I was away from home for an entire week. Normally, this would not bother me overmuch. There were aspects of my life from which I really needed a break. But I have a few new responsibilities that made me feel guilty, and even a bit worried, about being gone so long. As I mentioned in my previous post, my mother has sent me cats—several of them. Three in particular. And each is uncharacteristically needy at this point in his life.
Orangie is still living mostly in my back yard. He spends probably 70% of his time there—sleeping, eating, hanging with his “peeps” when we sit out on the deck in the evening. It’s the other 30% of his time that causes the problems. Every few days, he shows up with a new bite or sore, or he’s limping or just obviously doesn’t feel good. He’s been “cat about the neighborhood” for almost two years. That’s a surprisingly long tenure for any animal dumped here and left to fend for himself. Most of them waste away or disappear after a few months. This guy has hung tough; but it’s obvious he’s used up more than a couple of his nine lives in the interim.
Despite getting two big meals a day—and several snacks, when I’m home—he hasn’t fattened up at all. I noticed the other day that his fur is getting softer, and he keeps himself a little cleaner, which means he is feeling better than he did when he had to scratch for every meal. But I still would kind of like to see him looking more like the “marshmallow cats” that live in the house. And it’s obvious he’s had some kind of injury to his back legs or spine. Maybe he was attacked by a dog, or a human, or had a brush with a car… But he’s stiff and sore and sits awkwardly.
I’ve had September 1st penciled in my mind as the date to round him up and take him to the vet to be neutered and get a good check up. I wanted to wait until he trusted me enough. Still, I’m worried about the process. What if he comes home, I let him out, and he’s so upset with me that he never comes back? I suppose that’s probably a stupid thing to worry about. But I sure don’t want to do anything that forces him back out into the neighborhood to fend for himself.
He’s had a hard life the past couple of years. When I think about what he’s been through, I nearly start bawling. So, I want to do right by him; but I have to balance that, too, against what’s right for the rest of my herd. I don’t know if he’ll make a good transition to “indoor cat,” and I can’t have him going in and out of the house, possibly carrying disease to the indoor population. So he has to be “in” or “out.” We’ve been playing around with the idea of turning the shed into a kitty hut. Making it a warm, cozy place for kitties to get out of the rain and cold during the winter. And a place that we can quietly shut them in at night to keep them out of the way of the harm that lurks around the neighborhood in the dark—like raccoons, coyotes, other cats, dogs, cars, whatever. That might be a good compromise for everyone.
“Everyone” would include yet another denizen of the neighborhood who has taken to hanging around the yard and grabbing chow several times a week. This one is a scrappy little black tom…I can’t think that he is a year old, yet. We dubbed him “Ace,” short for Ace of Spades. Mostly we call him “Acer.” He’s such a sweetie, likes people, loves to be petted. But if testicle size really was determined by the amount of male hormone coursing through his body, this little guy would be dragging around balls the size of a Brahma bull’s. He just can’t not challenge every male cat in the subdivision. As a result, he gets the crap kicked out of him on a regular basis. Every time he shows up to beg a meal, he’s sporting a new battle wound. Acer is a relatively recent addition to the neighborhood cast of cat characters…I don’t know if he belongs to someone or not. I think not. And even if he does, his owners suck as “cat parents.” I would not feel bad at all about toting him to the vet along with Orangie. Orangie is a mellow old cat; likely he would be happy to share his space amiably with Ace…but Ace has to posture and howl every time they cross paths. Perhaps they could get along once they’ve been, shall we say, re-programmed? And then they could spend yucky fall and winter evenings snuggled into our shed-cum-cathouse. That’s what I would like to see, anyway.
Yes, I go through a lot of work and worry—and expense—to take care of these wanderlings. I feel responsible, being a member of the race that has bound them to itself and then treated them so shabbily. I recognize the human race’s collective sin, so it IS my responsibility to do what I can to atone for it. And it’s not as if I get no benefit from the relationship.
Ask anyone who knows me to describe me in one word, and the words, “Gentle,” “kind,” and “comforting” would not be the first you would hear. Far from it.
But there are creatures in my world —small, helpless creatures suffering for their relationship with humans—for whom I am a source of gentleness, kindness, and comfort. They can’t say the words, but I know I help.
Like anyone else who has reached my venerable age, I’ve navigated the dark corridors of grief. My sister…my dad…my mom. Being the agnostic I am (a state partially inspired by my sister’s difficult and untimely death) I do not believe that my departed loved ones have gone to “heaven,” and that I will meet them there at the end of my own life. I remember very distinctly, after my sister’s death, writing that I felt that she had just…gone. I did not—dared not—feel her spirit anywhere. …because her family fell so utterly apart after she left, I could not bear to think of her as being somewhere, looking down on that. I knew it would break her heart. As, I now realize, Dad would have been broken-hearted at the strife between his offspring after he went away.
Yet I am not completely without spiritual awareness. It’s not that I don’t believe that there is a spiritual realm to which we are intrinsically connected. I’ve simply come to the conclusion that our current array of human religions doesn’t even approach an understanding of that realm or our connection to it. (As a race, we have opted to define this thing of which we have no understanding in terms that we can understand. And we have chiseled those erroneous terms into stone; which we then use to pummel “unbelievers” into submission.)
I find that when I set aside the constrictions of the “faith” in which I was raised, I can explore my own connection to the spiritual…which bears little resemblance to conventional belief systems.
I’ve discovered that, after each passing of someone dear to me, I’ve felt that person’s spirit contact me through the natural world.
The summer immediately following my sister’s death, I was visited by hummingbirds. I had always been enchanted by these exquisite little creatures, but my encounters with them had been rare and brief. After Joyce died, I had hummingbirds—everywhere. In my garden, and everywhere I went.
I could never quite decide if she was the hummingbirds, or if she sent them…
In the years after Dad died, I felt him in different ways. When I went to the beach, it seemed that I would encounter one solitary gull, waddling along the edge of the surf, or soaring overhead, who would connect with me. And I would always say, “Hi, Dad…” Because I just knew it was his spirit, come to touch me, come to let me know he was in a place of ultimate freedom and beauty—there on the wild beaches of the Oregon coast.
And then there were the eagles. I truly believe Dad sent them. Sent them to remind me of my strength. At a time in my life during which great decisions needed to be made, a time when his guidance would have meant the world to me—he dispatched those great, noble birds to give me the quiet nod that he could no longer give me as father to daughter.
And Mom? Mom passed away almost two years ago.
My relationship with my mother was complicated. Let’s just say, I thought I was…not her favorite child. And our personalities were polar opposites. Most often, we just didn’t GET one another.
So I was surprised to realize, recently, that even she has contacted me through an animal host.
She has sent me…cats. Those creatures at once maddeningly independent, and yet undeniably dependent (upon someone to look after them while they project that pretense of complete aloofness and self-sufficiency.) SO like my mother…
Mom has sent me Orangie—
And a host of other scraggly strays that slink around the periphery of my yard, hoping to grab a few morsels from the “community” cat dish…
And Bozo—the beautiful runaway who showed up at the restaurant a couple of weeks ago, and is now ensconced in my bedroom, waiting to be integrated into the indoor cat community. (Such a stupid name for a gorgeous and obviously expensive cat...but the hubs started calling him that, and it has, unfortunately, stuck. Maybe I should just spell it "Beauzeau...")
I truly believe— in a way not at all connected to the tired, uninspired spirituality of conventional religion—that our loved ones never really go far away, when they go.
This has been a hard week. It always seems to go that way. I have a space of time where things go well—it looks like we are finally turning the corner, and there's going to be some real progress and change at the café. And then it just…goes away. Time was that, after some small victory or accomplishment, I would turn my beaming face around just in time to slam into a wall. Like, BLAM! Out of nowhere some really bizarre crappy thing would blindside me. The wheels would come off and spin away in ten different directions. And I'd be sitting there holding my splitting head together with my bare hands wondering what the f**k had happened this time. So I suppose I've made progress—because that doesn't happen anymore. I've learned to expect the blow, so I don't get blindsided. I don't slam into the wall, I laboriously turn the wheel to swerve around it. Right into a ditch. The wheels don't come off, now; they just grind to a halt in three feet of mud. Between training and tweaking the new chef, getting the new baker on track, fighting with the non-existent air conditioning in 105 degree weather, organizing a fashion show to be put on by the salon across the street (in my dining room), thinking about the holidays and catering menus and et cetera ad infinitum, NOW would not seem to be a good time to be away from the café for nine days. But Scandi week waits for no (wo)man, so I am going down to Junction City to do that thing. And, in reality, it seems like exactly the perfect time for me to be getting some time away from the restaurant, because I have HAD IT with employee traumas. This past week, some of the craziness was of my own making…but other ongoing stuff, and new crap cropping up like Wack-a-moles, have put me in a "Get me the hell out of here before I do something I'll regret" frame of mind. So the restaurant will have to take care of itself for a week, while I work my ass off doing something else. It's unfortunate that I won't be rested and refreshed when I get back. I'll be an entirely different, and with any luck—richer, kind of tired. That will have to suffice until I can take some real days off…
I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him. --Abraham Lincoln
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Where I'm From
I am from station wagons, from kool-aid and turf-builder.
I am from the three bedroom, one bath ticky-tacky box
with the swath of weedy lawn; from lightning bugs,
June bugs, and mosquitoes the size of small birds.
From nights near as hot as the days,
spread-eagled on sticky sheets
crickets creaking, horns honking,
trains rumbling and whistling in the distance…
I am from snow to the eaves, jewel-studded ice storms
and green-black thunderstorms with sideways rain.
I am from bright red tulips, honeysuckle berries,
and worms on the driveway after a cloudburst;
from daisies, tiny wild strawberries, “Queen Anne’s Lace”
and crashing the kite into power lines.
I am from “Look what followed me home from school”
and never having too many animals. From Taffy and Rusty
and Sunny, the yellow headed parakeet, who could say
“Happy Birthday” but only when he thought
no one was listening…
I am from the women who shuttle the carpool,
punch the clock, scrub the toilet,
then climb into the bottle, the herb
or the fantasy to quiet the noise in their heads
and the men they choose to rescue
or who choose to rescue them.
From “When you meet the right one, you’ll just know”
and “Your dad was a virgin when we were married…”
I am from the dutiful eldest daughter who paired off
home made and pro-created at the appointed time,
and the other four who didn’t.
I am from the tearful Catholic and the stoic agnostic;
the rope stretched taut between belief and unbelief,
pulled one direction, then the other…
the eternal tug of war never won.
I’m from pioneers of urban exile; before the country clubs and the soccer and the Rolls Royces.
I’m from the first McDonald’s and the last Tastee Freez.
I am from the great moldering box in the upstairs closet;
roaring twenties sepias stacked on
shiny square instamatic shots, discoloring with age.
I am from the five stair-steps, the Christmas trees, the campfires,
and the blurred mountains captured from a moving car.
I am from the unlikely union of a country boy and a city girl,
brought together by Hitler and Hirohito;
and the neighborhood of compromise
that kept them both sane…almost.
On Where We're Destined to Go...
As for life, I'm humbled, I'm without words sufficient to say
how it has been hard as flint, and soft as a spring pond,both of these and over and over,
and long pale afternoons besides, and so many mysteries beautiful as eggs in a nest, still unhatched though warm and watched over by something I have never seen -a tree angel, perhaps,or a ghost of holiness.
Every day I walk out into the world to be dazzled, then to be reflective. It suffices, it is all comfort - along with human love,
dog love, water love, little-serpent love,sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about
stopping, and lying down at last to the long afterlife, to the tenderness yet to come, when time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,
and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death, I can't wait to be the hummingbird, can you?
"Sometimes I go around feeling sorry for myself; and all the while I am being carried by the wind across the sky." --Chippewa saying.