The Month of Prunen

I feel rather sorry for those who had to live under the French Revolutionary Calendar. Imagine making it through the months of Mist and Frost, only to have Snowy, Rainy and Windy to look forward to! Not to mention the rather unpleasant idea of having to work nine days before you get a single day off.

Pluviôse commence le 21 ou 22 janvier
So when it came to the world-building task of creating a calendar for Restoration Day, I knew some things I wanted to do, and some things I wanted to avoid. Like the Jacobins, I created a round of months which reflected the natural world. Unlike the Jacobins, I had more sense than to try to introduce decimal weeks.

The Arcelian calendar begins with spring: Grenian (greening), Blosse (blossom) and Molsh – time to fork some mulch onto the garden before the summer heat comes and dries everything out. Summer starts, you see, with Sunnen and ends with Dryden, with Hayen in the middle. Autumn brings Hærfest (time for a party!) followed by Sere (as everything withers) and Misth (you can tell winter is around the corner, can’t you?).

Unlike the Jacobin calendar, the winter months focus less on the doings of the dismal weather, and more on the doings of the people. The first month of winter is Prunen, followed by Diggen, which brings us at last to Budd, holding out the promise of the green of spring returning at last.

apple-tree-964475_640I had considered relating these months to the months of the Gregorian calendar, but then it occurred to me that my readers span both hemispheres and Confusion Is Liable To Result.

In the northern continents, for example, it is now Hayen, a time of hotness and dry grass. Down here in New Zealand, hotness is exactly what it isn’t, and as for dry grass, the last time I saw the cat bound across the back yard, it was like watching a skipping stone – splash, splash, splash.

No, down here it is Diggen time, although due to being rather behindhand with the gardening (I don’t like to go out when it’s raining, which is often), we are still at work on the pruning. Not the getting-rid-of-unnecessary-stuff-around-the-house kind of pruning, the actual pruning kind of pruning, with chopping off of branches and the like.

pruning shears and gloves

This year’s big effort is on the grapevine, a lordly, shed-eating monster which I suspect had not been pruned in years if not decades. To give you an idea of its size: the Google Earth image of our property does not give any indication that that shed exists. As far as the satellites are concerned, there is nothing but grapevine.

It not only covered the roof of the woodshed, it hung down on all four sides. Obviously, time for a haircut, preferably one that left the grapevine fruiting in places we could reach. Enter the ladder, the loppers and the secateurs. Also, to my surprise, the bucket and trowel.

Things which I did not expect to find in the grapevine:
> loop-de-loops and pretzels of blackened branches which had not seen the sun in years
> a thick layer of loam (the remains of years or decades of rotted-down leaves and grapes)
> earthworms (some white and squirming in the unaccustomed light)
> root systems (yes, some of the branches were putting down roots into the compost. I didn’t even know grapes could do that.)
> snails and slugs (some quite enormous)
> wetas (several)

TreeWeta female 03

> literally hundreds of slaters/woodlice and Things With Legs (did you know that slaters aka woodlice are crustaceans? Like lobsters. It does not make me loathe them any less.)
> and a large spider (only one, mercifully. Possibly a black tunnel-web spider, but I think I shall call it a cabochon spider, for its thorax and abdomen were round and smooth and tastefully coloured, at least until I beat it to a pulp with the trowel. After that, not so much.)

After digging up all that, I wouldn’t have been that surprised if I found a lost civilization or the portal to another world in there.

As you can imagine, this was no mere light afternoon’s gardening. I was three afternoons in before the difference was even discernible. But I persevered for two more solid afternoons, and, like Gandalf before me, “Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him… I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin.”

Caspar David Friedrich - Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer
Half the yard is now covered in the monster’s remains (unlike the mountain-side, our land is too squishy to break), and on the other half, two hills of grape-compost stand, ferried there in buckets by my Dearly Beloved.

Job done. At least until my aches fade sufficiently for me to tackle the apple, the redcurrant, the lemon and the Japanese maple. But we shall never see such a Prunen again.

Look What the Cat Dragged In

Imagine, if you will, a cat show like no other: a gathering of cats across time and space to determine which of them has made the most remarkable contribution to my house in Things Brought In.
Motto: Weirder, Wilder, Wigglier.

First up, my first-ever cat, a grey tabby named Sixty-Cola (for reasons which I will not go into). She was a very productive hunter – rats, geckos, and on one memorable occasion, a almond-smelling cockroach which made her foam at the mouth.

Result: DQ for styrofoam. (Cats should not eat styrofoam, it makes them vomit.)

Rough nightNext in the rankings, the plain grey cat Nina, probably best remembered for giving me my facial scar. I don’t remember her being much of a hunter, although she did once bring in a live blackbird.

Result: Dishonourable Mention for fleeing the house in terror when the blackbird got away from her.

Next up, Baggy (short for Bagheera), the black-and-white only child of the aforementioned Sixty-Cola. A talented hunter. As well as rats, geckos and the like, she also caught fruitbats (don’t ask me how), and a cricket which, when she let it go to play with it, jumped clear over the six-foot wall dividers and was lost to her forever. She was a great one for playing with her food. I shall always remember the night I woke to find her trying to persuade a headless bandicoot into bed with me.

Result: Winner, Most Dangerous category, for the Papuan Black snake she brought in one night, a night which will remain seared on my memory in perpetuity. (I scaled a bookshelf in an impressive six-foot standing jump. My mother thoughtfully informed me that snakes can climb.)

HuntedRaskol is one of our current cats, a somewhat fluffy tortoiseshell-and-white. Ever a great fighter, she didn’t go in for hunting much until she had kittens. Being an intelligent cat, she realized fairly soon that her humans didn’t go in much for mice and birds, and tried to bring us things we might be more interested in.

First it was sausages and chips (as in pommes frites). Then she went through a baked-goods phase: pieces of gnawed bread, mouldy crumpets, half a chocolate muffin. Then came the tennis ball phase, during which she built up a considerable collection, some of them clearly stolen from neighbourhood dogs. There was also a kiwifruit, but we think she may have mistaken it for a tennis ball.

Side note: the brown furry fruit is not a kiwi. This is a kiwi:
Round, brown and feathery: kiwi. Round, brown and furry: kiwifruit. Simple.

Returning, however, to the array of items brought in by Raskol – whose name, aptly, means ‘highwayman’ or ‘thief’ in Tok Pisin. After amassing a hoard of some two dozen tennis balls, she moved on to paper and card. Junk mail, recycling, something washed up in the nearby stream – didn’t matter what it was, she’d drag it home for us, or for the family next door, who assumed it was the fault of the wind until they caught her in the act. This phase, unfortunately, appears to be ongoing. (Get your human some paper. Humans love paper…)

Her pièce de résistance, however, was the skin of an entire ham which she dragged through the cat-flap one Christmas morning. (Still don’t know whose it was. If it was yours, I apologize. Let us both be thankful the ham itself was too big for her to lift.) It was huge, particularly considering she’s only about the size of a ham herself.
Result: Winner, Most Variety category. PB in weight lifting.

rosemary & marmalade glazed ham
Finally, we come to Boromir, a rather dapper ginger-and-white, son of the felonious Raskol. His late kittenhood coincided with a bumper-year for cicadas, and for a while it was not possible to step into our hall without the crunch of empty cicada cases under one’s feet.

One night, home alone but for the cats, I heard what sounded like a circling B-52 going round the house amid the clatter of cicadas. I rushed to the windows in a failed attempt to spot this emperor among cicadas, and Boromir rushed out through the cat-flap. You guessed it. Seeing my interest in this gigantic insect, he very thoughtfully went and got it for me. He must have been confused by the way in which I rushed into the bedroom and slammed the door behind me. Hadn’t I seen what he’d brought me? Why had I left it behind? But stay! There was a way around this awkward social impasse. Thinking quickly, he shunted the still live (and by now quite testy) cicada through the gap under the bedroom door, trapping me in my room with this monster beast between me and the door.

cat-323262_640Let us draw the curtain of charity over my response, and move on to consider some of the other things Boromir has brought home over the years. Now that I look back, I can see that he has always been one for grabbing the attention. There was the mouse left under the fridge (takes a while to get the humans’ attention, but cannot be ignored thereafter), the mouse in the slipper (something didn’t feel right when I stood up) and the weta (mercifully legless) in my shoe. There was the mouse which he caught by firing himself across the room with lethal force – using my stomach as a launch pad as I lay sleeping.

But his true nature, that of an unashamed glory-hound, did not become clear to me until this week. The first post in this week’s series went up on Monday. On Tuesday night, Boromir brought in no fewer than three mice. We were duly impressed (although we might have been more impressed if he didn’t keep waking us up by yowling about each individual mouse as he brought it up the stairs).

And then on Wednesday night, he brought in four mice, one after the other. I don’t know where he’s getting them. I’ve never seen a mouse in this house that wasn’t either in a cat’s mouth, or in a clearly post-cat condition (i.e. dead). But there it is. Seven mice in about thirty hours, and he ate four of them in their entirety (as well as two dinners). I’m surprised he can still walk without tripping over his own stomach.

Result: Winner, Bulk category. Mice in one night, 4; PB, HR [Personal Best, Household Record]

And as for Best in Show – well, that’s a People’s Choice Award. What do you think?
To entertain you while the votes are counted, may I suggest this cat’s-eye view of assorted prey: I Eat You by Misha (amanuensis, Christina Anne Hawthorne).