Rivers of Tears, Rivers of Peace

Photomontage: Fox HuntingThe marvels and beauties of the natural world are inevitably balanced by equally intense harshness: death weighs against life, grief against joy, and unease against sanguinity. Angst steals peace. And life continues for all of those who grieve the loss of the dead and dying. We mourn, and we weep rivers of tears.

What do animals do? They suffer all of the losses that humans do, but are denied the relief, the respite of tears. Driving a country roadside at dusk, my husband and I spotted a fox pacing the length of a meadow, back and forth, back and forth, nose in the grasses, intent. A quarter-mile up the road, we saw on the other side a small heap of red-brown fur. It was very small. It was very still. The mother fox was searching for her kit, and when she eventually found it, her hunt would end sorrowfully. We stayed quiet in sadness for her.

What would she do? Sit silent watch? Yip, bark, whine? Surely, after a time, she would return to her den, her other kits; would they, too, feel the loss? It was clear from her search that the mother fox would go to great lengths to protect or find her young, and I can only imagine, from my perspective, that it would be with whatever is the fox’s form of emotion that she would seek, find, and suffer the death of her young. But she would have no tears for it. As much as I dread the causes of them, I am grateful for tears.

For, like the rising flood behind a dam, they signal an immense pressure and an enormity of feeling pent up inside us and growing in heaviness and strength until they are released. When we humans ‘let go’ of a dead loved one or comrade, it is not that we forget or no longer care; it’s that we are able to somehow vent the pressure of the intense, unbearable sorrow and suffering felt at the immediate loss. Tears are a benison in this, the floodgate opened in the bursting dam to permit some physical release of that intensity of sorrow, letting it abate enough to become manageable once more. When I weep, whether for an unknown fox’s kit or for my own lost loves, the river of my tears carries away with it some of my misery and leaves behind a kind of quiet that is washed of grief and open for peace.Digital illo from a photo: River of Tears

Miss Kitty Sitter

You would think, given my secret-superhero nickname of Miss Kitty (as in Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking), that I would be the very epitome, the avatar, of the Crazy Cat Lady. Crazy, yes; I’m happy to admit to that achievement. But I’ve never owned, been owned by, or lived for any length of time with, a cat. Let alone multiple cats. I really like cats. They seem to like me, too. But I’ve never had the space, time, cash, and commitment required to be a good housemate for cats, so they have remained as exotic as their wild and king-of-the-jungle cousins all are to me.

Photo: What??? We were just vacuuming.

What??? We were just vacuuming when you arrived.

Right now, though, I am one of a cadre of stepmothers to the next door duo. I get a great kick out of anthropomorphizing and observing them, not to mention, being fawned over when I am granted that privilege. Sophia, half the size of her housemate Jackson, is twice the social character. She almost invariably greets me (or any other visitor to the house, as far as I can tell) right at the front door with a cat-style howdy-do and the perfectly evident expectation that she will be thoroughly admired and, very probably, will soon allow the appropriately worshipful visitor to pet her at least a little. Jackson would rather maintain his air of gentlemanly reserve and either disappear at the very sound of movement in the house or repair to a shadowy corner under some furniture, from whence he can observe and assess the goings-on and the potential dangers of the visiting party. He is large and fit enough to hold his own in an encounter, but would rather keep his savoir-faire intact with a proper feline aloofness and fine manners than to be so crass as to interact with anyone he didn’t himself invite for a visit.

But their human companion’s lengthy absence brings about gradual, inevitable variations on their routines, and adds many layers to the interactions with us substitute companions.

Let’s be right up front about the least appealing of the interactions, which of course is the cleaning and maintenance of the Feline Facilities, a.k.a. the litter box. While we all process our food into waste products that must be disposed of properly, I will readily admit that fecal cleanup duty (She said DOODY!) is a factor in my choice not to have cat companions in my home full-time, just as it plays, however infinitesimal, a part in why I opted not to have children. Assuming I was ever physiologically capable of the latter. I would be fairly happy if excrement played as little a part in my physical life as I want it to in my emotional and metaphorical existence. I do, however, consider that any creatures existing at my mercy as much as house cats do deserve cleanliness and fresh air and the like, so I doody-fully manage the litter box contents.

Then I can enjoy the pleasanter aspects of cat companionship with a clear conscience.

Photo: Found It!

Here! We know you were looking for this. We found the food bag. Whatcha gonna do with it? Need help? Can we have the crackly Bag, too, can we, huh???

Sophia, as Social Director of the household activities, oversees my subsequent ceremonial washing of the hands, cleaning and refilling the water dish, and topping up the food bowl. She will make herself more closely available for intermittent petting by placing her royal magnificence between me and any houseplants I attempt to water or mail I put in the basket, but is content to let me fill water and food dishes without intervention, lest I get behind in those more important tasks. I am careful, meanwhile, to wash hands not only after the litter box endeavors but also after handling food, wiping a little spot of post-wet-food spit-up from the floor, or clipping a dead leaf off of the houseplants; this serves both to keep me from contaminating anything the Kids eat or play with and to scent my hands with something that seems more familiar and less off-putting to Jackson.

Photo: Together/Apart

We like to hang out together, but prefer to maintain the illusion that we don’t need each other. Within sight or sound, but separate; together/apart. Two cats + one human, all playing the game.

Because, though he is reticent and even shy at times, Jackson is also secretly interested in having a social life. He just prefers it to be at his own more leisurely pace and with a small degree of built-in comfort. He came out of his shadowy corner to inspect my perimeter and check my vitals, even on my first visit as Assistant Cat Admirer. But I had to earn the privilege first. I ignored him, politely. After my ablutions with his hu-mom’s soap, I sat in the middle of the living room floor, quietly looking out the window. Sophia made a beeline for me and wreathed herself sinuously around my parked personage, magnanimously letting me scratch her behind the ears and stroke her silky pelt, and giving me tender little love-nips whenever I strayed from the intended spot for too long. Jackson, I could feel through my back, sat back and observed.

Photo: Boss Man

Jackson gets comfortable enough to let me know he can turn his back on me (mostly), but makes sure to keep ostentatiously scent-marking everything within reach so I’ll remember who’s boss of the entire operation.

Once I’d stayed lounging on the floor long enough to assure him of my low-key intentions, Jackson gave a couple of interrogatory meows, paced over to my back, rubbed himself up against my spine in a testing-while-marking sort of embrace, and made a slow circuit of my cross-legged figure. When he paused in front of me, I didn’t even offer a hand, not just yet. I gave him that little How-ya-doin’ nod that I see cats give each other, and the slow blink that told him I wasn’t just baiting him for a pounce. After a couple more loops and meow announcements, he stopped long enough for a head bunt and a hand check. I was admitted to the club.

Photo: I will approach you.

I have decided that I will approach you. Keep Calm and keep your hands to yourself until I tell you otherwise.

Every day since, Sophia has remained the primary greeter, supervisor, and fearless leader of the operation, though only a couple of times being quite energetic enough to attempt to squirt by me through an open door. I suspect her of liking the capture and return to indoor attention just as much as she likes the quick sprint and leap, but I’ll let her think that I don’t know it. I know they both have their little exercise sessions when left to their own devices, if nothing else because various small objects move from place to place overnight and the living room area rug is always repositioned and has new hills and valleys in it in the morning. But they both like to keep a fairly leisurely pace and attitude while I’m around. Sometimes, one or both will consent to a brushing, along with the required massage and stroking—yesterday, Jackson completely forgot his sang-froid and insisted on a vigorous combing and petting session for about five minutes before strolling back to the shade.

Photo: Queen of All She Surveys

As queen of all she surveys, Sophia is confident that she will be both admired and obeyed at all times, and by golly, so she is.

Tomorrow? Who knows. I may find that they have forgotten to hide the evidence of an all-neighborhood-all-night catnip party. But I’ll bet that they’ll still maintain their air of calm self-assurance in my service and admiration. And that’s quite all right with me.

Photomontage: Action Figure

Sophia, even when relaxing, is the Action Figure of the household.

Unclassified Fauna

Digital illo: Previously Unclassified FaunaDiscoverer Discovered

Should a biologist be lost

in untracked wilderness, the cost

might be more palatable when

she found a beast that other men

and women hadn’t seen before:

she’d get the credit, and what’s more,

it would be named for her as well,

should she record her findings. Swell

as documenting her great find

in journals she would leave behind,

posterity could also learn

another feature that, in turn,

she mightn’t think the creature’s worst,

considering she’d met it first—

had any notes so ably writ

been found; they’d been consumed by it.

The pages must’ve tasted great,

were they all that the creature ate,

but after her, they were dessert.

Hope getting eaten didn’t hurt.

I Can’t Help It When I’m Speechless with Happiness

Other than my general adherence to food posts on Tuesday—for no particular reason on my part other than my constant love of eating—I don’t often go with the popular day of the week trends or memes or whatever they are. But what makes me happy can render even the loquacious-unto-verbose me speechless, so what better to do than shut up and hand it over with no further fuss. My gift to you, therefore: a [nearly] Wordless Wednesday. The roadside view on Saturday was simply too fabulous not to be shared.Photo montage: Longhorn Beauty Pageant

Ménage à Moi

Digital illo from a photo: Woolly NillyZoo Zooming

I’m off to see the monkeys now,

The ibex, the Tibetan cow,

The tortoise, hippo, kangaroo—

But if you think it’s to the zoo

I’m heading out, you’re incorrect—

I’m off to feed my intellect

Not in the jungle nearby found,

But where the animals are bound

In paper quarters, for you see,

I’m headed for the library.

10 Terrible Words that Shouldn’t Exist in Any Language

Digital text-illustration: 10 Terrible WordsOne person who hates is a Weapon of Mass Destruction. One who cares and shares? Perhaps the only antidote.

As I recently said to my friend Maryam: poverty—both of concrete, material resources like food and shelter, and of intellectual and ephemeral resources (education, spiritual enrichment, the arts, community engagement, etc)—seems to me to be perpetrated and perpetuated more by selfishness than by an actual shortage of any of those resources. The rich and powerful always want more riches and power, and what they do have makes them able to afford and acquire more and to keep their feet firmly on the backs of the have-nots. Plenty is never enough. The resulting imbalance is as old as history, and rotten as ever. Only those who will speak up and resist entrenched inequities and injustices will have any hope of making change.Photo montage: Wolverine & Badger

The badger and the wolverine have a reputation for being among the most tenaciously savage brutes of all the mammals. Yeah, Honey Badger even has his own meme to show for it. But let’s be honest: no beast of earth, air, or sea has a capacity for vile, rapacious cruelty rivaling that of the human animal. Even creatures of the natural enmity of predator and prey compete, fight, kill, and are sated. They have little apparent ideation of hatred and war to match people’s. A wolverine or badger will fight to defend, or to kill for food, but unlike the human, doesn’t seem inclined to attack indiscriminately outside of its primal needs for safety, shelter, and food; when the skirmish is done as efficiently as possible and the need assuaged, the sharpest of tooth and reddest of claw among them doesn’t do an end-zone dance to celebrate its pleasure in winning but will usually depart the scene or go to rest for the next time of need. The remaining food and shelter and other resources stay in place for whatever creature comes next, hunter or hunted, cousin or not.

Can we humans not learn from such a thing? I’m pretty sure that if we destroy each other and ourselves in our constant self-righteous, self-congratulatory belief that we deserve everything we can get our hands on, Honey Badger won’t be the only creature that doesn’t care.

Crashing through the Snow

Few things are as visibly expressive of joy as a dog bounding excitedly through deep snow. Except, possibly, a whole bunch of dogs, plus a whole cadre of little kids, leaping, tunneling, floundering, grinning, and generally exploding their way through the same drifts.
Digital illustration: Snowflake

The problem with being an adult human is that we become so conscious of our creakiness and increasingly inflexible bodies, so obsessed with the dangers of having an infarction while shoveling or being speared in the forehead by a forty-pound icicle from the eaves, so hung up on our supposed decorum and dignity, that we stop risking not only true dangers but the possibility of gleefully tipping arse-over-teakettle into a billowing heap of powdery snow. It’s really too bad, because an occasional tumble from the pedestals we prop ourselves on, a momentary reminder of our own foolish frailty, and a smart whack on the overly fixed sense of reality is well worth a little bruising on ego and elbow. It might just teach us a renewed appreciation for the beauties of snow and nature. Why, if one were to be exceedingly incautious in the event, it might even turn out to be fun.

Who’s the Wisest?

I give myself credit for being smarter than I am. I suspect, given what I see around me in this wild and woolly world, that I am far from alone in the practice. Even owls, a favorite symbol of wisdom, are not likely as perfectly ingenious as we imagine them, but they might still be more intelligent than the half of us.
Digital illustration: The Owl King

The Search Continues

Parsing paragraphs to find

The author’s complete state of mind

Is no more useful than to ask

A Word how it performs its task,

If we assume we’ve read aright

What’s only there in black and white.


The Long and the Short of It

How quickly pass the hours and days

and weeks and months and years,

And yet, how slowly pass our worries,

paranoiac fears;

This is the great conundrum that

presents in mortal time,

And quite enough of food for thought

in one quick, measly rhyme.

A Plague on All Our Houses

Even the most steadfastly unquestioning among believers in various versions of mainline religions will allow that, if their deity cares for them as a shepherd cares for sheep, their own religions, yes, even their own temples, mosques, and churches, sometimes harbor wolves in sheep’s clothing. Partisans of every political and philosophical school of thought have seen the unmasking of many such monsters that have hidden behind the guise of goodness and faithfulness, selflessness and judiciousness, or at least experienced the dire effects those have on the lives of the truly committed. There are reasons most languages have such large inventories of words like heretic and traitor, infidel, apostate, renegade, impostor, infiltrator, double agent, betrayer, and hypocrite.
Digital illustration: A Pox on Both Your Houses!

So it astounds me every day that such experienced, otherwise reasonable people are either afraid, or simply refuse, to regularly and thoroughly question and examine the sources of their information, whether they are people or inanimate forms of evidence. Even among the most dedicated, wise, and well-meaning persons the human flaws we all bear cause mistakes and missteps. The most widely accepted proofs of truth may have come about by means of equally imperfect human study and the telephonic accidents of human transcription and translation. No matter how inspired the origin of the wisdom, it can’t be guaranteed to get to the page and from hand to hand, meeting to meeting, one end of the surprisingly not flat earth to the other, without sometimes being misinterpreted or co-opted, whether it’s by the false sheep in the flock or by our own good intentions.

All I can say is that if such stubbornness against rigorously examining our beliefs and every source of them is at its roots a terror of self-examination, we are doomed. We will forever repeat the grim side of human history, by acting out of doubt, cowardice, and ignorance, assumptions that have as much chance of being incorrect as not, and hidebound inability to see the wolves in our very midst for fear of discovering our own culpability. Circling each other with rapiers drawn and fighting to uphold traditions or beliefs or codes that we have so ingrained that they are unquestioned no matter how wrong, we will only deserve the curse of Shakespeare’s Mercutio—who, by the way, may or may not have said “A plague a’ both your houses,” in the original text, but various scholars over the years have guessed at such a reconstruction of it. Even Shakespeare, that demigod of English literature, is only as reliable a source as the many readers and interpreters since his time can determine, assuming that there was one playwright and poet of that name and not, as some believe, some cadre of the great literary minds of that era. Don’t get me started.

I will say right out that I know full well that I am guilty of being poorly or misinformed on a host of topics, and a stubbornly slow learner on top of that. I am trying, however I may stumble along the way, to grow beyond such ossified thinking. If only we could all begin with the premise that the fault might be not in our stars but in our selves, I think we might discover that our reliance on incomplete or incorrect information puts us constantly at risk for inner and outer conflicts we ought to have laid aside or, better yet, avoided altogether. The Other Guy might in fact deserve a listen, and acting first, asking questions later is not a conversation but is likely instead to end in swords crossed and lives lost. Acting in haste or acting in hate, the result may be the same because we were ill prepared to ask the right questions, let alone come to a wise and humane conclusion as a result. There are, sadly and unquestionably, baddies among us. But even so, if we all insist on clinging to our own versions of the truth without regularly and rigorously questioning their verity, then the attack we are all under begins inside, not from any external enemy, real or imagined.

Hey, Lookit What I Found!

Crows are a great source of pleasure to me. I admire their bold, graphic good looks: wiry legs and strong beak, shining eyes, and smooth feathers accented with iridescent shine. I enjoy listening to their noisy announcements and conversations, knowing that whether one is broadcasting his name in braggadocio or informing the rest of the neighborhood of what she’s discovered, there is often more brainy expression and interaction going than in many a text-messaging flurry from a pack of attention-deficient humans.

Crows can be aggressive and mean-spirited like humans, too, as I well know from working many years on a heavily treed campus where nesting season was Open Season on certain passersby whom the crows chose to bully. But for the most part, when they’re not busy trying to defend their territory they devote a goodly amount of time and energy to exploring and problem-solving and even humorous play, that is also surprisingly easy to see through an anthropomorphic lens. If I see a crow taking a particular interest in anything, chances are pretty good that I’ll find it interesting myself, should I follow its lead.
Digital artwork from photographs: Curious Crows

Shore Enough

I am too smart for you by half; you think you’re bright? Don’t make me laugh!

You think me infantile and boisterous, but cannot crack an oyster

With no knife? Ha! Silly chums: no fingers, no opposing thumbs,

And yet, I’ve dined on oysters thrice before you’ve opened one. How nice

That you consider yourselves wise to have your thoughts and synthesize

Them into action, yet still fail to see that mine makes yours seem pale,

When you consider that you’ve got advantages that I have not,

And still I’m able, while you strive and strain to merely keep alive,

To caw this jeering little poem at you from this, my beachfront home.