It’s so quiet around here, I can’t stand the noise


The furnace. The water heater. The hum of energy-wasting electronics. A few nights a year I find myself entirely alone, without husband or felines, and it’s grim. Before I go into that, thank you to everyone who came by to read my little zoo rant, especially those of you who know and love the San Francisco Zoo.


Apparently, Tatiana made an adrenalin sparked jump, following her tiger instincts and the wall was too low to contain her. A sad confluence of events found the zoo walls, built in the 40s, about 5 feet lower than AZA guidelines and a captive tiger with at least one very remarkable leap in her. I strongly suspect that she was in some way provoked to do that thing that cats do when you keep teasing them to charge at a moving target but we may never know.

I imagine the zoo will be faulted at some level for a lack of cameras and lights and it sounds as though they really weren’t even cognizant of the actual wall height until someone measured it these past days. It’s eerie and gruesome but also telling that Tatiana continued a fair distance across zoo property to pursue her original target as opposed to randomly hunting down remaining park visitors.

In any case, hopefully the wall will be rebuilt rather than fortified with hot wires. Hot wires are not recommended for anything but bear enclosures (because they are so very very clever and devisive when it comes to escape). I feel very badly for the folks at the S.F. Zoo and I know it’s a terrible heartbreak for them to lose this beautiful tiger. She had to be some kind of magnificent creature, driven by the most basic instincts that come built into the Amur Tiger. In the end, inadvertent as it is, it is always human error because it is our responsibility to care for these animals in a safe and sound environment and with this tragedy, we learn something new about the great capacity of our charges.

I was surprised to hear on the local news tonight that our walls are 25 feet at Lincoln Park because the enclosures make it appear as though the big cats are on eye level with us. Well, they are, but in a way that you don’t notice the moat and wall features. Actually, our big cats have an inclined terrace that allows them to jump down into the moat if they choose. The two female lions and Molly the tiger like knocking their hard balls and barrels down there and pouncing on them from on high. The only egress for them is a door at the end of the moat run operated remotely by the keepers and sometimes it’s a big game to jump down and then poke at the door waiting to be let in. From there they have the freedom to run up their passageway, through the indoor enclosure and out through the open door back into the outdoor space. Where they again jump down in the moat and ask to be let in. As my grandmother said, “Cats are always on the wrong side of the door.” I believe that’s true. I also think they are so highly evolved that they get to come right back as big cats, completely bypassing dung beetles and human phases of reincarnation. Lucky dogs cats.


Our two cats are definitely on the wrong side of the door these next two days. The reason it is so very quiet around here is because today was the day we loaded all of our schlock into the car, Rich brewed himself some pure Columbian sludge, and we dumped those hapless felines in the car for the trip to Florida. This is where he pays his dues for all the times during the year when he is too busy at work to help out much around here and he actually looks forward to it. He crams the car full, puts the litter box on the back hatch, packs our clothing in smooth pillowcases placed strategically for cat comfort and leaves enough space for himself to squash into the down sleeping bag. We pack all day and then he naps starting around 4pm and leaves right after rush hour traffic ceases. He carries McCloud to the car and I follow along to stuff Sophie through a cracked window and off they go. He calls it his “bonding time with the cats.” I would call it Hell with hairballs and yowling but, you know, one of us has a half full and one of us has a half empty mentality. He does the trip in 28 hours with two pit stops and three cat naps (cats on top of him in sleeping bag). Sophie was pretty funny today- she’s a quick study with a good memory. The moment things started piling up by the door- packed boxes and bags- she knew what was happening. The spare litter box by the door is the dead give away and at that point she disappeared into the woodwork. Tricked by the calm of Rich’s pre-trip nap, she materialized briefly to check up on things and got snagged. McCloud just spends the day worrying and fretting and for him that translates into a lot of trips to the feed dish. In the end, he was nervously eating as Rich waited patiently to gather up all 23 pounds of him. Hopefully, chasing lizards this winter will run off some of that.

So, they are off and tomorrow, weather permitting, I will close up, meet with the house sitter, feed the plants one last time and reset the furnace program for low, low, low. Then I fly down, arrive near midnight and get there about two hours before them- just long enough to make up the beds, fill the litter box and turn on welcoming Christmas lights. If all goes well, the four of us are happily in bed, windows wide open and fresh breezes blowing, by 2 am. We’ll sleep in on Saturday.


Have you watched it? Click here. Such a great presentation of the cycle of our “stuff” and the problems it creates. I thought about that all day today as I shoveled stuff into bags and boxes. Lord knows, I have to have that stuff over the next few months. It’s appalling really. Please, when you have a little break, watch this presentation. You’ll be glad you did and quick to recommend it to both your 10 year old child and your 81 year old grandmother. Clear, concise, digestible, informative and alarming. Watch it. We are on a dangerous treadmill of consumption that is going to slam us all into a brick wall sooner than you think and this video was so educational and interesting to me, ending with good solid links to simple positive solutions. 2008 could be a pivotal year, if we make our individual choices carefully.


Speaking of consumer goods. So, two weeks ago I had this nightmarish tooth extraction of a completely split tooth, right to the roots. Nowadays, instead of bridges they go with implants, thereby not aggravating the surrounding teeth, which is sound thinking in a person my age. But the implant usually involves a bone graft which comes from human and/or bovine bone. When I first learned that, I was completely grossed out. I was getting dead creature parts transplanted in my mouth. The extraction was really difficult because I still have my wisdom teeth and my father came from a dairy farm so growing up we drank a gallon of milk each, almost every day. Apparently, I have these really strong bones (good, yes) and tightly packed teeth. I knew I was in trouble when they x-rayed to see if they had fractured my jaw during the extraction- but, ho ho ho, that gas made it seem like 4 minutes of Wide World Wrestling and one stitch. Three days later, with threads running everywhere and frank green bruises on my face, swollen gums and massive pain, I realized I was buzzed through most of the experience. He did tell me, somewhere along the line, that he needed to use about three times the normal amount of donor graft. I don’t do narcotic pain relief; it turns me into Sybil. Instead I gobbled Advil and sipped wine. After about 5 days I started complaining that I had grit floating around my mouth and I was concerned that it was parts of the donor person. But it was Christmas and of course, no one wants their holiday standing roast spoiled by a sister hacking up bone fragments and examining them at the dinner table. Today, I went in for a recheck and in an instant my hunch was confirmed. One look at the surgeon’s face told me it was all goosed up. Most of the implant was gone, fragmented and swallowed. Oh, joy. He wasn’t prepared to say what comes next beyond, “We’ll look again in 5-6 weeks” and that was even though I pressed him on the “what if.” It’s bad- I know there’s no bone to transplant into and I’m afraid to search the net and find bulletin boards full of horror stories so I’m just going to ignore it until I return in 6 weeks. As much as you can ignore a vast cavern in the back of your jaw and only being able to chew on one side. Meanwhile,


How could any person go through this much disgusting and painful dental trauma and still put on weight? Dammit. And I have a sleek black evening dress to get into next week. This is the first time I’m dressing up in black with silver hair and I was looking forward to it, except I have somehow managed to gain five pounds in the past month. I guess bowls of melted butter with a little potato soup were not what they had in mind when they said, “liquid diet.” Sigh.


As we head to Florida, we’ll miss some of our life here in Chicago. Not the weather (it’s now morning and the snow has started to fall. We’re under an advisory that will likely cancel my plane this evening) but friends, neighbors, the zoo. Lucky us, we’ll have at least three sets of Chicago guests for long weekends plus family visits. Bud will come in February for his 80th birthday, providing no more serious health issues arise. He looked strong at Christmas, eating at every opportunity. I think he only eats the most basic food items, not all of them so fresh, so when he gets around daughters who cook hams and roasts and spatzen and mashed potatoes and salads and cookies and cakes he’s a very happy man. He looks not unlike a contented lizard basking in the light of day as he sits on the sofa, surrounded by family, watching the holiday hustle and bustle. He had brand new hearing aids picked up the day of his departure but they weren’t properly adjusted so he couldn’t hear a darn thing. Any conversation with Bud involved yelling repeatedly and the usual array of misunderstandings. But for one brief period, when Bud and I went off to a quiet place to listen to a CD recording Daniel gave us as a gift. Dan had one time, a couple years ago, recorded my mother and Bud having a friendly and enthusiastic conversation with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who visited regularly up at Lost Loon Lodge. They would make the long drive from town and Bud, always the gracious host, would get out the Schwan’s chicken fingers and they would then talk about God’s plan for us here on earth. My mother and Bud would animatedly assert that they were certain it didn’t involve a war in Iraq or destroying the environment. Surprisingly, their visitors were well educated and smart young people, originally from Uganda, and as eager to listening to my parents go on at length as they were to present their own Good News.

Listening to this CD meant that Bud was able to hear my mother’s voice and that was a powerful and moving experience for him, despite the hearing impediment. He turned to me several times and said, “She sounds happy, doesn’t she?” When we were done he said the first thing he was going to do when he got home was get his hearing aids calibrated so he can listen to it some more. Bud also enjoyed a wonderful tool set from my sister, a “Bad President Countdown Calendar” with funny quotes by you-know-who and he really liked the digital picture frame loaded up with pictures of my mother and him, the lake, the cottage and lots of family photos. Everyone will be able to send him memory sticks periodically, loaded up with new pictures.

So, that’s the year end wrap up from here. I’m about to post this and then pay bills and get organized around leaving this place for some number of months. I’ll be back to this brickhouse briefly at intervals for animal handling certification and an opera or two. The next time you hear from me I’ll be comfortably reclining on the porch in sunny St. Petersburg, gearing up for a winter of good health (a kayak for Christmas!), yoga, Family Village and gardening. Have a good few days of post holiday calm and contentment!


17 responses to “It’s so quiet around here, I can’t stand the noise

  1. I can’t decide which part of your post is scarier – Hell with Hairballs or Eating Jane Doe. But at least both are amusing and funny in your telling (though my jaw aches in sympathy), unlike the sad fate of Tatiana and the threat of all our stuff to the environment. And Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is chilling me to the core. Some days I just want to go hide on a mountain somewhere and live as a hermit.

    Enjoy Florida (think of us shoveling the Michigan snow, it’s part of the fun of being somewhere warm), take care of that jaw, and remember all is not lost on a liquid diet.

  2. I also suspect the victims of the tiger of some taunting behavior. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense for the cat to hunt them down. A tragedy all the way around. Bud’s gifts sound very creative, your tooth issue horrible, and the trip to Florida(or I should say arrival) idyllic. The journey won’t be a picnic, but once you get there, nirvana. I wish I were sitting on the beach at Sarasota with my feet in the white sand!

  3. Vicki, you write so well. I think you should have a daily column in a newspaper, and an everyday post – what do you think?

    I have been where you are with bone grafts and the hole in the jaw, and it isn’t a pretty sight. I hope you grow some miracle bone in that hole this month.

    I pray for your safe arrival – and that of Rich and the kitties too – and I hope you don’t find any surprises in FL.

    I refuse to believe that gorgeous tiger was not taunted, and Benazir Bhutto will now be a martyr for all time, I am sure.

  4. I am still struggling with the zoo story. But, I think you have a good handle on it. I think there is blame to go around — except to Tatiana who was acting like what she was. There is something funny in all this but I think the truth will come out and that we’ll know it was a combination of — as you say — a tiger encouraged to make a superior leap by some really stupid kids and a containment system that wasn’t up to par. So sad all the way around.

    I hope that all of you arrive safe and sound in Florida. I love hearing your year end plans. I look forward to hearing about the warm, lush beauty of your Florida house!

    Happy New Year!

  5. Hello, and welcome to Florida! I’ve been reading your posts. Everybody else says everything so much better than I do, so I’ll let it go at that. I do hope to catch a glimpse of you sometime.

  6. Safe travels, Vicki! Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.

    Your winter shot of Chicago looks so vivid, but I’ll take my house in the world of the Gulf coast any day.

  7. Remind me to tell you about my mom and her implants…because she lost her bridge, not once but twice at Golden Corral…the last time, alas…. gone forever. She has three, or is it four implants and so far, so good.

    Mr. Rhett sends Sophie his regards. He is a bit miffed at me right now… I won’t let him chew on the artificial Christmas trees.

    My dad is also having an 80th birthday in February… mom is having a party… oh my aching head.

  8. I so hope your flight takes off tonight and you’re not stuck in all this damn cold weather. Although it is interesting to see the waves of Lake Michigan crashing against a snowy shoreline. πŸ˜‰

    Perhaps I’ll see you in March πŸ™‚

  9. You got a lot of stuff in this b**g, but fortunately it doesn’t weigh anything. Nice thinking!

    Hello to all the tro0ps.

  10. Regarding the tiger, I don’t see taunting as an issue unless you feel a need to nobelize a wild creature. She was a predator with pent up predatory instincts who finally had a chance to kill something.
    Zoos don’t feed big predators live prey do they?
    Imagine what that is like … to never do what is at the very core of your DNA.

    Frustration may be the price of avoiding extinction via captive breeding programs. Good for the species, tough on the individual.

    Your tooth story makes me cringe. I hope you get around this setback and heal quickly and well.
    Safe journey to Florida. Mind the tide in that kayak.

  11. I read this post out loud to Roger and we laughed and cringed. We still ache for poor Tatiana who was only doing what she knows how. Your observation is so perfectly chilling, that she hunted down those two young men, and not others. Smart girl.

    Your dental story is the stuff of nightmares. I have had dentists suggest implants, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I stick with bridges and caps. Old-fashioned, but then again, so am I.

    I think I would weep a million tears if I heard my father’s voice now. It’s been so many years. Still, I wish I could give it a try.

    Enjoy the warmth and light of Florida.

  12. Hi all- about to drift off in Florida after a long delayed flight out of winter wonderland. The cats arrived with Rich before I did so they were pretty well settled in when I arrived.

    Thanks for all the comments. I’m with you, Wren. A mountain retreat sounds good in the face of constant terrorism and strife. Bhutto’s death and the implications are staggering.

    FC- I think you’re correct: she as doing what she was programmed to do and while we tend to anthropormorphize too much about them, zoos do realize that’s what is at the heart of the matter. Yes and no on live food. Reptiles and raptors get live food, every one else is on a diet that simulates what would be their wild diet. The predators do have a “bone day” once a week, at least at Lincoln Park, where they get massive cow bones with meat. The whole business of feeding zoo animals is interesting- I think I’ll write a post about that. πŸ™‚

    Robin- I’m trying to send healthy vibes in your mother’s direction. I’ll come by in the morning and see if you have an update. Take care.

  13. i so love the idea of bud listening to your mother’s voice. that touches my heart in just the right place!

    where can i get one of those bad president countdown calendars????

    happy new year vicki!

  14. Welcome to back to Florida!

  15. What a amazing and thought-provoking post! From a distance away, I’ve also been riveted with the tiger/zoo story, and I feel so sad about everything that transpired. Like you said, it’s all about human error of some sort, and it really is our responsibility to make sure they are well cared for if we are to keep wild animals in captivity. It all makes me ache.

    Thank you for your comment on my blog! I’ve known Margaret for a very long time — since the 7th grade! She is a marvelous lady, and always has been. Yes, even in the 7th grade!

    I’m LOVING my Kindle. It was a total shock that my husband gave it to me for Christmas. I was absolutely blown away because I certainly would have never in a million years spent that kind of money on myself! It’s just a super little device for us constant readers, and I’m very tickled with it!

  16. I had one wisdom tooth extracted. No gas. Never again. I plan to outlive any future oral surgery I may need.

    But why talk pain at a time like this. Michigan beat Florida down on their sunny home turf there today. Woo Hoo. Heck, that’s better than laughing gas to me.

  17. oh man. i should NOT have read this before calling the dentist. shit. (sorry)

    What a pain!!! I’m so sorry!

    I hope you have this fixed and are all better soon. I think I know one of those dudes in that last photo. πŸ˜‰

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