Monday, October 28, 2019

A COMMENT OVER LUNCH



William and Abner
Cat in the Night Woods (click on print to enlarge)















Carole Marshall Studio 🐾
cmkstudio2@gmail.com
  
                                   
In 2015 Chicken Soup for the Soul published their holiday book Merry Christmas.  One of my animal stories, "Eggnog with Pickles," was in that book.  Coming this May Chicken Soup for the Soul will be publishing Life Lessons from the Cat.  My story, "Healing in the Company of a Cat," will be included.  I am immensely happy about this.  My cat Cooshie was more than just a pet.  He was a teacher, a comedian, a healer.  This loyal boy helped me through one of life's greatest challenges.  During a very rough time I found myself healing in the company of a cat.  You can read our story starting on page 96 in Life Lessons from the Cat.

Recently, over lunch with friends, I shared my good news of yet another pet story published by Chicken Soup for the Soul.  They were all excited and supportive.  And one dear friend made this comment.  "You know, Carole, I think there's a message there for you.  You should be writing more about animals."  She was right. 

In this Cottonseed Journal (Cottonseed was my childhood nickname) I share the learning and growing, the memorable teaching moments I've experienced in the company of critters.  I hope the stories influence and promote positive, caring animal/human interactions.    
  





☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

A CHILDHOOD VISION

Have you ever visualized your ideal place?  My vision was a farm.  I saw my farmstead the day I rescued the little black kitten.
     I was riding my bike along the rutted path toward Fisher Field Park.  Richie Trent, the neighborhood bully, jumped out from behind the dangling branches of the old willow tree near the park entrance.  I slammed on the breaks.  The back tire skidded left, kicking up a cloud of dust.  I landed upright, both feet on the ground on either side of the bike’s center bar.  The cherished maroon two-wheeler that I polished daily was covered in powdery brown dirt.  It should be mentioned that I had no patience with bullies.   And while I avoided starting trouble, had no problem finishing it when it crossed my path.

     “You’re a jerk, Richie Trent.  Get outta my way or I’ll run you down.”

     “Won’t think I’m a jerk when you see what’s behind my back.”

     “Pretty sure I’ll always think of you as a jerk, Trent.”

He started to move his right arm forward.  There was a faint mew.  He stretched his arm straight out to display a tiny black kitten hanging by the nape of his neck from his fist.

     “Beaned him with a stone from my slingshot.   Should have seen him flip.”

I bent to lay down my bike.   In three quick motions I stood back up, grabbed the kitten and then the slingshot that was sticking out of Richie’s shirt pocket.  Placing the mewing, squirming ball into my bike bag, I hurled the slingshot to the very top branch of the willow. 

     “Hey, girlie whadaya think you’re doing, that’s my cat and my slingshot.”

With both hands grasping his shirt, I shoved Richie Trent against the thick trunk of the tree. 

     “Want me to tell your mother what her precious boy has done?  Come on, we’ll go tell her together.”

I let go of him and watched his trembling body crumple in a heap to the ground. 



My father was home when I ran in the kitchen with the kitten and related the horror story while he gently checked the purring animal for injuries.

     “We have to keep him, Daddy.  He needs a home and I’ve always wanted a pet.”

     “I know you have, Cottonseed, but you know your mother’s allergies.”

 So my father, who had nicknamed me Cottonseed when I was an infant, saw to it a good, permanent home was found and did his best to soothe my feelings.

      “I’m sorry,” he said.  “But you know Mother wants no pets.  The kitten will be well taken care of.  And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to someday see you in a big house of your own full of cats and dogs.  You can do it, Cottonseed.” 

I saw my farm right then. The graveled driveway was winding and tree-lined. The house itself was a large, two-story, white structure with a set of forest green shutters on each of the five upstairs windows. A screened porch ran the length of the front of the house. Two long, cement steps bordered on each side by pots of sprawling, unkempt ferns lead to the middle screen door. To the right of the overgrown lawn were several white Adirondack chairs around a stone fire pit. There was a large, rickety chicken coop off by itself on the left. Snippets of glistening bay peeked through the pines that lined the back of the property. And there were animals, mostly cats, dogs, and chickens on the porch, on the lawn, around the coop.


The clear image as seen by a little girl was fleeting, but I’ve come to realize that childhood visions can live on the edge of possible until resurrected by chance or design.   My home today isn’t quite that farm I envisioned, but close enough.  There’s property for peace and quiet, a magnificent view of bay and mountains, and always room for animals.  In the company of critters I am alive and engaged.  When Abner bumps his cool kitty nose against mine I acknowledge his sweet greeting with pats.  William’s sharp feline stare at six and four keeps me in line with the proper feeding schedule. And the unconditional love of the dogs in my life invites personal growth and daily gratitude.  Mother would likely be appalled at the cat hair on the couch and dog poop in the yard, but on stormy nights, with warm, furry bodies cuddled on my lap and wind blowing down the chimney, I hear my father whispering – “You can do it, Cottonseed.”  

Owl in the Pine (click on print to enlarge)
Me and Dad
 

 









☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

DAISY
 I've been owned by many cats over the years.  One of my early feline relationships was with Daisy.  Coexisting with that furry girl was the beginning of my learning and growing in the company of wise and witty critters.  

It was early spring when the grayish black cat with trusting gold eyes and a nick in her left ear showed up in our yard.  A search for her owners turned up no one.   I fed and watered her outside and she seemed content with that arrangement, but we lived in New England back then and nights were still pretty cold.  I was worried about her.  The fretting didn't last long.   One morning when I opened the garage door the homeless cat scooted in, making herself comfortable under the wheelbarrow.   To tell you the truth, I was pretty happy, and the kids were delighted.  Husband not so much.  We already had two cats and a dog and a loosely defined no more pets agreement.   Curling up in the garage, the cat allowed petting for the first time.   I felt her hard, round belly and took her to the vet.  Of course, she was about to have kittens.  Again, kids (and me) thrilled.  Husband not so much.

I found a large cardboard box, lined it with straw and a thick blanket and made the garage birth central.  Two days later Daisy, yes she had been named, had a litter of five cuties.  The following day when I opened the family room door that led to the garage, Daisy stood, stretched, picked up a baby by the scruff of the neck and carted it into the house.  She did this with every kitten, placing each of them (where else) under my husband’s chair by the fireplace.  And one by one I schlepped the kittens back to the box in the garage.  This routine continued for several days until (yippee) the entire family gave in.   With her litter safe, Daisy nonchalantly purred and preened.

When the kittens were ready, homes were found for four.   No surprise, by this time the no more pets agreement had fallen by the wayside.  We kept the smallest kitten, a black fluff ball with Mama’s gold eyes.   In the following days, I gave a lot of thought to the tenacity of our little stray girl.  She had a goal, saw it through with sweet determination, proudly purred and preened afterward.   Made me wonder which one of us was the wiser animal.   Perhaps, like Daisy, we should all set goals, be determined, pleasantly follow through, preen and purr and take pride in our successes.  At the end of the day, we are critters all.  

        

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

THREE DAYS IN THE CORNER

It was day three - early morning.  A low fog draped across the bay, closing in on the barking otters.  The ferry glided from the dock, disappearing into the mist.  In the orchard on the side of the house an elegant doe and her two spotted fawns munched apples.  The late October air numbed my bare feet, but it was hard to move from the porch.  The outside distractions were welcomed. 
     Inside, the coffee pot grumbled through its perk cycle.  The toaster sprung. I slathered the crisp bagel with cream cheese.  Sharing my breakfast was his favorite morning treat.  The popping toaster would always bring him to the kitchen, but he did not come.  Except to lap some water and make hasty trips to the yard to relieve his ballooning innards, Sunny, my cocker spaniel companion of ten years, had kept his round body wedged in the small space behind the blue rocker.  His beige, freckled face and black nose stayed tightly pushed into the seam of the wall at the far end of the living room next to the fireplace.  The ribbons of silky hair on his long ears rippled down to the floor, blending with the tan carpet.  His stubby tail wagged when his name was mentioned, but the rest of him remained firm.  It was Wednesday, the start of day three, and Sunny was still in the corner.  

The plea had come via email.  A good friend in Seattle was divorcing.  She would barely be able to manage her two kids.  I was the only one she trusted.  Could I PLEASE take her young dog?  Giving little thought to the consequences of adopting my friend's pet, in the early hours of the previous Monday I had headed to the city.
     Fudge pop eyes twinkled through a snowy coat.  Pointed, pink-lined ears stood at attention.  A curious black nose sniffed my hand.  Fifteen pounds of sweet-smelling white fur plopped into my lap.  A slow, wet tongue on my check sealed the transaction. "His name is Brodie, He's a West Highland terrier, almost a year old, and I just can't thank you enough," said my friend through hugs and tears. 
     "Ooh, how cute."
     "Is it a boy or girl?"
     "What's its name?"
     "Can we pet him?"
The ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island was overflowing with kids - curious, bouncy, exuberant kids - on my lap, on my toes, on the floor with the dog.  Brodie rolled over for belly pats. 
      On shore, the hour-long drive home from Bainbridge was perfect.  Brodie curled in the front passenger seat of my Jeep and slept. I stroked him periodically, but there was no sound - not a whimper, not a yip - and only the movement of easy breathing.  In the days to come I would consider the possibility that my "friend" had slipped Brodie a Valium before our introduction in Seattle.

Once home, he tore into the house.  He ran through the kitchen, up the stairs, through each of the bedrooms, back downstairs for a dash through my office, and two loops around the living room.  Back in the kitchen, he took a hearty drink from the water bowl and ran the course again.  He skidded along the upstairs hall and came to a crashing halt against Sunny who wobbled and staggered out of a peaceful sleep. Brodie sniffed wildly from Sunny's wet nose to frozen tail.  He jumped on and off Sunny's shivering body and ran back and forth, challenging the stupefied cocker to a chase.  He yapped and snorted in Sunny's face.  Except for a puzzled glance in my direction, the commotion immobilized my mellow old dog.  After a slow recovery from paralysis, Sunny lumbered downstairs and through the living room.  The fireplace andirons rattled and clanked as he heaved his old bod into position behind the rocker.  And now, on day three, Sunny remained in the corner.   
     The transition had been no less traumatic for Brodie.  Fleeing my hissing cat, he had tumbled into the bathtub.  Escaping the scary vacuum, he got locked in a closet.  And the grazing deer in the yard sent him into a frenzy.  But despite his misadventures, several times a day Brodie had gone to the far corner by the fireplace to yap his high-pitched Westie yap at Sunny's stationary rump.  Now, on the morning of day three, I, too, was frazzled and folded into the couch pillows for a good cry.  I had decided my bawling would kickoff an extended period of feeling sorry for myself.  
     Two warm, sloppy tongues began lapping my cheeks.  Brodie nested on top of my head, peering down into my face.   His tail vibrated against the lamp on the side table.  Sunny planted himself in front of me and nudged my body, first with one paw and then the other.  I looked into their wise, intuitive eyes.  They knew I was heading for some serious wallowing.  I knew they were communicating love and maybe a little get over yourself girl.  I scrubbed the long agenda of self-pity.
     Over the course of the next few days, we became a functioning pack.  Sunny, who loved food almost as much as he loved me, was given the first piece of bagel.  Little Brodie waited his turn.  Brodie, who loved play more than anything, got first pick of new toys.  Sunny happily claimed the remains.  Brodie's day required at least one mad run from room to room. During the dash, Sunny retired to the safety of the couch and I played an Enya CD.   Sunny's needs included ear stroking from all visitors and naps in sunbeams. To accommodate, Brodie moved in behind Sunny waiting his turn for pats and slept in the thinnest portion of sunlight.  

In a short time, my sweet boys had adapted well.  The precarious beginnings of their relationship behind them, the dogs had rallied, savoring each moment sassy and happy.   I was in awe of their hasty return to balance, their complete focus on the present.  And while they had artfully cajoled me out of prolonged pouting, I doubted my ability to exist in the "now" automatically.  I thought, perhaps, I'd spend three days in the corner.  
Brodie

Sunny



☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

BECAUSE SHE'S A CAT

Her body packed with leaves and dirt
she deposits same on my brand new shirt.

A bowl of fresh food ready to nibble
she sidles on by and eats the dog's kibble.

Hissing if my strokes are too great
loud purring alarm should I sleep too late. 

Yowling for help from the tallest pine
til I haul out the ladder and she climbs down fine.

To curl in my arms rubbing this way and that
knowing I love her just because she's a cat. 
 



☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

OATMEAL WITH WILLIAM


William

I am an aging woman.  Well all of us are aging, but I’ve just recently started paying attention to being part of the group.   I’ve been a young thinker my whole life and thanks in part to genetics look a bit younger than my years.  Not that these things are bad, it’s just that owning up to the aging process is a new concept for me. 

In truth, aging is a bloody challenge.  I’m up for it, but sometimes find it a pain in the rump, literally today because my left sciatic nerve is aching.   And here’s where my annoyance kicks in.   “You’re in great shape, keep up the exercise,” my doctor advises.  And I’m out there walking rain or shine almost every day and lift weights as well, but if I push this aging bod a tad too much it comes back to haunt me in the form of pain.  Now I wouldn’t mind the sore muscles if I saw some light at the end of the tunnel, like my exercise routine bringing cholesterol numbers down.   “Eat more fiber,” the doc says.  So this carbo junkie buys a machine that grinds fruit, veggies and nuts to a pulp and starts having healthy, fibrous shakes for breakfast.  It isn’t long before this morning meal is followed by spending the afternoon in the bathroom.   With the grinding machine tucked to the back of a rarely opened cabinet, I get into oatmeal for breakfast.  Let me tell you oatmeal, no matter what favorite goodie I put in it, isn’t a New York bagel slathered with cream cheese.  Moving on from grumbling, this morning, instead of standing over the sink to eat my yummy bowl of mush, I sat at the dining room table.  This way I was able to plop my screaming sciatic rear on the heating pad while I ate.  About halfway through my ordeal, William jumped onto the table.  He moved to the bowl and started licking the oatmeal that was stuck to the side.  Purring loudly, he turned, licked my face, washed his and curled into peaceful sleep - my little William always so appreciative of the smallest tidbit. 
     When William was a kitten he was hurled violently from a moving car.  His little pink nose will always carry the scar of that collision with pavement.  My granddaughter and I came across him at the animal shelter.  When the volunteer told us his story, we were in disbelief.  My wide-eyed granddaughter asked, “How can someone do that?”  I answered as best I could.   “I don’t know, Sweetie, but I do know that sometimes we’re able to pick up the slack for some of the ignorance in the world.”  William became my cat that day.   And, as with the oatmeal, he savors every bite of food, every act of kindness that comes his way.  So, since I always grow some through my association with animals I’ll let this oatmeal thing grow on me.  Maybe my bad cholesterol numbers will shrink in the process.   No matter what, like William, I’ll appreciate the gift of a new day, the warmth of unconditional love, the last nibbles of oatmeal. 
 



☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

A CAT AND A COLONOSCOPY


After three days on a low fiber diet and nearly two days of liquids only followed by sixty-four ounces of Gatorade laced with a potent laxative I was two hours away from a colonoscopy and terrified (yes, I know, a bit dramatic.)  In truth, I shouldn't have been at all nervous.  I'd done this twice before and, with the exception of the awful prep, both times had a comfortable experience.  The nurses were great, the surgeon a pro and the conscious sedation meds oh so wonderful.  But still I was a jittery mess.  I was sitting in my living room chair counting the minutes and trying to let my beautiful view of peaceful blue bay and snow-capped Cascades calm my nerves when Abner, my sweet orange kitty, showed up.  At first he stayed at my feet surveying the situation wide-eyed and curious.  Then he moved to my lap and sat.  From there he climbed up to my chest, pushed his body tight against me and began to purr.  Being a staunch believer in animal instincts, I took this as a sign.  According to Abner, I'd be fine.  And his tight hug was the purr-fect calming remedy.  Arriving home (having survived) I plopped my sedated bod back in the chair.  Abner was across the room on the couch asleep on his blanket.  He opened his eyes, yawned, stretched and offered the sweetest told you so look before curling back into his nap.
     I recommend one dose of cute cat before and after every colonoscopy. 
Abner



☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

IN THE GRASS BY THE SEA


 Warm grains of sand under my paws, salty spray caked on my nose.

Seagulls teasing bobbing just out of reach, bald eagles soaring, ignoring my barks. 

Sticks to collect, crab legs to crunch, driftwood, seashells, sailing ships on the horizon.

A rich, earthy smell in the grass by the sea.  





 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆


Our Grown Girl
THE FAWN AND THE PERFECT FENCE

The carpenter installed it right after we moved in.  It enclosed our entire grassy backyard that was abundant with fruit trees.  There were two gates for easy access. The natural wood pickets blended seamlessly with the rustic environment.  It was tall enough to keep the dogs in and short enough for our neighborhood deer to spring over and share our apples.  For twenty-three years it was the perfect fence.  And then it wasn't.

I poured my cup of coffee and meandered out on the deck to enjoy the sounds and aromas of a late spring morning.  The air was rich with lilac and mint and rosemary.  Mourning doves were cooing.  As I took my first sip of coffee, in my periphery there was movement along the fence line to my right.  I turned, happily expecting to see the usual munching menagerie - fat bunnies, female deer with their sweet spotted babies, the occasional handsome buck.  When I moved closer, my joy turned to horror.  Stuck on top of the fence wedged in between two pickets was a frightened, frantically flailing, traumatized fawn.  

Weeping, I phoned the police. Husband Jim heard the call and rushed upstairs and out onto the deck.  Sobbing uncontrollably, unable to speak, I pointed and Jim acted.  He shoved a sturdy lawn chair under her head then went around to her legs. She froze in terror and he was able to grab her back legs and shove her through the fence, the lawn chair breaking her fall.   By this time the police had arrived and our injured fawn had flopped onto the ground where she lay motionless. The officer donned heavy gloves and inspected her little body.  "Except for that cut on her side, she doesn't look badly hurt, but she's pretty scared," he said.  "Let's stand back and give her some space.  She'll either recover or she won't."  I held my breath.  Our little girl raised her head.  Soon, she stood on wobbly legs.  And then she bolted off into the trees.  "She may just make it," said the cop.  "But you can never be sure."  I glanced over to the trees.  Right at the very edge stood a large female deer.  Her trusting, brown eyes looked straight into me before she disappeared into the foliage.  And given my writer's imagination I decided it was Mama and I was sure, like any mom, she was grateful we helped her baby.  Made me think of the universal connection of all lives, the vulnerability we share, the help we're all capable of offering.  Standing there in the sunrise, barefoot in ratty pajamas, I was crying again.   

Back out on the deck about a week later I saw several full-grown does munching our apples.  They had three smaller fawns in tow.  One of them had a healing wound on her side.  She looked up when she saw me, our eyes connecting for just a second before her clean leap over the fence.  And in that magnificent moment there was the feel of oneness with all living beings and a reminder to live each day with unconditional love, joy and happiness, deep gratitude.     





   ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

SAVING SUNNY
Sundae Sunshine
  
 Caro's Sundae Sunshine was a whimsical, sweet as pie cocker spaniel.  His luxurious beige coat curled from a proud head to a jet-propelled tail.  His leg fur feathered into strands of glistening silk.  The ribbons of hair on his ears cascaded like mountain waterfalls.  Soft, black eyelashes swept over chocolate endless-love eyes.  Caro's Sundae Sunshine was his fancy name, but I always called him Sunny.   Our fifteen years together were filled with laughs, loyal companionship, love.  But when I think of Sunny's beginnings, I am still saddened. 

Although reading the "Pets for Sale" ads in the newspaper was habit, back in 1991 I was not looking for another dog.  I was in the middle of unpacking from a big move and finishing college. The ad was in bold print. "NINE-MONTH-OLD COCKER SPANIEL NEEDS PATIENT, LOVING HOME."  I loved cockers, but the ad was a dead ringer for a problem animal likely the product of a treacherous "puppy mill" breeder.  I don't know why I went to see him.  
     Five disheveled children opened the door. A creeping baby followed behind, collecting furry dust balls on gooey hands.  They led me to the kitchen where a well-worn woman sat on an equally worn gray vinyl chair.  She brushed an inch of crumbs from the table to the floor and motioned me to take a seat.  The dog, crawling like the baby, slithered from under the table and placed a grimy face in my lap.
     "Well, there he is," said the mom.  "We told Mikey we'd get rid of him if he didn't teach him right."
     "I tried, Mom," cried the biggest child through tears that sketched streaks down a dirty face.  
Mikey was no more than six-years-old.  His parents had dumped full responsibility for the puppy on a child barely able to reach the sink to fill a water bowl.
     "We thought it would teach him something," the mother quietly said.  The sincerity in her eyes showed a caring, clearly overworked woman.  
The dog's head became heavy in my lap.  His pleading, crusty eyes stayed fixed on mine.  Mikey started to cry again, the mother yelled, the baby threw up a puddle of green on the floor.  Imagining the desperate animal placing the ad in the paper himself, I wrote out a check without bargaining for price.  I put my frightened, trembling pup in the car.   Looking into his eyes I envisioned him going from the warmth and security of furry littermates directly into chaos - no food, no water, no strokes of comfort or direction - his only lifeline a moppet who could barely feed himself.  We sat quietly in the car for a bit.  In truth, we sat until I stopped sobbing.  Once the motor was running, pup stopped shaking, sat straight up and looked ahead.  For me this was a clear sign of brighter days.  I decided right then to call him Sunny.  

I drove to a park.  We settled down on the bank of a stream.  I  soaked a cloth in the cool water and wiped Sunny's crusted face.  I put my hand out, palm up.  He sniffed and licked.  I reached under his snout to scratch his chest, feeling the tension release.  I asked him to sit and pushed lightly on his rump.  He complied, and we shared a wedge of apple and icy water from my thermos.  We headed for home, and in the following weeks a beautiful, trusting, well-mannered, happy dog emerged.

A friend, relating the uncanny antics of her little brown dachshund, once said to me, "I often wonder just who's inside that dog suit."  It was a sweet comment, and the first thing that came to my mind was that a loving, playful, living being is in every dog suit.  From that thought  came this poem.  
 CRITTERS ALL

How humble the links between all living beings. 
Beating hearts, expanding lungs, pain felt as strongly as pleasure. 
Fear experienced as deeply as joy.
Two-legged, four-legged responding to kindness, deserving of love.
Each breath, each whimper entwined as one spirit.
Enhancing the energy propelling our universe.
A unity of souls, a simplicity of truth.
At day's end we are critters all.






    ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
KIVA

She did what any mother would have done.  When her daughter moved to a "No Pets Allowed" apartment, my neighbor took in the daughter's cat.  And the cat came with baggage......to be continued.  

A COMMENT OVER LUNCH

William and Abner Cat in the Night Woods (click on print to enlarge) Carole Marshall Studio 🐾 www.carolemarsha...