My Favorite Little Corner of the World

Goodbyes are never easy. It’s an old cliché, but we all know it’s true. My Okinawa goodbyes were not particularly graceful or memorable. They were actually rather abrupt, but in some ways, I like that better. As my friend Sally said, it’s like ripping off a BandAid. Or diving head first into cold water. You’ve just gotta do it. And in the end, most of my goodbyes were not that serious, because I know I will see many of these people again. But there was one goodbye that was harder for me. Because I know I will never see my Uken family again.

IMG_0099_20160207124157It’s hard to explain what Uken Beach means to me. On the surface, it may seem obvious: I like cats. Cats are my spirit animal. And believe it or not, I haven’t always been as obsessed as I am today. Sure, I’ve always loved them, but it wasn’t until my mother got rid of my cat while I was in college (without my knowledge) that I truly realized their significance in my life. As my mom struggled with mental illness and my home life disintegrated, Sammy was my consistent source of comfort. When I didn’t have her anymore, I felt her absence on a very deep level, and from then on would obsess over when I could finally get another feline companion of my own. Continue reading

“An Unlikely Bestseller”: The Guest Cat

It’s been a hot minute since I read a book for pleasure in its entirety. imagesFor a while, I was in the process of reading three books, because I couldn’t decide which to read first and each one satisfied different moods at any given time. Of course, work, school, OkiPaws, and Chuck generally compete for my attention, so neither of the three books (despite being pretty good) have been completed.

While browsing Huffington Post, I came across 12 Books That Will Lift You Up When You are Down. I briskly scrolled through but then quickly backpedaled to examine one title closer: The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. If you know me at all, you know why I backpedaled, but the fact that it was a book about a cat written by a Japanese poet made me all sorts of curious:

A bestseller in France and winner of Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, The Guest Cat, by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, is a subtly moving and exceptionally beautiful novel about the transient nature of life and idiosyncratic but deeply felt ways of living. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. Soon they are buying treats for the cat and enjoying talks about the animal and all its little ways. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife ― the days have more light and color. The novel brims with new small joys and many moments of staggering poetic beauty, but then something happens….

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Catching up with September

So many mini-adventures in the month of September! Since it’s been a while since I last blogged, I’m going to give an abbreviated version of the month’s highlights. Then at least I can be all caught up and start afresh when I leave for CHINA at the end of next week 🙂

1. Miyagi Island & the “Hidden Beach”

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I had heard a lot about this little spot about 20 minutes and a bridge away from where we live. For me, it fell short of expectations. Granted it was low tide, but the large-pebbled sand was unusually harsh on our feet and the water was mostly seaweed and murk. It’s too bad we don’t have our snorkel gear and special ocean shoes yet, because that’s what I hear Miyagi is truly known for. Still, it was by no means a wasted trip. There were some lovely views, interesting rock formations, and the ride down was an adventure in and of itself.

2. Southeast Botanical Gardens

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Not a very exciting name – and nothing of particular note to share about it – but a pretty place, nonetheless. The gardens are expansive and lush. Chuck kept commenting how he felt like he was in Jurassic Park! Highlights included feeding the capybara, giggling with the spider monkeys, and having zen moments in the lotus garden 🙂 The giant spiders lurking at random corners though… not so much!

3. Okinawa World

IMG_3363Okinawa World is one of those places that’s mostly gimmicky cultural theme park, but with some really cool surprises – like canoodling with the “lucky” white python above. We hung out with pythons, habus, and boas, and lived to tell the tale. I even tried habu sake, albeit inadvertently (I thought it was some fruity plum wine!) Chuck tried the much safer sugar cane juice. We also toured the 300,000+ year-old Gyokusendo Caves, which were truly awe-inspiring. The low point was touring the “zoo” of sorts, especially when I saw the mongoose. Poor guy was going nuts in captivity.

4. Ziplining at Forest Adventure Park

I don’t think much needs to be said, except that I faced my fear of heights with admirable gusto (if you ask me.) Just watch the video…

5. CATS – as always 🙂

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New babies at Uken Beach means both joy and sadness for this girl. I’m pleased to say that more have survived this month that I originally thought, though a couple are missing… I like to think there are more survivors than usual because of my high-protein visits!

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And then there’s my own precious little fur babies, loving each other hard – as you can see in this pic. They are endlessly entertaining. So far, there hasn’t been any blood. I think they both secretly love it!

A Few of my Furry Friends!

It’s kind of sad, but I have more feline friends than human ones at this point. I’m back to paying regular visits to the shrines down by Uken Beach and have a posse of regulars who flock to me as soon as I exit my car or dismount my bike. Other people feed them for sure, but no one else brings tuna fish… so I am definitely their fave 🙂 Here are six of them, with a few details about each in the captions! Crazy cat lady… what?

Introducing: Thomas, Merckel, Bethany, Elf, Simone, and Bertha.

 

In Memoriam: Habu Lily

ImageAs you may have guessed from the title, this is not a happy post. At first, I didn’t want to talk about it at all, but now I feel the need to write about it – almost as an act of closure.

Earlier this month, I described how I found the local cat hangout, near the beach among the Japanese graveyards. Well, my Facebook and Instagram friends will know that a few days ago, I found an adorable kitten there – not truly alone, since there were the other usual cats around, but without an obvious mother or siblings nearby. Ultimately, I brought her home and gave her a bath, food, Frontline for parasites, and as many cuddles as I felt was safe given her unknown health condition. She was an affectionate and bone-thin little thing with fluffy fur but gooey eyes – sweet and social, yet uncertain and nervous in my apartment. I even let her meet Annie (albeit from a safe distance that precluded any physical contact.) Chuck returned home from his trip, and after discussing the situation, we agreed to return her to the shrines the next morning to grow up with the other wild cats (and hopefully Mama Cat), cleaned and fed and with regular visits. As I’ve mentioned before, we are not yet free to keep a kitten, much less a feral one that wasn’t fully litter trained (I had several unhealthy looking poops to clean up the next morning…)

She seemed excited to be back at the shrines the next day. She recognized the other cats and pranced around in the sunshine. Without fail, I had brought tuna with me, and fed her and the other kitties like normal. Then, she approached Thomas (the male alpha cat), who promptly swatted her down with a force that made both Chuck and I cringe. My eyes watered as the other cats looked at her with recognition, but not fondness. Maybe this was just the natural order of things… putting a kitten in her place? I prayed that Mama would emerge and find her soon. Chuck and I forced ourselves to walk away, while the cats finished their nibbles. We agreed to check on her the next day, and if she was still alone and didn’t seem any better off, we’d take her back home and commit to keeping her – whatever it took.

We did return the next day and eventually found her lying between two graves… barely conscious, eyes sealed shut with goo. Dismayed and feeling horridly guilty, I Googled for a local Japanese vet while Chuck drove home for supplies. I wet a large leaf and wiped her eyes clear, and managed to get her to drink some water. She could barely hold her head up, and was even bonier than the previous day. I perched her on a shrine to examine her more closely, reached back around to grab something, and she promptly fell off… hard. I hated myself for adding to her pain, but she barely seemed to notice as I gingerly got her comfortable again…

Upon Chuck’s return, I wrapped her in a towel and cradled her as we drove to the vet, periodically checking her breathing. I fully expected her to die in my arms by the time we finished the 35 minute drive, but she didn’t. The clinic was amazing, and there was even a translator. They checked her temperature, which was low, and fed her before hooking her up to an IV. They determined she was only 4 weeks old, and explained that sometimes a mother will abandon a kitten she believes to be ill. They also said a kitten this young must be fed every hour. I immediately started to fret about the rich tuna I had fed her (not every hour), as well as the Frontline dose I’d given her that was intended for kittens 8 weeks and older… twice her age and probably more than twice her weight. Fresh guilt filled my heart.

“Will she make it?” I asked the translator. It is possible, was the answer. They will do the best they can. Chuck and I agreed to take full responsibility for her and adopt her. I filled out the paperwork and momentarily paused at the space for her name before filling in “Habu Lily” – my Japanese equivalent for “Tiger Lily.” I watched as she was pumped with nutrients and fell fast asleep. We were told to check back the next day, to see if she was ready for release. I started to relax knowing she was in expert hands. Maybe I would be bringing home a kitten after all!

About 4 hours later, I missed a call from the vet. My Imagegut sank, as I assumed it couldn’t be good news. They called back moments later and told me that she had stopped breathing. Despite having prepared myself for that possibility, my heart broke, and I burst into tears. I couldn’t help but think that it was my fault, or that I had contributed to her hasty downfall by making the wrong decisions and not knowing what I was doing. Every step of the way, I thought I was helping her and doing the right thing – for her, for Annie, and for us – but now she was dead, and there was nothing more I could do for her. Knowing how much she had suffered in the 24 hours before hand made me even more morose. She was so sweet and so innocent. All I could do was cry and cry, and speculate as to what exactly killed her and how perhaps there could have been a better outcome if I had done a few things differently.

Chuck was an absolute gem during the whole ordeal. He never once made me feel like I was overreacting for a kitten I’d known for only a couple of days. He had been looking forward to adding her to our family and shared in the trauma of the experience with me, but he said not to blame myself and not to waste energy over “what if’s”, pointing out that she was sick and malnourished already. After all, we had to keep Annie’s well being in mind, too. Even though I couldn’t accept all of his rationale, his comfort and support were amazing. We drove to the vet the next morning to finalize the bill, and they offered to let me see her one last time. My tears came anew and I hastily said no, of course not – but I changed my mind  on the way home and asked Chuck to take me back. It sounds morbid, but I am glad that the last time I saw her wasn’t in the misery of suffering and sickness. She was not alive, but she was not in pain anymore either. She was at peace.

The Japanese are so respectful of their dead – even homeless animals. They handed me a brochure (that I couldn’t read) and explained the cremation and funeral services for deceased animals, adding that there would be a group service for her and others that evening. There was the option for a private ceremony too, if I wanted one. That made me cry all over again. It was so touching they would do that for her. I am so happy that in her death, she has love and recognition… and a name. Love was all she wanted. From me, from Chuck, from the other cats…from anyone who would give it. And as it turns out, Nature can be rather loveless sometimes.

I’m not sure when I will have the heart to return to the shrines, but I hope I can, as it has brought me so much joy to visit (though I am not sure I can look at some of those bully cats the same way again.) I’m also not sure I deserve another opportunity to save a kitten, given that I got my chance and royally f*cked it up. But I like to think I learned a lot from this experience and know better what to do if I ever do find myself in a situation like this again (bring it to the vet immediately and not take care of medications and feeding myself, especially if it’s that little.) I now know what 4 weeks looks like.

In the meantime, I imagine I will eventually recover. Annie’s been getting more squeezes and snuggles than usual (much to her chagrin), but it helps make up for the fact that Habu Lily is not here to do it herself (as a kitten, she desired that very much.) I know she must be in a better place, getting all the affection she could ever want, from cats and humans alike. That’s my hope anyway.

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Rest in Peace, Habu Lily

 

My Crazy Cat Lady Adventure

Yesterday, there was a break in the rain. Tiny bits of sunshine peeked out of the clouds, so I decided it was a good day for a bike ride to Uken Beach. I hadn’t yet ridden in that direction, so I was excited to see what I could find. It turns out that it makes for a slightly more intense workout than riding into the town, as the hills are more frequent – but Lord knows I need it, so bring it on  🙂

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The top of the hill

As always, the destination was worth it. I perched myself on a rocky outpost and took in the scenery. Of course, that didn’t stop a young-ish Japanese lad from approaching me for a selfie (or an “usie”, rather), which was even more awkward than you’d expect because he spoke no English except for “peace” and “say cheese.” Other than that, the afternoon was quite enjoyable from my little perch, and I experienced no other intrusions to my quiet-time.

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 But, I had an ulterior motive for venturing to Uken Beach. Along one side of the road that takes me there is a series of Okinawan graves. They are really more like shrines, since some of the locals here engage in ancestor worship. Not only are they attractive architectural specimens, but they are also prime hangouts for my favorite furry friends. In Japan, cats are considered guardians of the dead, and protect against evil spirits. There are many stray cats here, and it’s true that you can find them among the grave sites, where locals respectfully leave food and water to keep them sustained. I spotted many, much to my delight, and even encountered one dodging my camera in between two shrines (is it bad that I snapped a pic of holy ground?)

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 Unfortunately, my tale does not come without woes. As I was slowly riding along, nodding a silent “konnichiwa” to each kitty I passed, I noticed this little guy, who appeared to be dying up against the cemetery wall. He was clearly mangey and infested with something, and flies swarmed around his crusty eyes and nose. He barely moved, and didn’t even react when I approached close enough to touch (I didn’t.)

photo1 (11)At this point, I was fairly distraught. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him on the corner to die. But what could I do? I had a healthy cat under official quarantine at home! I made a few phone calls and learned that there aren’t many options for helping a stray, even though I offered multiple alternatives. All I wanted was to take him to a vet where he could get cleaned up and medicated, and I was happy to pay for it.

Since this was apparently not an option, I went for the next best thing – bringing a little joy into what was left of his life. I biked home and packed a tote bag with fresh water, tuna fish, and Frontline. I also brought gloves, just in case I was able to touch him. I hopped into Daisy and drove back down to the graves.

When I showed up to the original spot, my decrepit little friend was no longer there. A few other kitties were, and they had already been fed. I looked across the street and felt immediately encouraged – he was there, up and at ’em, with another group of kitties. I was so happy, because I really thought the old guy was at death’s door when I found him on the sidewalk! I walked over, pulled out the tuna, and was promptly surrounded by feline love.

photo1 (12)While they ate the tuna, I examined the Old Guy closer. What I originally thought were mites were actually some sort of plant or thorn or seedling. One ear looked a bit infected, and he had no teeth. Clearly, he was very, very old. It also became evident that he was the dominant cat in the group, as he was occasionally testy with another adult male and seemed protective of the females (one of whom was pregnant by the contesting male.) It was actually quite fascinating to watch… like a pride of lions!

While King Cat drank water, I punctured the Frontline with the wing of my Tinkerbell key chain and squeezed it on the back of his neck. He didn’t flinch! He was so laid back that I decided it was worth trying to pet him.  With my gloved hand, I scratched his chin. He leaned into it. I scratched his cheek, and he leaned into that, too. I think he was trying to purr, because his breathing sounded rather labored at this point…

Ultimately, I removed the gloves and scratched King’s head with a little more reassurance. He was loving it, and as he glanced ovephoto4 (6)r at the other cats (who knew to keep their distance from him), I could tell he was pleased to monopolize my attention.  I packed up and prepared to leave. I walked over to where I had laid the gloves, but he beat me to them, and promptly took a seat. Well then! I lingered awkwardly and asked him if I could have my gloves back, but he simply gazed off into the distance, either with wisdom or disdain – most likely the latter. I left him with the gloves (of course) and as I looked back one more time, I saw that he had curled up on top of them, looking very comfortable and pleased indeed. I like to think they will be a reminder of my visit, and I take it as a sign that he kinda liked me…

All in all, I felt better after my visit with King Cat and his subjects. I still think he is dying, but I am less distraught knowing that he is still mobile, dominant, and nearing the end as part of a natural aging process. I wish I could do more, but I think I will at least visit him every now and again, with extra tuna fish in tow. Besides – I want to see Mama Cat’s kittens when they arrive 🙂

And now… take a look at these two stunners! I might have to catnap these little guys, because they are so stinkin’ cute.

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