Attack of the Killer Cougar-ish

24 09 2015

Today was the first day that Danae left the dogs home for me to manage.  I say “manage” not because dogs are something I am incapable of caring for, but because I have men in and out of the house from 8-5, and we love our pets too much to trust that every last one of them will remember to shut the door.

We have four dogs.  It’s a lot, more than we really wanted to have, but each of them came to us for their (and our) own reasons.  As much as we would sometimes like to scale back, we don’t want to do it by offering any of them up to the forest. At 14, Hoover is deaf. Stewart, at five and a half pounds, would be less than bite sized for a coyote or mountain lion.  Oliver, at ten pounds, falls in the same category as Stewart, and Olivia… Oh, Olivia.

Yesterday afternoon I ran a roll of fencing up to the hillside and began the tedious and laborious process of staking in a temporary dog run. I hit each stake into the ground until it was deep and firm, then wrapped wire fencing around the frame. By the time Danae and the kids came home, I was bloody from wire scratches and feeling fairly good about what I had started, but knew it needed reinforcement along the base and that we would need to create a wire door out of a piece of fencing that we could hinge using zip ties. Danae helped shore up the run by adding a few more stakes, creating the door and putting some metal shed roof around the perimeter. Done.

Just before dinner a man in a septic truck pulled up to the house and came up the stairs with purpose.

“Can I help you,” I asked. He said he was here to pump out the old tank, that they would be filling it in tomorrow morning.

He pulled back the sheet metal and rotting wood from the old tank, exposing a vessel brimming with, well, you get the idea.  The smell was AMAZING. As he sucked it out he looked toward the bottom.

“I don’t think this has a bottom,” he said.

I imagined a bottomless pit and for a moment thought the new system was a waste of $35,000.

“That looks like dirt,” he said.  “This is what they used to call a cesspool.”

“It doesn’t look as though it’s been pumped out in a long time,” I offered.

“It was pumped out pretty recently,” he said. “This is pretty much the smallest system I’ve ever seen.  It was meant to support just a small summer cabin, like most of the houses around here were meant to be.” As he finished up, he cautioned us, “Don’t take any showers or anything.  It’s ok if a few gallons get in there before they fill it in, but if you fill it more than that, they’ll have problems.”

This morning workers arrived early, 7:30, to put in the new system. I sat at the table in my pjs with my morning coffee and contemplated whether or not I would have time to take a shower.  Lindsey, the plumber, arrived by 8 and was busy underneath the house.  Was he disconnecting pipes? If I flushed, would it land on the brim of his baseball hat?

Danae had left all but Hoover in the van, just in case someone came into the house early. I went out to the van, loaded the dogs into the back of the Polaris and brought them up the hill to their new run.  One by one I brought all three carriers in, then closed the run door behind me before letting them out.  They adjusted quickly — sniffing, exploring, peeing on the cloth tarps Danae had left as bedding.  They were fine. I realized I had forgotten to give them water, so I fastened the door, got back in the Polaris and made my way down the hill to get some.

The septic workers were congregated at the hole where the new tank sat. I asked them what was going on.  The spring tank was empty. They needed to pump 1500 gallons into the new tank in order for it to settle and to do a “sit test”.  If they had asked me, I could have told them that there were nowhere near 1500 gallons of water on the property.  I suggested we try tapping into the well.  I climbed between the dirt ledge and the garage building to disconnect the hoses that I had running to the spring tank. I pulled the hose through the city of myriad of bookshelves that I had removed from the house and that await their fate on the back driveway, and presented it to one of the workers.  He attached it to his hose and gave me the OK to throw the pump switch.  We were in business.

Jim, our friend and contractor, caught me on the way back into the house. “Make sure you tell them to let you know if it runs out of water,” he said. “If that pump is pumping dry, you’ll burn it out.  No, seriously, look at me.” He looked me straight in the eye, “Tell them you need them to do that. You do not want to have to replace that pump.”

I went and told the worker. He assured me he’d let me know.

Back in the house I grabbed a glass water bottle from the recycle bin and took it to the sink.  The faucet sputtered and spit water in my face several times before I gave up trying to fill the bottle.  I grabbed a mostly-empty jug of distilled water from the top of the fridge and then walked back up the hill to the dog run. The dogs were silent. This was a great sign.

As I emerged from the path and came into view of the dogs, they all got excited to greet me. I gave them each treats and filled their bowl with what water I had, then wanted to get right back down to the action to make sure all was going OK. I blew them kisses and started back down the hill.

Suddenly I heard a rustle of brush, something crashing through the forest. I whipped around and saw a tawny flash. “Shit,” I thought, “this is it.” I’ve always wanted to see a mountain lion, but every time that thought pops into my mind, I remember an episode of Fantasy Island back in the early 80’s where a man wished to go on a lion hunt or some such thing. Mr. Rourke, of course, granted his wish, but the man’s fate was sealed when he was mauled to death by the very creature he meant to kill. This was my Tattoo moment, where Mr. Rourke tells his short-statured side-kick, “You see, Tattoo, Mr. So and So should have been careful what he wished for.”

The crash of brush came closer and I finally made out Olivia charging for the house.  I took off, full sprint to head off her trajectory. She went straight for the front door! I let her in, closed the door behind me, then turned around, ripping off my sweatshirt and bolting up the steep hill back at the run.  Did Steward and Oliver get out, too? Stewart wouldn’t go far, but Oliver is an explorer, never fearful of wandering off.

My self congratulatory feelings about how much more easily I could make it up the hill earlier now felt silly as my legs became weak with the effort of bounding up the hill. I got to the top, turned the corner and there, poking up, were two little heads, still in the run.  There was a hole — Olivia, who we affectionately call The Bulldozer, had pushed her way through the fencing, squeezing out and making a break for it.

I unlatched the door and picked Stewart and Oliver up, one in each arm to carry them down the hill. I then remembered that, when I was clearing the patch for the dog run, I came across two lengths of rope. I grabbed one and slipped it through Oliver’s collar so that he could walk down under his own power. As I slipped the rope through, Oliver slipped his head out of his collar and ran up the logging road into the deep forest.  I took off after him, Stewart still beneath my other arm, and caught up with him when he stopped to lift his leg on a fallen tree. Finally, I made my way back down the hill.

As I entered the house, it occurred to me that Lindsey had been working beneath the house, there was a trap door open in the floor of the room that will be the master bath. I called for Olivia, but she didn’t come.  I put Stewart and Oliver down, then called for her again.  Out of nowhere, she came to greet me. I quickly had to come up with a plan.

I went outside and found a discarded glass pane door that I had taken down from the old dining room.  I hauled it over the trash pile and back into the house, then laid it on its side in front of the doorway between the living room and the bonus room.  Finally, all dogs were corralled.

I decided I would spend the day working upstairs in the kids’ rooms, that way the dogs could stay with me. I gathered supplies downstairs as the dogs nervously waited for me at the my make-shift doggie gate. I climbed over and we all went upstairs.  As I moved furniture and prepped K’s room for painting, the dogs settled in on K’s bed.  Downstairs the water truck had arrived with 2500 gallons — 1500 for the new septic, and 1000 gallons for our spring tank. I put on some music and the dogs and I settled into a nice groove — me  taping and putting two coats of primer on K’s walls, and the dogs doing what dogs do, looking so sweet tucked into the Dr. Who themed pillows and covers . Tomorrow instantly took shape. Me, my dogs and my music are going to transform the upstairs into something wonderful.

I text Danae, who was on her way home with the kids, and suggest we go to Olita’s, on the wharf in Santa Cruz, for dinner. She agrees. They arrive to pick me up at home, and I make a quick stop to the restroom to pee. The toilet is full with the day’s accumulation of urine from me, from the workers.  It’s time for a flush. We’ve been doing the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” to save water. I push the lever down and an explosion of water and urine splashes all over me, all over the toilet and floor.  A trapped air bubble from when the pump was sucking nothing from an empty tank. Now I need a quick rinse in the shower before we can leave.

After a wonderful dinner on the water at sunset, we arrive home. I soon get a text from my sister. My dad has pneumonia. My brother is in Connecticut, having just arrived to my step mother not allowing him to see our father. We all launch into full panic. Do my sister and I fly out? Is this it? My heart sinks. I pull Danae into the kitchen to tell her the news. Gwen walks in, fully silliness mode, to show us a mud tattoo her friends gave her during P.E. I try to smile and acknowledge her, but my girl can read faces. She knows something is wrong.

“What’s wrong,” she asks.

I am silent.

“Your face.  What is it,” she demands.

I tell her.  Her heart sinks, too.

“Are we going out,” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say.

Then Kaherdin walks in. I tell him, too.

We tuck the kids into bed. I have a text out to my brother for more specifics. We’ll know more in the morning.

I come downstairs and get myself ready for bed. While upstairs I’ve gotten a text. It’s from my brother. My dad’s fever is only 99. His cancer has been determined to be Stage 3, not Stage 4 as previously thought.  The news is getting better. I start breathing again and make my way upstairs.

“What are you doing,” Danae asks.

“I need to talk to the kids.” I go into G’s room and give her the update, not wanting her to go to bed with a heavy heart. She throws her arms around me.

Next I go into K’s room and give him the update. He, too, throws his arms around me.

“Thank you, Mama,” he says, grateful for the relief.

At least we’ll all sleep tonight. Tomorrow is another day.

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