Living with a elderly cat who has wandered gradually into a state of dementia has been one of the more interesting experiences of my adult life. My beloved Sissy, who is now 19 years old, has begun to exhibit behaviors and traits that are eerily familiar and, I have to admit, extremely unsettling. It's a lot of like watching what happened to my grandmother before she died. Well it would be, that is, if my grandmother had had four legs and a cheap fur coat... ok, four legs anyway. There's the basic befuddlement - walking into a room, stopping, looking around and wondering, "Where am I going and why am I in this hand-basket". Understandable...happens to me all the time. And the deafness...sure, that comes to all of us with age. The fact that I can walk up behind her loudly calling out her name and she still jumps a foot if I reach out and touch her is, I am ashamed to admit, sometimes comical (I feel SO guilty). The wobbly gait, the constant visits to the litter-box (where she has been known to exhibit the same "Huh? Where am I?" expression mentioned above) are completely old-age appropriate and every woman over the age of 45 or so can totally identify with the "more frequent visits to the litter-box" thing, let me tell you. Then there's the flatulence. The less said about that the better. She sleeps more (is that even possible for a cat?), she eats less, and she has turned into "Velcro Kitty", wanting to stand on my full bladder wearing her little kitty toe-shoes at every possible opportunity. I get all that. What is troubling almost to the point of sleep-deprived madness is her new habit of jumping up onto the bed in the middle of the night, walking right up next to my ear and screaming at the top of her little kitty lungs - the sound of which, for anyone who has ever experienced the same sort of phenomena in a tiny baby, is inversely (and I might add, perversely) proportionate to her size. My cat weighs 5 pounds. If I'm doing the math right her voice strikes my eardrum at a glass shattering 130 decibels (the benchmark for the threshold of acoustical pain). She then proceeds to walk around the house making a noise that, for lack of a better description, sounds like badly-tuned bagpipes being played by a monkey on crack imitating a wounded badger. With a hangover. And a chip on his shoulder. This goes on for an hour or so. It's oddly reminiscent of many of the trips I took to the nursing home to see my grandmother in her final days, when she had absolutely no idea who I was. I'd be walking down the hall after a sad and frustrating visit, and I'd hear a voice, wailing, shrieking, and crying out so loudly that my head would automatically whip around in panic stricken hyper-alertness to find the source of what seemed to me to be "the sound of ultimate suffering". As I'd be trying to decide whether or not a life threatening emergency existed, I would finally be able to make out a single, demanding word... being screamed over, and over, and over... "NURSE!!!!" - each petition being punctuated viciously with the manic buzzing of a call button being repeatedly, incessantly and relentlessly mashed by a 98 pound woman who could probably have bench-pressed my car. My Vet describes this behavior from my cat, known as "increased nocturnal vocalizations", as "fairly typical in cats with dementia". Well yes, I suppose so if that's the diagnostic term for it (what choice do I have..."I'm an artist, Jim, not a doctor"), but it is still disconcerting as hell. What I find to be the most distressing part is not that my adored kitty has turned into a crotchety, old woman who fusses and frets constantly. No, what makes me really stop, bend over and loosen my shoes is the thought that one day *I* may be the old lady with the demonic buzzer in my hand - clutching it desperately like a lifeline - trying to telegraph to anyone who will listen my desperate life-affirming pleas for attention, affection and some semblance of dignity. If so, then, I will promise to do my best not to sneak up on anyone in the middle of the night and scream loudly in their ear....on the other hand.....
Following the wisdom of my ancestors, I walk the words to find the truth. Words are a path, the spaces between are the destination. To find a way between the words, you must walk the path and hear the deafening roar of silence.
"Who has not listened to hear the secret
stories of the land whisper from ruins or
forests, or the pages of ancient texts?"
~ Ari Berk~
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
"Woodpecker woman chip away, whittle,Ravens, for me, have always been the most fascinating birds in myths, stories and legends. So many aboriginal, indigenous and ancient cultures have believed that the raven had incredibly powerful qualities influencing some, if not all, of their original creation myths, with this ubiquitous bird possessing different attributes for whichever group of people you study. The raven: sometimes the Fearful Harbinger of Woe or Reviled Scavenger of Death. Sometimes the Triumphant Herald of War bringing with it the assurance of victory, glory, and valor. Sometimes the sly, unscrupulous, cosmic Trickster. Sometimes the Revered Messenger of The Gods or, for some, the Creator of the universe itself. For some reason (or perhaps all of the above) I have always identified with the raven. It is, in fact, my "totem" animal - presenting one or more faces of its many faceted persona in my life at all times. Right now Raven seems to be the Herald of War, with my friend's upcoming fearsome battle with cancer as its manifestation. Here also at this moment in time is the ever-present Trickster (my personal favorite) because nothing in life ever *really* goes according to plan - somehow we humans think that we're actually in control of the outcome of any situation. Still... Recognizing that, I have decided to try and summon the Revered Messenger of The Gods, inviting that particular spirit aspect to come, sit down and have tea with me - so that I can ever-so-calmly (and, of course, with great respect) say,"Okay, you sly bastard, let's get to work here to make this right. I want to be able to shout from the rooftops about the demise of my friend's illness". Then I step back, take a breath, and realize once again that this, too, is out of my control. It's an unrelenting, ongoing and sometimes vicious struggle for me to bear in mind that this has nothing to do with what *I* want. This is a journey that my friend is on and I am merely the "wingwoman", as it were. I will coordinate the schedule of rotating cooks, visitors, helpers, drivers, shoppers and advocates. But I pray that as I do so Raven will be covering my back, sitting upon my shoulder whispering wise words, clearing the path ahead of obstacles, and flying shotgun for me. I pray that the wild, fierce, warrior energy of Raven will be able to partner with the peaceful, gentle, healing energy of good health. I pray most fervently for my friend to be well. And, since I am in full-on prayer mode, I would ask for one more thing...let the "ravens of unresting thought" (thank you, Mr. Yeats) be stilled, so that I may fasten my seatbelt, hold on to my hat, and get on this roller-coaster with a clear and accepting heart. So that I, too, may go like the raven.
Carve my name on a hick'ry fiddle,
Dance all night, dream just a little,
I go like the raven..."
~Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer~
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
| A drawing from an old sketchbook of the trail|
Clarke Pond is part of a small patch of conservation property not far from my home. I like to think of it as my own personal walking meditation place. It's a lovely spot - seasonally a home to ducks, geese, egrets, herons, kingfishers, red-winged blackbirds, and a layover for other migrating waterfowl as well as a huge variety of birds traveling along the Eastern Atlantic Flyway. It's bordered on one side by a beach hammered by the wild and gray Atlantic Ocean, and on the other by salt marsh, low-lying swampy wetlands and large outcroppings of granite hosting a mixed hardwood and conifer forest. In other words - an absolute cornucopia of habitats for all sorts of animals - furred, feathered and scaled. There are a few trails running through the property, none of them very demanding for the hardened hiker, yet somehow just perfect for rumination, brief vertical challenges and rocky, ankle-twisting mindfulness.
It is a place of profound solace for me - the place I head when I need to calm the "monkey-mind" that invariably tangles me up as a result of living immersed in the craziness of the modern world. I never fail to come away without some form of "treasure" after having spent an hour or so wandering about. Treasure is a concept that I'm learning to redefine in very different terms these days - a pure white, downy feather snagged on a thin tree limb, waving madly in the wind like a small flag of universal surrender or perhaps semaphore to the unknown in a language now lost. A sand dollar washed up completely intact on a beach dense with tide-tumbled stones of all sizes and shapes. A stick with the letter "C" carved into it by some small worm or cellulose loving insect. The perfect stone with which to make a talisman for a friend far away. These are the tangible treasures that I can take with me. These are the cherished renderings of the ground I walk, the gifts of the natural world. But today there was another kind of treasure that found me. One completely unlooked for, completely unseen by the eye that sees the "world as it is". As I rambled about I was suddenly overcome with the most profound feeling of gratitude that I have ever experienced for the gift of all the friendships that I have been blessed with. Friendship is one of life's greatest intangible treasures, seen only with the "inner" eye - the eye of the heart - and I knew at that moment that I had connected to that sacred thread that links us all together, makes us love each other, and humbles us in the face of tragedy. I left Clarke Pond, the biting wind off the North Atlantic stinging my face as I slogged my way up the beach - headed home with full pockets, a full heart, and eager anticipation for the cup of cocoa waiting for me at home. And talk about treasure...don't even get me started on the virtues of chocolate.