Climber the Cat – A Tale of Orlando

Granted, the story of my cat hardly seems thematically appropriate for a blog centered around swamps and summits with some stops in between. But Edmund Hillary Climber arrived in our lives 15 years or so ago from about 70 feet up a tree. I figure that qualifies.

Way back – when the girls were young and the dogs a year old, if that – we became aware that a scrawny dehydrated orange tabby cat had taken up residence in a very tall laurel oak tree that resided on the no man’s land between us and the back yards of two of our neighbors.

We tried to ignore his plaintive meows, presuming he’d find his way down. But he didn’t. That particular tree – which is no longer, having taken a massive hit during Hurricane Charlie -leaned at an odd angle, and  the reams of Spanish moss that coated its trunk deterred any creature of normal intelligence from trying to make its way down.

It was probably a Sunday when we first became aware of him. Monday he was still in the tree, despite the repeated attempts of the girls to lure him down with tins of tuna.  I found myself driving back home at lunch to  see if there had been a breakthrough. Suit and high heels on, I climbed up on a stool, waving about a can of cat food, in the vain hope this would cause a descent.

By Wednesday I’d had enough. Didn’t fire departments assist with cat tree extraction? My assistant at the time was married to a firefighter and gave me the non emergency fire number. Sure enough, that morning they met us at our house, got their ladders out, scaled the tree and tried to lure the cat down, but to no avail.

Thursday he was still in the tree. By now I was worried. How long could an animal  actually live in an oak tree 70 feet above ground with access only to condensation for water. Friday rolled around. It seemed to me there was no choice but another call to the fire department. J looked at me incredulously. “You cannot just keep calling the fire department to rescue a cat. There could be real fires.” He let it go that time but I truly belie

ve a third call to the fire department would have resulted in divorce.

The second set of fire department guys showed up. They told me they would try to get him down by spraying him with the fire hose and reminded me of the old fire fighters’ adage that you don’t find dead cats in trees.  I asked about the ladders and they assured me they were not allowed to use ladders for cat rescues. I could hardly say that the first set of fire department cat rescuers had indeed put up the ladders!

Finally, by the next weekend, hunger and thirst must have become too much. Climber, as he became known, with the girls, I and a neighbor child watching, swung himself down the awkward facing trunk, through the banks of Spanish moss, and emerged on the ground, all in one piece.

After quickly christening him Edmund Hillary Climber H****,  we kept him in the garage one night and took him off to the vet for shots the very next day.

He proceeded to live a full and I hope happy life for another 15 or so years. He was the smartest cat I’ve ever had. He could open any levered door. My favorite story involves an evening when – before we knew of his door opening propensities – we had gone to the Shakespeare festival one night with friends – without double locking the door. We returned home to find the dogs sitting on the porch, the front door wide open, a dead mole on our bedroom floor, and no sign of of Climber. After his night of partying, he appeared meowing at the front door, about 3 a.m.

He was a legend in the neighborhood. He thought he was more dog than cat. He went out with the dogs on their early morning walks, and if he felt they were being victimized he was more than willing to attack any dog in the neighborhood on  behalf of his little pack.

The dogs and he would sniff around together, looking for some common prey. But Climber was frequently highly disappointed with their hunting skills and would swat them with his paws as they failed to live up to his expectations.

Mr. Climber, the stories are legion. We miss you. God speed. 

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Orlando, June 12, 2016 – Swamps and Summits

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It’s a thinly veiled secret on From Swamp to Summit that I’m from Orlando. That Central Florida city where one looks in vain for a hill to train on and ends up resorting to staircases. Staircases have been good to me. I’ve made it up Kilimanjaro, Mt. Elbrus, Illiniza Norte and Cotopaxi. And more to come. I hope.

I may not have grown up here, but Orlando and Florida reach out to you with their sticky sweaty humid hands and hold you close to their hearts. I moved here in the middle of 1989. Sight unseen.  True story.  It was a snowy night in New York and husband J, who was finishing his Ph.D.  at NYU received a tenure track offer at a small liberal arts college here. I’d never even been to Florida on spring break but after J interviewed in Orlando and described the smell of orange blossom, I was sold.

So after a brief diversion through Greece and Turkey (another blog post in and of itself) we found ourselves, our one room of furniture, and our cat Chelsea in this city we’ve called home for over 25 years.

A swamp does describe life in Orlando this week.  But not the life giving jungle green of the Everglades wetlands.  More the  brown slough of  despond. Exactly one week ago I awakened early, despite having been out in downtown Orlando the night before at a concert. And across my phone came word that at least 20 had been killed at the Pulse nightclub, not far from where we had been and a few blocks from my office. By mid morning the number had increased to 50. 49 victims and the gunman.

This massacre was framed by the Friday night shooting of a singer from the Voice, followed by the suicide of the killer, and the tragedy a day after the Pulse shootings of the drowning of a two year old by an alligator at a theme park lagoon.

The City Beautiful, as Orlando likes to call itself, didn’t look so beautiful anymore. On Monday evening I found myself at one of many vigils around the city at a makeshift memorial that has sprung up in front of the Performing Arts Center. There’s not enough public space in Orlando and what has happened there shows why people need to have a place to come together. There are candles, ribbons, photos, posters, notes written on paper chains. People standing are reverent. Nearly everyone I know has made a trip there.

On Thursday, President Obama and Vice President Biden arrived. I watched the motorcade from my office window, together with some of my partners. I’ve seen many grown men cry in the last few days.

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That night, J and I went back to the memorial. A motorcycle club had its bikes lined up, illuminated in rainbow colors. They revved their engines, and a speaker for the club stepped forward and asked the several hundred assembled there to hold hands and observe a moment of silence. Everyone did.

Rainbow flags are flying all over the city and practically every public building has been illuminated in the now familiar red, yellow, orange and blue colors. Tonight is a city wide commemoration that is supposed to be non religious, non political, and non branded. Just a time for people to be together. We’re going to walk down there.

Perhaps after today, and the symbolism of one week later, healing will start.

It’s a long way up any mountain. And it’s going to take Orlando a while to slog up this one. But I know that Orlando and its people have what it takes.

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A New York Minute – in Orlando

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Downtown Orlando

So the leaping and springing forward of the last two weeks took their toll, and left me unable to complete the post I’d planned yesterday. Blame it on that extra day and one less hour. Funny how the extra day didn’t compensate for the one less hour.

This week we’re taking a brief detour from treks and summits to explore urban hiking combined with public transportation in downtown Orlando – a city not renowned for its pedestrian friendly nature.

Being fortunate enough to to live a mere 2 1/2 miles from work, walking is always a option for me. And on Friday, as is frequently my wont, I went ahead and took the 45 minute stroll into the office. See Urban Hiking in Orlando – Art in Odd Places. (There’s actually another post somewhere in this blog about urban hiking that I couldn’t even find – the risks of writing almost every week.)

But this time I’d planned a transportation challenge for the way back. Yes, I could have taken Sunrail – our new uber light rail that goes from my office to Florida Hospital, just a 20 minute walk from my house.

Or I could take the Lymmo.

I still remember a client looking at me aghast when I said I would take a lymmo to the courthouse.

Here in Orlando the lymmo is our free circulating bus.  Several routes have just been added, one of which goes almost to the edge of the lake I live by. So at just past 6 on Friday I ventured out, dodging the Orlando City soccer fans who were all taking express lymmo buses to the soccer stadium, to wait for about 8 minutes for my bus up to the courthouse, the site to change for bus number 2. The bus on the first leg of my journey was fairly crowded. Most prominent was a young woman with a toddler carrying a bag smelling decidedly of seafood. The woman carried the bag,  not the toddler. After she and said toddler (in stroller) plopped themselved down she pulled out a crab leg from her plastic bag. “No eating on the bus,” boomed the driver. Back went the crab leg. She unstrapped said toddler from the stroller and hoisted her up onto her lap, swishing away the milky stains from said toddler’s face, neck and arms. The smell of seafood started to dissipate.

By the time we reached the courthouse, the location to pick up bus number 2, pretty much everyone was off. One poor soul was still trying to figure out how to get to the soccer game. That left me and two others. As I studied my map for the next leg of my journey, up to the senior center in Marks Street, which would leave me a more 20 minutes walk from my house, one of my fellow travelers asked me if I needed help.

I love traveling incognito. At this point I was just one of the weary trying to get home on free transportation – little resemblance to the lawyer I spend my days disguised as.

I explained where I was headed and she told me to make sure to watch for the bus swinging around the corner, because that would be the one I needed.  The other gentlemen on the bus was quite talkative – he was headed up to Park Lake to meet friends, carrying a plastic bag filled with what appeared to a liquid and potato chip picnic. We all commiserated on the sad state of Orlando’s roads, wrought by the Ultimate I4 construction project, and enjoyed one of those moments of kinship that crosses all racial, economic and educational bounds.

I disembarked in front of the Senior Center, the only passenger left before the bus made its next loop back to the courthouse. The driver had another two or three hours to go. The already warm evening made a little warmer by the warmth generated by the shared community of free bus riders. Like one of those fleeting moments in New York – when people on the subway all make eye contact.  Not always clear why – just a moment everyone’s worlds and perceptions collide.

Reflections on the Swamp – An Orlando Loop

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City Reflections

The swamp was especially wet this week as a very beautiful morning morphed into a grey day of drizzle, thanks to El Niño. Yes, this post is a detour from adventures in Mexico, the conclusion of which will be forthcoming. A few twists are always needed here and there.

Orlando’s Dinky Line Urban Trail is part of my running routine. But I’d always wondered about the part of the trail that on the map consisted mostly of orange dots, which is apparently code for sidewalk as opposed to trail. In any event, the cool weather proved tempting and instead of a run followed by Bikram, husband J and I found ourselves on what turned out to be an 11 mile loop to and around Orlando’s in-the-process-of-being-renovated and turned into something else entirely Fashion Square Mall.

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We started off accompanied by one of Lake Ivanhoe’s many resident and, to me, unidentifiable water birds. He looked a lot more enthusiastic about the drizzle than we were.  Shortly after, still on the part of the trail I knew, we passed what I am convinced is a haunted radio station. It’s been empty since we’ve lived here, yet it’s right next to a popular hotel. Just one of those urban ruins. A few other urban ruins in our journey – an abandoned sushi restaurant and a bank that looked as though it had never recovered from a heist.

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Finally we reach d the orange dot part of the trail and we were off! First up was a tour of in-fill development in an area called Colonialtown.  Small townhouses and fourplexes, built in the style of the original small houses.  Surprisingly attractive, even in the rain that started to fall more heavily.

To my surprise, we then discovered that what I had always thought was the beginning of the Cady Way Trail wasn’t. The trail head is actually located at Lake Druid Park – a lake and a park I’d never heard of despite 25 plus years in Orlando. Shortly after, we finally reached the mall and it was time for a lunch break at Noodle Co. – a first for us. At least it rained hardest while we were inside.

The Executive Airport is across the street from the mall, and after some difficulty with urban route finding, we got ourselves back on the orange dots. Next to the airport is a party supply store selling themed party goods for any type of celebration you could imagine. Who knew there were so many types of princess tiaras. Not to mention sizes and shapes of plastic trays or colors of napkins. And there was even a room filled with nothing but janitorial supplies.

A little bit of FaceTime with daughter S entertained us for the next mile or so. Nothing like getting to watch a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade in real time. That was followed up by the Orlando Chili Cook Off – if we’d known we wouldn’t have had lunch!

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After passing the landmark Colonial Lanes Bowling alley – what could be better than cocktails and bowling – we finally made our way back toward downtown and along what I can only describe as Memory Lane. There was the girls’ daycare center. And the orthodontist’s office, where I spent many an hour in the waiting room.

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Mile 11 of our loop brought us back to Lake Ivanhoe. We bookended our hike with another bird – a serious grey heron who looked as though he might charge us admission for passage around the lake.

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There was no snow, no ice, and no altitude. But there were a lot of things and places I’d never noticed before in the few miles right around my house – and that’s an exploration in itself.

 

 

Urban Hiking in Orlando – Art in Odd Places

Art in Odd Places
Art in Odd Places

My neighbor, known as A, and I share a fence at home and a wall at work. It’s a long story as to how we became both work and residence neighbors. Suffice it to say that this past Thursday we agreed we would walk the 2 1/2 miles to work, all so that the two husbands could drive one car downtown to meet us for the Art in Odd Places event – and, since it was Friday, happy hour.

It was a grey day, as they nearly all have been this summer, but at least the humidity didn’t coalesce and rain all over us. By now urban hiking in downtown involves a lot of looking at cranes and bulldozers that form the backdrop for the Ultimate I4 construction project – which the developers already admit will never solve Central Florida’s traffic problems.

But those cranes are second only to the cranes from the multitude of apartments springing up throughout the city like mushrooms. Nearly every vacant lot in the downtown area has now been filled with 3 to 5 story buildings, usually with retail on the bottom and residences in top. Where the heck are the people going to come from to live in them? It’s a mystery. We’ve in-filled practically the whole city – it has swelled up so much that one good prick and the entire bubble will burst. We’ll see.

Mushrooms by the Performing Arts Center
Mushrooms by the Performing Arts Center

An urban hike, of course, can’t be complete without an adventure on the stairs with a backpack in an office building. Although A was eager to accompany me on a walk to work, strangely enough I’ve never succeeded in getting anyone to join me in the stair climbing/backpack toting portion of urban hiking. But I dutifully did my 108 flights up and 108 down (according to my FitBit, of course).

By now I’d managed to wear three different outfits at work – the morning walk to work clothes, the Friday casual ensemble, and the stair climbing gear. People in my office were presumably wondering if I’d done anything all day besides get ready for the next work out event.

As the end of the day rolled around it was time for outfit number 4 – the going out Friday night look. The two husbands successfully navigated their way through downtown to our building with one car and we embarked on the next stage of our urban hike – Art in Odd Places.

This was a curated collection of interactive visual, performance and sound pieces by artists from around the world, along several blocks of Magnolia Avenue.  Although we’d expected a cluster of events and installations, the works were scattered throughout the area – and some of them were indeed lurking behind walls or on fences. You did have to look, and just occasionally, would catch a glimpse of art in some everyday object that was not part of the show but that suddenly had taken on new meaning.  Orlando’s large homeless population, many of whom spend time at the History Center park where there were a number of installations, seemed to be enjoying the event as much as the expected hipster crowd.

Cemetery Flowers
Cemetery Flowers

A series of hands emerged from drain pipes at various odd points on the city streets. A field of paper bag mushrooms dotted the grounds of the performing arts center. A collage of silk flowers from cemeteries was designed to raise awareness of policing in America (yes, I also wondered how the artist came to have other people’s memorial flowers). A bed of nails, also covered in pages from the Bible with all the text covered in gold paint except the parts about women. Live status updates from silent human mannequins. And those are only snippets.

Status Updates
Status Updates

Where else could you go from such an erudite event but to the TexMex restaurant on Wall Street. Half price appetizers and $3 margaritas. After that, The Celt, an Irish pub, was the only natural next stop. Steak and mushroom pie for the husband (the whole night did seem to have a mushroom theme) and mussels for me.

Bed of Nails
Bed of Nails

As we departed The Celt, we were greeted by a human cat in a cage – with a small black and white kitten on a leash standing guard nearby.

Who's in the cage? Photo - A. Luby
Who’s in the cage? Photo – A. Luby

To top the evening off, I had given daughter #1 carte blanche to book a place in Portland, Maine for our upcoming trip. Next thing I knew we had rented an AirBnB that seems to include chickens. It was one of those nights.