STEWART'S YEAR 2002 LOGS
Stewart's Tenth Log: December 2001- March 2002 Australia
I apologize for the long time that has elapsed between logs. There has been a shortage of working computers on board the boat, so we must all take turns. For some reason I am last in line.
I am quite happy to be out of quarantine. I was well prepared for the concept of quarantine, not the reality. When the Doc said "It was something we all had to suffer through", I pictured the three of us in a small room much like Iwalani- comfortable cushions, plenty of pillows, lots of good books.
When I arrived at the station the officials took me out of the crate and watched me walk around. They all laughed and said I looked like "Popeye, fresh off the boat". I hissed at them but kept my thoughts to myself. The Doc was very clear that I was to act like a normal cat while there. No writing, no reading. I wasn't too worried about them catching on to me. The continual din of barking dogs made conversation with a cat almost impossible. The Doc was frightened they would discover my abilities. I would get catnapped and then "exploited." I didn't like the sound of that.
They put medicine down my throat and squirted a long acting flea killer on my shoulder blades. Then they put me in my "room". Each cage was roughly six feet by eight feet and twelve feet high. A sleeping platform was four feet off the ground and ramps led to another platform up on the roof. The roof was open at the top, caged in with heavy wire. They lifted me on to the sleeping platform where I crawled into my little house and fell asleep. The sleeping houses had electric heating pads and were fleece lined. They were very nice indeed. The rest of the "room" was, well, rather industrial. Lots of cement and wire. If nothing else, quarantine is a great place to catch up on sleep.
A few hours later the Doc arrived and told the caretakers I couldn't get off the platform. Which wasn't exactly true, I could have jumped off, I just couldn't have gotten back on. So they moved everything down to the floor level. They locked her in the cage with me, where she settled into the corner with a vulgar Clive Cussler novel. I was very upset with her at this point. For any of you that have lived or worked with the Doc, you know full well what I mean when I say she can be a bit trying at times. Between chapters in her book, she kept saying things to me like "What's the matter Stew? Cat got your tongue?" I was not amused. She stayed with me until they came and unlocked the pen and told her she had to leave.
When all the human caretakers left for the day, the cats from the other cages were trying to talk to me. Each cage had a tall wire fenced open window that looked out at a small grassed in courtyard. Two cats from South Africa were directly across the courtyard. Next door to me was a cat from Fiji who had such a high voice and thick accent and talked faster than a rewinding tape player. It took me awhile to figure out she was actually a he. His name was "Meow" and we became good friends.
The following night he whispered to me,
I did not have any idea what he was trying to say. Meow can speak French, in addition to English, and he was trying to say Lani, our caretaker, had left a pencil in his cage. Meow is much more dexterous than I am and very clever too. The significance of leaving a pencil behind totally alluded me until later that night, when he tapped on my sleeping house. He had managed to use the pencil to open the steel door not only to his cage, but mine. This is no small feat. Our cages are locked with a special square key, which fits in the square hole, much like a giant Allen wrench. Meow jumped to the lock with the pencil in his mouth and manipulated the lock with the pencil, while hanging four feet from the ground. I was impressed.
We snuck out together into the hallway, but could not get any further than the caretakers station. The rest of the doors to the outside were locked with traditional keys. I found an old computer in the caretakers station and promised to teach him how to write, in exchange for his teaching me French. He was quite impressed with my skills on the Internet and with computers in general. I felt that one of us at least, on board Iwalani, should be conversant in French, even if it was just through writing. I became determined to learn French.
The first French word I learned was "chat" which means cat. I typed it into the computer search engine and my first "hit" was "yahoo chat". I tediously began filling out the lines and checking off boxes, not sure why all this was necessary. When I was finished I was told I wasn't old enough, to enter the "chat room". I had forgotten to compensate my birth date for human calendars. Though I may be only twelve years by human standards, I command a great deal of respect in cat years. I used "Stewartthecat" to begin with, then because I altered my birthdate I retyped everything back in under Stewartthekittyking. Voila! Before too long Meow and I were typing away, talking to another cat from Arizona called "hotpussy2". I soon realized that the conversation was taking a decidedly mature turn, and felt it prudent to discontinue our session in front of a young adolescent such as Meow. Suffice it to say that "hotpussy2" was most interested in "Licking my whickers clean." Meow however, was quite pleased to learn that there are many other cats using the Internet.
We returned to our cages just before dawn and Meow in his extreme haste dropped the pencil from his mouth while trying to close his cage door. Before he could grasp it, it rolled out under the window fencing and fell into the drainage grate, just beyond arm's length. He was very upset with himself. The chances of Lani dropping another pencil were slim.
I did manage to post some email to my friends, urging them to mail me care of the doc and Phil. A few days later Phil and the Doc came for another visit. They were very upset with me for using the AQIS computer. I assured them it wasn't going to happen again. They stayed with me for a couple of hours, then said they had to go back up to the boat and wouldn't be back for a few days. I was still a little upset with them about this whole quarantine thing, and gave them little of my time.
The next few days continued in a hot, boring, sort of way with Lani coming in and hosing down the cage and leaving me to sleep. She returned with my dish of food at four p.m.. It was hard at first, adjusting to once a day feedings. By the time four o'clock rolled around I was usually starving.
The Doc and Phil came to visit a few days before Christmas. I was still mad at the Doc and spent most of my time with Phil.
Christmas day, smoke started to fill the air. It didn't much bother me, as I am somewhat used to it, having spent the last year on Iwalani with a chimney that sometimes backed up and filled the cabin up like a bacon smokehouse. The other cats all thought this was the end. Meow said he wasn't worried either, because in Fiji they often burn the sugar cane fields. He said it was a great time for catching terrified mice. He and I both became concerned when we overheard a woman talking to a man about the "bushfires".
‘Bushfires?' I thought. The doc had mentioned these as one reason why she was worried about me in quarantine.
"Well what do we do if the fires reach the quarantine station?" I heard the woman ask the man.
"Turn on the sprinklers and run" he replied.
"But the sprinklers are only in the dog pens" she said.
"You just better hope, the firees get it out". He replied.
Now in Australia I should clarify a few points. When an Australian speaks their vowels carry the weight of the entire Northern Hemisphere. As a result, they have been flattened down and stretched out. "No" is a four syllable word. There is only one important vowel sound- "ee". Most of the words are shortened and the ending "ie" is added. Going on walkabout is shortened to "walkies", a mosquito "mossie", so a "firee" is a firefighter. The firees all of a sudden held a special significance to me. It seemed my very life was now depending on them. Not only are imported dogs housed at the quarantine station, but the beagles that customs uses for sniffing bombs and drugs at the airport, also live at the station- though quite a bit away from us cats. I felt a little better knowing that despite their part as government officials, the custom's dogs would burn like the rest of us should the fires get too close.
But where were the Doc and Phil? I was starting to get very worried. Perhaps they had been caught in the bushfires and I would never be going home. I know that they have named Jessie and Eleanor on "Willy Bolton" as god parents, yet knowing that, did little to make me feel any better.
I began to get my self worked up and had a very upset stomach as a result. I was feeling guilty for the way I had treated the Doc. At least once a day, it seems, on the boat and when we were back at home, the Doc could be miles away from me and I would hear her screaming "Stew Alarm! Stew Alarm" and then like a huge tornado she would whoosh into the room and swoop down on me squeezing and kissing me, biting my ears and sucking my lips. It used to drive me crazy, as I was usually sound asleep. But I had to admit, I would have given anything to hear "Stew Alarm" now.
Boxing day came and Lani had the day off. A man took me out of my cage and weighed me. He said I had lost a kilo. I don't even know what it was in order to lose it, but the best part of that was he gave me more food and wrote down on my chart about this lost kilo and that I was to receive a full cup of food. I also got a big envelope from Ellie and Jess with a homemade Christmas card with their picture and a small stuffed blue fish. They also sent me a floppy disc, which I wouldn't be able to read until I got back to the boat.
I still had no visit from the Doc or Phil and the smoke was now getting very bad. The following morning a thick layer of ash covered the bottom of the cage and floated on the water bowl. None of us felt much like eating.
Suddenly I heard the words I thought I never would hear again-"Stew Alarm!" The doc and Phil were standing in my cage and I was getting squeezed all over. I never thought I could be so happy to hear their voices. The Doc said she had been very sick and they had only just found out that the bushfires were in Sydney. The doc said she had gotten the message from me in a dream she had. She said I smelled like a smoked ham and looked good enough to eat. She said they would be staying right next to the station until there was no danger from bushfires. She had a plan to rescue me, if the fires came close. I knew what she was saying was illegal, but I also knew she and Phil would be crazy enough to do anything to make sure I was safe. I felt instantly better and barely could answer back in between mouthful's of the last can of French catfood they had brought with them for my belated Christmas dinner. Phil said he and the Doc weren't going to celebrate any holiday's until we all got back to Maine and could celebrate with Ben, Nathaniel, Polly and Emily- the whole family together.
Before too long the 19th of January arrived and I was finally released from quarantine. I was sad to leave Meow behind. He promised to email me periodically about his new life in Australia. He also said he would be sure to teach other cats how to write and use the internet. I promised to parle francais, une peu, tout les jours. Lani, the caretaker, was no longer scared of me and I felt a little sad about leaving her too. Chris, the Spanish cat from the boat up near Brisbane, left a few days before me. The only thing she ever said to Meow and me the entire time we were in quarantine together, was "adios gatos."
Phil and the Doc carried me out to the rental car. I was a little confused at first, when they sat me down on the front left seat. Then I realized I wasn't going to drive, because the steering wheel was on the right. It is very strange being upside down, where everything is opposite to the US. We headed off to Coff's Harbour with an involuntary salute of the windshield wipers and a final wave to eastern Creek Quarantine station.
It felt good to be back on the boat, especially since it was in the marina. Next door to us is an Australian cattle dog named Magg's. She lives with the famous aboriginal artist Alison Buchanan. She is a year older than me. She is a very good watch dog and keeps a keen look out protecting both our boats. The doc is amazed at how well the animals in Australia age. She doesn't know whether it's because of them not getting Rabies vaccine, or their diet. The Australian's are firm believers in feeding pets what Americans call BARF. This stands for Bones And Raw Food. The doc has been feeding me packets of raw beef and lamb, which are pretty good, though not as good as the French cat food, which to me will always be the pinnacle of haut cuisine. They even sell packets of raw roo, which the doc hasn't quite gotten the nerve up to feed me. The Australian vets all make fun of American pet food, claiming it causes rotten teeth. It is slowly getting imported into the Australian markets so it will be interesting to see if the Aussie pets start having as many problems as the US pets.
In February, the doc had to go down to a Veterinary conference in Sydney. I was not happy to leave the boat, but refused to spend any more time behind bars. So, Phil and I both accompanied her, staying in hotels while she was in class. We surveyed the full gamut of overnight accommodations, from cheap motels to five star hotels. Phil said he was becoming an expert at five star hotels. The doc said he better not be developing an appetite for them, as they put a strain on the budget. I must say I can see why Phil enjoyed them so much. With tiny little bottles of shampoo, miniature tubes of tooth paste and bathtubs large enough to do laps in, we all had fun chasing each other around the room and jumping on the beds. With just one phone call, smoked salmon and herring could be delivered to the room. The doc made the mistake of thinking everything in the mini-bar was free, because there was no price list. She ate all the six-dollar candy bars, I ate all the bags of five-dollar potato chips and Phil ate the four-dollar Pringles. By the time we were done and were handed the final bill at check-out, we had spent over $150.00 AU and had a handful of wrappers left over. It was fun, even if it was an expensive mistake.
She and Phil call Sydney Gotham City. At 7:30 p.m. she said I must look out the window and just wait. She wouldn't tell me any more. I looked and I looked, but I couldn't see anything special, just a flock of black birds flying below. "Those aren't birds!" she said to me, "Its no wonder you make a lousy hunter!" Sure enough when I looked closer, I saw that what I thought was birds was actually a huge "flock"(?) of giant fruit bats. She said that is why she liked the hotel we were in, because it had great views of the dusk bat dance.
At the conference she met a feline veterinarian named Richard Mallek, who is very well known and liked in Australia. He is probably one of the few Aussie men that will admit to having a passion for cats. He very nicely, agreed to take a look at me. As you all may remember I had my share of medical problems before leaving and while in the South Pacific. One of the main reasons for me going through quarantine, was so I could have a complete work-up. At the University of Sydney Veterinary teaching hospital I had the full onslaught of needles, ultrasounds, xrays, pokes and proddings. I was not amused. Despite my protestations and grumblings, they finished in one day and found no major problems other than a crumbling skeleton- very bad arthritis.
After looking at my X-rays, Richard thought I must have been abused.
"Was he ever kicked?"
‘No! Just squeezed.'
"Did he use to jump off of shed roofs?"
‘No way, I have a fear of heights!'
"Hmmmm. I can't understand it. I've never seen such horrible degenerative disease, without any history of trauma."
The good news is my heart, liver, kidneys are all fine. The thyroid tests are normal. My elbows, back and sternum are pretty well destroyed. Luckily Australia has a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (Meloxicam) not available in the US, which I can safely take every day. That is what they have started me on. The doc blames herself, for all my ailments. She thinks it is from all the vaccinations she gave me to prevent other diseases. Hopefully now though, when she sounds the "Stew Alarm", she won't squeeze the living stuffing out of me.
(Editor's Note: I apologize for the long time in posting this log. Though Stewart doesn't realize it, he had a very bizarre reaction to the Meloxicam, one I hesitate to mention as it will completely confirm any suspicions people might have regarding my mental stability…While he was on the Meloxicam and for three weeks after withdrawal, he completely lost his skills with the English language. We left the computer on in order for him to help with the editing and to select photos. Nothing. The drug didn't seem to do much for his arthritis either. We had similar results with the generic Australian Rimadyl, though the Rimadyl from the French had rather more positive results with his personality and pain control, as you can see from his hang up on "chat rooms." So now we are left with a fully functional English writing cat, who won't write now, because of paw pain.
To give you an idea of what it is like to read and edit his writings, I have saved a file from two weeks ago:
Once aggain tey ha ve levt me alon e on tgnhe boat. Thsy have headedc off to tghge bush to spot kNHaroos And koalas. Dfopvc sdysd yerrtr satr ytioo mnany hiddenb dasnmertrs out tertre gtr m,r
He can no longer strike one letter singly when he uses the computer keyboard. It is not exactly a problem one can readily find a remedy for in Veterinary journals, or even the Internet itself, where you never should believe all that you read.)
Stewart's Eleventh Log
Nhulunbuy Northern Territory, Australia April-Aug 2002
Thank you one and all, for your get well cards and letters. I am afraid I can't answer them all personally- but hope to remedy that if I could hire a competent scribe. Good help is hard to find. The Doc was quite surprised to discover that I am as blind as a can of black eyed peas- she had been suspecting my typing difficulties were due to arthritis. I pretty much have the keyboard memorized on lap tops -though she thinks otherwise. (Editor: You would agree with me if you saw I had to decipher
Below, is an article printed in the local paper, which may shed some light on my most recent problems.
We will be leaving Australia any day now. It has been an interesting country in terms of feline history- one I feel I should correct now before I get too far along. Cats, for all those of you who have written email stating that we arrived as pets for dottery old white women- are correct in one sense, as that most certainly is the case with me, but as far as populating the wild's of Australia- we have been here for hundreds of years- long before the white man's arrival. We are desert animals and do not need much water to survive. Years later, more cats arrived, shipwrecked on the shores of Western Australia. These cats brought disease with them- feline distemper. Rodents on board also brought disease to the small mammal population. The distemper virus mutated, wiped out the original cat population and spread far enough to kill off the Tasmanian tiger- actually more closely related to a dog than a cat, which once populated Australia. It's all true. This is very old history passed on to generations of my foremothers.
More recently, feline's made history in Australia with Trim, the Cat who accompanied Mathew Flinders on his epic voyages in the early 1800's. He was the first cat to map and circumnavigate Australia. Flinder's became imprisoned on the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius. Trim, unfortunately had the same outcome as Captain Cook- "Trim and Cook" has long been a nursery rhyme for puppies.
Trim and Cook
Put in a pot,
Add some spice
Then serve them hot
Australians have made a statue of Trim, which is at the State Library in Sydney.
Long before I made this trip, cats have been sailing the oceans. We were important crew members, keeping the vermin at bay- so the human's food was not consumed by rodents. Funnily enough, despite Australians keeping more pets than any other group of people from any country, cats are NOT number one.
We are now in the Northern territory. After we left New South Wales we began to drift by more aboriginal communities. Aboriginals have long known the power of cats. People often wonder why cats purr. Besides the obvious reasons happy, content etc. Purring allows us to practice something called circular breathing. A cat that can obtain the correct resonance frequency in circular breathing can also have what some human's call "an out of body experience". It literally allows us to travel great distances, without ever leaving home. The aboriginals made instruments called "didgeridoos" which mimic in a much larger scale, the process and result of cats purring. Lots of them are sold in tourist shops- none of those have the important curved bottom piece, which allows for the "purr effect". Which, by the way is how the word "perfect", came in to being. The Doc and others have wondered why aboriginal art is composed of small dots. Historical aboriginal art is really just a map as seen from above- of shrubs, trees and rocks. If one takes a small plane over the outback or bush, you can "planely", (no pun intended), see the "dot" landscape. Aboriginals have been taking flights over Australia, long before airplanes.
The Doc and Phil sometimes spend days crying over me. The are worried that my body will not make it across the Indian Ocean. I try to remind them that nothing exists at a steady state. Life itself is a continual flux between matter and energy. I listen with the Doc each night as Phil reads the news. It mystifies me how humans can spend so much money and time on religion and war. Some of the great apes and chimpanzees have been known to have some bloody battles- but nothing like human war, where people are paid to kill others. It makes no sense to me at all- for it is no different than a "hit man" hired to kill an unwanted spouse. It is ironic, that if just a fraction of the money that was spent on wars were spent on technology to find out how all we non-humans communicate- most of the world's religious questions would be answered too. The only drawback to this though, is that, our abilities would probably be used as a weapon of war.
I hope the next time one of you might ask yourself, "What's it all about really? Why am I here?" The answer may not be any further than the thump of the tail on the floor next to you, or the rumble of your cats circular breathing, as she purrs her way far over the treetops to begin her own voyage to distant shores.