lost cat

May 2nd, 2016 § 3 comments § permalink

This is going to be a post about my cat/s, and it will be quite long. [TRIGGER WARNING]

I met Beta around the same time I met my husband. He (the cat) was born in Greenpoint, USA, near the home of my friend Jane, who sort of tricked me into adopting him. Which is to say, she invited me over and plopped him into my lap. He was one-handful old.

At that time I already had a calico cat named Kitten, who was more needy than I ever imagined any cat could be. I was constantly harassed by Kitten every time I left the apartment, and her punishment would resume as soon as she heard my returning footsteps in the building. My stern landlord, who lived on the ground floor, maintained silence in the building. As the top-floor tenant who worked irregular hours and had to clip-clop up and down the linoleum central stair a million times a day, schlepping Godknowswhat and with the cat howling… our relationship was tense. So I would sneak in like a ninja, scaling the walls, to stave off Kitten’s racket out of fear that she would get us kicked out of this below-market-rate apartment – aka the holy grail. I know that’s a lot to put on a cat.

So Beta came home at 8 weeks old, to be my second cat – hence the name – as playmate for Kitten. This is how it starts with cats and cat ladies.

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Beta fit in perfectly. Kitten stopped guilt tripping me, and bossed the new guy around instead. But Beta didn’t pay no mind, because this dude was CHILL. If he wanted food, he headbutted you. If he wanted to play, there was some string. No drama. One time he got really and suddenly sick, the way cats like to do right before you are about to leave for vacation. Nursing him back to health was the only time I think he really made eye contact with me. “Thanks”, he said, with his big golden eyeballs. He put his paw on my paw.

When I half-moved onto the boat, the cats stayed put with my cat-friendly friend and subletter – lets call her Joski. When it later became clear that I was going all in, I struggled to find new homes for both cats. I always feel a twinge of something about this part of the story, that I couldn’t be a “furever home” for Beta and Kitten, and that I leaned so much on Joski to place them. Bad human.

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Come to think of it, I’ve never written about what it was like to leave New York. This part with the apartment and the cats was something quite difficult. When you chip out a little secret sanctuary for yourself over the course of many years, pulling the nest apart makes an utter mess.

Beta and Kitten were ultimately separated, and Joski took over the lease. My last towhold in the city was a storage locker with a duffle bag of journals in it overlooking Newtown Creek.

But wait, there’s more!

Just when I thought the dust had settled, Beta was returned by his new humans because they were getting evicted! Drama! That was it, I couldn’t bear this catragedy any longer. By this time, we had sailed all the way down the coast. So I got on what we call “the Midnight Train From Georgia”, which is actually the Amtrak leaving from Jesup at 7pm, arriving Penn Station at 11am. Who takes an overnight train from the rural Deep South to NYC? Ponder that one awhile, but at least one answer is: Cat Ladies.

I collected my bag of journals and my Beta, and we road tripped down I-95 back to the boat. Imagine Thelma and Louise, except his paw was on my paw and no one died or was hurt in any way.

The Little Island is a book by Margaret Wise Brown, which tells the tale of a little black cat that goes on a sail with his humans and explores a small island and the sea around it. I imagined Beta’s life aboard would be like this, and I sometimes tried to see our adventures through his eyes. We attempted to give him enough freedom to still be an animal, but keep him reliant enough on us that he would always come home for dinner and let us protect him.

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When he hopped off the boat one week ago, I expected him to walk the dock and be right back for string time. We have replayed it so many times.

Right now we are in a boatyard on the GA/FL border, doing heavy work in some major swamp heat. Looking for Beta has brought us into contact with a growing spiral of neighbors, as the days pass and we widen our search. In a certain part of Camden County, Beta has better name recognition than most presidential candidates. Let’s just say clipboards are involved.

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We have moments of deep missing, despair for all the potential dangers Beta may have already encountered, and also regret for what we failed to do.

But I also try to imagine this adventure through his eyes, the one where he ditches out on this rough patch of yard time and opts for some squirrel hunting in the moss-draped oaks of Point Peter instead. I imagine him grazing on pond frogs and tuning his satellite dish-ears on barred owl calls. Further down the bluff there is a stalled subdivision with an expanse of forest symmetrically fragmented with pristine asphalt roads. Perhaps he’s doing some survey work down there and will report back to me soon with some land use recommendations.

Is this is The Revenge of Kitten, wherein Beta is her Manchurian Candidate, performing the ultimate manipulation of human hearts?

We will need to leave this place in a week or maybe two, and Beta will either saunter back onto the boat like NBD, or we will need to accept that he’s really gone all in. Wish us all luck.

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plankton friends pt.2

June 23rd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Last week I took a field trip to the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek with Drs. Michael Levandowsky and Sarah Durand to sample plankton. Sarah is a fixture on Dutch Kills, and is currently enjoying her sabbatical from LaGuardia Community College (although sabbaticals do tend to become as full of responsibility as ever, I am learning), located steps from the infamous Superfund site. She and her colleague Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan, the director of the environmental science program at LaGuardia, have regularly brought their classes out to sample water and benthos on the creek, and are the resident scientists of Newtown Creek. Michael I have introduced already.

Finding a time for all three of us to get together on my favorite underdog waterbody was something I had been looking forward to for awhile.


Michael on plankton and Sarah on dissolved oxygen.

Despite popular opinion, Newtown Creek is alive. I would never use adjectives such as “clean”, “pathogen-free” or “high-functioning”, but I can state with some authority that Newtown Creek is surprizingly alive. The ecosystem that exists today in the backyard of the Industrial Revolution is what one might call “impaired”, hamstrung by historic contamination and persistent sewer overflows, but it limps along (and occasionally leaps!) nonetheless.

Dutch Kills has always been fascinating to me, as it lies on a transitional borderline between the relatively good water quality at the mouth of Newtown Creek, and the “heart of darkness” further up. There is a large CSO that functions as the headwaters, and the entire tributary might suddenly turn a milky mint green, precipitate gloopy green algae blobs, and then turn a tea-like red the next day. She moves in mysterious ways.

Sarah hosted our dip, and allowed us to take a preliminary look at our findings back at the lab. We used two different tows, one of coarser and one of finer mesh. This is what we saw in the coarser mesh:


Clockwise from top left: Possibly a freshwater alga, a barnacle larva, something of botanical origin that stumped us, and a skeletonema.

Michael made off with an aliquot of the fine mesh sample and reported… “I looked at the sample from the 10 um tow and it’s rich in phytoplankton. Skeletonema dominates, but there are also dinoflagellates, and much else.”

More will be revealed!

wanderin’ in the hollows

June 20th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

Some of my interest in plankton has to do with the fact that I am in a nomadic, “wanderly” chapter of my life this summer.  Having been firmly rooted in NYC for over 13 years, an auspicious enough number I guess, a combination of desire and need pushed me into a sabbatical from The City to tend to personal and family affairs. I cycle regularly between Pittsburgh, PA, the place of my ancestors, New Bedford, MA, the place of my boat/boyfriend, and NYC, the place of my career.

I am very grateful to have supportive family, friends and colleagues in each of these places, who push me forward when I get stuck, transfusing the chutzpah one needs to extract oneself from a quagmire.

One thing that has happened during this uprooting is that I have returned to photography as my main form of record keeping.  Another thing that has happened is that my obsession with family history has transitioned from a late night, internet-based exercise in database management to a face-to-face, you-talk-ill-write, field expedition.

This week my Mom and I went to visit the Marshall County Court House in Moundsville, West Virgina, looking for family history.  It is an area that has experienced a massive boom in oil and gas extraction (aka. the Ohio Valley Boom, but I prefer the term Frack Attack!), and there have been rumors of mineral rights in them thar hills, where the early Irish immigrants on my mom’s side came and farmed taters in the West Virginia wilds in the mid 1800s.

It was a long, stream-of-consciousness sort of day, where we got sidelined many times by little breadcrumbs of family history that led to unexpected places.  We ended up meeting distant relations we didn’t know existed, visiting mysterious gravesites on our old farm, stumbling across a barn build by my teenage Great Grandfather, and tasting the fetid well water that results from decades of coal, oil and gas exploitation.


Old kin and modern residents of our “home place”.


The Grave of the Unknown Priest, complete with gaelic cross carved by an Italian inmate of Moundsville Penitentiary.

PH's barn

Barn built by Philip Henry Markey circa 1878.

We did not come home gas barons (um…good?), but our ramble revealed our family’s fingerprints are still all over Marshall County, West Virginia. Moreover, we turned up a restaurant that serves a fine fried baloney sandwich, if you are ever hungry in the Ohio River valley.

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