Celebrating Cronan

(Jaime de Castellvi)

Note: This letter contains quite a lot about ferrets. You will see why if you read far enough into it.

At this point, we have all grieved and we have mourned, and I believe it is time to be moving on, to continue to remember Cronan throughout, but more and more as a celebration of the remarkable human being our friend was. Words are poor, but I think you all must know what I mean. Also, since what follows is our own personal act of celebration, there is personal stuff about both the Witch and about me which is necessary to include in order for others to understand why this, which may seem silly to many, seems so meaningful and fitting to us.

Let's start on a light and seemingly unrelated note. If any of you ever meet her at a con or somewhere and decide to be involved in any sort of social activity with Witchie, don't ever take her to a pet shop.

The lesson was first impressed upon me last November, on Witchie's first visit up here over a year ago. We went to this place called "Pet Paradise", ostensibly to buy some kitten food for her ferrets in bulk at Canadian prices. Once there however, Witchie discovered a young albino ferret in serious danger of being put to sleep. Apparently, he had been biting very hard any customers poking their fingers at him and drawing blood, he had been purchased once and had been returned almost immediately because he would not desist biting, and even the staff, wearing special gloves, were terrified of changing his food and his water. Essentially, they were going to go through the motions of keeping him there until after Christmas and the putting him to sleep as unfit for human companionship.

He was described to us as extremely vicious. I looked inside the cage and saw a thin, all white, red eyed young ferret (at that point I had never seen an albino before), sullenly staring back at me. I had just been introduced to ferrets briefly then, and did not understand them at all (I think I have progressed a little since on this, though one never stops learning about these fascinating companions IMO). A part of me felt a bit sorry for him, yet the more practical, lazier and perhaps cowardly part acknowledged that there was nothing I could do about it. But Beth, with her superior understanding of ferrets, coupled with her amazing gift to emphatize with the feelings of animals and to read them like an open book, saw something else altogether. I did not understand what initially. But much to my concern (visions of her fingers badly bit and covered in blood rushing through my mind's eye), and to the considerable alarm of the pet store's manager and staff, she insisted in handling him barehanded.

A few moments later, we were all stunned by the way in which she had expertly tricked him with one hand, and neatly scruffed him by the skin on the back of his neck (effectively inmobilizing his head) with the other, without giving him a hint of a chance to sink his teeth into her. She then stroked him gently, gauging his reaction, speaking softly and reassuringly to him ("Yes, you don't like being stroked over there much, do you?"). In moments she had him calmed down in ways that neither I nor the store staff had ever seen before or could quite understand. He was now more curious than hostile, about his surrounding and about this strange human lady who apparently understood him so well.

He was marked at $199 (plus 15% tax). Neither of us could really afford the little furry. But she had sensed and demonstrated that he was actually a very well-natured little animal, much misunderstood and bored out of his skull, improperly handled by humans in his younger years, irritated and endlessly aggravated by the poking of clueless visitors, the confinement, and the awful conditions in which he was being kept (cedar shavings are a big irritant to a ferret's respiratory system), and she could not permit him to go on to the fate which he was clearly heading towards. She asked the most receptive amongst the staff if the manager would offer a discount, given the ferret's temper and conditions. When the answer came in the negative, she asked me if she could borrow the use of my credit card, and proceeded to rescue the ferret and to spend another $150 in stuff to keep him comfortable until she could return to her place (and paid me immediately after, at the first ATM machine she found).

While we were waiting at the cash machine the manager, looking miserable and sheepish, appeared and tried to make conversation. She turned her back on him. She was appalled and seething with anger about the conditions in which they had kept the little thing, and fully intended to report him and the store to the Canadian SPCA.

So until she had to drive back to the States, the little one became one very curious companion for us. She progressively trained him out of his habit of biting hard (he now only does so when he gets so excited playing with us that he forgets that his human friends have far thinner skins than ferret do, and then he usually realizes what he has done almost immediately, feels remorseful, and tries to pretend that it hasn't happened). The whole thing felt uniquely special, and we both felt a very strong bond with the little furry, almost --silly as it may sound-- like he were an adopted child. Needless to say, naming had to be done right... it had to be him. For days we came up with names, and discarded them as inadequate.

Finally, on the eve of her departure, I woke up from a strange dream, about Corwainer Smith, the science-fiction writer. I kept on musing on this dream, and on the little ferret. Beth suddenly turned to me and said, "Myron... how about Myron?" This was totally uncanny. Beth didn't know a thing about Cordwainer Smith, nor had she any way to know that his real name had been Dr. Paul MYRON Anthony Linebarger. But by this point in time I had grown increasingly used to and comfortable with the strange and not always conscious psychic link that she and I appear to share (such as the fact that when she wakes up in DC early in the morning, she often causes me to wake up in Kingston, which has forced me to rearrange my whole sleeping schedule around hers in order to get enough rest), and so Myron it was.

Myron is now a well-esteemed member of the family and apparently has adopted me as his father. Whenever I'm visiting Beth and I leave, he gets depressed for days, and whenever I drop down for another visit he first checks me out with quiet joy, then he bites me and runs away, to punish me for having left weeks ago. Additionally, he is usually up to no good and usually drives Beth insane by sneaking into her bedroom, spilling her drinks, and stealing the remote and dragging it to his favourite hidey-hole, not to mention demolishing her couches and squeezing through holes and nooks where no other ferret would dare to fit, which often gets him into trouble or into compromising situations he must be rescued from (though less and less as he grows older, since he is a resourceful ferret). And I freely admit that I have grown quite fond of the little furry and that he has become my favourite ferret. We seem to share a very odd and special bond (when I say this now, keep in mind that until the summer of 97 I was totally unfamiliar with ferrets as pets and considered myself mostly a cat person). He also appears to be mute, so he expresses a lot just in the quiet, poignant way in which he stares at you.

The whole incident taught me a lot more about Beth as a person, about her good heart, her empathy and her compassion, and of course increased my affection and respect for her. But it also taught me that the one thing never to do is take her to a pet store. Unfortunately, human beings, in addition to fancying themselves the only rational animal in the whole of creation, also happen to be the only animals who predictably will trip more than once on the same stone.

A couple of months ago, early this Fall, Beth came up for another of her visits. She brought the four ferrets with her (Myron being the youngest), since they need looking after and otherwise, even with a trusted friend looking up after them, she worries herself sick). So, first stop after her trip of course, the pet shop for some kibble and litter, with me tagging along like a helpful bundle. I should have known better...

I will skip the details of the first pet shop, and of the pooches and other curious life forms that The Witch would have taken home if I'd only let her (jeepers, doesn't she have enough familiars already?). But after the kibble and the litter were procured, she just HAD to go to another pet shop because the first one had no decent ferret cages of adequate size. The first thing that met our sight was a cage with a bunch of kittens in it. "OOoooooooh...," went the enraptured Witch, staring into the cage. Then she regained her wits, and mustered her wiles. Suddenly, I found myself under the assault of a poignant, pleading stare. "OOooooh...?" she went again, but note --alas!-- the added question mark. This time both the awful sound and the poignant stare were directed at me, and they were imbued with the cold, calculating purpose of her evil designs.

I froze, and stared back at her in helpless horror. I stared at the cage. I stared back at the Witch. I felt like a mouse held under the spell of the deadly stare of a slowly uncoiling boa constrictor. "OOooooo...?" went the awful woman again, but this time more poignantly, with greater urgency (or should I say "command"?), with even a hint of impatience at my patent and insensitive inaction. In short, two kittens found a new home that afternoon. You'd think I would have learned, wouldn't you?

Names were proposed and tossed, far too many. Grabfoot, Butterball, Sultan, Stinky, Boogie, The Lord Jesus Christ... The naming of animal companions is a very delicate matter for me and for Witchie; they have to be named just RIGHT. The name has to BE the companion (at least from our human perspective; remember, the beasties don't have a voice, they can't express an opinion, so fuck'em, they don't get a say --but then, come to think of it, neither did any of us when we were unceremoniously ejected from the communion of the wombs and into this appalling coldness of being which we have now come to take for granted--). It took time. Eventually, the older of the two kittens got named Timur (after my adolescence friend and favourite cat of all time, in turn named after the legendary Scythian shepperd who became the great conqueror Timur-Lang -- Tamberlayne, sung by Chris Marlowe in two of his plays). As for the younger one...

I had finally decided to name him Gharlane (on the occasion of the Myron incident, we had shared the tale with our Eddorian friend --he *loves* Cordwainer Smith-- and had promised him that our next ferret would be named after him, but of course it didn't look like then as there would be any ferrets coming forth again for a while), but Witchie had decided that he was a Henry. And the wretched cat --who had not answered to a single one of the previous names we had racked our brains finding for him-- for some unfathomable reason now chose to answer EQUALLY to both Henry and Gharlane. Hence, under the auspices of the Witch, he ended up a Henry-Gharlane as though he were a Haithian VooDoo priest, much to the chagrin of our Eddorian friend who would have preferred Gharlane-Henry.

Thus far all the merryness. Witchie went back on a Sunday early morn, now the proud possessor of a choice menagerie (which included four ferrets, three cats and a Spanish-Canadian hooman male, in addition to herself).

On the early morning of Monday, just on my way out the door, I got the totally unexpected message by Podkayne's, letting us know that Cronan was extremely sick and that he was not expected to survive. I forwarded it to Witchie. I refused to come to grips with it emotionally until I knew how things would turn out, but I fully believed and hoped that he would somehow pull through. I just couldn't see him going down, being taken away, this way. Anyway, my schedule was insane as usual, so I concentrated on that.

That evening I opened my email and found Podkayne's new message, telling us that Cronan had passed away. I remember not dealing with it emotionally and feeling like I was OK, and like it wouldn't hit me for a while. Then I phoned Witchie to tell her and I couldn't get the words out of my throat and suddenly the tears started to flow of their own accord. I had to go to work at the Regiment after the call, and so I tried to throw myself into the stuff I had to do, but I had to go home eventually to sleep. I like doing whatever grieving I need to do privately, and luckily for the next couple of days I had all the privacy I could wish. Beth understands this need, so she left me alone during this period and grieved in her own way.

I think it must have happened to all of us, that even after we'd had the time for it to hit us and for all of us to grieve, even weeks after, there was still disbelief, as if there was no thought we could formulate big enough to contain both Death and somebody as larger than life and splendid as Cronan (and though most of us, except Brendan and Wayland, never met him outside our monitor screens, it was like he was immensely powerful, a sort of giant --albeit a young one, with a young one's heart-- in our perception of him). And I think that although we felt unable to calculate the exact extent of his potential and his promise, we perceived him to a great degree in terms of it in his young and exciting life ahead, which made the loss all the more senseless and unbereable.

This may sound totally silly and sentimental, and it may not be understood by many (which is why I have included the above narrative about companion animals, and their names, and how rescuing them and becoming their friends and companions is a labour of love and respect for us, and how they all have their unique personalities as companions and friends, albeit not of the hooman sort), but I think it was that Monday night when I got back from work and was trying to read my email through my tears that I first thought of paying homage to Cronan by naming our next ferret after him. It immediately felt like the RIGHT thing for us to do. I wanted to tell Witchie right away but I think I waited a day or two.

I also wanted to tell you all, whether you understood or not, but I didn't. It was not a conscious decision, but I delayed, unconsciously waiting. I thought you or some of you (Captain Infinity definitely) would understand, but something else was needed before I could tell you, and without consciously knowing this, I nonetheless waited. Incidentally, this may seem totally silly for some of you whippersnapper youngsters. I would never have understood (in fact, I would have laughed my head off about something of this sort) when I was in my teens.

Now, a quick flashback to the merry days of Witch's visit. On that day went Witch had kittens (and so, by extension, did I), I mentioned the first stop at another pet store, same one where we'd got Myron a year ago (and Witchie hates shopping there and giving them business because of the way they treat animals, but unlike other places they have the right kibble for her ferrets). What I didn't tell is that we had stopped briefly by the same room where we first had met Myron, and had found two more kit ferrets they'd got, strictly for the upcoming X'mas shopping spree (at no other time does this store carry ferrets, and a good thing too since they still haven't learned how to care for them properly).

With ferrets, there is a strange thing that may happen sometimes which experienced ferret companions tend to be familiar with. Often, *they* are the ones who adopt their future hooman companions. The tales abound of ferrets on sale at a breeder's, at a pet store or at a shelter who, after doubtfully and sometimes ironically (they have a very strange sense of humour, these animals) eyeing countless prospective buyers, would finally recognize the one person they ferretsonally would want as their owner, and they would proceed to make their wishes patently obvious, sometimes even throwing themselves repeatedly at their chosen hooman until s/he finally caved in and took the persistent friendly furry home.

Something like this was what happened with these two kits, as soon as they saw us. They adopted us instantly, and it was as if sensed knew that we could understand ferrets and would make good friends and caretakers for them. Unfortunately, the glittering and unwavering certainty in their eyes was in no way matched by the state of our respective bankbooks. Unable to afford the $500 which the pair would cost, we left with great sadness and feeling like we were betraying the pair's trust, and the hopes we had unwittingly raised by dropping by. It felt wrong to leave them. That became one of those weeks when failing to win the lottery becomes a source of major frustration.

A flashback to a more recent time. Quite a few weeks ago it was getting close to my turn to visit Witch. I dropped by the pet store to get some kibble to bring down (it is way cheaper to buy it up here, with the current exchange rate). I wondered if the ferrets had been sold, and on impulse I stopped by their cage. There was one left, and he was asleep; the other had been sold. I did not disturb the sleeping one.

Shorter flashback, this time to just about two, three weeks ago (editing note: two or three weeks from when I first started writing this message, two or three weeks ago). Beth was scheduled to visit again in a few days, so I dropped by the same pet store to get some kibble and litter. I went to peep in the ferret's cage, expecting him to be gone (by now it had been nearly a couple of months since our first encounter). Much to my surprise, the little fellah was still there, asleep. Further, no sooner did I poke my head in the room where his cage was located that he suddenly stirred, got himself up and looked at me. I suddenly realized at some level that I was meant to take him home. Hard to explain this intuitive feeling for the uninitiated, you kinda have to trust my judgement and intuition as I do, which of course is kind of hard.

I proceeded to leave the pet store in a hurry, doing mental calculations. There was an exercise coming up on that weekend, and I would be making more than the cost of the ferret off it, if I rearranged a few bills. But it would be completely irresponsable to get the ferret now and leave it alone in a cage my room for the three days I would be away. Further, waiting would give "Fate" a chance to intervene. If the furry was still there when I got back Sunday afternoon, then I would take that as the implicit agreement of "Fate" to the obvious fact that this was supposed to be. Plus the exercise would give me a chance to feel that I was earning the rescue of the little one (two months in an empty aquarium in a pet store is sheer hell for a young growing ferret).

It certainly did that. The whole weekend was a dismounted infantry's bag drive and an excellent training exercise at the Pl and Coy level, attack during the day, patrolling all night. On the bus back from Fort Drum on Sunday aft following endex, I managed to keep my eyes open long enough to revise some of the essentials to cover when taking a ferret home. We got to the Armoury, cleaned weapons and equipment and headed home. I grabbed a quick shower, threw on some jeans and headed for the pet shop. Sure enough, fuzzy was still there. Three quarters of an hour later, he was on his way to his new home.

That was how I avenged myself on the wily Witch.

The unsuspecting woman was in fact driving up two days later, on Tuesday, with her full complement of Mustela furo putorius. When she arrived, the first thing she wanted to do was transfer the ferrets to the comfort of the cage in my room. I had savoured this scene in my mind over and over. I waited until she was just around the corner from the cage, then asked.

"Wait a minute... what are you doing?"

Matter of factly, she answered.

"I'm taking the ferrets to the cage."

"Uh, OK. But you really think that Cronan would approve?"

After a nine and a half hour drive, such an unrelated question effectively made her go even more cross-eyed than usual.

"Huh? <long, baffled pause> What does Cronan have to do with any of this?"

By this point she was turning to face the cage again, where she now came face to face with a very alert young ferret checking her out.

"Oh my God!"

"Beth, meet Cronan. Cronan, meet Beth."

Before she went back a week later leaving Myron behind to keep Cronan company (ferrets are *very* social animals, and although a lot of folks choose to own single ferrets, ideally a young ferret should never be kept without at least one other ferret friend). By this point there was not the slightest hint of a doubt in either Witch's mind or in mine (nor would have been in that of the other ferrets if they had known our departed friend, for that matter) that the newest family member had been very aptly named indeed.

FAI, I had yet to see any animal who could manage to seriously annoy the Witch, leave alone utterly exasperate her. Yet Cronan managed to find many sure ways to do both, such as dragging the corner litter pan around the steel floor of the cage at particularly untimely hours, causing her to wake up and to swear, in her dazzled state, with previously unseen frustration and vehemence (usually she manages to retain some level of humour, understanding or ironical detachment, but Cronan effectively demolished that and proceeded to gloat over it. Witchie of course did not remember a thing in the morning, but that is standard for her when waking up from a deep sleep (she never seems to remember, FI, that she sometimes even snores, and consistently accuses me of making it up).

The solution was to remove that particular pan out of the cage, while Cronan watched and chuckled at me with an evil glimmer in his eye.

Oh yeah. He chuckles. I've never met a ferret who chuckles, but Cronan certainly does. He gloats, too. For that matter, he is the most vocal ferret I have ever known (even in that he resembles the original Cronan). Myron FI never emits a sound. Neither do Elliott or Hootie, unless somebody accidentally happens to step on their paw, or they get caught on something, or the vet accidentally trims their nails a little too closely. Bentley, who prior to Cronan used to be the most expressive of the group, doesn't go louder than a quiet rattle whenever some other ferret is beating up on him. But Cronan has plenty of sounds for all sorts of different emotions. His chuckle is the most distinctive. He chuckles with excitement, joy and anticipation whenever I take him out of his cage and to the living room to play. He chuckles whenever I'm playing with him, particularly when he gets me good. And he chuckles, particularly, whenever he is up to no good and he knows it, and even more so when he gets to see the dismay in our faces as we discover what exactly he had been up to for the previous quiet half hour.

Yeah, whatever it is that could possibly drive one nuts, Cronan is sure to instinctively and unfailingly chance upon it. He is also the only ferret who has ever managed to open the lock for my smaller, travel cage (luckily, I got him before he lost himself in my non-ferretproofed room).

He also trolls the other ferrets in their sleep, and drives them nuts. Sleep is a sacred time for ferrets, and it is sacrilege to disturb them. When we got the kittens weeks ago and we tried putting them in the same cage with the ferrets, the latter were scandalized and irate because the smaller one would constantly attempt to wake them up. They were getting increasingly grumpy. "What is *this*?! There's no way to sleep in here man!", said their rather eloquent looks of complain, directed at us. Then the added weight of the felines finally caused one of the hammock's strings to snap, and all landed unceremoniously on the floor of the cage! For the next half hour they proceeded to give Witchie the most effective guilt trip they had inflicted to date (oh yeah, that's another beaut; her animals have got the art of giving Witchie a guilt trip that no hooman could ever hope to down to a tee, but more on that a bit later [1]).

Hootie and Elliott are particularly fastidious about their sleep because, in ferret terms, they are the equivalent of dignified senior
citizens. But even Bentley (who in ferret terms would be reaching his late thirties, early fourties) and Myron (who at a year and a few months of age, is coming into his early twenties) consider their sleep a very sacred thing indeed.

This was the perfect sacred cow for Cronan, the iconoclastic ferret, to undertake to slay on a consistent basis. It simply drove all the other, usually unperturbable ferrets, nuts. Now that he is left alone with Myron at my place, the latter has learned not to fall for Cronan's trollerizing, and it is a sight for sore eyes indeed to watch Cronan scruffing him, hugging him and trying to lick/bite him in the most sensitive places to try to get him to wake and engage in the ferret equivalent to a flame war, while Myron, wisely, heroically, and with a half unconscious smirk, continues to either sleep or to feign being sound asleep (ferrets *don't* usually feign sleep, but Myron has the weirdest sense of humour). Half the time Cronan will indeed manage to trollerize him (and in the ensuing flame war Cronan usually outlasts him with ease), but the other half Myron's sleepfile will handily keep the latter unaware of the intrusion.

Another Cronan-like trait... this ferret is always spoiling for a fight. Prior to Cronan's arrival, Myron used to be the most rambunctious of the bunch, but now the former is teaching him a few things. Granted, those two and a half months which Cronan spent in a cage mostly by himself made him a bit overweight and he had no one to teach him any good moves, so initially he had nothing but sheer stamina and enthusiasm to match against Myron's advanced skills. But like our dear departed friend during his years in Usenet, this Cronan has proven himself a gifted and mighty quick study of advanced sparring skills well beyond those expected at his age.

[this message, first started in early December, is now (Dec 29th) being continued]

I write now at Witchie's place for the holidays. Cronan had never been here before. He'd met the other ferrets on the last visit by Witchie, as mentioned above. Back then, unskilled in the arts of ferret-sparring, he took quite a trashing from the others but fought back valiantly and untiringly and did manage to outlast them. Since he has had a full month at my place with Myron (who, skillwise and in terms of style, would be the equivalent to "jdn"). As I write now, watching him spreading mischief across Witchie's living room, he is a young ferret teenage hotshot who consistently beats not only Myron but Elliott (the mature, inmensely skilled ferret equivalent of Gharlane, undisputed master of years over all of Witchie's ferrets regardless of age due to his amazing and unerring --not to mention stylish-- fighting skills), Hootie (the mature ferret version of an odd hybrid jms-Aaron Bergman) and of course Bentley (the Dan Tropea of ferretdom), who is more eager than most for a play-fight all the time, but also invariably cheerful when he doesn't win any of them. Oh, and the cats...

None of the other ferrets --save Myron occassionally, and very rarely Elliott or Bentley-- plays much with the cats (either the four year old mature heavy-weight Elvis, or the now much grown and endlessly rambunctious Timur and Henry-Gharlane). But the moment I brought Cronan down and let him out of the cage, the kittens -- not to mention the much surprised older cat-- were totally baffled by a ferret who not only chased them and played endlessly and totally fearlessly with them, but who could
leap and bounce as high as they could, ran and dodge and lunge easily at fast, and roll and tussle madly and endlessly with them. And, what no other ferret could ever accomplish, totally tire the seemingly undefatigable young felines out and still keep bouncing merrily at them for hours.

Further, although he is invariably good natured and tries to play and fight to win everytime without malice or the least desire to genuinely cause hurt or harm to anything other than feline or ferret egoes if such dubious things exist in ours (another, totally unmistakeable Cronan-like trait), he is so good at what he does that a couple of times we've had to rescue either Timur or Henry-Gharlane when young Cronan latched onto them a little too enthusiastically. As for Elvis, he usually trades a couple of light sparrs and then wisely retreats to preserve his elderly dignity and then philosophically watch the other cats get themselves trollerized and flamed to shreds from some safe vantage point removed from the fray.

For all of this, I have never seen a young ferret as innocent in his skill, as devoid of malice, and as good natured as this Cronan, which again reminds me so very much of another Cronan we've all known rather well.

Here would have ended this tale of out little tribute to the enduring and forever present and alive in some fashion memory of Cronan, in our way, except for some very recent developments...

For all my ranting, it seems that I still haven't learned my lesson. Dec 24th, two days before we were due to set out to visit a few of Witchie's relatives throughout Southern VA and NC, Witchie suggested we stop by the local pet shop to pick up some thingies for the fuzzies. I cautioned her before we went in, "No MORE ferrets." She nodded grimly, sharing a like resolve. My strength fails me now, in describing what followed. I can only own that we were both equally responsible. I saw a young, totally gorgous ferret female whom I absolutely fell in love with (all the other ferrets we had are male). Witchie's heart was totally captured by a tiny male kit, a young baby ferret of only a few weeks age. We essentially mortgaged our present and future holiday and birthday gifts to one another for the next year and gave these two a new home.

Heh! The melee that followed...

The baby required some attention and care when allowed to play with both the cats and the other ferrets. He is not yet anywhere near the size and age to do much but crawl around or clumsily if eagerly waddle his cute little butt about tripping and trying to unsuccessfully keep up with his elders as the dart across the room. Consequently, when the other ferrets regard him as a particularly precious toy to be scruffed and carried to their favourite hiding place, all he can do is complain bitterly in helpless annoyance and put up with the indignity, twisting all the way and heroically if unsuccessfully trying to fight back. This was particularly comical when there were three or more of the grown ferrets fighting to carry him off as their toy.

With the cats, we feared direr dangers, for he is scarcely the size of a mouse (albeit one who eagerly tries to fight back but whose bite amounts to little else but a very soft tickle or pinch). A couple of times we had to move in quickly, when it looked like they might be going a little too much for the throat instead of the scruff. Nevertheless, the little fuck is fearless and actually tries to chase kittens ten times bigger than him (he only succeeds in catching up to them because they'll actually stand and watch his approach with fascination, instead of dashing about in lightning-like ferret fashion). This, coupled with strong discipline imparted to the felines by Witchie and I were the baby is concerned has helped to slowly persuade them to treat the youngster more as a particularly clumsy if amusingly eager playmate than as a prey mouse. For a young nothingness of a fart he is remarkably impudent and reckless and will try to play with anything regardless of size. He is learning fast, though it will be a few weeks yet before he'll reach a size where we can safely leave him along the felines without supervision.

As for the other ferrets, when they are not too busy having fun doing their thing, they treat him with surprising gentleness when they play with him. This is particularly so with the older ones, Elliott and Hootie. In fact, the baby seems to have decided that the rather voluminous Hootie is his new mother, a honour that Hootie does not seem terribly impressed with, but which he bears with stoical resignation. No permanent name have we set upon for him yet, although Witch in the interim amuses herself by referring to him as "Spoodge", and simply "The Baby" also comes in handy.

As for the lady, she created quite the row amongst the boys young and old the first day she was introduced. She is spayed of course, and all of our male ferrets were purchased neutered, but she is still drop dead gorgous and one hell of a trouble maker. No permanent names have been chosen yet although "Beauty", "Lady" and "Podkayne" have been briefly considered. With Podkayne she shares the traits of being both totally fearless and utterly fearful, but beyond that she has the feistyness of Lori and Rhianna, the dry wit of Recook and Lisa B, the don't-take-no-shit attitude of Marianne, and from what we have seen so far she completely lacks the kind gentleness of MQS. She is however as competitive, willful, domineering and drop-dead gorgous flirtatious (because she can!) as Witchie when she too was a teenager, and she also has an extremely vocal propensity that I can think of no respectable hooman female to suitably compare her to.

Suffice to say, her first day around was one of utter shock for what had previously constituted an all-boys club of a menagerie. There was a definite loss of innocence, FI. Before, guilt and sensitivity had never been involved in fun, good play. But it became immediately obvious that this young feisty lass was a master at screaming shrilly and making ferret boys feel like guilty, horrible insensitive lugs if they didn't give in to her every whim. Lord have mercy on them if they dared try to play with her the way they played with every other ferret! She'd scream shrilly in a jarring way they'd never had inflicted upon them, all the while
threatening with an open darting mouth seemingly ready to bite... (and yet she was the roughest of the lot when it came to rough old fashioned ferret playfight-and-tumble, but as she would undoubtedly have said if we hoomans could only understand her, there ain't no double standard in this boys, because *that* doesn't count!).

Cronan, the only one of the young shots who tried to stand up to her and who never conceived of play as anything but good-natured fun involving neither guilt nor tragedy, was thoroughly traumatized. He kept darting non-amused, horrified glances at Witchie and I, as if to say, "What have you done to our Garden of Eden, to us...?"

In days to come, a new status-quo had a way of evolving...

The young female is immensely playful, rambunctious, an incurable trouble-maker, capricious and yet in her way good-hearted to a fault, and she is by far the fastest, most agile ferret around. She is also highly intelligent, the most wily and astute, lithe and totally graceful like a dancer in all her moves and stances (even asleep), and a shameless coquette. She has butted heads with every male ferret or feline who might have vyed with her for supremacy and only reluctantly has she grown to tolerated the fact that Witchie and I are boss and that her wiles, delightful as we may find them, will not work on us.

Heh! She has an ego too. One day The Witch started imitating her dooking and the lady ferret got really pissed, thinking that Witchie was mocking her.

And now all the ferrets (and even cat and kittens) are totally taken with her, and interestingly she and Cronan have become the dominating partners of the lot and in mischief, in a relationship of equality where they constantly play with without yielding to each other, and with a stamina which neither of the other ferrets or cats can match (although when play, dancing and party time are over, she instantaneously collapses and voluptuously abandons herself to a delighted sleep with a suddenness and totality no other ferret can match). And Cronan felt it necessary to make it clear to me how happy he now is with her nothwitstanding his initial horrified reaction, with the ferret equivalent of "She is allright, you did right by me no matter what I signalled to you before."

Now, if only to satisfy Mortis after posting such a long ascii screed, some binaries ought to be shared. Regrettably, the lady and the baby being such recent additions to the family and we lacking a digital camera, no pics of them are yet available. But as for Cronan, a couple have been kindly included by Mr. Hole in his webpage...

The one is just a clear frontal shot of his face, a silver mitt ferret with a blaze. Close scrutiny might pick up the evil, restless, hell-raising mischief in his eyes.

The other, smaller, is a reduction made by Witchie of a much larger picture, which displays effectively the Cronan-character of the beast. He is at my feet (yeah, those are my jeans and snickers), about to launch himself into my pants, literally *leering* with delight watching my helpless horror at the prospect. And if that does not amply display how appropriately he was named...

Cronan lives.

Thank you all for having put up with this,


[1] It is always a delightful sight to watch how The Witch, who takes no shit from no hooman alive, falls so easily prey to guilt trips inflicted upon her by her animals. One particularly amusing instance (from my perspective) comes to mind. On that weekend trip down I had brought a little, hand-gun sized Super-Soaker 50.

I have mentioned Elvis, Witch's older corpulent cat, who takes himself rather seriously. When I presented the water gun to Witchie, Elvis happened to be in range. An evil glimmer came into her eyes, and in that instant the little girl in her who used to enjoy annoying old farts who took themselves too seriously to then run laughing away as they thundered came out into her eyes. For that instant, temptation proved too much and although she usually slaves away for her pet friends, she couldn't resist letting out a squirt, two squirts...

Elvis jumped in startled bafflement, all dignity instantly lost at the very first squirt. By the second squirt he had figured out who had inflicted the base indignity upon him and he had assumed a sulking, mortally offended stance calculated to stop Witchie in her tracks had she been tempted to squirt again (and to get him all sorts of treats regardless). Needless to say, Witchie felt instantly guilty, and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to propitiate the grumpy and righteous old cat, who knew exactly how well he had her. She even brought out a can of his absolute "special occasions" favourite soft food, which he non-commitally accepted and dispossed of in short order.

Hours later, Elvis still had her hook, line and sinker. We were finishing supper and she was trying to congratiate herself with the old grump, in vain.

"Elvis... c'mere!"

I watched him get up and move away in assured, well-measured out self-righteousness, with full knowledge of the effect she was having upon his "owner".

"Elvis, don't be such a shit," pleaded, begged and remonstrated the Witch in vain. "I gave you a full can of your favourite food..."

Elvis did not turn, did not deign to bestow so much as a glance upon her and did not even check his step, but his slowly receding back pointedly arched itself further, ponderous with offended righteousness, an ominous sign which deepened the raging pangs of overpowering guilt ravaging The Witch's helpless heart.

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