Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Spring has sprung here in LA. Though it’s still a bit cool, in my yard there are already honeysuckles and roses blooming, and our avocado and orange trees are already bearing fruit.
A new addition to my private Eden is Sphinxie, a beautiful, noble-looking feral kitty who has become semi-domesticated. She’s a teenager kitty who now sleeps in my house, and is very affectionate but still half-wild. She's capricious;sometimes she will be all lovey-dovey, other times she skitters away spooked. Sphinxie is long and skinny, Abyssinian-red with vibrant tabby swirls in a symmetrical pattern on each side, a ringed tail, a white ruff and white paws. She has a tiny, regal head, and used to be long and soooo skinny…but now she is pregnant! Every time I tried to get her crated up to take to the vet to get fixed, she had such a violent fit, it was impossible, so she is “with children”…and very close to her delivery date, from the looks of things. I am trying to psychically regulate her litter to be three kittens, but she’s massively pregnant.
I am about to go on a two-week tour of the UK, teaching and performing, and I am just hoping she can hold off on her special delivery until I get back. The last time I took in a stray kitty, she already had three kittens with her- but the time before that, I welcomed one into the house and she had SEVEN babies right in my belly dance costumes! I thought to myself, “Now here’s a cat who KNOWS me!”…and I still have one of her babies, he’s fifteen now. I also hope Sphinxie will choose my house over the yard, or, like, under a neighbor’s house or something. My boyfriend is a typical man in that I know he will be overwhelmed with nervousness if she gives birth before I return. Actually, I don’t blame him: not only is our yard full of creatures, I’m sure they’re all about to give birth as well!
In most major cities, wildlife is something to be seen in a zoo- unless you’re counting pigeons, rats, cockroaches. But in LA, the wealth of stubbornly wild flora and fauna is proof that that nature exists and prevails even in the most urban areas. In the densely populated Hollywood Hills, there are deer sightings, not to mention the mountain lion prowling through Griffith Park. Once I saw a hawk soaring with a snake held in its talons. And the flocks of feral parrots in Silver Lake? They’re not an urban legend- I’ve seen them twice, staring in disbelief at the riot of color in the sky. A neighbor once had a peaceful encounter with a bobcat. The abundance of creatures living among us gives new meaning to the term “urban jungle”. Sometimes we dismiss our urban animals as vermin ridden, disease-carrying pests who destroy gardens and knock over garbage cans. And it’s true; a good number of the “Lost Pet” flyers dotting the Los Angeles canyons can be attributed to coyotes coming down from the hills (often in packs) to prey on our domestic animals. Even though I’m a cat owner and highly aware of the coyotes’ predatory nature, it’s still thrilling to see them once in a while. Think about it: it’s actually us- not them- who are the intruders. They wouldn’t be scarfing our pets if we hadn’t displaced them from their habitat. For every person who disdains wildlife as a nuisance, there’s another who loves these citified communes with nature. I am one of them.
My boyfriend and I live in a Hollywood Hills canyon, mere blocks from Hollywood Boulevard in a Craftsman bungalow built in 1917, with a spectacularly over-grown courtyard. Our three cats Sphinxie, Tab, and Nini love their domain, sharing it with other stray and domestic cats from the ‘hood (including the feral black tomcat we call "The Bum" who I think is Sphinxie’s baby-daddy), two loveable rescue pit bulls Hambone and Petunia, a beagle named Harley and a rescue boxer/pit mix called Monster… as well as lizards, a family of insanely tame squirrels who eat right out of our hands, and three socialized (and HUGE) raccoons- Huey, Dewey and Norman, who will actually come up and bang on our door to get food. There are also opossums, squirrels, a family of skunks and many species of birds. “Our” skunks are so used to humans that they amble by casually while we’re sitting outside, and don’t even bother to raise their tails up in a warning display.
My neighbors and I are tickled that these critters all live here and use the yard as a nursery. We wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s an endlessly fascinating diversion to the stress of every day life. Opossums may not be endearing, but a mother with four fuzzy babies riding marsupial-style on her back observed from just a few feet away is.
A couple of years ago, a humming bird made a nest outside my door. The size of a shot-glass, it was marvelously constructed, but the branch housing it hung dangerously low directly in the middle of a well-traveled concrete path leading from the street to my house and the units in the back house.
Once we discovered the two light blue jelly-bean-sized eggs, our protective instincts kicked in. The landlord cringed at the makeshift barrier we constructed to protect the nest- a tower of dilapidated lawn chairs from Target topped by an upside down trashcan. Situated under the nest, it kept the cats at bay and ensured that no one walking by would bump into it. A sign was posted in pidgin Spanish for our gardeners: MAS PRECAUCION POR FAVOR- ARRIBA ES LA CASA DE LA CHUPAROSA…CON HUEVOS!!!
The dutiful mother hummingbird nested around the clock and it was all so tiny and perfect, it didn’t look real - more a fantasy scene in a sugar Easter Egg or like a decoration from China bought at a 99 Cent Store to hang from your rearview mirror. Mama didn’t budge when the wind tossed her nest around… when the nearby 1920’s era garage was torn down, or when everyone started photographing her with their cell-phones!
All the neighbors in the courtyard was jubilant when the eggs hatched…and like the neurotic grandparents we’d all become, we fretted over the fuzzy gray babies, small as insects. Days went by and the fledglings grew, down becoming feathers, their beaks lengthening. They were so fat and healthy they barely fit in the nest! After days of devotion, Mom vanished; we were beside ourselves with worry, fearing abandonment. My boyfriend wanted to feed the tiny infants himself. Desperate, I cruised the Project Wildlife website for info, finding out everything was going on schedule- the babies no longer needed Mom to regulate their body temperatures, and she was out meticulously gathering fruit flies to feed to them. We all heaved a collective sigh of relief. The gardener even said in broken English, "The babies...soon, they will go!"
Everyone watched in delight as the fledglings took their first tentative, Disney cartoon-like attempts at flight. After an hour, they’d gotten the hang of it. Then, they were gone. They didn’t return to the nest that day, or the next morning.
I phoned my boyfriend to tell him the great news- our babies had grown up, healthy against all odds, mission accomplished! There was silence on the other end of the line.
Finally, his voice breaking, he choked,
“They’re gone? That is… so… fucked up!”
I explained that nature took its course, and we should be happy.
“I know,” he said, “ It’s wonderful. But I’m still sad.”
As I dismantled the tower of lawn chairs and trashcans, I felt my own pangs of empty nest syndrome.
Kids, I thought, shaking my head, they grow up so fast!