Cats and birds

We were beginning to worry a little about the cat we found on Monday. She apparently had not relieved herself since we found her, even though we took her out and put her down into the flower bed, where there is a nice layer of mulch for a cat toilet. We were worried about leaving her in the house alone for several hours on Wednesday (potential explosive situation), while we out having our regular huevos rancheros and making a grocery run, so before lunch I went and bought a cat litter box.

We set it up in the hall, because we really don’t have a suitable place for a litter box, and she almost immediately went in took care of pending business. There are two bad things about this development. The first is that we don’t want an inside cat that uses a litter box. The second is that she passed something that looked like bright, red blood. Our vet has been closed since Saturday and will reopen on Thursday. We’re taking her in then.

Here she is relaxing on the leather recliner in the living room.

Not long after this adorable shot, she turned around and clawed the chair’s arm, leaving four or five punctures in it. This does not make us happy.

On a cat-related note, a few weeks ago we noticed what looked like an aborted bird nest about three feet off the ground in one of the crape myrtles we planted beside the house. Looks were deceiving. This is what I found when I looked into the nest on Tuesday.

I think there are three baby mockingbirds, being very quiet. The mother was perched in a tree some distance away, looking like a concerned parent.

I looked in the nest because I had seen the mockingbird flying around in the vicinity, although never lighting in the crape myrtle itself.

This is obviously a problem location for baby birds. I don’t think any of our cats have located the nest yet, but as soon as the birds fledge, they will end up on the ground with a limited ability to fly. At that point, a cat, most likely Sylvester, will kill them.

I wish I had destroyed the nest when I first noticed it, before the mockingbird had a chance to lay her eggs.

The Fifth Cat

When I went out into the driveway to take the dogs out Monday morning, I heard a sound somewhere between a cat and a bird coming from under our car. I called Leah, and this is what she found.

It’s a small, female tortoise-shell cat. Here she is, reaching out to the photographer.

She was enthusiastically friendly and reasonably accepting of being picked up and held. She was vocal, and couldn’t get enough affection. Leah eventually brought her in. At first she was ill at ease, but within short time she seemed to make herself at home.

The dogs were very interested, in fact, a little too interested. Sam has a strong prey drive, so we weren’t comfortable with how intently he stared at her. Zeke whined and wanted to check her out. Sam wanted to sniff her all over. But even with two dogs towering over her, she didn’t seem afraid.

We had no intention of keeping the cat, despite how friendly she seemed compared to our other cats. Leah called a neighbor who we knew had cats, and they were interested in seeing her since they had only recently had to put their cat down.

We kept the cat inside for a while, and then let her out into the garage. When the neighbors drove up, she was nowhere to be found. We called, but no cat.

We talked with the neighbors for a while, but eventually they had to leave without the cat. As soon as they left, the cat walked out from wherever she had been hiding in the garage.

And that was OK with Leah. Leah had been saying for a while that maybe she would keep the cat, and both she and the neighbors took it as a sign.

We kept her inside for a while but put her back out into the garage when we left to get something to eat. We weren’t sure whether she was house trained, so we thought she would better in the garage.

She was gone when we got back home. Leah was devastated. She called and called, but there was no sign of the cat. We suspected (fairly strongly) that the bad boys, Sylvester and Smokey, had chased her away. We also considered the possibility that some time earlier she had found a place to sleep and had gone back there for the night.

Of course Leah didn’t give up. It was after 9 when she went out for the last time and called. She had given up and come back towards the garage when the little cat came running up the driveway.

She really doesn’t like Smokey or Sylvester, based on how much hissing goes on when they’re around, but she doesn’t mind the dogs. It appears that she hasn’t met Chloe or Dusty yet. We have no idea how they will interact.

Here she is on the back of the sofa, checking Sam out.

Here she is making herself at home.

There is always the chance that this little cat will disappear if she goes out, but otherwise it looks like we may have our fifth cat (seventh if you count the two we have lost, Zoe and Rusty, since moving up here). She has found our bed and seems to like lying on it. Leah has been wishing for a cat that would sleep on our bed with us. Maybe she’s the one.

Rain watch

I have mentioned before that a fair number of trees in the woods around here died between last summer and this spring. The forest doesn’t look healthy. A lot of trees of all species on the mountain either never came back in the spring or barely made it out of the winter alive. Even the trees that seem less affected by the heat and drought of last summer don’t seem to have leafed out as much as in a normal year, at least to my uneducated eye.

Some trees are trying. A few pines whose needles all turned brown have come back in part. Some of the trees whose limbs never leafed out have sprouted tight bunches of leaves along their trunks. I suspect many of them will never fully recover and will eventually die, especially if we have another summer like 2016.

One of the hardest hit of species is the dogwood. As far as I could tell earlier this spring, we had only one or two dogwoods that seemed to have survived in reasonably good condition. This is one that grew just inside the woods next to our driveway.

Some vines have grown up into the crown, which makes it look like it still has leaves, but the only leaves on this tree are dead. But this is what I noticed at the base of the tree on Wednesday.

It’s coming back from the roots. It looks pretty good at this point.

Here’s a maple that lost about half of its multiple trunks.

And here’s its base.

I don’t know whether the dogwoods or maples will manage to survive, despite these signs of their struggle to live.

This die-off may be a normal cycle in the northwestern Georgia forest, but I worry.

I also worry about our front yard. I finally got the zoysia seed sown. I filled the ruts and depressions as well as I could, then spread about two inches of rich topsoil. Then I raked it as level as I could, which was not very level. Then I rolled it. Every place I stepped ended up with a deep footprint. I could and probably should have tried harder to get the lawn smooth, but I was racing what I thought was a nice downpour that never materialized.

Now all we have to do is make sure the seed doesn’t get too dry. I have watered lightly – very lightly – twice so far. Our well doesn’t produce at a very high rate, so I am being conservative when I water. I am sprinkling about a third of the lawn at a time, then waiting a few hours before doing the next third. Here you can see the middle third is slightly darker than the ground on either side, a result of watering just a short while before I took the picture.

As I write this on Wednesday afternoon, there is a wide area of rain heading from the southwest up towards us. Based on our history here, I won’t be surprised if we get little or nothing from this system.

Preparing to watch the grass grow

Leah and I both want a nice yard with lots of pretty shrubbery. Although we don’t particularly want a large lawn, our front yard is also our septic system leach field, so we don’t have many options for ground cover. It looks like it’s going to be grass.

The first decision was what type of grass to grow. The county agricultural extension agent immediately suggested Bermuda grass, because it’s fast growing, it spreads, and it’s drought resistant. Fast growing means it has to be mowed often, and I really, really don’t want to mow a lawn every week, or even twice a week. The other option was zoysia grass. Zoysia is slow growing and drought resistant. Slow growing is great for less mowing, or, depending on how you want your yard to look, no mowing at all. But slow growing also means it takes a while to establish, unless you buy sod. Sod would require regular, deep watering, while seed would require regular, shallow watering (at least at first). In the end we decided to try to seed the lawn with zoysia..

I picked a very hot, dry day to start raking the middle 3000 square feet in front of the house to clear the wheat straw and rocks. Then I dug into a pile of dirt the grading contractor left in the front yard to fill the low spots and gullies. I shoveled the dirt into the bed of our Mule, a side-by-side four-wheeler, and hauled it to where it was needed. The pile probably had about five cubic yards of dirt, all of which I moved with a shovel.

Next I had about nine cubic yards of mushroom compost delivered. It also had to be shoveled into the Mule’s little bed so I could spread it about an inch deep everywhere we plan to seed. Once that’s done, I’ll rent a big tiller and try to incorporate it into the soil.

Here’s the mule resting, while I supervise from the porch. The compost is piled to the right of the Mule.

Filling in the low spots and spreading the compost took most of three days, all of which were sunny and near 90 F.

Most of the topsoil was removed from the front yard during construction, leaving us with sandy clay with lots of rock but absolutely no organic material. I’ll till the compost into the soil, but it will still need to be augmented with some decent topsoil, so I had 18 cubic yards delivered on Wednesday afternoon.

We were having a little problem getting the last of the soil to slide out of the dumptruck, and I joked that at least it was easier than shoveling it all out. Then it occurred to me that I actually am going to have to move all those 18 cubic yards with a shovel.

At this point, Thursday night, I still have a little compost left to spread. Although nine cubic yards will cover almost 3000 square feet at one inch depth, I think I’m going to end up covering around 2500 square feet.

This is the yard with most of the compost spread.

The shadow of the house makes it look like we have rich, black soil, but that’s an illusion. The red clay above the darker compost slopes down so it doesn’t look like as large an area as it actually is.

The next steps are tilling the compost into the ground, spreading two inches of topsoil, and then sowing the zoysia seed.

As of Thursday, I don’t have the topsoil spread, or the seed sown. The zoysia seed must be kept moist for about three weeks. Regular gentle showers would be nice once the seed is sown, but I don’t want rain right now. So Thursday afternoon a large line of thunderstorms formed and was moving towards us from Alabama. Fortunately, I had put plastic over the topsoil and the remaining compost, just in case.

This is what it looked like as the rain moved across Alabama. The red push pin is our house.It looked like we were in for some heavy rain.

A little while after this radar image was made, the sky darkened and the wind picked up and began to roar through Fouche Gap. Rain began to fall. The plastic over the compost and topsoil started flapping and I had to put more rocks along the sides. I retreated back inside and waited for the rain. A little while after that, this is what the radar looked like.

It looks like we’re in some fairly heavy rain, but we weren’t. The sea of red had parted and passed on either side of us.

And then, after the line of thunderstorms had passed, this is what it looked like.

We had 0.06 inches of rain.

Here’s the front yard after the rain passed. Instead of water, it mostly deposited leaves torn from the trees.

On the plus side, the temperature dropped from near 90 F to 68 F in about fifteen minutes.

Pink sky at night

We had several warm, cloudy, and rainy days last week, but Tuesday was the day the cold front was supposed to move through and change the weather. That evening, right before sunset, the entire sky seemed to be filled with pink clouds.

This was the view from the front steps. You can see one end of the house on the left of the image and the other end on the right side of the image. I took the image with my iPhone in panorama mode. The view is centered towards the east. Click for a bigger view.

This is the view back towards the house from the front yard.

This time of year the sun sets a little to the right on the house in this image, behind the mountain so that we can’t get a decent view of the sunset. As a consolation, this time the sun provided a nice show everywhere in the sky.

The cold front did, indeed, pass, leaving us with significantly cooler days and nights, despite the continuation of cloudy skies.