Monday, October 20, 2014

A Dog's Tale

The dog didn’t understand where everyone else had gone. One minute, there was the Leader of the Pack, barking orders and charging around the house, and then the big box on wheels came out, was filled with clothes, and he was gone. Next, the Roommate, who slept in the bed alongside the dog’s crate, packed up most of the stuff in the small space that they had shared for all those years and went to somewhere ominously referred to as “college”.  So, the dog was left there with only the One Who Feeds Me to pay attention to the basic wants and needs of every day existence like bowls of food and goodies and ball throwing.

The One Who Feeds Me talked to the dog a lot, but never said anything profound or worth remembering. She added to each bowl, on top of the boring, dry kibble, a spoon of canned food from the wonderful white box that was full of human treats.  She sat on the couch next to the dog, turning the pages of a book, clicking on the keys of the little folding screen or too often staring at the big screen that was constantly blaring voices and moving pictures of people sitting around saying things that the dog did not care about one hoot. 

When the dog barked at the little creatures that had the audacity to race around the yard, picking up nuts and burying them in the piles of leaves, the One Who Feeds Me got annoyed and tried to make the dog stop jumping on the window screens and scratching the wood on the back door.  The dog felt bad that the One Who Feeds Me did not understand the importance of keeping the yard free and clear of these impudent invaders.

Sometimes, the dog would drop the tennis ball in front of the One Who Feeds Me, hoping that she would not be so lazy.  It only worked three or four times each day, but when the One Who Feeds Me grabbed the ball and opened the back door, the dog knew that she understood the joy and meaning of racing across the yard back  and forth with the soggy, chewy rubber prize in the dog’s mouth.  The dog decided this was good exercise for the One Who Feeds Me, who had to bend over again and again and walk, or even run, to reach the ball before the dog snatched it up.

Every night, after the moon was high in the sky, the One Who Feeds Me would reach for the blue leash one last time and take the dog outside into the dark night.  She would wait patiently while the dog sniffed all the significant spots and, nose to the ground, ran in circles following every clue about who and what had crossed the yard after the sun went down. Then, marking the territory so anyone who came through here would be sure to notice and move on, the dog trotted back to the house.  Upstairs, the One Who Feeds Me would open the door to the black wire crate and drop some biscuits inside on the soft pad. The dog crawled right into the cozy den as the door was shut and the blanket covering the crate closed out all the light.  The dog wondered what the One Who Feeds Me was going to do now, but fell asleep rather than worry about it.

This was the routine, day after day, night after night.  Then, without warning, on an evening just like any other, as the One Who Feeds Me was mesmerized by the big screen after dinner, the dog heard voices, deep angry voices, outside, and knowing exactly what must be done, the dog began to growl and bark as loud as possible. The One Who Feeds Me jumped up and peered under a small corner of the closed curtains. In the street, red lights began flashing, and more voices shouted. The dog barked more emphatically, and for once, the One Who Feeds Me did not object. A loud sharp noise rang out, and the voices were silent. The red lights stopped flashing, and everyone went away. The One Who Feeds Me patted the dog on the head.

That night, when the dog headed towards the crate, the One Who Feeds Me did not open the door. Instead, she motioned to the bed in the room where she slept and invited the dog to jump up on it. The dog knew a good opportunity must never be ignored and leaped up, snuggling close against the One Who Feeds Me’s leg.  She put her arm around the dog’s soft, thick middle, and the dog reached up and licked her on the nose. “Good dog”.  And they slept together happily ever after.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Facing the Orange Sun

I looked at the weather forecast yesterday morning, and my heart sank.  They were predicting 2 to 3 inches of rain and severe thunderstorms overnight and into Thursday morning.  I hate thunderstorms, and that much rain means flooding around the barn and the house.  Here I was, facing the first of these fairly frequent weather dramas all alone.

My fears are not unfounded. When we moved into this house ten years ago, I was with my daughter and my mom on a summer afternoon when lightening struck.  It was like a bomb going off. A pine tree caught on fire in the pasture. The fence post exploded. It blew out fans, the microwave, TVs, stereos, computers, as the shock waves shot through our home like a giant spider web of static electricity. Later, I learned that the temperature inside a lightening bolt can be 50,000 degrees F, hotter than the surface of the sun. 

When I was a kid, growing up in Illinois, tornadoes and thunderstorms were common hazards. The sirens went off at the firehouse to warn us, and my mom would make us go down to the basement.  Sometimes, the risk was so great that we would sleep down there.  I got up for school one morning when I was about eight years old, and as I walked down the hall to the kitchen, the big elm tree outside the window in front of me was split in half by a bolt of lightening.  

Soon after that, I began having “The Dream”, and I’ve had it ever since, over and over.  It is always the same: I walk into the kitchen in the home where I grew up, look out the window over the sink. The sky is a pea soup green, like it looks before a tornado hits. The sun is a big orange ball.  Suddenly, the sun explodes like the world has ended. And I wake up, heart pounding, afraid to go back to sleep.

So, fearing the worst once again, I resolved that I would do everything possible yesterday to prepare for the upcoming storm.  I cleaned the drainage ditches around the barn, added wood pellets to the stalls in case there was flooding. I asked my neighbor to help me clean out the gutters around our house that were clogged with falling leaves. After I did all the physical preparations, I decided that I would sit down and paint my recurring nightmare to see if I could clear it from my consciousness.  In one burst of watercolor frenzy, I made the orange sun and the green sky seen through a window. It was primitive, like an eight year old might paint it.  Afterwards, I felt calmer, realizing that I had done what I needed to do here to feel safe.

And safe I am. Sleeping through all the wind and rain with Stella, my “dog log” on the bed next to me, I felt no fear at all. The storm blew over us, not flooding or thundering as much as predicted. This morning, I looked up the meaning of dreaming that the sun exploded. I discovered that the sun is a masculine symbol representing the conscious mind and the intellect. It can also be a symbol of the true self and intelligence, as opposed to intuition. So, blowing up the sun might be a message from my soul to my mind. Mysteriously, I do feel protected, and I understand just a little deeper that I must always honor and trust my intuition.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hugging from the Heart

   From the moment that I stepped out of my car on Friday afternoon to meet my on-line friends from the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm, I felt welcomed.  John Katz, the imaginative wizard who conjured up this magical “Ministry of Encouragement”, was in the driveway and was the first one to approach me with open arms. As he enveloped me in a hearty hug, he said, “I know you.”  And he really does, along with all the other members of the group. We know each other, our lives and joys and sorrows and triumphs and challenges, better than many of our own family and long-time friends do. In our writing, our poems and artwork and photos, we open ourselves up daily because we can trust that what we are sharing is going to be received with open arms.

   If there is one thing that is forever imprinted on my soul about this weekend, it is the hugs that people gave me.  Big, embracing, solidly warm and joyful hugs. Over and over, with happiness and tears flowing freely.  Later came the quiet conversations, that I will also long remember and cherish -- Standing on the lawn at the farm with Kate Rantilla, sitting on the wicker couch by the dahlias with Tom Atkins, at Jeff Anderson’s house on the deck with Jeff and Nancy Gallimore while the geese sang to us as they flew in big v’s over our heads, driving long distances across farmland vistas of green and red and gold with my soul sister, Denise Gainey, connecting over dinner with Susan Crosby as we talked about our moms. But even now, sitting at home, I can still feel the hugs.

   Thank you Jon Katz and Maria Wulf for giving us the time and the place to celebrate these rare and precious friendships. For several days at Bedlam Farm, we were all given permission to be truly who we are and maybe more important, we were all appreciated for who we are.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Goodbye Velcro

The King is dead. There were no more miracles for Velcro, so he left this world painlessly yesterday, and we buried him on the hill above the barn next to his buddy, Black Kitty.

I woke up this morning because I heard him purring above my head just outside the window. Only not really. And now, everywhere I turn, there is something to remind me of him.  The cat bed in the bay window, the Mexican blanket on my favorite armchair still covered in fur, the rug that is flipped up in the bathroom for him to rest on the heating vent.  For fifteen years, he has been my shadow, running to the door to greet me when I come home and following me constantly, always ready to jump into my lap insistent that it was time for a snuggle.

He had a long, happy life. He is greatly missed. The pictures tell the story:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Long Live the King

Every morning for the last week, I have been waking up and dreading going downstairs. In fact, I’ve honestly been afraid to go alone, hoping that my husband will decide to get up too so I don’t have to face on my own what I will find there.  It’s a familiar feeling. I went through it with my mom as her dementia exploded, with my dog, Pepper, and my cat, BK, as their time grew near, and they became weaker and weaker. And now, seemingly out of the blue, I am facing that scary, hollow space at dawn as it approaches the time to say goodbye to Velcro, our fifteen-year old orange kitty.  I walk down the stairs, wondering what state I will find him in, and I realize that very soon, there will be the day when I don’t have this fear anymore. It will be replaced with a bit of relief that he is not suffering and the yawning chasm of sadness that he is no longer rubbing up against my leg while I make his breakfast.

My neighbor jokes that Velcro is my “familiar”, a term that refers to the animal spirit guide of witches, shamans or cunning-folk. The French poet, Baudelaire, who loved cats, wrote: “It judges, presides, inspires Everything in its empire; It is perhaps a fairy or a god? When my eyes, drawn like a magnet to this cat that I love…” My relationship with this animal is definitely complicated. He was supposed to be my daughter’s cat, but he decided from the first moment I held him that his world would revolve completely around me. He clung to me like, well, Velcro.

 He quickly established himself as the King of our house, as vain and full of feline pomposity as a kitty could be. Velcro is a curmudgeon and a bully. He chases crazy pup, Stella, around the house. He sprayed and peed on my husband’s luggage, and it was only Mark’s love for me and our daughter that kept his Royal Highness from being tossed out into the cold. Promptly each morning and evening, he loudly demands that I feed him. Whenever I sit down, he claims my lap with regal posturing. His favorite place to sleep is wrapped around my neck with his face buried in my hair.

Several years ago, when Velcro developed the frightening habit of jumping on my head in the middle of the night while I was sleeping and biting my cheek, he was denied free roaming of the house.  He stays in the family room at night, and over time, he and my husband have bonded as Velcro claimed Mark’s lap during “Monday Night Football”.  When my mom died two months ago, I was truly comforted by the ball of orange fur snuggled on top of me whenever grief brought me to my knees.  So, three weeks ago, when Velcro suddenly started wheezing, having trouble swallowing and stopped eating, we were not prepared for how much it would emotionally rock our family. 

Having had a bad experience with Stella during the last time I took her to the vet, I decided to try going someplace new with Velcro when he got sick. And while this vet did all the right things, after x-rays and blood tests, she could not figure out what was wrong and thought it was probably some kind of cancer. Meanwhile, the King was wasting away. When the new vet told me on Friday that she was leaving for two weeks vacation, I decided to take Velcro back to our old vet.  We had gone there for over ten years, and I really did trust them. Plus, they had added a cat specialist from Cornell Vet School to their staff.  He could see Velcro immediately.

I rushed out to the barn before we went to the vet’s office yesterday, stood with Silk to pray for strength. “Okay, God, you drive. And by the way, we need a miracle please.” And we got a small one.  The cat specialist was surprised by how healthy Velcro was after looking at the x-rays and blood test results. He feels like this is a cat who wants to live, but is just having trouble eating. Perhaps there’s a polyp in the tube from his ear to his throat, and it’s causing pain when he swallows. Perhaps some cortisone shots and antibiotics will shrink the polyp. He felt it was worth a try, so they rehydrated Velcro and gave him the meds. The vet reassured me that when I came down this morning, my cat would still be alive.  Last night, for the first time in four days, Orange Man ate some chicken livers, and I slept soundly.

This morning, not so good. He coughed and wheezed after he ate a little, and now, he’s sleeping in the sun in the bay window in the living room.  The vet wants me to give it until Friday to see if the treatment is helping.  But it feels like borrowed time. This would all be much easier if Velcro was listless and fading away, instead of licking my hand and staring adoringly at me with his penetrating green eyes.

I have often thought that if one believes in reincarnation, it would be easy to imagine that Velcro was once a very handsome, vain man who has had to come back this time around as a cat.  Despite all the bites and scratches he has given me, I have never hurt him, and all of us here have always forgiven him. “Captain Evil” is what I used to call him, but my love has never wavered.

As I was cuddling him yesterday, I felt that Velcro had finally come to realize how much he is loved.  He has allowed me to syringe yucky pink amoxicillin into his mouth for five days. He let the vet pry open his mouth and poke around without any fight. One could argue that this is because he’s sick and weak, but it felt more like he,  at long last, had complete trust that I was doing what was best for him. So maybe that was the lesson he came here to learn and it really is his time to go. I won’t let him lose so much weight that he can’t walk and his kidneys give out. I owe it to this good -looking fellow to let him leave this world without pain and with his dignity.

No need to make any decisions for a few more days. And who knows what God has up her/his sleeve. Maybe there will be another miracle.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Clearing the House

We had the most ferocious rainstorm earlier this week.  The heavens opened up suddenly and an insane amount of water poured down for about an hour like someone up there had opened a faucet.  A few days later, I needed to get something from the closet in the family room and discovered we have a leak in the roof. The contents of the closet, all our board games, clothes, assorted treasures had been soaked.  It forced me to being the process of house clearing that I have been postponing for so long.

In a break from hanging damp clothes outside to dry and picking through wet cardboard bits to try to save “Candyland”, one of my daughter’s childhood favorites, I picked up a book by Denise Linn called “Sacred Space”.  I had read it about ten years ago, but forgotten many of the ideas that this healer/ house shaman recommends for clearing and enhancing the energy of your home.  To put it simply, she believes that our houses are physical representations of what’s going on inside us.  “The regard in which you hold your home can rouse an ancient and replenishing spirit from the deep to fill your home," Linn says, ”This power can heal you in the very center of your soul and heart.”

When I woke up yesterday and began my usual morning routine, I felt an undeniable, almost magnetic pull back to my bedroom.  Like a woman possessed, I began to clean and purge my room, determined to make it a true sanctuary.  By seven o’clock last night, I had finally cleared and transformed the over-cluttered, dusty place into a room that I actually liked to be in again.  I know deep inside that my mission over the next week is to clear the surfaces of each room of our house so that I would have this same sense of pleasure if my gaze stopped to linger in any corner.  Time to let go of so many objects that no longer have meaning or purpose in our lives. Time to move on.

While my mother was struggling through her dementia over the last ten years, it took all my energy and focus to keep the rest of my family on track and to care for her. One of the first things that Denise Linn suggests is that everyone who lives in the house help create a written intention of what you would like the place to be.  It’s time for my husband and me to decide together how to make our home full of love, creativity and promise. There was definitely a different vibe at the charming cottages we lived in before my daughter was born and my mom moved in, and I’ve been trying to identify what it was.  More music playing, more friends dropping by unannounced, more spontaneous fun. We could use that energy around here now.

I’m looking forward to having the holidays here at home again without rushing up to the nursing home on Thanksgiving and Christmas, feeling torn and longing to be back home. It made me sad for the last five years that my mom was not able to be here with us, and I used to remind myself that soon there would be a day when we wouldn’t have to feel divided anymore.  And here we are. My daughter is already making plans to bring home her new friends to stay with us at Thanksgiving, so the house will be full of lively college kid buzz. 

It’s time to clear the house and begin the next chapter.