Much ado about furry things



Recovery from major surgery last fall has taken its toll on me — especially when it comes to writing. However, I do seem to be turning a corner and I hope I won’t be walking down a dead end road.

So to catch up on my observations I am going to blitz you with a few honourable mentions.


Winter was long, cold coupled with enormous amounts of snow. To keep the furry herd cozy I had extra bales of straw along with two heated pet beds in their shed. Being that there are a couple of seniors — Bean, aka the yard nazi and Leo — I wanted them to be comfortable during the harsh temperatures.

A few stragglers also showed up this winter but kept their distance from not only the main cat shed but also me.

A second shed, a bit larger than the 10 X 10 foot abode, is where the covert kitties would lurk.

In my daily outdoor feeding rounds I would ensure the second shed had an ample supply of food and a couple of bales of straw for warmth.

Usually feeding is done during the extremely short period of daylight that we have during winter. On one occasion I returned home after sunset and was greeted by a skunk in the second shed.

Slowly backing out I managed not to alarm the skunk and returned inside my home without an extra aroma.

After confronting the cat-poser I realized it was the skunk that had sometimes pushed the cat food dishes around on the floor. Now the moochers get fed on the shelf where they can jump up and the skunk can’t.


Early in January my neighbour’s home burned down. On March 18th an older home was moved onto the site. The mover had to cross the field and enter the homestead through the back because of the dense shelterbelt that not only surrounds the property but also lines the driveway. There was a flurry of activity with men and machines setting up the new abode. When it appeared that there would be no more vehicles parked on the main gravel road that separates my place from the neighbours I let out my dog. He marched down to the end of my driveway and began dancing around the only tree of height substance on my property.

I couldn’t see any birds that might have caught his attention, but he continued trying to climb the tree despite me calling his name over and over.

On comes the winter gear and I walked towards him with a “this better be good” state of mind.

At the top of the naked tree a small squirrel was hanging on for all of his worth. Poor little fella. Likely all the commotion across the road had displaced the little critter from his home. Who knows, maybe it was necessary to cut down a few trees to get the house properly sited and that might have been his home. Bob wasn’t budging he wanted that squirrel. I had to coax him with promises of treats if he came back to the house with me. After hearing the word cookie about a dozen times he finally surrendered and walked back with me. As we returned I looked back and watched the squirrel scamper across the road safely.


The pasture north of my property was a temporary home to nine mares over winter. It was nice company especially when they would come to the fence for a scratch or pet. Everyday I am watchful for change of weather, animal behaviour and tracks. I noticed one that was a bit distorted because of a light snowfall overnight. It was larger than a dog’s paw but did not resemble horses or cattle tracks, which would be the most likely wanderers onto the Catillac Ranchette. Neither was it belonging to a deer or moose.  It resembled an oversized cat’s paw, but there are no kitties that large hanging around. I kept my eyes and mind open to the possibilities.

A few months later the owner of the mares stopped by when I was out on my feeding rounds. Our chat turned towards animal tracks. He had seen a cougar in the pasture near the willows close to where his mare had spent the winter.

It was one of those aha moments, making perfect sense that the unknown track belonged to a cougar. Confirmation was in a book about animal tracks as it was hard to fathom a cougar in an area that is mainly farmed or used for pasture. Even though it doesn’t appear to be cougar habitat it is rich in prey.

Now I take attendance on the Catillac Ranchette twice a day. And yes, I hear all of the silly “cougar” jokes when I share this story with friends.



It’s not what you say but how you say it

A poor digital zoom picture of a coyote and dog conversing from more than than 1,500 yards away

A poor digital zoom picture of a coyote and dog conversing from more than than 1,500 yards away.

While making my daily rounds during a frosty and chilly winter morning on the Catillac Ranchette I heard the beef farmer’s dog barking. After feeding the furry herd and the rock dove while checking their housing and water I noticed the dog was still barking. Woof, woof, woof, woof and so on and on and on. Dog would not let up. I rarely hear the neighbour’s dog that lives the next quarter section over; about a kilometre southwest. I thought the canine would lose his voice from the rapid-fire barking. It wasn’t the non-stop yipping that was stirring my curiosity. The tone indicated something different was happening.
I couldn’t see what was going on, but knew where the sound was coming from and with some elevation I might find out what was causing the dog to continue barking without a break.
Out came the binoculars as soon as I got inside and removed my winter gear. While scanning the white landscape through the window, I spotted a pair of four-legged figures a mere foot apart. The black dog was having words with a coyote. I watched as the dog wagged his tail and the coyote occasionally bared his teeth. A bit of movement occurred – mostly in miniscule increments and cautiously.
I was mesmerized, yet fear was lurking in my mind. I didn’t want to witness a violent confrontation between the two distant relatives. Grabbing a digital camera with a poor excuse for a zoom lens, I snapped some photos.
At least thirty minutes had elapsed and it appeared neither was giving up their ground. As much as I wanted to see how long the stand-off would last and how it would end there was the makings of an uprising inside the house. The furry five were getting restless for their breakfast. I didn’t want an ambush and fed the felines while shooing Bob out of the cat queue. After dealing with the feeding frenzy I looked through the binoculars and was pleased to see they had parted ways without any wounds. The day was just beginning and it was anyone’s guess what else would transpire on the Catillac Ranchette.


Does absence make the heart grow fonder?

To my faithful followers I apologize for not posting for several months. And it might be a bit longer before my fingers tickle the keyboard.

A longtime autoimmune illness flared several months ago rendering me to my bed. Instead of quieting it escalated to near death and forced a sudden emergency decision of major surgery. It has been barely three weeks and I have had numerous setbacks. Needless to say I am a private person and only share personal information in person instead of online. Still, I believe anyone stumbling on my blog deserves a reason why I have not posted for sometime and will likely take more time off before updating on the comings and goings at the Catillac Ranchette.


Spring disguised as winter update

I wonder if a certain Ohio prosecutor read my blog. A headline today reads ” Punxsutawney Phil ‘indicted’ over bad forecast” http://ca.news.yahoo.com/video/punxsutawney-phil-indicted-over-bad-172403410.html

While the U.S. lawmaker might be poking fun at the groundhog and yesterday’s storm it was not as funny north of the 49th.

More than 100 vehicles were involved in a pile-up on QE2 between Edmonton and Calgary. Portions of that highway and others were shut down due to the treacherous conditions. Hospitals in the capital region and as far away as Red Deer were being slammed with casualties that were mainly minor. All forms of media yesterday were active with information and photos regarding the storm. Some areas received from 20 to 40 cm of snow coupled with gusting winds that polished highways, formed drifts and decreased driver visibility.



Spring disguised as winter

Today is the first full day of spring and there is a snowfall warning for most of the province. If it is any consolation, most of the country is feeling the last rites of winter. Another insult – the wind. Yesterday it was blasting out of the south east – not the prevailing direction – fortifying snow drifts higher than four feet. Northerly gusts today coupled with snow is creating white out conditions and has dashed my hope of an early spring. Someone should charge that groundhog with perjury.

The drifting snow has plugged not only the driveway (again) but also the dog’s main house. Yup, he is sleeping inside. Bob has two other outside abodes but prefers the company of five cats, a human and a supply of treats.

The outside cats continue to hunker down in their cosy shed with electric pet beds and room service. Twice daily I feed while checking on them and the rest of the Catillac Ranchette.

The satellite dish requires attention if I want to watch news. The broom has visited the dish four times during the noon hour news. I gave up and turned the radio back on.

I wasn’t expecting to see any movement outdoors when a raven swooped by. Even though he is a big aviator the wind and snow made flying difficult. His venture was full of mini stops while he made his way back to the nest across the road.

In anticipation of today’s weather I brought in extra wood for the stove. The wood stack looks like it vanished with the rapidly accumulating snow.

Despite my unhappiness that spring didn’t magically appear today I am grateful I don’t have to travel anywhere. Collisions are mounting as visibility diminishes and the roads get slipperier. Stretches of some highways have been closed due to accidents or poor driving conditions.

My oldest daughter is in heaven though. She loves snow days. If she had her way it would be winter all year. I often wonder if she was a polar bear in her previous life. She says it is serene, pure and beautiful. I agree, but only for a month or two at the beginning of winter. Then the rest of the time I flip through the calendar trying to will planting season. One might ask me why I don’t move to a place with less winter. Don’t tempt me. I did live on Vancouver Island once upon a time but, found rain and grey skies depressing. Yet this winter has seen less sun than usual.  Another suggestion might be to take a vacation south of the border. Not a bad idea. Whoever suggests that better be prepared to look after the Catillac Ranchette. Yes the joys of having numerous critters. I would have my mind on my critters rather the sun and surf. My attachment and bond to the furry herd is hard for some people to wrap their heads around.

Enough rambling for one day. Time to stoke the fire.raven and a snow storm


The hunting is owl right



The morning following the evening I spotted a Great Horned Owl setting up shop to hunt mice on a fence post, a female Snowy Owl took the early day shift at the same location. Still, poised and beautiful, she scrutinized every square inch of snow covered prairie pasture for fast food.

Quickly I checked the furry herd roster then dashed indoors to fetch a camera.

Rather than risk an immediate departure of the feathered predator I took the shot from inside. With elbows perched on the sill to steady the camera I was flanked by two felines while another nibbled at my toes.

Ten frames later, finally a captured photo of her angelic feathered face.

Moments later she was gone.

Having a back-to-back owl experience led my thoughts to a reasonable and a folklore explanation.

In spite of the furry herd’s excellent work ethic they likely miss a mouse, vole or mole here and there. Bird feeders at the Catillac Ranchette encourage not only birds but also vermin to dine and dash. So logic tells me to expect owls occasionally.

But folklore is a richer account of the event.

Often portrayed as wise, owls are also considered symbols of protection, intuition and messengers from the here after. However, some cultures take a dimmer view of Strigiformes.

One interpretation of a visit from an owl considers it an amazing gift. Apparently animals are attracted to those with the same energy or symbolic attributes.

Now my imagination could go all over the map with that rendition, but more likely they showed up because the hunting is owl right.




Hooooo goes there


The winter sun slunk toward the horizon and a dusky sky was emerging.

While making final feeding rounds and general snooping on the Catillac Ranchette, a dark figure perched on a fence post about 50 feet away (a bit more than 15 metres for you metric readers) caught my eye. A quick roll call of the furry herd and I knew it was not a cat hunting vermin.

Aha — he’s back.

My first at home encounter with a Great Horned Owl was last summer. I awoke from a deep slumber to the repeating sound: Hoo, Hoo, Hoo.

I grabbed my housecoat and a flashlight to let him know just “Hoo” he woke up.

There he was, perched on the power tower like the majestic birds found atop totem poles.

He stayed put. My presence only shushed him. I asked him to keep it down as I was trying to sleep.

Back inside the house I went to resume the remainder of my beauty rest hoping for silence. A final glance outside my bedroom window and he was gone. He kept a low profile until the most recent appearance.

On this winter’s eve I quickly went inside to search for a camera to capture evidence of his existence.

Opening and closing the door then re-emerging with a camera did not chase him away. He showed a lot of patience as I fiddled with every setting on the inexpensive digital for a decent shot.

Flash, no flash, video setting too. Epic fail.

Sadly no clear pictures of the provincial bird of Alberta. He grew tired of my inept attempt to photograph him hunting and left.

In the meantime I will brush up on my evening portrait techniques and keep a better camera handy for impromptu shutterbug experiences.

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