Communion Of Dreams

Proving title.

“A home without a cat — and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat — may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?”
Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

So, a couple weeks ago I had an idea … which, if you know me or have followed this blog for a while, can sometimes get me, well, not exactly into trouble, but can lead to things not entirely intended. Anyway, the idea was to build a climbing tree for our cats, which might take advantage of the 12′ ceilings we have in our historic home (ours is the next-to-last in that article).

Here’s the (probably) final result:


Now, for those who may be curious about the process of making this cat tree, there’s more below.

We have a huge slump of an ancient catalpa out in front of the house, near the road. Here it is:


It’s been a favorite of photographers and children for generations, and overall is doing pretty well. But one large part of it died a couple of years ago, and we’ve delayed removing it. That part is the pair of major mostly horizontal limbs which come out from the tree towards the viewer in that image.

After some discussion, my wife and I decided that the lower limb could serve as the basic structure for our cat tree. So I cut it off, and then trimmed it and started removing the bark, as seen here:


It’s a little hard to tell scale in that pic, but that limb is about 12′ from base to either tip, and about 12′ from tip to tip.

After removing most of the bark, we somehow managed to get the thing in through the front door and then into our living room. Without breaking any windows. Or bones. This was trickier than it might sound. And did require a bit of additional editing with a chainsaw on some of the various extensions. Of the tree, I mean.

So, we got it into approximate position, then braced it with a couple of chairs. Here it is, with Greystoke (our younger cat — he’s not quite two) investigating:


Next, we got it mounted to the wall securely. This required some stacked-lumber spacers in order to make sure that the branches cleared the windows and curtains safely. The way I mounted it was to mount the lumber to the wall, then I added heavy hook brackets to the lumber, and cinched the tree down with rope. That way, if it was ever necessary, we could detach the tree fairly easily. Here it is mounted, with a 12″ cardboard concrete tube I intended to use for part of the ‘furniture’:


Almost as soon as it was secured, Greystoke was wanting to explore:

That's an 8' ladder, by the way. Both of our cats love climbing on it anytime we get the thing out.

That’s an 8′ ladder, by the way. Both of our cats love climbing on it anytime we get the thing out.

Hello, there!

Hello, there!

I started adding elements to the tree: a couple of simple platforms, and a horizontal bridge which would support a carpeted tube. These (and all the subsequent elements) were mounted using a combination of metal shelf brackets and rope.



At this point I also started wrapping cotton rope around the branches, to make them more cat-claw friendly/safe:


The branch on the left was at enough of an angle to let the cats climb it easily. On the right, I decided to put in steps similar to a ladder, but spiraling as they went up to make it easier for the cats to climb:


Next I settled on a final design for the tube:


Then it was time to carpet it, as well as add carpet to the ladder steps and the platforms:


Covering the steps and platforms just required a rectangle of carpet the correct size and some double-sided carpet tape. To do the tube was a PITA using a combination of carpet tape, construction adhesive, and hot glue. I recommend checking YouTube for instructions. And gloves. Definitely you want gloves.

Here’s the semi-finished tree, before I added a final platform on the upper right, or some ‘interactive’ toys/elements:


The (probably) finished final result again:


Complete with a suspended ‘bird’, a dangling rope, and a couple of simple wood spinners. Note that Greystoke, instead of being on the tree, is snoozing in his favorite chair below. Typical.

But he has already started climbing on it, playing with things, looking out the windows, climbing *into* the windows …


Silly cat. But that’s why we built it.

So, all of the wood and most of the hardware used in making the tree was stuff which I already had leftover/recovered from other projects. The tree as shown in the final version (which may get tweaked a bit over time as we see how the cats use it) has about 800′ of rope on it, and that was the biggest expense. All together, had I had to buy both rope and all the wood & hardware, the out of pocket costs would have been about $200 (I actually spent about half that). And it took me a total of about 30 hours labor, in 2-3 hour sessions over the last couple of weeks.

Fun project. I was a little concerned that wrapping it with so much rope would detract from it feeling like a ‘tree’, but it has maintained that organic feeling, even with the other elements I added. I’m pretty happy with the final product.

Jim Downey


The Triumph of Lord Greystoke

A drama in three acts.


SCENE 1: A bedspread, The Queen Mel in her comfort. A quiet, rainy summer’s day. Enter the young challenger.



SCENE 1: A bedspread, The Queen Mel defending her position.



SCENE 1: A bedspread, the young Lord Greystoke surveying his new demesne.



Jim Downey

Spirit of 1776

Remember this little fellow?


That was three weeks ago. Well, here he was about an hour ago, watching me from a rag bag under my workbench in the bindery:


Kinda hard to tell from those pics, but he’s grown and is starting to take on more “cat” characteristics, though he is still *very* much a kitten. And my shins have the scratches to prove it.


* * *

Been busy: Ammo test results in the Boberg XR45-S

Prep & clean-up took most of a full week. But good to get that test sequence done.


* * *

“Spirit of 1776”? It’s a little early to be invoking Independence Day stuff, isn’t it?

Yeah, I know. There’s more than a month before we get to that.

But that’s the number of this blog post, in the running tally which WordPress keeps. Who woulda thunk it?


Jim Downey

May 12, 2015, 6:23 pm
Filed under: Writing stuff | Tags: , , , , , ,


He doesn’t even flinch a whisker when I pet him while he sleeps in my lap like that.

That’s trust.

Trust almost beyond what I can even glimpse an understanding of. So innocent. So pure.

Welcome, Lord Greystoke.


Jim Downey

A tale of two kitties.
October 2, 2014, 9:42 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Humor, Wales | Tags: , , , , , ,

(See postscript at the bottom.)


This is Hillary: 20130307_221704

She’s named after Sir Edmund, because when she was young she always wanted to climb things. She’s no longer a youngster, and just turned 14.

For the most part, she’s been in good health, though in the last year she started losing her eyesight, and just recently she’s had some minor strokes. The results of this are that she’ll just get confused for a while, sometimes tend to walk in small tight circles, and occasionally throw up. But our vet says that she’s not in any real pain, and as long as she continues to bounce back from those episodes, there’s no reason why we can’t keep her and love her with a little extra care. We’re used to caring for people and pets which need a little additional attention, so it’s no big deal.

This is Mel:


As you can see, she also likes climbing on things. But she’s named ‘Melyn’ for the color of her eyes. It’s Welsh. Yeah, as you might gather from St Cybi’s Well, we enjoy Wales, and my wife has been learning the language for a decade or more. Mel’s about 4 years old, and a bit more of a rascal. The two cats get along tolerably well.

Our bed is on top of a stack of drawers. One of Mel’s favorite games is to pull open those drawers. And in particular, the one which is right where my foot needs to go when I swing my leg out of bed. This is especially fun when it’s the middle of the night and I’m just getting up to go to have a pee (ah, the joys of middle age … ). I’ve cracked the side of my bare ankle on the side of that drawer too many times to count. But even *I* will learn eventually, so I’ve gotten into the habit of swinging my leg out even further, and then sweeping it in slowly so as to push the drawer closed if it has been left open by dear Mel.

Sometime last night, Hil seems to have had another minor stroke. And after getting down from the bed, threw up. Fortunately, she did so on a small throw rug (hmmm … ). It woke my wife up, so she dealt with it, and then took Hil in to where the litter box is, thence to the water bowl in the bathroom. Since Hil was a little confused, and my wife wanted to get back to sleep rather than sit and watch the cat while she decided whether or not to have some water, she just left Hil there. This is fairly normal — give Hil a reference point, and she’ll manage to sort out where she wants to go eventually.

Usually, by the time I get up in the morning (I get up first), Hilary has made her way downstairs and is politely waiting for breakfast. Mel is more … demanding. And serves as a very effective wake-up clock if I try and sleep in. As the saying goes, there’s no snooze button on a hungry cat. So this morning we went through the usual routine. I got up, swung my leg over, closed the drawer, and put on some clothes. My wife told me that Hillary had had an episode earlier, but that she had dealt with it. Mel noisily demanded breakfast.

So I went downstairs, Mel close at heel the whole way. Got the catfood out, took it to where their feed bowls are. Mel dug in, but Hil wasn’t to be seen. I checked around, didn’t see her downstairs, but figured that since she had been sick in the night, she might not be hungry and was probably curled up somewhere in the upstairs, would come down when she felt like it. No biggie — I could check on her later if she didn’t appear.

I got coffee, and went about my wake-up routine. Normally this includes getting in a walk, but today we have heavy thunderstorms and I am not THAT dedicated to getting in my exercise. Same for my wife, who thought she’d just catch a little extra sleep after her disrupted night.

After an hour or so of coffee and reading online, including a lot of attention from Mel but no sign of Hil, I figured I’d pop upstairs, see if I could find Hillary, and see how she was doing and whether she wanted some food yet.

I went upstairs. My wife was waking up, doing a little reading in bed. She said she hadn’t seen Hil yet this morning. I checked around upstairs in all her usual haunts. No luck.


Yeah, you guessed it. I thought to check the drawer below our bed, which I had closed without looking earlier. There she was, happily snoozing in amongst the clothing.

I brought her downstairs, got her some food. Mel watched, yellow eyes glinting. And I think I detected a slight smile on her face, as well.


Jim Downey

A postscript: Hillary had another and much larger stroke about 12 hours after I posted this. She passed away peacefully in the early hours of the next morning.

All mixed up.

It’s been a confused Spring. The redbuds are just coming into color, while the Bradford pears are in full bloom and the magnolia trees are already shedding their petals. That’s all mixed up.

* * * * * * *

Our vet was here (yes, he only does house-calls) this week for the critters’ annual check-up and shots. We started with our oldest cat, who is 13 this year.

After going through his routine, sitting on our kitchen floor still holding the cat, he looked up at me and said: “Not bad for a body designed by nature to last just three or four years.”

* * * * * * *

There was recently a bit of a flap over the appropriateness/quality of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, prompted by a new stage production of the play.  I’m not a Shakespeare scholar, but I know this sort of thing pops up from time to time, due to changing societal norms about marriage, sex, and violence. This paragraph from the linked article sums up the current qualms:

Romeo and Juliet itself hasn’t aged well. The story follows Juliet Capulet, who is 13 when she meets Romeo Montague at a party, falls head over heels in love with him, and marries him within a day of meeting him. Romeo’s age isn’t specified in the play, but the quickness with which he throws over a former flame for Juliet doesn’t suggest a particularly mature man. Maybe this works on the page, when we’re not forced to watch actors and actresses who are clearly in their 20s and 30s behave like early teenagers. But the effect is embarrassing and unsettling for today’s theater audiences, perhaps already fretting over suspended adolescence and stunted millenials.

* * * * * * *

It was a rough week in Boston. To say the least.

And, like much of the rest of the nation, I was distracted almost to the point of obsession by the latest developments in the news, and how it all played out. Part of that distraction manifested in following discussions on several sites, including one of my favorites, MetaFilter. Which is where, last night after the second suspect was captured, there was a sentiment expressed which I found to be curious and challenging. This sentiment:

I won’t feel bad for feeling bad for this kid. And while he is legally an adult, I think back to when I was 19, and I sure as shit wasn’t making adult decisions then. YMMV. He did something unspeakably horrible, yes, but, he is still a human being. Maybe they were psychopaths, but we don’t know yet why this happened. Right now, this was a senseless act of violence, and I want to know why this happened. I want to know the motive that led to a friend of mine holing up in his basement two houses away in Watertown while this shit went down. I cannot rationalize this, but I also grew up in a peaceful suburb, and not, you know, a wartorn Soviet nation. If I believed that people were just born evil, I don’t think I could survive in this world. Again, YMMV, but compassion is helping me cope with this.
posted by Ruki at 8:01 PM on April 19

And a bit later, this one (an excerpt):

This young man was once someone’s cute 8 year-old. Somehow, somewhere, that adorable hope that we see in every 8 year-old was replaced with something sinister, and he made terrible decisions that caused death and pain. And now, even if he’s only given life in prison, his life is OVER.

I am sad that a life that had such potential has gone so badly awry. I am sad that his mother, who surely had great hopes and dreams for her children, is seeing those dreams shattered, is dealing with the grief and maybe even guilt of both of her sons turning to violence and terrorism.

Maybe it’s because my sons are so close to him in age. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, grieving that a young person has thrown his life away without really understanding the consequences of doing so. I don’t know. But I hurt for everyone involved – the people who died, the people who were wounded, the elder brother who should have known better, and this 19 year-old kid who had the world at his feet. It sucks all around, and I don’t know what else to do except feel great sorrow over the entire situation.
posted by MissySedai at 8:29 PM on April 19

* * * * * * *

From the closing paragraph of the Romeo and Juliet article:

But beyond that, the vision of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths uniting their families is an adolescent fantasy of death solving all problems, a “won’t they miss me when I’m gone” pout. There’s a reason that, in the best modern riff on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Maria lives after Tony’s death to shame the Sharks and the Jets, her survival a seal on the truce between them. Dying is easy. Living to survive the consequences of your actions and to do the actual work of reconciliation is the hard part.

* * * * * * *

“You guys grow ’em long,” continued our vet, as he released the old cat. “The last one lived to what, 19?”

“I think so. We’ve been lucky.”

* * * * * * *

It’s been a confused Spring. The redbuds are just coming into color, while the Bradford pears are in full bloom and the magnolia trees are already shedding their petals. That’s all mixed up.

Soon I’ll have the garden tilled. Just yesterday I placed my annual order for pepper plants, which will be delivered in a couple of weeks. That’s still too early to plant them, but I’ll be able to ‘harden them off’ in the shelter of the carport until the latter part of May. Then they’ll have a much better chance of thriving in my garden. I’ll do what I can, but at some point they’re on their own.


Jim Downey


New member of the family.
May 11, 2012, 8:45 pm
Filed under: Society | Tags: , , , ,

I mentioned the other day we had a new family member. Here are a couple of informal pix of her:

Her name is Melyn, or “Mel” for short. It’s Welsh (naturally), and refers to her striking yellow eyes (which aren’t all that noticeable in these snapshots). She’s about 2.5 years old and probably about 14 pounds – will know for sure when the vet comes to check her out next week.

And she seems to be taking to us pretty well. Even THE DOG doesn’t weird her out too much.

Jim Downey