Rose colored mornings, magenta sunsets … all so typical of a northern California winter sky – but really, not day after day after day.
I find myself yearning a bit for the ravages of winter. Winter, with its bone damp and cheerless skies, furious winds and pelting rains driving every living thing to shelter … the nights by the fire, cats curled and snoring dog by my side, and raging fire in the stove complementing a glass of wine and a good book. It all turns me inward, happily seeking those deep and dark discoveries that nurture feelings that may have been folded up and laid off in a far corner, all stirring up the words that act as bridge from my secret shadows to the light. I write a lot in the winter. But this winter? What winter?
It seems so long go now that the mighty oaks that surround us here still wore their orange robes and dared winter to come and strip them bare, and drive the last of their life deep into the ground, deep into their roots, that quiet place that harbors the bit of life-force left over. There the flame grows and builds until spring sucks it all back up into the green glory of rebirth. I was so excited for the winter to come, then … I felt so like those trees, daring but ready to welcome the time I’d be sent to the underworld for the winter.
When the first great storm of our season was predicted and well on its way, I watched carefully as the wind began to whip and churn and then hit with a roar, the air suddenly alive with oak-leaf like panicked butterflies, and within an hour the orange robe was reduced to carpet under my feet and trees stood naked and shivering. The winds tore trees from the ground, felled them onto houses and roads, the rains backed up the seasonal streams and caused ponds to over fill and overflow turning pastures to lakes and our Yuba River into a torrent that shook me to the bone.
A few of these storms primed our winter and covered the neighboring hills and mountains with a white shawl – and then stopped coming.
A sun seeker such as myself cannot be driven indoors, let alone deep within when the skies are clear. There’s too much to do! With a little farm and its resident horses and goat to care for, the extra time allowed in any day was consumed by the sunny day routines normally left to the drier months. When clouds would cloak the sun, and the mists would rise from the valley to bathe us with that bone-cold chill, I rejoiced. Despite more than a month of mornings in the mid 20’s that I hacked – with a hammer – at 1 inch thick ice in the horse’s troughs, even those clear mid-January days that usually offer no warmth at all no matter how long you bathe in the sun’s light, were an illusion. I sat outside one day all dressed in my winter warmies actually hoping that the darkened skies, rays of sun biting through like shards of crystal, might somehow connect me to winter but started to peel the layers of fleece off as the sun warmed me too much. Warm sun in January.
Its interesting to me that, for me, this no-winter, rather than filled with words sprouting from fertile thought was time set instead deep in the doldrums. No current, no wind for my sails. Echoing the upturned season, perhaps, it has been filled with what I consider to be ‘spiritless writing’, hours spent pouring over old words as I continue to stuff them into the various and very different tight harness’ that are required of agents and publishers I pursue for ‘Graces’. 380 words distilled into synopsis of 1 page, 2 pages, 5 pages, or a chapter-by-chapter outline. A 2 paragraph summary, or how about a 2 page summary? Drives me nuts. It’s the part of being an author that I hold no fondness for. There has seemed to be little left over energy to put into this blog, or into my new novel that wants to burst out and thrive in the light.
But I’m starting to see that the gift of this no-winter’ is just that. Time to ride out the doldrums with the hard stuff – leave the flowers to the spring.
Now I am tired of mourning winter’s missing and am driven to get on with welcoming spring. (Watch, we’ll get another monumental storm next week, now that I’ve said that!)
There has been one lovely plus offered up by the non-winter – the lack of mud! Not only because of the horses, but because we now have lovely Lovie in our lives, who loves nothing more than diving head first into a puddle, digging frantically until it is a roiling mass of muck, coming up for breath now and again until she is finished with what I only surmise she considers to be her masterpiece – a broad dog smile shining out from the black sticky mud that covers her head to her shoulders, and her paws to her belly. So … that lack of muddy earth has been a blessing in one sense!
Lovie has gained 12 pounds since she came to us, a frightened ball of bones, in September. She’s such a joyful sprite who in the kind weather has been able to spend hours each day discovering what it is like to be the puppy she never got to be! She turned 1 in January (our guess) and upon reaching that milestone, began doing the devilish things pups are known to do… shoes or tools, or anything within reach actually, waggling from her mouth as she runs and leaps her way to the barn and back, happily bringing them when called only to grin and leap away to the far ends of the acres where we only can find her prizes after a major hunt … inserts gnawed, cats chased, hiding prized gopher heads in her mouth to deposit onto the hearth rug, jumping up to stand on the car hood, (“but the cats do it…”) joyfully dismembering and disemboweling her stuffies one by one and spreading their insides to the four directions. Really, all we see is a dog allowed to ‘become’ herself; a spirit once so encased in a fear that she could see goodness in nothing, allowed to emerge in safety, she’s burst from her chrysalis, and with her new joy has come a personality so enormous no darkness could ever again contain. Her once-deep well of fears is now very shallow, with only a few shadows left clinging to its crumbling walls. She still trembles at the sound of loud motorcycles and gunshot, and has distrust really of only one last person who I just think doesn’t understands dogs or what it was that she had to live through in her past, but we’re doing our best to help her move past these last remnants. She loves the dog park, her pack and their happy people, and at about 1:30 each day begins to pester and implore, as it surely is time to go… to run and wrestle with Buddy and Karma and Fred and other dogs who like her, came from devastated lives to emerge joyful bringers of happiness. We can’t say ‘Karma’, or ‘dog park’ out loud unless we can stand the time that follows that she wines and frets as she insists “get thee there”. (She is learning Greek now – like Djuna did before her – and soon ‘tha pa’me to parko?’ is something we’ll be spelling rather than saying.)
We love our Lovie, a bright blessing
that sprang from a different sort of
the one that enshrouded us
for a long time after Djuna died, a winter of the soul.
So now, in February as the daffies and narcissus persist in their usual trajectory from earth to sun and on to their big show, exploding into blossom at the end of the month, I brush away the annoyance I’ve felt by being snubbed by winter and start tending to the juicy shoots starting to emerge in ideas and words … my own ‘big show’, I presume, whatever it may be. It’s good that this life keeps us guessing…
One flower that emerged from the non-winter and the decomposing remains of my life in modern folk music – I am organizing an early September ‘non tour’ to Greece for 8 to 12 independent travelers … I will be the ‘midwife’ rather than a ‘tour guide’ for those who choose to come along – there to ensure a safe and comfortable birth into experience of the culture and this place I love so well. I will arrange transportation, accommodation and furnish ways to experience the Greece and island beauty that lives behind the veil that many regular travelers never get past. We will start with 2 full days exploring history and antiquity in Athens and then travel to a group of islands in the western Aegean, the Sporades … the gates of the wind … namely, to the island Skiathos, a gorgeous, verdant place to which Paul and I have traveled to for 27 years, where one can explore delight, swim, just sit and stare, eat, drink, hike, visit other neighboring islands … paint with my dear friend Yvonne Ayoub, learn about myth and magic and history of the islands with my friend, historian and author and resident of Skiathos, Victoria Sandels … or spend quiet time somewhere that is purely magical, with me, working on writing prompts … Something for everyone. If any of you are interested, please let me know how best to contact you.
Breathing in, breathing out. Welcoming Spring, now … In Gratitude.
Always… the dogs saved me.
It’s hard for me to remember times in my life that found me deep in a state of doglessness. I’ve always had gentle beings in dog bodies guiding me. My first memories are of a dog. When I was three or four, there was Queenie – a Weimeraner, with me through the unsettling times that my adoptive parents spent screaming at one another. A big, gray pillow of love I would rest upon, curl up with to snuggle away the scaries. After watching Virginia, my mother, ride on horses I think I must have gotten the idea that perhaps I could do the same on Queenie. She immediately told me no, by piercing my ear. And then she was gone.
Cherie, a small black mass of poodle curls, got me through my Mother’s death. He slept with me, was always by my side and kept that monumental loneliness that only a motherless child feels just hovering in the shadows. He taught me to stand up for myself and bite the ankles of those who were not nice people (in my case, not literally) and even to share, as he shared his milk bones with me! He taught me the language of Dog and took me for long conversational walks, and slept curled in my bed where we whispered to one another until the good dreams took over. He pooped in the swimming pool one day; I think to spite my evil stepmother. And then he was gone.
Their being taken from me left a gaping chasm in my already inflamed soul. They had helped me survive a sadness that too many of us suffer as children, that some never recover from… They let me know that no matter what, I was OK and would be OK, that I was loved, that I was safe. I mourned them even more than I mourned my missing mother. And those two were just the beginning – I’ve always felt the need to pay them back in kind and so it seems a dog or three have always been by my side.
Until March, when Djuna had to leave…
I’ve written so much about him here on these pages, I need say no more other than that his leaving us was a devastating blow – and through our grief, our missing him at every turn, with a dreadful, dog-shaped hole in our hearts we were left doomed to a spate of doglessness. Being quite busy helped. Music, the farm, writing … being in Greece, filling our cups with the light and inspiration that always nourishes us to our bones, it all helped. Paul and I engaged in many a conversation that helped to ease our missing of Djuna and nudge aside a bit of heart, enough to begin to think of bringing in a new companion to fill the holes, should he or she find us.
It was a ‘Yes’ day, something I wake up to on occasion. I would say ‘yes’ to anything that came my way, leaving all doors open to let the light in.
On my list of things to do that day was to go to our local animal shelter, Sammie’s Friends, to deliver copies of ‘All The Little Graces’ which they sell as they wish and keep the proceeds to benefit the animals there. It’s the least I can do. I also was going to apply to possibly adopt one of a litter of Border Collie pups that had been dumped on the angels there as newborns. I had to be ‘approved’ in order to see them when they were ready for the world, and approved I was. As it is now a no-kill shelter, it doesn’t break my heart to walk through and give love to (and get love from) each of the dogs and cats there as I know that they will all eventually find the home they deserve. The ulterior motive here is to see if ’The One’ happens to be there waiting for me – but though the shelter is filled with lovely dogs, none of them told me that I was ‘The One’ for them.
Upon returning home, as I walked through the door the phone rang. “Eleanore, a dog just came in that I think you need to see” Maureen said. Oh geez, I’d just driven the 20 minutes from town – but it was a ‘yes’ day, so off I went, back to the shelter.
And in came the light.
The dog kennels are in a cement block building, vibrating that afternoon with the loud joy of dogs that knew it was time for their afternoon walkies. It was if hungry lions were roaring, the sound overwhelming and terrifying, and I almost had to cover my ears.
She lay there in a heap of fear, plastered to the cold cement floor as though trying to become one with it, trying to disappear from a terrible, loud world filled with pain and sadness. She shivered uncontrollably, teeth chattering, terror radiating from her emaciated body like shards of lightning. I sat, trying to sooth her with a voice that usually works to bring the scared ones to safety, but she was absolutely shut down. Eyes vacant, there was no response other than even more violent trembling. I scanned her for signs of her past and saw that besides being skeletal, her little body was scattered with open wounds. My heart shattered right there.
“She can’t stay here.” I said. ‘She’ll die of fright’. I was told that she had been carried in by a harried woman with toddlers her side. She was 8 months old and good with dogs, children – and cats. With 19-year-old Queen Lily at home, those were words that clinched the deal and I heard myself say (while another self was yelling ‘No NO NOOOOOOO Eleanore!”) – “I’ll foster her.”
It took me four hours to coax her out of the car. I sat, reading by the open car door, trying to let her know that she was safe. Darkness fell and I needed to get Posy goat put to bed for the night. Frustrated, I walked Posy to the goat villa and en route whispered to Djuna, wherever he may be. “Help her, please.” When I turned back to the house, there she was – standing in the open, tail tight between her legs, but out of the car. It seemed to be her safety zone, and she dipped in and out of it, trying her legs on new ground, looking for trouble and when her well of courage emptied, she’d hop back in to fill back up.
She slept in the car that night.
The next day, she came in after much coaxing – and immediately found Djuna’s sofa. Her power-spot. I examined her, doctored open wounds, and when she’d summoned enough of that special courage she had, she began to explore a bit. She returned from our bedroom with Djuna’s favorite (disemboweled, destuffed) stuffie, the hedgehog hanging from her mouth. A bit of a twinkle in her eye. Tail wagging. I have no idea where she found it. Maybe Djuna showed her.
Paul and I awoke at dawn the next morning, just at the time that Djuna would always come to snuggle with us, to this thin little being jumping on the bed – and taking Djuna’s place. “I’m afraid I like her.” Paul said.
Lovie is her name. She’s had her ups and downs here but once the dark shroud of trauma began to wear away, Lovie began to come alive. She started her second life like a tight rosebud, and shedding her fears one by one slowly opened to the light of love, as a flower opens to the sun. Each fresh petal told us more of her story. The sound of motorcycles in the distance sent her into a panic. She’d been terribly mistreated and had swellings on her body, signs of abuse. Large men with no hair and gruff voices brought on the shivers, her coat pilo-erect. The sounds of children in the distance perked her up, and while she eschewed kibble for days, she LOVED the rustle of a bag of chips, and dove into the butterscotch wormer the vet offered her. Chips and Candy! She’d had children of her own, and likely was their angel, that buffer between them and violence in the home. Dogs terrified her. She was covered with open bite wounds and old scars. We discovered that he’d been shot, as there were pellets under her skin, showing in small and hard, round wounds that she chewed at furiously for her first few days here … and purged herself of the pellets as though purging herself of her past life.
A bit of bird-dog betrays her lineage as we watch her sneak up on the birds and then hold a perfect ‘point’. She follows their flight path with envy and sometimes tries to take off after them. She loves water and mud puddles and has her own little pool now that she leaps into from six feet away with great, triumphant splashes, rolling and wallowing and grunting like a little pig. (We’ve found it to be difficult to keep her out of the horses’ water troughs.)
Lovie is just a pup, probably for the first time, really, in her short life. She’s learning how to ‘be’ in love and in safety, but really has come so far, so quickly. She’s studied the book that Djuna left behind for her in all of his scents that still linger. Food is good. Burying bones is good. Zoomies, leaping and flying and dancing, tongue waggling – good. Stuffies and sticks and water and pinecones – and socks and shoes are all good. (But Djuna forgot to tell her the part about bringing all of the things she asks us to throw for her, or those things she steals, back to us, running right past in mischievous squigglyness instead.) People are good. She has a job keeping us in line and making us laugh. She has horses to watch over and cats to cuddle – and is learning to speak the dignified language of ‘goat’. Greek will be next. With the great compassion kind dogs have, her boyfriend ‘Rudy’ has melted her icy fears and she now plays and leaps and runs with indomitable joy. She now loves the dog park and her pack of ‘littles’ there, and the larger dogs who can only try to keep up with her deer-like agility.
The car is REALLY good, and with the window open she leans her head on the sill, eyes closed, blissfully studying the notes that come to her in the wind. She’s been through ‘cat school’, being tutored, severely at times, by Madame Lily who, at 19 still has it in her to show her how to become an Honorary Cat. She has been to the beach. The pictures here tell us what she feels about that.
Lovie has been with us for two months now, is sleek and soft – we can’t see her ribs any more.
And she smiles.
With an incredible capacity for forgiveness, Lovie blossoms, filling our once dog-joyless home with the essence of great contentment- and a lot of laughter – echoing and magnifying all of the happiness (that filled dog shaped holes) that was graced us by all those who came before her – and when she comes up on the bed and nestles into our warmth … we smile.
People tell me how lucky she is that we rescued her.
But we’re the ones who’ve been rescued. Lovie Cupcake saved us, from a life of doglessness.
I’ve been creeping along the cyber highways on an ancient iBook, the infrastructure crumbling beneath me as I inch along… It has been making it nearly impossible for me to work with photos, and to get a new blog out there that will resemble anything that I might envision! So, thanks to kindness, I now eagerly await the arrival of a new computer that will speed me into the 21st century and effortlessly along the Blogobahn! Please bear with me – next week I’ll finally be able to post the new one – #20 ~ Saved From A Life of Doglessness.
Like many people, I thrive on quiet… Within the quiet is where I divine inspiration and can access my most authentic self. It is hallowed ground, where the ego eventually goes missing, sometimes for hours at a time. Most of us have a special ‘place’… or places… where we can easily release and relax, and can access that deep, deep well within. For some, it is as close as their own home. For others, it is on the other side of the world.
I’ve been blessed with a sense of ‘place’ here at home since I first moved to Nevada City, CA in ’74 and discovered the joys of swimming naked in the Yuba River; a river I wrote about in the very first posting here in The Endless Sea. Mama Yuba… gorgeous and wild, studded with large, soft white granite boulders and emerald pools, cool, crisp and deep.
There’s something so incredibly nourishing and healing about lazing about on sensual rocks emanating the healing heat of the sun, melting stiffness and burning off stagnant energy… and then diving into crystal, swirling, caressing water, Mama Yuba taking all of one’s cares with her, away to the sea. I spent all of my afternoons there in my 20s and many into my 30′s… always with my constant companions, my water-dog lovies, Macushla and Jovi… and Rose and Callie, and then of course my darling daughter Breelyn, who, like so many of the babies born of the ”flower children’ here in Nevada City, was raised in the rivers arms; learning to walk, run, swim and leap from rocks at the Yuba. Learning to be free.
Life grew busy, our daughter and her friends grew, the water dogs left us and farm dogs took their place and the Yuba is now like a distant relative visited only on occasion, the visits always leaving me with that ‘DAMN, why don’t we visit more often?” feeling… because it still is ‘that’ place.
As life broadened and the reach of my heart carried me over the sea to a new menu of culture and color and discovery, I came to know and love many others – but it really wasn’t until I discovered Greece in ’86 that a new sense of place began to develop.
It took awhile. Paul and I, sometimes with Breelyn, sometimes with friends, kept being drawn back to an island in the archipelago of the Sporades in the NW Aegean, and after years of discovery, and then that discovery infiltrating my dreams and my words and then my heart, I finally got it.
THIS is my place.
Like the Yuba back then, THIS is where the ultimate release, relaxation and divinity comes now. But it is more than that. Over years of developing a very intimate relationship with the island of Skiathos – getting to know the people there, the nooks and crannies, the gorgeous, magical places behind the mists, that veil that shields them from the track of the ordinary and the hordes of summer visitors – this has become the place where I feel most alive.
Upon setting foot on this island home I am instantly grounded, settled deep within Mother’s arms. Relief. Respite. It takes a few days to expel the heavy, stagnant air from my being… to let go, to still the crazy making jumble of random thought and anxiety, and the frenetic energy of ordinary life as I know it here, in order to make room for the extraordinary, that lightness that invariably follows.
And then, it starts to trickle in. After being surrounded by the history of the Ancients and their kin, a passionate, lyrical people; after inhaling the culture and stunning colors and sea mist, eating and drinking far too much; watching the sun’s rise, daily, over an otherworldly sea while being serenaded by the waking swifts and gulls and even the occasional fisherman setting out for his morning’s catch… and after days spent at water’s edge, and hours spent bathing in the very healing sea, I empty out the unnecessary and begin fill up with that lightness. In the blushed, or sometimes tempestuous, dawn the words begin to pour out onto the page, tears and laughter flow effortlessly and the spoken word quiets. I go missing from the ordinary world sitting there with toes almost to the water where I AM the gull, the sun, the water, the sandy shore… the dolphins feeding just 20 meters away; the goats, their tinkling bells filling the atmosphere with a delicate music, browsing the verdant hills … and the Eleonora falcon soaring overhead. And comes the quiet. That’s it. Divinity. As my head empties, my heart eases. Priorities shift. It gets no better than that.
What a gift, this place.
I honor it and cherish it and carry it home, within the womb that IS me … and it is me, for as long as I can maintain that calm presence.
After about a month passes, when the sea seems farther way and the hot air of an inland northern California summer dries my skin and hair, and time and life and the world around me threatens again to dry my spirit, feeling as though I might just shatter, I remember that place. It’s inside. What I gestated while there can come to birth again and again if I go deep within and connect with source.
Yes, I know that I am fortunate to be able to go so far away to touch in with that particular beauty. But we’re not famous or wealthy – we have bills and a mortgage and old, broken cars, horses and other critters with feed bills and vet bills. Land to maintain. Just like anyone, we have responsibilities in this ordinary life. We scrimp and save our coins and dollars and block a time out on the calendar a year ahead, sacred time that nothing can touch, give ourselves permission… and go.
I’ve asked this before… but I will ask again. What is your place, your ‘endless sea’? How do you find it, where is it, how does it make youfeel, what do you carry away from it? Does it help you to gather up your strength and enable you to shine your own special light all around you into this troubled world somehow – whether you are a car mechanic, waitress, mother or father, artist, doctor, laborer… What is your place?
I would love to hear from you. Please write it out, leave a comment here so we all can bathe in the light you shine and take our own deep, cooling drink from your vast well.
I am working on a new blog post, I am, I am!
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, with a month away – that ‘season’ for my gathering up of fresh inspirations and impressions in my nets, those gifts that come coursing in great rushes on the Aegean tides and her balmy airstreams. Upon coming home, I am always faced with the responsibility of maintaining the gift Skiathos gives me, an utter calm and connection to authenticity, but this year I was able to be ‘in’ that while completing my Kickstarter campaign and seeing that ‘All The Little Graces’ came into the world as a ‘real’ book through a steady and uncomplicated birth!
The book has been delivered to Sammie’s Friends and the Skiathos Dog Shelter so that they can sell it and keep all of the proceeds; it’s been sent out to my Kickstarter Angels, delivered to the local bookstore and has had it’s first ‘reading and signing, it’s ‘coming out party’ so to speak – a beautiful affair in which the bits of readings were paired with perfectly matching snippets of musical improvisation by my friends in Beaucoup Chapeaux ! I am currently working on promotion so that it may find it’s way out into the world, and starting again to query publishers and agents in that eternal quest for traditional publishing. Paul and I have had some lovely Festival performances (the Kate Wolf Festival) and after our next, and last, summer gig I see a world of possibility opening up before me – time to reel in those nets filled with color and characters and the fruits of research and plot and sift through it all in order to make a real start on my next novel.
All The Little Graces can be found in paperback at my Createspace page as well as at Amazon, where you also can find the wealth of reviews that have come in; you will also find it at Amazon UK and all of the other European Amazons that exist out there in cyberspace … If you prefer to read an eBook, ‘Graces’ is found in that format at all of the usual outlets.
Coming soon … a new blog installation, one straight from the source, the home of my Muse.
The gray brings out the vivid greens and purples and yellows and pinks of the spring. A respite, a bit of a breath before full steam ahead into summer, the day has chilled my toes and given cause for a wee four-legged to wedge himself in the chair here and curl tightly against my leg for warmth.
I am 40 miles from home, (40 million, it seems) spending a week away to care for a dear friend’s beloveds in the way I care for my own. Embraced by a verdant sea of grasses, waist high and dotted with wildflowers, I am in charge of furred, feathered and hoofed beings that absolutely delight me at every turn. Beyond the feeding, grooming, mucking, playing, hen herding and egg collecting, I have a lot of time to work on my print book project and learn how to further shamelessly self promote All The Little Graces. But at any pause I am just a step away from acres of fresh springtime for walking in––or a step away from the animals with their magical ability to ground one whose spirit has been floating about a foot above her body for about 3 weeks now. (That would be me) They are bringing the great relief in the necessity of Being Present. There’s much-needed dog energy here in the form of a small sable bundle of flash and laughter, delivering a daily quotient of silliness in the big dog-ness he carries around in his pint sized body. Tido Bat Ears, King of Mirth and Mayhem. He also stays close, for warmth in the night, but I also see he has his eye on me, he is being certain in his closeness that I am watched over, that I am safe. I will most certainly miss his happy, constant presence when I leave to go home.
There’s also the ever cheery, kind and funny black lab, Millie, a bow-legged, gimpy old gal who has learned to live well with her infirmities. I hear her when she sits, or goes down for a nap, anywhere in this house – BLAM – because she just can’t easily get down more gracefully than that. In the afternoon when I am walking back from the horse’s barn, she throws herself down onto the grass and rolls over onto her back in her imitation of a great big 4 legged pill bug, curled with both hind paws almost touching her ears and a big smile on her saggy, graying face. She stays motionless like that until I’ve had my fill of rubbing her belly and then somehow miraculously, despite knobby hocks and owie hips, goes sproinging off into her version of the zoomies.
The horse, really more of a saintly gentleman in the skin of an equine, talks. Constantly. I’ve always told Paul, when watching films that have horses in them, that they DON’T do that! They don’t stand around and whiffle and whinny all of the time for no reason! I’ve been around horses my whole life. I know these things. But – here, Kokino whiffles and whinnies (while nodding his head) and wiggles his lips nonchalantly, like Mr. Ed – really – whenever I am near. He talks constantly.
And finally, there are the 7 chicken ladies, delightful bug scrubbers who cluck and chant their way through the outskirts of my day. They gift me with at least a few eggs each morning – one chicken lady even hightails it out of the pen after her breakfast as fast as her scrawny chicken legs can carry her to reach the hay/nest that is in the carport, always just in time to deliver a beautiful egg that the wee bat eared dog will sometimes gathers up himself, I’m told, very carefully, and deliver to the house! And on occasion, when I am well lost in the manuscript, I hear the announcement of a special delivery –– one of the ladies will break into song, an aria with an astonishing crescendo that foretells the laying of an egg.
A few nights ago I lost a hen. I counted the girls as usual as I closed them in safety for the night – 1,2,3,4,5,6 … 6 … where’s #7? Panic. I thought of those creatures of the night, the owls and coyote and raccoon who just love chicken tenders. It took me awhile, but I finally did find #7 sweetly hunkered down in the warmth of the horse’s hay, on the other side of the property. She was resting there, caught up in the veil of dreams the dusk draws down upon chickens. She let me pick her up, and carry her back to the henhouse, a substantial, feathery-soft ball of air that put her little head on my shoulder and sang to me, a soft murmuring and humming, the whole way. I am in LOVE with chicken ladies!
As I’ve been sitting in front of the computer much of my time here, at some point I must make myself step away – eat – drink – and walk. Before this misty gray descended, the days were hot, and I found the dusky twilight to be a magical time to walk the few miles down a narrow country lane that could as easily be in the West of England as in the foothills of N. California. At the last hill, after twisting and curving up and down, the narrow lane straightens out and heads to the valley below and on it’s crest, I am literally standing on the last foothill … I can see the Sacramento Valley, in it’s great flatness, beginning to stretch below.
On the first evening of my walking, and just as I began to think of Djuna, missing his generous presence by my side, I heard a rustle in the grasses to my right. And out popped this …
From nowhere apparent this little Border Collie materializes every evening, a minute or two into my walk. She joins me for almost an hour as I meander, huff up hills, take pictures … a silent but joyous echo of Djuna in her enjoyment of reading the days ‘news’ along the way, chasing butterflies, running back to me to touch my hand as if telling me that I must stay present, I must be happy, I must never forget the important things… and before I head up the last short hill to the house, she disappears.
I thank all of these beautiful beings for helping me to touch the earth again.
But back to Spring – THAT time of year. The baby animal time of year, filled with leaping kids and lambs, and calves and piglets playing like puppies… and of course, there are the puppies and kitties. The far too many that are born each spring because many of us Humans – even many of the more responsible sort, some of whom are my friends – demand the right to a sort of ignorance in refusing to pay attention to the stats, and the realities, around feral or unsterilized animals.
Why are there still balls on your dog?
Why is your sweet gal in heat?
Oh, it’s natural, they say. Oh, we want her to enjoy giving birth and having babies before we get her spayed. Oh, we want our children to witness the miracle of birth! Oh, he won’t hunt if he’s neutered.
Well, yes … but Oh. What about the babies? The litters that you won’t be able to find homes for that will either go feral and hungry and become someone’s nuisance; or will be kept by an uncaring person who doesn’t bother to keep them safe and they’ll end up running wild, on the road to be struck and killed by a vehicle, or in a field chasing Farmer Martha’s livestock, to be killed by shotgun blast; or, they’ll end up at a shelter hoping for a home with a family that really might care what becomes of them, or at a pound, facing the gas chamber on death row with all of the other unwanted ones. All of the shelters are heartbreakingly full as it is.
Here are some recent stats, gleaned from various online sources. (HSUS, RSPCA, various shelters and rescue groups) If you still have an ‘entire’ male or unspayed female dog or cat, please do me the great favor of reading this and then go and do the right thing yourself. If your animal companions have been sterilized, you can edify your community, your neighbors, family members, etc., and save the local shelters from having to waste their energy on something we ALL should already know and practice.
One pair of breeding cats can be the source of at least two litters of kittens in one year. That translates to exponentially growing numbers of offspring that, in just four years, can add up to around twelve thousand cats! TWELVE THOUSAND cats! Say the original two parents lived nine years – the numbers of their offspring through the generations could soar to around eleven million! All because of just two un-sterilized cats that someone left to their own natural devices! Those figures don’t take into account that one tomcat can impregnate several females in any one day during the season! That kind of math hurts my head.
One fertile dog can produce two litters of puppies a year and then, if left to nature, her descendents and their descendants will number in the sixty-seven thousands, in just six years.
Also good to know –– the fact that a spayed female will be far less likely to develop uterine or breast cancer. And that a sterilized male will be far less likely to roam and fight, leaving him less vulnerable to abscesses and other infections and disease. (and the cats will still be great hunters – our big lovey eunich, Moggie, is busy collecting up at least 3 gophers per day and will meditate on the compost bins until he comes up with his daily bellyful of mice. And Mr. Annie is capable of murderous deeds I won’t even go into here.
So, where will the babies of the spring end up? Many that survive will end up with otherwise great people who say Oh, it’s natural … Oh, we want our children to witness the miracle of birth! And the awful cycles will continue on and on and animals WILL suffer.
Welcome to springtime, to the return of Light, to rebirth, life and kitties and puppies and other growing things … to the birth of new ideas and new dreams. There is always the dark there to antagonize the light … but there are these things that we can do, so easily really, to help the light and dark come to better balance, move us forward and make that darkness less opaque. Go for a walk… laugh… hold a chicken… tickle a pillbug’s belly… write, sing, dance, garden, love, laugh… and spay or neuter your companion animal. Please.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
A great squall came upon us here on our farmlet a week ago. I saw it first from a distance, in that dawning of the morning when Djuna usually announced the coming day with his gentle, breathy ‘woooof’, his polite plea to join us on the bed. Mysteriously disturbing, it surely was a sign of things to come, but we didn’t know how dangerous it really was until it was upon us.
And when it was suddenly there, a Great Joy was sucked from our world and an overwhelming sadness took its place … a raging stillness, hot and stifling, no breath, no heartbeat.
My springs of Joy are dry … (a sentiment stolen in part from that great old song, Long Time Traveler)
Djuna Cupcake was one of the Seven Great Dogs. If you’ve seen the film ‘Dean Spanley’, you will know what I mean. If you have loved and been loved by a dog of pure heart … one who was a great teacher of presence, of patience, one who was the dispenser of unconditional love and the blessings of an incomparable joy … one who was a great listener, guardian, and the embodiment of Buddha, Coyote, the Goddesses Eleos and Kuan Yin all in one soft coated body … one who was your loving shadow because he or she felt that it was their job to see you safe at all times … you will know what I mean.
He died quite suddenly. Like that squall, his death came with no warning and for days after Paul and I were sucked deep into that great black hole of grief. The dread attacked us at every turn, where we would always see him but now only a glaring emptiness stood. I felt as though my heart and soul had a raw, oozing, gaping, searingly painful wound where he had been torn away from me. Stolen. We cried a lot.
Some people will never understand. I try to feel compassion for them, rather than issuing the big ‘EFF YOU”, but I am only human. What is this BS about a ‘three day’ rule? What? Because he was ‘just a dog’ we should be over it all in 3 days? Djuna was surely a better person than most Humans and I will never stop missing him. I feel so deeply sorry for those people who have overlooked having such grace and beauty bless their lives –– the companionship of a great dog (or cat or horse, or human person) –– so that, when the monumental end comes and they’ve come through the great fires of sorrow, and have been washed by the flush of a million tears, they come through to the other side where they are able to see the remarkable love, joys and lessons they’d been gifted by that companionship. I can only hope now to ‘be’ the person Djuna thought me to be.
3 days and 3 more and 3 million more and even then more just won’t do it.
Paul and I were with Djuna on our bedroom floor when he died. I lay with him next to my heart, whispering love, my arm draped over his neck … and as he was leaving us, I saw him standing just beyond Paul. Alert, ears akimbo, head cocked, eyes bright, a wad of socks in mouth, standing in his particularly great exuberance, as he did each morning when the time for chores presented itself – “Come on! It’s time to go! Get with it you silly humans! There’s work to be done, there’s a barn to clean and a day to sniff, there’s delight to be found!” And then he left.
My ‘joyometer’, my daily dispenser of mirth, and my constant reminder of the importance of presence, has gone missing – his lessons of ‘Be Here Now’ measured in doses of ’Oh, sense the beauty in the music of the wind!’, ‘Let’s just run in circles and laugh’, ‘I love, love, love you!’ … gone. It is wholly up to me now to remember to stay in each moment, to just be a nice person, cry whenever I must, to laugh as much as possible and dance for the sheer joy of it. And when the cacophony of the deafening silence has quieted and the colors of sorrow have muted and gone transparent and I’ve had some time to let the Aegean clean up those bloodied wounds in my heart and soul, there will be room again here for another one of the Seven Great Dogs. And the cycles will continue on.
Almost every evening Djuna and I took an evening stroll down our quiet lane. I loved watching him dance his great joy, nose to the ground scenting all of the news of the day or nose to the sky, sensing what was coming on the breeze. On our walks I watched the seasons change, the rising of the full moon, the greening of the new spring and the evening skies, like snowflakes, no one ever alike … I watched the Canadian geese come and go, the Red Tail hawks courting in the air above me, and let the build up of my day fall away as I tread softly with my gentle friend. It took me several days after Djuna’s death for me to realize that here was yet again another gift he had left for me in his wake, and one I should continue to enjoy. The sky was black to the West, we’d had heavy winds and rain all day, but when there was a break I set off on ‘our’ walk. Wrapped tightly in sadness and hardly breathing with the missing of him, I shuffled along about a 1/2 mile and turned for home before the rains started up and the chill wind began to blow, fierce again, from the south. That wind battered and bashed me until it freed the tears from my eyes, and the freezing rain lashed my face until I grew numb. As though suddenly realizing I was about to drown, I surfaced, taking in great gulps of air as though I’d not been breathing for several days, and began to climb free of the suffocating bonds of my sadness.
My Djuna, my Cupcake … My Heart of Hearts who knew my soul, my every thought; great lover of Paul and I, and of Breelyn; great lover of his mare and his pony, of socks and his furry toys and his GWBush chew doll; great lover of his evening walkies and of riding in the car, and feeding the birds; great lover of sofa naps and sleeping in late with us on the bed and chasing BALL and rolling on the grass and of eating horse poop; bountiful bestower of stealthy kisses; joyful jokester, Greek scholar (he knew about 15 words and understood several phrases spoken to him in Greek; something we did only after he’d begun to understand words and phrases *spelled out* in English! ‘Car’, ‘dinner?’, ‘play with the ball?’, ‘feed the birds’, water, pony, get the goat, etc!); Djuna, beloved Honorary Cat, our timekeeper, our guardian angel, our boss, our playfully dignified friend (thanks for that Marija) and family member, and one of the Seven Great Dogs – we will love and miss you forever.
But now – there’s work to be done, there’s a barn to clean and a new day to sniff, there’s delight to be found!