Lessons, Re-Learned

For me, this is a time of imminent loss. One of my longest-standing, dearest friends is fighting for his life. Now, he is the proverbial tough old bird and if anyone can beat these particular odds it will be this guy. But for the foreseeable future, the next text or phone call could bring terrible news.

As I scrap this or that “important” plan in order to spend a few minutes clunking around his hospital room or assisting his family in some small way, I’m re-reminded of the few things that matter to me.

1) My loved ones.

2) Writing.

rinconhikeIMG_6317

3) Getting my head into the present tense so I can appreciate what is happening while it is happening. Such as walking on the bluffs by the ocean and… catching paragliders taking their turns at launch… or witnessing brilliantly graceful pelicans come in for their awkward landings, right next to harbor seals who lounge unperturbed:

pelicanssunsetIMG_6329

And, oh yeah,
4) My health.

When I was younger, I knew these things, too. But when I was younger, I more often lost touch with truth.

I’m so grateful I got to get old and I look forward to figuring more stuff out. While remembering the stuff I already figured out.

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge was “lines”.)

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Moments Now vs. Moments Later

I know I’m not alone with this dilemma: the more photographs I take, the harder it is to enjoy the moment. That camera-phone stuck to my face – that oh! good shot! scrutiny – blocks my senses.

But if I’ve got photographs, I can re-live (a weak yet satisfying imitation of) that moment. Without photographs, all I’d remember would be the beach with the pier is nice at sunset:

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By the time I uploaded my photos, I’d forgotten how the surf distorted the pier’s reflection:

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Nowadays, I’m really trying to live in the moment, so as I continued my walk, I pocketed my phone. Then unpocketed it. Many times.

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Capturing a pelican on camera marks a different kind of living in the moment:

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One of the great things about the beach is how quickly everything changes. Every moment really does last a moment. Here’s what happened to the sunset when the fog got just a bit thicker:

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One solution to photographing my moments away might be to keep going back to the beach. I don’t need photo memories of stuff I do and see all the time – do I? Hmm. My photo library draws a different conclusion:

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My cats and my granddaughter. I’m lucky enough to see both all the time. Yet the photo library keeps growing in both categories… Thank goodness for the digital photo era.

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge was Broken.)

The Only Cat in the World

I lost a dear friend today.

Our cat Bop always wanted to be the only cat. Probably only cat in the world, certainly in the household. Those other cats were irksome; unnecessary. She spent a decade demonstrating why she was superior to the rest of her breed. She helped with paperwork:

BopPapers

She critiqued my writing:

BoponKeyboard

She kept her spine supple, the better to chase other cats:

TwistedBop

She practiced the art of fine sleeping:

BopCoversphoto

She lived for thrills. We had an aggressive rabbit, Cookie, who would attack any cat that dared go near her cage. Yet, whenever Cookie went out in the yard, Bop would hang out in the forbidden zone:

Bop grew up to disdain other animals, with one exception. She enjoyed our rabbit Cookie, a bold and aggressive rescue bunny. Bop loved to hang out in Cookie's cage. An extreme sport. Cookie would have killed anybody (not an exaggeration) she caught in her cage.

Bop was smart and affectionate, and friendly with humans. She tolerated the dog. When I walked the dog she would start the walk with us, and run to meet us when we returned. She devoted much of her life to the thankless, Sisyphean task of eradicating other cats from the neighborhood. She mostly but grudgingly got along with our cat Luna, who joined the household from the same shelter on the same day:

Events-71

I didn’t want to bring Bop home. She was homely, mangy, and her stomach was distended with worms. When my daughter tried to cuddle her at the shelter, Bop took a clawing flying leap over my daughter’s shoulder and shot away. We caught up to her three rooms distant. My son persuaded us to choose Bop because of her lively personality. Lively became over-the-top! She also became quite sleek and beautiful when she got healthy.

Time has done its flying thing. The girl who holds kitten Bop in that last picture is now applying to med schools. The boy, holding kitten Luna, becomes a father next spring (and along the way, grew several inches taller than his sister).

Luna grew up to be friendly to all other cats. Average Luna with Bop and you get a normal cat.

Big problems arose a couple years ago, when we adopted three new shelter kittens, Bo, Leo, and Arrow:

SackedOut

As they got older, Luna became fast friends with them. Here he is with Leo, who became enormous:

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Bop hated the kittens and attacked with intent to kill. We were expecting trouble from her, but not so violent nor so persistent. We had to isolate the kittens for many months. When Leo and Bo got bigger, they stood up to her attacks, so – like any bully – she backed off. She still liked to hide behind doors to ambush them, but when she sprang out they would flatten and hiss and the incident would be over. The third kitten, Arrow, remained terrified, which inspired Bop to continue to chase and harass Arrow.

We always wondered whether Arrow and Bop knew how much they looked alike. Here is Arrow (reacting to Bop):

Arrowtarget

Here is what Arrow saw (Bop, acting tough):

Bopmean

Until recently, even the other kittens couldn’t tell Bop from Arrow. We put a bell on Bop for a while, to help distinguish her, but she kept escaping the collars. Too smart for us. Mistaken identities led to many double-takes and ill-chosen encounters. Arrow would run up to play with the other kittens and they would flee, mistaking her for Bop, leaving her with the feline equivalent of a WTF expression. Conversely, enemy Bop would appear and Bo and Leo would run toward her, mistaking her for their buddy Arrow. Bop would hiss or lunge, demonstrating their mistake, and they would flee, looking confused.

A few months ago, the vet said that Bop – only 11.5 years old – had terminal cancer and a few months to live. We all figured that Bop the contrarian would survive for years. After all, Cookie the rabbit did that after a similar diagnosis, and they were kindred spirits.

But that isn’t how it turned out.

Over the last several weeks, as Bop grew sicker, the young cats grew bolder, bringing a ding dong the witch is dead atmosphere to the household. One day, even Arrow felt comfortable nosing around Bop’s special sleeping areas. It made me cry – it was a proof of how sick Bop had become.

Today was Bop’s last day, and it was a tough one, although it concluded with a tribute of a moon that reminded me of Bop’s ultra-white and densely black fur:

moon

I loved the underside of Bop’s front paws. On one paw, she had all white toes, with one black exception in the middle. On the other paw, she had the opposite coloring.

Bop, you didn’t need to be the only cat to stand out. You were a difficult animal – my difficult animal – and I’ll miss you every day.

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge is Gone but Not Forgotten.)

Book Review: “Cathedral of the Wild” by Boyd Varty

97814000698595 STARS. RECOMMENDED!!

I guess I’m an ageist. As my age advances, my interest in young writers declines. They may have dazzling pyrotechnic writing styles – but I don’t care about style, I care about content, and I want to spend my time with writers who understand things that I don’t.  Generally, that means writers with a range of experiences and insights that can only come from living. Believe me, I’m not saying I know it all. Most of the time I can’t even say what it is. But there is something about a young person’s writing that usually feels thin and unseasoned to me.

Given my prejudice against tyro writers like Boyd Varty, I opened Cathedral of the Wild with skepticism that lasted about a page and a half. I love this book and found Varty’s writing to be funny, profound, moving, witty, informative, fascinating, and inspiring, often all at once.

This is a memoir of a remarkable childhood in a singular family. Varty comes of age on a game preserve in South Africa’s wildlands, the bushveld. The family land was purchased by ancestors who liked to hunt big game, but over time the family’s love of nature evolves and they become staunch, influential conservationists whose business is to bring tourists on photographic safaris and to make death-defying wildlife videos. The family is ambitious, passionate, risk-loving; heavy on vision and low on conformity. Varty’s early years are punctuated by brushes with death and exposure to the wonder of encounters with wild animals on their home turf.

For those who feel connection to nature, this book will resonate in every chapter. Throughout, Varty provides wonderful anecdotes about the animals he encounters, and he also powerfully conveys the spirituality he experiences in the natural world. When things go long and seriously wrong for his family, his quest  for recovery takes him on a memorable pilgrimage into the wild.

Few books are perfect and this one is excessively anecdotal, and succumbs to some New Age claptrap.  Ultimately, none of that matters. This is a wonderful book.

I got this book for free in exchange for an honest review. I savored reading it overmuch and read it slowly – so I missed my Librarything review deadline, which means I won’t qualify for more free books for a while. That’s okay, this was worth it!

Home Is Where The Thoughts Stay

What I see this morning as I write this.

What I see this morning as I write this.

I love meeting new places, and so I am excited to be heading out for a week of work-related travel; however, there’s a part of me that never wants to leave home, and thus I must always shove myself out the door.

There is nothing special about my house. It’s a tiny, nondescript box. I’m always behind with my housework and yard work and I no longer pretend that I intend to catch up. It would be charitable to call the furniture antiques. At one time I had lots of Nice Stuff but multiple moves, kids, pets, and my waning interest in Stuff have all taken a toll.

But of course, that’s not what matters.

Home is where my kids grew up (when we stopped moving around), and where they stay when they need a place to. Home is where we marked their growth spurts on the wall, and now have a funny paint job as we paint around but never over those growth marks.

Home is where the cats and the dog reside, usually doing something goofy. This morning, two of the cats did some play-fighting in the backyard, on opposite sides of a tree trunk. They rose up like bears and batted at each other left right left right but mostly hit the tree trunk.

Home is where I sit on a patio and write novels, and blog posts, while listening to the morning birds or the evening freeway traffic, which really can sound like the ocean.

Home is where I get to choose my changes, or have that illusion. Home is where I can dress however I please, except maybe when a kid walks in out of the bright afternoon sun with a friend and I’m still in my jammies. Home is where I ignore the phone’s ring if that’s what I feel like doing.

Home is where I recharge, revive, restore, and become ready to go back out in the world.

The curious thing is that home is so portable. I have had many homes – big, small, fancy, plain – and they all have the same effect. A house is a building, a home is the state of mind.

The Art of Letting Go

My son and daughter have grown up. They are 20 now (yep, twins), and launched on their personal trajectories – to what heights and distances, none of us can yet say. I am in awe of the people they have become, so clever and kind, funny and wise. I love spending time with them, and am all too aware that I do so in an extended magic moment, before they settle into the careers and families that will take them farther from my own orbit.

My daughter’s university is a two hour drive away, and a couple times each term I drive up to spend the day with her. We’ve developed a routine: we go out for a meal, we share a long walk and talk on the beach, and then I buy her some groceries. Most recently, we saw this sunset together:

Sunset at East Beach, Santa Barbara, January, 2014.

Sunset at East Beach, Santa Barbara, January, 2014.

My son – and daughter, when she is home – enjoy a lot of live music together. Their musical interests are broader and deeper than mine, but we have many overlaps and intersections, and have each shared great finds with the others.

Still can’t decide whether this is a good mom or bad mom anecdote: The first time I took them to a concert, they were 12 or 13, and we went to see one of my favorite bands from the old days, X. The band had recently reformed to do the occasional “oldies” show, and they were as good as ever.

Here is what X were like back when they were not much older than my kids are now.

In the old days, I hated the crowd at X shows –  slamming, spitting, too much intrusion of personal space and sharing of bodily fluids for me! But at the new shows the mosh pit was small and friendly, and many of the attendees were clearly there with their kids – or grandkids.  So I brought my kids to a show in Orange County. Well, apparently that is where all the nasty fans went to die, or beget new generations. The music was awesome but the room was filled with disgusting drunks (vomiting on themselves without realizing it, that kind of thing). Oops. My kids loved the music but my son still complains that I wouldn’t let him enter the mosh pit, and my daughter still gets grossed out by the smell of beer.

Here is what X looked like last week, when my son and I went to see them at a Whisky-a-Go-Go 50th anniversary celebration:

X at the Whiskey on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, January, 2014.

X at the Whisky on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, January, 2014.

We don’t usually attend “oldies” shows – we’d rather hear something new – but we’ll keep going to X shows as long as there are X shows. Don’t know how long that may be – serious health problems in the band – which adds bittersweet  to each performance.

When my children were growing up, my most debilitating parental fear was that someday, they would spend time with their mother strictly to fulfill obligations. As is typical with all my free-floating worries, this one consumed much psychic energy for no good reason. At last I might be sort of, kind of, sometimes learning to cease all that worrying. Which leaves me more open to appreciate my moments with my kids right now.

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge topic is family.)

They’re Lucky They’re So Cute

Some months ago, my daughter lost her laptop sleeve case. We searched and we searched. She decided she must have left it somewhere back at college rather than at home.

Cut to this morning: Mother and daughter thoroughly searching her bedroom because – in the middle of the night, of course – our former kittens had grabbed her favorite lip gloss and converted it to a toy, scrabbling and chasing it somewhere as yet undetected. During the futile search for the lip gloss, deep under the bed we found the laptop sleeve, which had also been converted to an objet de play.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Our recent kittens are now 1 year old, but we still think of them as the babies, which serves them well at times like this.

When they truly were kittens.

The suspects (Bo, Leo, Arrow) when they truly were kittens.

They are bigger now and less likely to all three fit in the same sleep spot. Here are Bo and Leo.

They are bigger now and less likely to all three fit in the same sleep spot. Here are Bo and Leo.

Arrow, (almost) caught in the act of sharing the human's breakfast.

Arrow, (almost) caught in the act of sharing the human’s breakfast.