Yesterday we were beset by strong winds that knocked out power for some and knocked down trees for others. In our case it brought down a secondary trunk of one of our beech trees. On its way down the trunk sheared off the top of one of the small maples and crushed the old, disused compost bin that predated our arrival here, narrowly missing the (also disused) shed.
All things considered, it could have been a lot worse.
The remainder of the tree isn’t looking so hot—the pileated woodpeckers have been at it—and will probably have to come down sooner rather than later. And today we spotted a pileated woodpecker checking out the fallen trunk, so I can’t help but think they were behind all this somehow.
We lost our cat Doofus on Friday. His decline was sudden, sharp and unexpected: he went from apparently fine to a memory in the span of a week. And we’re still very much in shock about it.
He was at the vet on Wednesday on account of his having become increasingly lethargic and barfing more than usual (which with Doofus was saying something). The vet found some indications that he had early stage one kidney disease, and prescribed a new diet and some medication. Despite this his condition deteriorated sharply the next day. He went from ambulatory to unable to manage stairs within a matter of hours, and then suffered a severe and prolonged seizure. Back to the vet as soon as we could the following morning, where despite being administered anti-seizure meds, he suffered three more seizures, at which point it was clear that recovery was impossible. We ended it at two in the afternoon on Friday.
Our oldest cat, Goober, died at noon today. He’d been suffering from kidney failure for some time, and this week things took a turn for the worse: he stopped eating and drinking, and was close to the end on multiple fronts. So we took him to the vet and had done what needed doing.
Here are some things you should know about Goober:
He was a big cat. When we first saw him at the Arnprior animal shelter on 28 July 2004, he was larger than the other kittens in the room. There were a lot of other kittens in the room, dozens of them, and they were passing infections back and forth. Goober—then called Mervyn—seemed a little bigger, a little older, and possibly a little harder for the shelter to place; also maybe a little healthier, a little more robust, but we’ll get into that later.
My family history is patchy, especially on the Crowe side. The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland identifies two regional loci of the Crowe surname: one in an axis from Norfolk to London, the other apparently emanating from the Isle of Man and found in nearby Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham and Northumbria. I believe my great-great-grandfather came to Canada from London, so I’m probably from the Norfolk-to-London group. The Dictionary says that surname derives from “Middle English crou, crowe ‘crow’ (Old English crāwe), denoting someone with dark hair or a dark complexion, or perhaps a raucous individual.” The Manx surname is said to derive from “Mac Conchrada ‘son of Cú-chrada’, a personal name meaning ‘hound of destruction’”—which sounds just a bit too badass to be true.
Vacuuming a cat requires only one thing: a cat with zero fucks to give. A cat that stands their ground when other cats scatter to the wind. A cat that cannot be yelled at to get down from there. A cat that ignores what he chooses to ignore. A cat that stands athwart. A cat like that will not run when the vacuum cleaner comes out. A cat like that will sit there and dare you to vacuum them. And then not care if you do. Because running away and giving a damn is just too much work. (Also, they might actually enjoy it, but would prefer it if you didn’t tell anyone.)
Goober has always been a cat you could vacuum. That’s because Goober is serene in his own domain: he is only afraid if he gets outside, or is moved into a new home, or goes to the vet. I’m sad to report that he is now in decline: he’s lost a lot of weight and is looking shakier all the time. He turns 16 this month, and we’re not sure how much longer we’ll have him. But he’ll still gouge your knees if you don’t pick him up, and grab your plate away from you if he wants your food—and yes, he won’t budge if you bring out the vacuum.
He’d probably still punch a dog, if a dog were available for him to punch.
Where we live is a surprisingly lucky place, weather-wise. Storm systems often pass just south of us, meaning that when bad weather hits the St. Lawrence corridor, or Ottawa, it hits us much less severely, or misses us altogether. Or, because we’re a couple of degrees cooler than the city, we get snow when Ottawa gets freezing rain.
That can mean a lot of shovelling, but when you buy a house in your mid-forties, certain things become novel and interesting that others in your cohort got sick of doing decades ago. Shovelling the driveway is one of those things for us.
For the longest time we didn’t have a driveway, or had a parking lot with plow service: all we had to do was shovel out the car and the walk. Now we do have a driveway all to ourselves, and it’s fairly large: about 30 metres long, and wide enough for two cars. And we don’t have a plow service to take most of it away. So we shovel it out ourselves, by hand. With, you know, shovels.
Around here this is apparently evidence that we are off our nuts. People buy big and expensive gas-powered snowblowers to remove snow from driveways half the size of ours. But for the most part we don’t find it all that onerous, especially if I’m feeling well enough to pitch in. When there’s two of us doing it we can usually get it done in well under an hour.
And we try to do it as quickly as we can after it snows. This often means we’re out there several times a week, or even a day. But there’s a method to this madness. If you’re going to shovel the driveway, you have to be zealous about it or there’s no point. Keeping the surface bare makes it easier to shovel the next time, otherwise there’s rough ice and it’s a pain to clear things off. In order to do it easily, you have to do it a lot.
This doesn’t always work, mind. Last year the snow came down so often and so heavily that I threw my shoulder out: it was bothering me for months afterward. Doing it by hand has consequences. So for this season we bought a small, electric snowthrower to handle the heavier snow days. It’s no good on the snow of the kind we had over the weekend (heavy and wet and slushy), but it has come in handy on three occasions so far. It throws the snow further than we can, and that helps keep the berms from getting too steep. While it’s a bit underpowered for what we have, I wanted to avoid a gas model, and the high-powered blowers all run on gas.
And sometimes a combination of wintry mix or freezing rain renders the driveway an unshovelable mass of hard ice, which means we have to break out the ice chipper. On a driveway our size that’s a brutal, multi-day job, one that leaves our arms more or less gelatinous. But the end result makes the next snowfall that much easier to deal with.
I imagine that everyone with a serious or chronic illness knows the date of their diagnosis. Mine was January 13, 1998, which is to say 22 years ago today.
The diagnosis was by that point a formality. I’d known something was up since June 1997—I was in constant pain and I had trouble walking and sleeping—and had been talking to doctors and undergoing tests. The previous month I’d received results from a bone scan that suggested a possible diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis—a disease I’d never heard of before, though it turned out that there was a family history of it. The rheumatologist reviewed that family history, the symptoms and the test results and concluded that I had a “textbook case” of AS.
(As it turns out, my case is not so textbook, or at least the textbook has since changed. A 2012 MRI revealed no evidence of spinal fusion after 15 years, which made a different rheumatologist wonder whether I had AS at all. She retracted that doubt at a later visit when I arrived in flare and she saw how I walked. I suspect that what I have is non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis, which is similar to AS and is treated the same way, but doesn’t involve spinal fusion and doesn’t show up on X-rays. I’ve yet to run my theory past a rheumatologist, though.)
I’ve been living with that diagnosis, with modifications, for more than 22 years. I’ve always been open about my illness (much to my mother’s horror) and I used to talk about it a fair bit—I even ran a blog about it for a while—but lately I’ve been talking about it a lot less. That’s not because I’m doing better, because honestly I’m not (though there still seems to be no sign of fusion). It’s because talking about my illness is, even after all the elapsed time and the care received, still a potentially hazardous activity. Even under best-case conditions, talking about my illness requires a tremendous amount of emotion work.
It was not one of my more productive writing years (book reviewing in particular seems to have fallen off a cliff), to the point that I resorted to reposting pieces I wrote years earlier. But I still managed to produce a few new pieces in 2019:
Today is an anniversary of sorts. May 30, 1999 was the date I got back into snake keeping, when I brought home, from a pet store, a young female corn snake I named Pretzel. She wasn’t a particularly large snake, though she wasn’t a newborn, and she wasn’t particularly flashy: just a plain, ordinary corn snake with no fancy colour or pattern mutations.
Twenty years later, Pretzel is still with us, hardly changed from the day I brought her home. The Dorian Gray of colubrid snakes. I was going to say that she’s still going strong, but that’s up in the air at the moment. Right now she’s sequestered in a cage with a nesting box because she seems to be with (absolutely infertile) eggs; last week she had a few seizures that may or may not be related. We’re keeping an eye.
To be honest, I felt a bit weird listening to and enjoying the Hamilton soundtrack. That’s because I’m descended in part from Loyalists from New York. My people were on the opposite side from Alexander Hamilton: the farmers he refuted, and the people he fought against, both rhetorically and literally.
The Woodhull side of my family—my father’s mother’s side—makes a big deal of our Loyalist background, though (as you will see) not every Woodhull was a Loyalist.1 Before my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Benjamin Woodhull (1741-1810)2 made a run for the border after the American Revolution, they hailed from Suffolk County on Long Island.3
Benjamin’s father, Josiah Woodhull (1695-1761) built what is now known as Josiah Woodhull House around 1720; his father, Richard Woodhull Jr. (1649-1699), founded Brookhaven. There are rather a lot of Woodhulls on both sides of the border (not all of them made a run for it, you see), and they’re a rather clannish bunch who are very much into their family history: my grandmother often told me that if I ever encountered someone who spelled their last name that way, they were a descendant of Richard Woodhull and therefore a relative.4
Those relatives include, on the treasonous side of the family, Abraham Woodhull (1750-1826), a son of Benjamin’s first cousin, who as “Samuel Culper Sr.” acted as a leading member of the Culper Ring, spying on the British during their occupation of New York.5 They also include Victoria Claftin Woodhull (1838-1927), a free love advocate who ran for president of the United States in 1872 on the Equal Rights Party ticket, getting arrested on obscenity charges a few days before the vote. (Her nominal running mate was, get this, Frederick Douglass, though he did not campaign or even acknowledge the nomination.) Aunt Vickie was a distant relative of mine by marriage, having married (and divorced) Canning Woodhull (ca. 1828-1872), a grandson of Benjamin’s son Robert (1765-1848),6 who treacherously went back to the U.S., settling in upstate New York. Canning was apparently “an alcoholic and a womanizer,” and he married Vickie when she was 15 and he was twice her age,7 so we’d rather talk about her than him.
My mother’s side of the family tree was a bit more opaque, a bit less researched—possibly because they’re a bit less full of themselves than the Woodhulls. They’re from New Brunswick, which was carved out of Nova Scotia in 1784 because of the arrival there of thousands of Loyalist refugees. A Loyalist connection seemed likely there as well, but I wanted to make sure of it before I started spouting off online about my Loyalist roots.
So I did something I never expected myself to do: I committed genealogical research.