Editor’s Notebook: August 2011

Anna the cat, Canadian ancestors and adventure.

Anna was a cat with a strong personality. If you ever visited us in our downtown Broad­way office, you’d remember her. She was born in that building in 1994 and we inherited her a year later. Frankly, she didn’t have a lot of fans, not the way an office cat usually does—because of her loud, opinionated ways, and because of her bird-catching skills.

One day on my way to the office, in the early years, I found her about a block away, dead in the bike lane. I realized in an instant full of regret how much I did love her. Well, it’s true that black cats look an awful lot alike. As I hauled this cat out of the road, I realized it was not Anna after all. At the office, I was happy to see her very much alive.

One annoyance and inspiration was her voraciousness. This cat would go for it. Birds, food, people—nothing stood in her way.

We left that office and she became John’s cat. When she died, last month, she came to my garden to be buried.

There’s nothing the chickens like better than fresh turn-over soil. You have to be careful to not whack them on the head with the shovel while digging, they are that eager.

It’s true that Anna would have had no chance with a chicken; but I’m sure it wouldn’t have stopped her from trying. So it was with the humor that sometimes accompanies fate that Anna’s funeral was attended by three extremely engaged hens, and two humans who loved her.

Rest in peace, Anna-cat.

I had another bout of late-night online genealogy exploration recently—easy to do if you come from a long line of Catholics.

I was reading about my ancestor François, a French stone mason who emigrated to Canada in 1634. He sounds like a headstrong fellow, and at one point had an altercation with a neighbor lady. The verdict came down in her favor. François was ordered to make reparation by feeding pastries to the poor. How French! He fought this judgment but did not win. The argument apparently had something to do with a porcupine. Some translators speculate “porcupine” might have been jargon for “a prickly situation,” as actually arguing over a porcupine seemed peculiar even to them. But the legal documents say: “porcupine.” Goes to show you can argue over just about anything.

The written stories of the day show that 30 or so settlers were farming in the region. “They worked, armed with a plow, axes and guns, in a constant state of alertness,” writes one family biographer. “Life was not very joyful, and the work was not easy. As the family grew, the harvest had to increase. This meant they had to clear the forest by hand, pull stumps, hoe, dig and beat the wheat.”

But the ease of our lives would have been unimaginable to our ancestors. And were we to make dinner truly “from scratch,” we’d all be long dead by dinnertime.

With the help of water from the tap, I’ve so far grown beautiful basil and mint. Tasty accoutrements, but mint and basil do not a meal make.

I’ve taken to climbing the fence behind the garage to pick apricots. I’m learning that unripe, rust-spotted apricots are still delicious when fresh.

And there are the fresh eggs. I keep the raccoons at bay, just like in the olden days. Oh, but they didn’t have chickenwire fencing and caribiners.

The theme of this year’s Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert is “Rites of Passage.” My first year, 2001, a handful of Utahns attended—perhaps 100. I’d guess now the number is over 1,000. Many art projects are underway among the Utah Burn community. Check out the Hive Alembic of Transformative Univer­salities at the Circle of Regional Effigies (that’s the H.A.T.U. C.O.R.E. project) and other Utah projects at element11.org.

I will instead be at the Telluride Mushroom Festival, getting nerdy with mycology. Details: http://www.shroomfest.com

Greta Belanger deJong is the editor and publisher of CATALYST.