vet called - it was dire.  She had to be put down.  I already knew that.  Nadia told me.  Over the phone, over video, without words.  I knew.  So I sat at my desk, nearly 500 miles away from her, not able to touch her one last time.  I tried to focus on work.  I almost made it.  But it was a tough day at work.  And something happened in a case and I was stressed and solving he problem and a wise lawyer, who I consider a friend, told me to breathe.  And he was right.  I knew I should.  But I didn't want to.  Because I knew if I let myself breathe I would feel Nadia's loss and probably cry.  In front of him.  At a new job.  But I trust him.  And myself.  So I did, just for a minute.  Just a minute, and I pulled myself together.  And I told him that my husband had to put one of the cats down this morning and I couldn't be there.  He understood.  He has four cats.  Now, so do I.
     As for my husband...I asked him to be with Nadia, at the end, because I could not be.  And he was.  He knew that she was ill.  He caught it - it happened fast.  Last night she was there for dinner and this morning she was in a bad way.  Something in her body finally gave out.  My husband never felt the deep commitment to her that I did.  Or the obligation.  I know he suffered through my choices.  My choice to foster.  My choice to adopt her.  My choice to try 500 solutions to the peeing, while he ended up in more than one work meeting realizing too late he was wearing a cat peed item.  How many times did he step in bare feet on her vomited up hairball, or walk in her pee on the bathmat coming out of the shower?  I know that any number is too many when you don't want to do those things.  I get it.  I truly do.  I have suffered through the choices of others and I know.
     But the thing about me and animals is I can't make another choice sometimes.  Sometimes I can but really - I am all kinds of messed up that way, for really solid reasons.  And my husband is basically willing to tolerate this about me.  Because he loves me.  And I loved that cat.  And he knew they go together, and it is sometimes messy.  All love is.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Japanese Snow Monkeys

     Although I was very interested in seeing snow monkeys in Japan, tempted by documentaries which showed them lounging in hot springs while snow fell upon them, I was not keen to visit Japan.  Primarily this was because of Japan's position on whaling.  Japan continues whaling, using the excuse (which is a lie) that killing whales is for "scientific purposes."  And if that isn't enough, there's Taiji Cove and the annual massacre of dolphins, which cannot possibly be justified.  So, I had figured it would be a long time before I got around to visiting Japan - despite it offering some wildlife and scenery of interest.  I met a number of people who had visited the snow monkeys and said it was a wonderful experience, including several I was on my trip to S. Georgia with.  
     As fate would have it, on that trip I also met a friend who proposed that we go see the snow monkeys together.  I resisted the idea - not only because I wasn't comfortable visiting Japan given its treatment of marine mammals - but because it seemed to me that the cost of a trip to Japan vs. the upside, seeing only one species, didn't justify allocating limited time and funds on the trip.  I also had work and lots of other obstacles that seemed to prevent making plans for such a visit.
     So, my friend made plans to go without me, yet kept inviting me all the same.  And, as things happened, I decided to seriously consider it.  It would only be a 10 day trip, I'd have someone to split lodging costs with, and I would be able to go with someone who had been to Japan several times.  I was a bit intimidated about traveling to a country where I didn't speak the language and likely couldn't even guess at the meaning of signs.  My work commitments happened to allow for the dates which had been selected, and the clincher was that I got a ticket on miles.  Thus, suddenly the trip became very affordable, and too tempting to resist.  I asked myself if passing up the opportunity, not likely to come around again, would really be likely to have any impact whatsoever on Japan's whaling or dolphin policies.  As much as I'd like to believe it would....
     So in January I found myself off to Japan.  We were based at an Airbnb in Tokyo and headed to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park before long, which is a day trip from Tokyo.  You can take a variety of day trips or just take the train from Tokyo to Nagano and then take a local train to Yudanaka and take a bus to the park.  One you arrive at the park gates, it is a 1.8km walk along a wooded trail to the monkeys.  (If you go, take appropriate footwear for ice, snow and mud - I encountered all three).
     The walk is through gorgeous, stately, enormous cedar trees.  The snow on the cedars and the silence of the forest was outstanding.  I didn't get any good photos as I had planned to take them on the way out of the park, when I was not worried about losing time with the monkeys, and when I was on the wooded side of the trail.  As things happened, I never got the chance, so this is my only photo of the trail.
     Be aware that if you take a tour, your time with the monkeys may be very limited, 30 to 60 minutes or so.  You cannot rush on the trail as it is icy and most of it has no guard rail or fencing and quite a drop off.  At the end of the trail there are stairs to a man-made area filled with pools.  Apparently, this area has natural hot spring that people have used for ages.  At one point, the monkeys got interested and, unsurprisingly, copied the people and started using the springs.  The people didn't care to share and the solution (rather creative) was to build the monkeys their own spa area...and then to begin to sell tickets to see them in the hot springs.  The monkeys (Japanese macaques) are wild, and this is better than them living in captivity by far, but it isn't quite as natural as some of the documentaries portray it.  I wanted to see them all the same, and I'm not sorry that I did.  It's possible to see them year round in the park.

     Monkeys have a status and rank that determines their time in the pool, yet monkeys of all ages were soaking.  In the snow around the pools, others groomed and cuddled.  Like all primates, it is impossible to look into their eyes and not see a kinship.  They share much with humanity.

     Young monkeys swam, dove and pushed each other under the water.  To me, this pair looked like a grandpa and a grandson sharing some bath time.

     This youngster played by himself while the others played in groups, but didn't seem sad about it.

     I sat on some rocks at the edge of the pools.  It was hard to get photos because of all the people around the pools, and all the steam.  Getting a great vantage point was a challenge and I wished I had longer.  It would be easy, despite the cold, to spend all day watching the monkeys groom, swim, play and squabble.

     This little monkey was super adorable, and was only about a foot from me for quite awhile.
     Family or friends?  Either way they enjoy their companionship.
     The pools are at the edge of snowy rocks and mountains, and it is odd, when you step back, to see all the people surrounding the monkeys.  Although there are supposedly park staff, I did not see them regulating any bad behavior.  Luckily there wasn't too much bad behavior, but there are always a few tourists who can't be bothered to respect the animals.

     When I went to get up off the rocks right next to the pools, a woman attempted to help me by pulling on my arm.  Unfortunately, it was my right arm, and my right shoulder dislocated.  I've dislocated it several times, but never before when wearing a backpack and several winter layers.  I told her that my shoulder had dislocated and asked for help.  A few people spoke English and helped me get my backpack off and get up without using the dislocated arm.  I asked them to locate my friend, who was really rather shocked and a little panicked but I explained that I knew how to handle it and not to worry.  The kindly woman and her daughter helped me by locating in my backpack the valium and water I carry in case my shoulder dislocates and get my jackets off.  When my arm was free and the valium was on board, I just needed to find a place I could lay and dangle my arm. 
     The only surface available was a rock, so I climbed up on it, but the snow below was too deep to let my arm dangle freely, as it needed to do to let gravity pull it back in, and I also lacked an appropriate weight to hold in my hand to assist gravity.  So, being a little influenced by the valium to be more talkative than usual, I stated this problem out loud.  A kindly Australian man leaped up and scraped the snow out of my way and gave me his water bottle thermos.  In just a few moments of laying on the rock, with a crowd gathered around (rather awkward!) my shoulder slipped back in.  I used my scarf to make a sling to keep it in.  My friend was good enough to carry my backpack out down the trail - but I didn't take any more photos.
     In addition to the shoulder dislocation, my right foot had been troubling me and was really painful during and after this hike.  I learned later that it was actually broken (broken heel), but I hadn't known at the time.  Looking back, I certainly hope it's the only hike I have to do with a broken bone and a fresh dislocation.  I can honestly say that all the time and effort my mother spent making me tough was not lost - it isn't something I would necessarily have enrolled to learn, given a choice, but I can't deny some pride at having learned it so very well all the same.
     On another note, I completely - and very unexpectedly - loved Japan.  It was safe, easy to navigate, the people were incredibly polite and very helpful, the food was good, and the entire country (what I saw of it) was clean.  I absolutely loved Japan and hope very much to return some day.
     I attempted to go back to see the monkeys another day, but alas, when I arrived in Nagano I learned that major snow had closed the monkey park.  It was closed for four days.  I was lucky that we planned our visit before that storm and that I had one day with them, but I felt it had been cut short by the dislocation and I really wanted another chance.  Maybe some other year.  I hope so.  And now that I've fallen for Japan, there is much, much more I'd love to spend time exploring there.

Bryce Canyon National Park

      The last national park of our Grand Canyon trip was Bryce Canyon.  When we arrived, it was in the middle of a late March snowstorm and shortly before sunset.  Since it was sunny and warm in Zion National Park that same afternoon, this was a surprise! However, with elevations 8000 feet plus, it was just a different environment.  We had about 30 minutes in the park before we headed to our hotel.  At the end of the day and the end of the storm, with the last of the light, we were treated to a rainbow. 
       The next day we spent about a half a day in the park, which was enough to go to each checkpoint and also wait out some periods where there were white out conditions.  By now, the dogs were getting tired of posing - they strained into the wind, closed their eyes into the snow, and griped about not being allowed to romp in the snow.  We kept looking for a nice photo spot, but in this park, most of the overlooks have a fence that blocks the view at dog/kid height.  Thus, the photo backdrops are less than completely impressive - though I still think the dogs are cute.
      Bryce offers a lot of interesting scenery.  I don't think I'm a good photographer, and I am sure if I were I could have gotten a lot of amazing images, but even with a very basic point and shoot I got some images I like.  The contrasts in color and texture and shape are varied and every stop seemed to offer something slightly different.  Granted, at some stops we had more than one view - as we had to wait to see anything beyond the snow.  I ended up with a ton of landscape photos from this park.
     One of the "things to do" advertised for this park is horseback riding.  I have to say, I could not imagine riding a horse there - or wanting to.  Nothing about it says "horse terrain."  
      The dogs finally found a snowbank on the side of the road, and even though on leash, had a brief play tussle before we began the long drive homeward, also in a snowstorm.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Zion National Park

     As part of our Grand Canyon trip, we visited Zion National Park.  We stayed less than an hour away at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary the night before.  We have donated to the sanctuary for years and I had wanted to visit.  We stayed overnight in one of their pet friendly cottages, which was truly dog friendly!  It had a dog door and small attached kennel, and was well designed for travel with pets.  In the morning, we did a two hour tour of the sanctuary.  This is a bit harder when you have your own dogs in tow, but you follow the tour van and listen to a CD and get out at a couple of stops (though someone has to stay in the car with the dogs).  It was interesting, and by 10am we were on the road to Zion.
      March was a great time to visit.  The weather was really nice - warm but overcast, and the park was vibrant with green growth and red rock.  Generally it wasn't too crowded, despite Spring Break, though there was a short wait to go through the tunnel both times.  Apparently you can wait up to an hour to even get into the park, and there is really one main road, so I would not want to visit during peak times.  Part of the park is only accessible via shuttle, and therefore off limits with dogs in town.  However, we spent the bulk of the day here, stopping wherever we wanted.  There is one trail that allows dogs, near the visitor center. 
     We stopped for a picnic lunch on a rock by the side of the road.  As usual, Dylan got a lot of attention from drivers going by.  Entire busloads of people took his photo.  He cared only about being with us and getting a little cheese.  Maisey was content to watch everyone going by staring at her brother.
      There were a lot of interesting shapes and rock formations.  One that seemed recurring was almost like an Aztec pattern.  I wondered if there was any relationship between the patterns of early peoples and these natural formations in the rock.
     We kept a look out for wildlife.  Supposedly it is possible to see desert bighorn sheep, particularly near the east entrance to the park.  We were in luck and found a small group climbing on some terraced red rock.  We kept the dogs in the car, of course, and took some photos as the group moved across the rock, slowly.

     Other tourists were watching as well, and unfortunately, one couple walked towards and too close to the sheep, clearly impacting their flight distance and causing them to all run off.  It's just sad how clueless and inconsiderate people can be about wildlife - even in protected areas - even with ample literature asking for respect.  It's just maddening.  Going back to the car, a sheep narrowly avoided being hit on the road. 
     It was the right time of year for young babies.  The lambs were adorable, and very fast.
     A sheep that very nearly was hit by a car, but luckily wasn't.
     At another point, we came across a small herd of sheep and sat and watched them for a little over an hour.  They made their way down from the side of the road ahead of us into a gully, across rock, through a bunch of bushes with fresh green leaves, and then up to and across the road beside us.  The dogs slept in the car as we watched the sheep.  One other couple was also there for about an hour and very respectful, but many others came and went, slamming car doors, taking selfies, and generally appearing to be more interested in the idea of being able to say they had seen a sheep than in actually watching the sheep.  One very young baby, who was quite shy, was part of the herd.  After such a harsh winter, it was nice to see that the animals appeared healthy and were breeding.
     Right before we left the park there was yet a third small group of sheep, again with babies. 
     It was a great final wildlife sighting and the end of a lovely day.  I didn't know much about Zion before visiting, but it is really a beautiful and interesting place.  Before the end of the day we were near our next destination: Bryce Canyon National Park.  I didn't realize there was a significant change in elevation between the two and we hit a rainstorm that became a snowstorm traveling between parks.  While Zion was T-shirt weather, Bryce Canyon was parka weather!!  If you visit both, pack accordingly.