Cat Talk

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It is the last full day of summer, the longest and driest in the 24 years, off and on, I have spent in Washington State since 1980, and certainly in the five years Delia, our 18-year-old cat, has lived here. She has lived with us for the past 14 years, during which time she has adapted to living with humans and struggled with communicating with us, or at least teaching us to interpret Cat. She hasn’t always been quite so vocal, but during our frequent travels over the past few years, she has had ample time to observe other cats, among her fellow guests at the Just Cats Hotel, and to duplicate their vocalizations, particularly, such phrases as, “I’ve used my litter box: clean it now!” And, “It’s 4:30am—time to make a fire and sit by it.” Language, after all, is but a sequence of sound tokens and context, with meaning a mutual understanding among the speakers and listeners. And, cat talk has a simple grammar—every statement is a demand for some action on the part of the human half of the conversation.

Most of her conversation is in body language, though, and we have learned that, as a pad between her and a lap, she likes quilts best, having lived in a household where quilts are made: before she was banned from the sewing room, she would crawl onto the sewing table and lie on the half-finished quilt top as the blocks were sewn together. Her next favorites are handwoven wool coverlets, a fairly new addition to the handcraft repertoire. The crocheted afghans, gifts from “Auntie Bing,” on which she spent so much time earlier, are now rejected outright as too claw-catching. We are frequently beseached to join her in the living room to provide a platform for proper use of a quilt, preferably in a recliner by the fire. However, this summer, I have put a screen in my office window and placed her scratching platform next to it, so she sometimes consents to be “office cat” to be near her people as well as near the porch.

This summer, while recovering from open heart surgery, I spent less time rushing about or sitting at the computer, and more time sitting on the porch, to the delight of the cat. Our current base camp in our life journey is a 1920s bungalow, of the classic design where the porch is under the natural roof line rather than a mere covered entryway, forming a room with three sides open to the outside. Delia has always enjoyed the porch as a place to get out of the rain while trying to get our attention to be let back in after her daily inspection of the grounds, but quickly adopted it this summer as part of our living space.

Of late, since I have recovered enough to focus on other tasks, Delia has indicated more and more that, no, she doesn’t want in, she wants us to come out, to sit with her on the porch to enjoy the mild summer. So we go, with lunch or books, and enjoy the sun and fresh air. She sits under our chairs or the patio table we moved up for the season, or on a convenient lap.

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So it was on this last day of summer—she all but begged me to come out and sit with her. Judy was busy in the house, so Delia sat in her chair, the one in the sun, where she could look out over the low wall toward the street. I had sat there, but Delia indicated that, no she didn’t want to sit on my lap, she wanted to sit in the chair, so I moved back to “my” chair on the other side of the table, whereupon she curled up in Judy’s chair and assumed that regal stone lion pose seen on the entry to libraries and great houses, while I was left alone with my book.

As the afternoon wore on and the sun moved around behind the house, the breath of Fall settled on the porch, prompting me to retreat to the house. Delia remained, and pleaded with me through the office window to rejoin her. I put on a jacket and went back outside, but soon felt the deepening chill with the sun falling below the hill and shadows lengthening. This time, Delia reluctantly followed me into the house, closing the door on summer one last time.

At nearly 18, summers are precious to a small cat, something that I, in my 70th summer, can also appreciate. The rain came at last, but briefly, during the night, and fall colors began to appear with the gray dawn. Winter is coming.

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Warm Showers 2014

The 2014 Warm Showers hosting season started early, with three brave riders in January, taking advantage of the mild but wet Pacific Northwest winter to head from Seattle to Los Angeles.

Peter, Eric, and Shaun prepare to head south toward drier and warmer climes.  January, 2014.
Peter, Eric, and Shaun prepare to head south toward drier and warmer climes. January, 2014.
James headed out in March for a "shakedown" tour around the Olympic Peninsula before heading east toward Nashville.
James headed out in March for a “shakedown” tour around the Olympic Peninsula before heading east toward Nashville, becoming the second visitor of the season to the Adventure Cycling Association headquarters in Missoula, missing first place by mere hours.
Liz and Morgan, traveling companions headed south in late April.
Liz and Morgan, traveling companions headed south in late April.
Bruce and Karen, a tandem team and B&B owners from Ohio, on spring tour in May before the tourist season back home.
Bruce and Karen, a tandem team and B&B owners from Ohio, on spring tour in May before the tourist season back home.
George and Dennis, retirees from southern California, headed down the coast in mid-May.
George and Dennis, retirees from southern California, headed down the coast in mid-May.
Maryam, northbound for a summer job in the San Juan Islands at the end of May.
Maryam, northbound for a summer job in the San Juan Islands at the end of May.
Jameson had made a reservation for the previous day, but his mileage estimates were off, so he just stopped by for coffee and a chat midday the next day in early June, and didn't stay.  He is a yoga instructor, so we had something in common besides a love of cycling.
Jameson had made a reservation for the previous day, but his mileage estimates were off, so he just stopped by for coffee and a chat midday the next day in early June, and didn’t stay. He is a yoga instructor, so we had something in common besides a love of cycling.

Unfortunately, the season was cut short: our own “training” rides and mini-tours, starting in New Mexico and California in late January and early February, continuing in April and May in Washington and Idaho, were  truncated because of increasing back and chest pain while riding.  We finished a successful 2013 riding and tour season (including a 700km self-supported tour to cap a 2500-km yearly total) after seeking treatment for GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), but the symptoms progressed to a wider spreading chest pain as the 2014 season developed.  After returning from a really scary 30-km ride in Idaho at the end of May, and experiencing chest pains even while walking, I pressed for more comprehensive testing to get a better diagnosis: we were a mere six weeks out from a scheduled supported week-long tour and needed to train.

A treadmill test on Friday, June 13 (an auspicious date) made it absolutely clear that the problem was cardiac-related, and severe: the test was aborted after less than three minutes, with blood pressure and pulse over 200 and the EKG trace looking like a major earthquake.  After being sent home with nitro tablets and some powerful heart regulators and told to “do nothing” over the weekend,  a visit with the cardiologist on Monday got me scheduled for more testing on Tuesday, June 17, a cardiac catheter probe, which showed nearly total blockage of the main cardiac arteries, only days or hours (or one bike ride)  from what would have been a fatal heart attack.  I was wheeled from the recovery room at the test center directly to surgery, where I had a full six-hour open-heart procedure.

While still in the hospital, I took us off the Warm Showers schedule for the summer, and cancelled our late July tour: I went home at the end of the week a temporary invalid, confined to a (new) recliner in the living room for a few weeks while Judy, a retired nurse, slept on the sofa for a few nights and then in the downstairs guest room.  After a few weeks, I could, with help, get in and out of the guest room bed, as lying flat helped the healing some, but continued to spend part of the night in the recliner for the next two months.  After a month, I was strong enough to climb stairs to the master bedroom, and able to walk a kilometer or two, slowly.

Now, eight weeks after what can only be called emergency surgery, and six weeks after a repeat hospitalization for severe pulmonary emboli and subsequent warfarin regimen that will last for six months or more, recovery is in sight.  I am driving again, and able to walk at least 5 km on outings 4-5 days a week, but not yet cleared for heavier duties like opening the garage door and other pushing and pulling, so our guest room is still closed.  We’re off to Portland, Oregon by train and public transit next week for a conference, and on vacation in early September, one we had hoped would be filled with day rides, but we will need to be content with hikes and walks.  The bicycle needs to wait until the bones are completely healed and probably until the blood thinner treatments end.  We might open our doors to guests for a week or so between the Oregon trips, in late August, but only if I get medically cleared for more activity.

But, by mid-September, we should be on the Warm Showers active roster again for the  Fall Pacific Coast touring season, briefly, but at least for a couple of weeks before we head to Montana in early October to re-winterize the cabin we last saw–buried in snow–in March, and to build a ship’s ladder to replace the vertical ladder to the loft, now that I have joined the ranks of the old and feeble, to avoid undue strain on the divided and now “zippered” sternum, which I have been promised will soon be strong enough to withstand hours on the handlebars for many touring seasons yet to come.


Warm Showers (www.warmshowers.org) is an international organization of bicycle tourists who provide lodging—at a minimum, a place to camp and access to shower and toilet facilities—to other cyclists on tour. Many hosts also provide full guest services: bed, meals, laundry, transport to and from public transit facilities and bike shops, sag service, and storage (bike boxes, etc). The web site is run by volunteers and funded by donations, and guests are never charged for services offered. Warmshowers.org is also on Facebook, where members discuss travel and post photos.

The Unix Curmudgeon, Reloaded

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It’s been exactly one month since I woke up a little after midnight with a tube down my throat and two more sticking out of my abdomen and a long red seam down my chest, where the good surgeons from Franciscan Cardiothoracic Surgery had pried me open to re-plumb my heart. My last clear memory before they yanked the throat tube out was of looking at an X-ray image of totally blocked main left ventricle cardiac arteries and being told I was headed for surgery instead of home, some 14 hours earlier.

As if recovering from that trauma, which included several hours of having my blood diverted through a fancy aquarium aerator while my heart was taking a nap and my arteries were rearranged and supplemented with veins fished out from behind my left knee was not enough, two weeks later I ended up back in hospital again with severely painful clots (embolisms) in my lungs. Nevertheless, healing proceeds: in the last week or so I’ve been able to spend enough time at the computer to do actual damage.

First, there was the matter of fixing a software package and install script hastily uploaded to the client site the night before surgery. Secondly, a local heat wave was setting off overtemp warnings on my development laptop, when I noticed that the graphics processor wasn’t reporting temperatures. Foolishly, I attempted to upgrade the graphics driver, ending up with a text-only display. Hmm, back out, reinstall the stock drivers, and the graphics desktop returned, albeit with a few quirks. I’m still not up to speed yet–when I think hard, I break into a sweat and have to take a nap, so best not tackle any seriously difficult problems just yet.

Several other projects have simply been put on hold: I have been content with putting in short half-hour spurts of work once or twice a day. As noted elsewhere in earlier posts, my rehabilitation has already started with daily walks to keep the circulation going and build up cardiac strength. Early walks, plodding along in a light-headed daze, have given way to reasonably-paced striding. After having tackled a few wilderness paths that proved to be a bit rugged, we’ve contented ourselves with flat-land walks on the north side of Shelton, close to the medical facilities, or, alternately, on the relatively flat and convoluted running trail through the greenspace near Shelton Creek, a park called, appropriately, “Huff ‘n Puff.” These excursions have extended to 1-3Km, of duration 30-55 minutes. Meanwhile, I’m still under motion restrictions while my sternum knits itself back together under the wire lacing that held it shut after surgery, not to mention recoverying from abused and sore muscles and ribs that were stretched and bent into abnormal shapes.
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One of the side effects of such drastic surgery, where life is sustained artificially, is the possibility of cognitive impairment: fortunately, so far only a few well-known facts have had to be re-verified, but we haven’t pushed the envelope too hard or taxed the coding skills excessively. Starting coumadin (warfarin) treatment to avoid repeat emboli has been a bit of an ordeal, with twice-daily injections of blood thinner while adjusting the rat poison dosage to get to the proper levels. The formula also includes careful attention to diet, to reduce the amount of clotting factor, vitamin K, which is present in most green leafy vegetables, a challenge for a dedicated vegetarian. But, finally, after two weeks of injections and frequent blood tests, we are “in range.” This means no more injections and now just a matter of infrequent blood tests to adjust the warfarin dosage from time to time and avoiding cuts and bruises for the next six months while the treatment runs its course.

This interlude of recovery  gives us pause to think about the gift of a few more years to enjoy life and family, and to think about  when to declare a true state of retirement and what exactly that entails.  Unix and Linux will always be a part of our life, but perhaps with a little more focus on enhancing personal goals and less about deadlines and external projects.  We have grandsons who are beginning to mess around with computers and need some guidance (i.e., indoctrination in the benefits of “the one true operating system” and maybe some instruction in scripting and programming).  The new generations of tiny machines with analog interfaces, like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi beg to be incorporated in other hobbies and home projects.  The rehab program requires regular exercise, which means much more time on the bike when we get cleared for that type of activity (probably after the bleeding danger is over: meanwhile, trips to the gym for some stationary workouts are in order).  Yoga is another activity on modified hold until the bones and muscles heal.  Beginning a new phase as a cardiac patient puts a new perspective on life, truly a reboot and fresh start with new priorities and goals.

Oakland Bay County Park

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The newest Mason County Park is Oakland Bay Park, off Agate Road near the head of Oakland Bay, 15Km from downtown Shelton.  The park is down a narrow dirt road to a well-appointed parking area and well-signed trail that winds down through a forest of Western Red Cedar and maple, dropping 40 meters in elevation to a bench above the bay, near Malaney Creek before looping back up a series of switchbacks and stair steps.  A single park bench is placed at the only view of the bay, the low point of the trail.
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This hike was possibly a bit more ambitious than expected for less than a month from open heart surgery and two days out from my hospital stay for pulmonary embolism, but we had been fairly active before the operation. The main concern was to avoid falling, due to knitting bones and a heavy load of anti-coagulant.

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We hiked this on July 9, 2014, and had the entire park to ourselves, the previous user having been in process of leaving as we arrived. I’m not sure of the distance for the loop trail, but it was certainly more than 1Km, plus a number of ups and downs and switchbacks over the 40-meter elevation change from top to bottom.

Goldsborough Creek Trail

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Because of my recent heart operation, we are off the bike until the bones heal.  However, part of the cardiac rehab is regular walking.  Not satisfied with marching up and down Railroad Avenue (on good days) or circumambulating the sidewalks and trails around Mason General Hospital (on bad days), we’ve been looking at the many short hiking trails around Mason County.  Mason County Washington encompasses the lower arm of Hood Canal and several inlets of South Puget Sound as well as islands and the southern quarter of the Olympic Mountains.  Therefore, there are lots of hiking opportunities.

We started with the county parks, but there are also a few city hikes of note in Shelton.  One is the short Goldsborough Creek trail, that provides access to the former site of the Goldsborough dam that supplied power to the city of Shelton and later to the Simpson Lumber Company from the late 1890s until the late 1990s.  In 2001, the 30-foot-high dam was removed, replaced with 34 concrete weirs spaced down the drop to allow salmon to climb past the former dam site to spawn in the headwaters in the marshes near Little Egypt Road.

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The trail starts just past the Ford/Chrysler/Jeep dealer, at the driveway to the Pavilion (now the Shelton Senior Center), and follows the old dam road for about 400 meters before a side trail leads to the creek and then along the creek side back to behind the car dealership. In addition to the weirs, there are a number of trees that create obstacles and pools. In July, the creek levels are down, but the weirs are popular with white-water kayakers during the spring runoff. The forest is mixed lowland trees and shrubs, with abundant sea spray, just starting to bloom.

The lower loop trail is little more than 1Km. A less-distinct trail continues another several hundred meters to the Simpson Railway where it crosses the creek.

We walked this trail on July 4, 2014.  A couple of hours later, I had a pulmonary embolism that was totally debilitating and required several days treatment and recuperation in hospital, so we were fortunate that the clot didn’t choose to move during this wilderness hike.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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