When behind the wheel, never ponder the meaning of life.
When behind the wheel, never ponder the meaning of life.
On the whole, I prefer cats to people and through the years I’ve been lucky to know many amazing felines. Especially Leo.
I lost him last summer. Through at least some fault of my own. He was only 3.
Leo gave his all to everything. He was enthusiastic, eccentric, hilarious. And above all, loving. He adapted, accepted, and enjoyed whatever came his way, to such a remarkable extent that I began to see him as a spiritual guide. He was always purring about something, with a motor that could be heard across a room. He purred when he ate, he purred when you looked at him, he purred as he walked around.
When I scratched the side of his chin, he would invariably lean too deeply into the experience and fall over. At which he’d shake himself and lean just as deeply, again. And again. I don’t know how long he would have kept it up – I always stopped first. During the scratch-lean-fall episode in this photo, he repeatedly slid off the arm of a chair and came back for more, purring all the while. I’m probably the only one who wants to watch this video of a chin scratch session, but you’re welcome to join me…
When we got a rescue dog, all but one of the cats soon figured out that the dog was afraid of cats, and made nefarious use of that knowledge. Leo never got the memo and fled at any sudden movement by the dog (who in turn would flee because Leo made a sudden move). Eventually Leo discovered that dog tails make fun toys and that launched a friendship between those two exceedingly cautious individuals.
Leo was enormous, standing a head taller than the other cats. He was galumphing yet graceful. One of my favorite things was the way his spine undulated as he strolled.
Another favorite was how he reacted if I tried to hold him. He didn’t like to be held, but he wouldn’t squirm away. Nor would he give in to it. Instead, he would stand stiffly on my chest until I released him.
He’s been gone for nearly a year yet it still hurts to talk about him in past tense.
Can you spot Leo in this picture? He started life as a tiny feral stray kitten. I’m grateful to the shelter worker who devoted extra hours to handling him, to give him a chance at adoption. The feral kittens don’t often get out of the building.
As Leo grew – and grew – he maintained the view that everything was larger and tougher than he was. Tougher, perhaps was true. Such a gentle and humble nature – not descriptors that often get applied to cats.
Leo adored and admired my older cat Luna, who became his mentor in cat behavior. Luna is innately a cool feline dude and he was patient with Leo, but Leo never quite got it. The cool feline thing.
Leo was friendly with all other cats. When I left Missing Cat flyers on doorsteps I heard from more than one neighbor, ‘I used to see him all the time, he hung out with our cat(s).’
It’s safer, of course, for cats to stay indoors, but they’re so much happier outside. So I let them out during the day then locked them in at supper time. Every morning I’d get a knot of anxiety when I opened the cat door, and breathe a thanks when they were safely back inside. But I knew that if they could talk they’d tell me they’d rather live short interesting lives outside; so I honored those preferences. Until recently.
Last summer I was away from home for nearly 3 weeks, on work trips with a vacation sandwiched between. Leo, especially, hated it when my suitcase came out and I left home. I was the only human he had any bond with.
A few days into my trip, I got a phone call that Leo had stopped coming inside. He was hanging out down the street but wouldn’t come home.
When I got the call, I was enjoying a lazy afternoon by my brother and sister-in-law’s pool. The trip took on a taint after that call. I was thousands of miles from home. I’ve rarely felt more helpless.
I love traveling but I am a complete homebody and always get homesick. When I’m away from home, I use the moon to connect with my absent loved ones. I look up, know I’m seeing the same moon that they are, and with that can better enjoy my time away.
On that wretched trip, my last night away there was a gorgeous full moon. That night, like every night since the phone call, I tried to send Leo thought messages while I stared at the moon. Silly, of course, unless it wasn’t. Go home buddy, I’ll be there soon.
When I woke up to catch my pre-dawn flight, I was swept with dread, a certainty that something terrible had happened to Leo.
I’ve got a lot of if onlys.
If only I’d kept the cats locked in the whole time I was away. Sure they would have been miserable and driven my daughter crazy. But.
If only I’d flown home early, right after I got that phone call about Leo. Sure it would have cost lots of money I didn’t have. But based on neighbors’ reports, he was around, people saw him – until right before I got back.
If only I’d paid more attention to numerous indications that the drought was driving more wildlife down from the mountains and into my neighborhood. Once I got back home from my trip, I learned from neighbors that on every block, multiple cats had gone missing of late. Coyote sightings increased from occasionally to daily. I could have realized some of that earlier.
I could have done so many things differently.
Our neighborhood is empty of cats now. Some are now forced to be indoor cats, like my unhappy campers. Actually, mine now have a giant dog-run cage thing that lets them go slightly outdoors. One of them thinks the cage is cool, one is indifferent, and one of them thinks it’s a cruel trick.
They used to love to hang out on this patio, as Luna and Leo are doing in this photo. Leo was always in one planter or another. He was rough on the plants.
A couple months into Leo’s disappearance, I took down the signs I’d posted around the neighborhood. It wasn’t intentional, my putting them in his favorite planter.
I found myself incapable of trashing the posters. They sat in the planter through the winter. Finally, after the rain ruined them, they no longer felt connected to Leo and I could recycle them.
I don’t know what happened to Leo. No remains have been found. But then that’s how cat disappearances go. Certainly, no one has called about his microchip number. I’ve been searching shelters and Craig’s list ever since; although sporadically now, eleven months later. I’ve been blessed with volunteered help, well-wishes, and miracle reunion stories from numerous wonderful strangers; and I’ve been harassed by ‘we found your pet’ scams.
Perhaps a coyote didn’t get Leo. But that’s by far the most likely scenario. Beautiful warm night, full moon, Leo chasing bugs, doesn’t notice the pack until…
Every damn time I walk outside, I still have a flash instant’s fantasy that he’ll come running up from god-knows-where he’s been.
I hate being outside in my neighborhood at night now, especially when the moon is bright. I need to get my moon-gazing back. It was one of my favorite things about being alive.
I usually honor my animals with memorials when their lives conclude, but I haven’t been able to manage one for Leo. For almost a year, I haven’t been able to look at photos of him and have shied away from my memories.
But I need to get past that. Avoiding memories is worse than losing him. It’s like he never existed, never graced my life at all. Nothing could be more wrong than that.
Leo, your presence in my life was such a gift. I miss you so much.
Hope to see you on the other side.
Acquire more compassion. That is one of my top personal goals: to appreciate what another person is going through without the weight of pity or guilt. Or discomfort. Or disdain. I’d like to think I’m making progress but mostly I’m just aware of all the other reactions that sully the compassion. I want compassion unencumbered by other emotions. But perhaps single, pure reactions are not the way humans respond.
The other morning outside Starbuck’s, a youngish man was talking to himself. There is something distinctive about self-talk, you hear it and you know he’s not talking to a person or into a device. He walked rapidly without purpose, ricocheting from spot to spot. He had shoes cradled in his arms, but only socks on his feet. When he entered Starbucks, most everybody acted like he wasn’t there, but stiffened and you knew they knew. Fresh back from a week in Manhattan, I was skilled at ignoring him. He stood behind me in line for a while, muttering and rapping. He came up with some spectacular rhymes, and sounded surprised when his words fell into place. He was impossibly high, on what I dunno. I couldn’t tell whether he was having a good trip.
After he left, a woman in line had a mom moment and expressed concern about his heading toward traffic. I looked out at him and for the first time saw somebody’s son. Suddenly I felt like a crumb for not reaching out to him, maybe getting him to sit down for a spell. Without provocation, he sprinted up the street and away. The woman kept talking about him to all the workers and now it seemed like there was gossip in her caring, which disappointed me. The workers told her that cops had earlier been out to chat with him. I had happened into one short piece of a recurring cycle.
The other night on the subway I sat next to a pair who must have been friends, maybe mid-20s in age. The guy said to the gal, “Have you seen Brian lately? I really don’t like him anymore, he has turned into such a loser. All he wants to do is sit around at home.” (GIrl murmurs unconvinced noises.) “Shelly saw him in New York. He flew out there for an interview with a director about a big part.” (Tone of voice conveys jealousy and frustration – apparently Brian blew the opportunity.) “Shelly thought the same thing. He’s acting like a loser. You know his dad tried to kill himself last year.” (Not clear whether this is offered as an attempt to understand, or further proof of what a loser Brian is.)
By now I hate this guy and wish Brian had better friends. Later I bring myself around to thinking about the life experiences that shaped this guy and prevent him from perceiving that Brian’s behavior could reflect emotional devastation. I remember my 20s as a time of cavalier disregard for so many others. Maybe he’ll grow out of it. I’m pretty sure that I finally have, although disdain still comes way too easily to me.
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!