Returning

From the center of a clutch of undead and pirates standing with open sacks on my front porch, she chimes, “I’m a princess.”

She takes two fun-sized sweets from the basket. “I see! What is the name of your country, Princess?”

She buckles her brow while the others dip into the stash. “I’m dressed UP as a princess,” she says, unbuckling.

“Oh, I understand. I’m dressed up as a grown-up.”

She buckles up again before turning with the others, chorusing thank you down the walk.

Thus begins the fourth year in the gardenhood.

I could have stayed longer in Switzerland. My welcome was robust, and I was so at home. And yet, when I made my travel plans last summer, I wanted to be back by Hallowe’en. I’m happy feeding the goblins.

Last year, the porch was dark. I took the bag of treats to my dad’s house. My brother answered the door. I’d spent half the day planting tulips, narcissi, crocus, and lilies in a new garden. Or was that the next day?

A crew of painters worked on the trim of the portales framing two sides of the garden. One of the young men listened to his i-phone, the 1930’s sound track to The Wizard of Oz. “If pretty little bluebirds fly…” Uncanny. I remembered Dad telling me what a crush he had on Judy Garland. Dad was big on beautiful girls.  A storm was blowing in.

The year before that, I had to put a gate across the studio door. Willie the terrorizer was definitely against the idea of ghouls and toddling bunnies at the front door. This year, the flat corner lot is spooked by Edward the Handsome, a pure white cat, his sea-green eyes pale in twilight. I don’t remember if Ed hid from the begging mobs at Dad’s door last year. Last night, however, he curled and closed his eyes on the futon.

To say Ed is happy I’ve returned from Switzerland wouldn’t be a stretch. He’s spent the last two nights curled up against me in bed and breathes easy now in my lap, head bowed, ears still, answering my slight movements with tiny grasps of his huge, polydachtyl paws.

While I prepared to depart home for home, Sandy blew up the East coast. Friends on both sides of the pond worried about my flights. There was little room in me for angst as I filled my senses with final views of the village I love. Still, in thoughts that crackled like static, I wondered how new blogging friends, Kevin and Donna, were faring. Last I heard, long-ago sweetheart, Les, was living and golfing on Long Island. High school theatre comrades, Erik and Susie, pursued their dreams in NYC. Was everyone safe? How oddly grounding to have my thoughts returning to these people never-seen or last seen forty years ago as the hours droned by and the plane chased the sun to Chicago.

I’m just about 40 hours back in the gardenhood. Leaves cover lawn and beds, collect in small drifts by the chain-link fence, a perfect haunted look for celebrating the supernatural.

I’ve dragged the hose all around, run the duster over the creaking floor gathering up Ed’s generous offerings of kitty down, unpacked my suitcase, and sorted all the contents. I’ve answered all the emails, generated a few more, filled out my mail-in ballot, and paid my bills. With business taken care of and vampires plied with candy, some not-yet-returned part of my consciousness believed I would wake up this morning under Mucca and Maria’s roof. Like Griffin in Men in Black III, parallel universes converge and separate behind my eyes.

The not yet returned part of me expected to wake up here this morning.

The gardenhood waits for my integrated footsteps.

While part of me still walks here, behind Maria and little Anna-Lu, having just bought 6 loaves of fresh bread from a farm an hour’s walk through woods and pastures.

Admiring Mari-Ursla’s work.

Mumala and Anna-Lu under the fig tree in the last of summer’s sun.

Mo sccots to join them.

Stones garnered from wet places, the colors of fog and glaciers.

In the gardenhood, dry-place stones.

Nebbelmeer, a sea of fog, closed the sky over the valleys, but left the mountains in glory.

Rain.

…turned to snow.

The village disappeared from the rest of the world.

Barely visible beyond the gardenhood, the foothill neighborhood of last summer’s fire.

The newly homeless from Sandy’s wake, like those from the Waldo Canyon fire, sleep in so many hotels, spare bedrooms, and livingroom floors, certain cells of their being wondering where they will awaken. Where does a dream end and life begin?

By grace, no trauma has tossed me home from home. I’m returning by dreamy, gentle stages to the gardenhood. Yes, and though my costume is downy from a lap-full of cat, I’m still dressed up as a grown-up.

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The Other Purrson in the Garden

It’s time you heard directly from me how life goes around here.

She calls me “Ed”. More than once I’ve heard other furless purrsons laugh when she introduces me. Purrhaps if she used my full title, Edward the Handsome, they would show a little more respect.

In the moment, I’m sitting in her lap, dictating this report. You can see I’m a patient and intelligent feline.

She, on the other hand, moves around so much, that I can only surmise she is restless. Isn’t that the opposite of patient? My old purrson was very patient. He stayed in one place for so many hours, I could come and go from his lap as I pleased. She doesn’t watch TV or take naps in the afternoon. Pity.

When she works at the computer, she jumps up to answer that ringing, or dash outside, or bang around in the kitchen. I curl up in the warm, black chair when she leaves. Who wouldn’t? She’s out of luck when she comes back and pulls up the hard chair with the small blue pillow.

As for intelligence, she speaks only one language, and I’m here to tell you, it isn’t Cat.  She repeats everything I say, but I can’t allow as she actually understands. Maybe if I say things louder….

It seems to work better if I use nonverbal approaches. When I first came here, I went on a hunger strike to protest the health food diet she had in mind for me. Now, she feeds me what my old purrson did, and I’m glad.

Also, I had to scratch at the door and run around the house like a crazy purrson, before she realized that after 15 years, I wasn’t about to  convert to indoor kittyism.

She shows promise. If I walk to one of the doors, she usually follows me and opens it. That part she gets right. However, she seems to think just because I got her to open the door, it means I want to go out right then. What if I only want to smell the air? Then she makes speeches.

“I know you had an open pet door at your old house, Buddy.”

That’s her favorite. By the tone of her voice, I’d say she’s sorry, but she hasn’t done a thing to correct the situation.

If I do go out the door, she always says, “Come back safe.” That’s kind of nice.

She took down the bird feeders. Oh, except when there’s snow or rain. I don’t DO wet.

Another thing: As far as I’m concerned, grass is a waste of real estate. It’s only good for chewing on once in a while. Sometimes, I high step across a stretch of it in order to sharpen my claws on some good, rough bark, but walking on it is one of those necessary evils. So, I keep it to a minimum. It’s a good thing she has provided me with sidewalks.

Ah, yes, and the front porch. It’s a great place to sit and stare.

I’ll check back in with you from time to time. I think she’ll be pretty good about it, even times like now when there’s a lot happening outside, because I’m polite when I ask.

Comfort and Joy

Snow, at last, illumines the gardenhood. I went out before the sun rose to clear the walks. The sky, a deep Virgin’s blue, was crowned by the waning crescent moon. It was cold enough to give the air weight. Still a northerner at heart, I revel in mornings like this and seem to require one to fully awaken the sense of wonder, gratitude, and awe that dance in the holiday spirit. Carols and lights and the scent of fir trees help, yet there’s nothing like snow.

Jacket over hoody, thick wool socks and mittens, my heaviest jeans. By the time the mountain and spired conifers were gilded, work had warmed me through. Scrape, toss, scrape, toss – there is a lot of sidewalk around this flat corner lot. I stilled my shoveling often, changing postures, admiring the light and the sugar-fine comforter settled over everything.

How is it that crystalized air, frigid white powder from deep space, and back-aching labor give rise to a sense of well-being and delight?

“Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.”

Indoors, Ed the arctic white cat, remains. He’s having nothing of this wintry weather and its shiny deposit. We slept like stones, me under and he atop three inches of down rolled out for the occasion. Instead of prowling the fence-line for thrills, he’s attacking the stuffed mouse, tossing, batting, pouncing, biting, rolling on his back and scratching it with all four paws. I admire his adaptability. He prefers expeditions beyond the backdoor. He also prefers certain temperatures and dry toes. He makes his own fun, finds the windows, kneads my lap. All, it seems, on his own terms.

Another lifetime ago, suffering from extreme seasonal affective disorder, the approach of Christmas sent me spiraling, and not upward. The pressures to be cheerful, to make gifts, to out-bake my mother-in-law all rode me hard. What I craved was quiet, intimacy, reflection, and beauty. What I engaged in was manic activity and too many well-fed conversations in overheated, brightly lit rooms.

In the year following my deepest depression, with all my body chemistry telling me to hunker down and my psyche wanting a cure, I chucked the baking and the gifts. Imagine the strangeness of such an abdication in a Christmas-crazed society. Well, desperate times call for something untried.

My hands empty and calendar clear, my bloodstream untroubled by sugar, I listened. The eternal theme of the season kept calling to me: the coming of light to a darkened world, hope to the darkened soul. I put on my snowshoes, and took myself into the mystery, the slumbering woods, the quiet. I trekked out of the comfort zone of making traditional merry and into the comfort that evidenced eternity, that yielded joy. My entire relationship to Winter and to its timeless holidays was transformed. I grew to love Winter and take comfort in the rest it afforded.

Now that I live in an urban forest, is it any wonder that I revel in a dark, snowy morning?

I confess, I still pressure myself to have a merry Christmas and contribute to the merriness of friends and family. I worry that I’ll spend the day alone, won’t get asked to parties and concerts, will spend too much money, forget or disappoint someone. Crazy, I know. Even worthless old habits die hard.

At least now I can do more than fret and compete in the “merry-thon”. I can wake up in the thinning darkness and, with a quiet playfulness, answer an invitation made by fresh snow out into the bleak midwinter garden to find shimmers of glory and glimmers of peace.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Blessed Solstice. Happy Hanukkah.

May you find comfort and joy.

Edward the Handsome

Edward the Handsome, though snow-white, hasn’t an arctic bone in his feline body. It was officially cold in the gardenhood earlier this week, minus ten one morning. He asked politely to be let out the back door. Each time he stepped head and shoulders onto the stoop, lifted his nose for scents, and curled back around to the kitchen.

I had my suspicions, but never knew this about Ed. You see, he lived for 13 or so years with my dad. There, until last March, he played second, third, or fourth fiddle to the dogs. I didn’t see much of him when I visited. Since then we’ve had the chance to learn a lot about each other.

He had access to the outside world whenever he wanted it, through a pet door which Dad, stubborn spoiler of animals, duct taped open day and night. Pokey, the last of Dad’s canine companions, wouldn’t press through the plexiglass flaps. With the doors permanently open, Pokey could run out and bark at crows or squirrels whenever he pleased, and mice, racoons, and skunks found their way in to bowls of food and a litter of untouched treats and chews. What a nightmare.

Yet despite his low ranking, intruders to his safe place, and constant access to a world of other possibilities, Edward the Faithful stuck around. When Pokey departed, Ed lent Dad his furry and lanky self for petting, warmth, and comfort. Dad was mighty grateful. Later, when incontinence got the better of him, Dad would say he was wet and stinky because Eddy jumped on his tummy, releasing his bladder. It might have been a feeble story, but it was the only face-saving logic Dad had. Ed didn’t seem to take it personally.

Later, when Dad no longer had the wherewithal to object, the pet door was shut. Edward the Remaining learned to use it. That was my first witness to just how smart, or at least adaptable, Ed the cat is.

By then, sundowning syndrome disrupted what was left of Dad’s daily routine. In a large shaky script, Dad wrote “6:30 CHORES” on a sheet of paper and left it on the stove. These chores were feeding the birds and squirrels, taking a walk, and feeding Ed. Sadly, predictably, the note to self didn’t help. Ed got used to asking sweetly and getting fed by whichever child was on hand. And when he wasn’t out for a bit of sun and a roll in the dirt, Ed coiled and stretched next to Dad, in the double recliner in the TV room or on his bed. Then, only on his bed.

Ed snuggled next to Dad’s left hip through the wee hours of the Wednesday morning when a thundering wind helped Dad fly home.

The moon-white cat has lived in this tiny, flat-roofed house for a month now. He’s been a good sport, considering. He’s had to teach me a few things, too. For starters, the expensive good-for-the-senior-kitty food – both kibble and canned – simply won’t do. “Give me what Ol’ Merlie gave me, or I won’t eat.” The message was clear. Secondly, all the enrichment in the world doesn’t equal the thrill of being terrified by a flock of geese chatting as they wing over. “Trust me. I’ll be careful. But unless I go outside, I will refuse to thrive.” Not at all last is this: “Petting is done on my time. I initiate.”

He’s made a few concessions and even some pleasant discoveries. He accepts that canned food comes twice a day and kibble is nibbled in between. He watches the cursor dash about the computer screen. Toys are actually fun. Catnip rocks. In his old house, the curtains were always drawn and the windows high and practically without sills. Here, windows are better than TV for entertainment, and the sun comes through them, too.

Edward the Comfortable has found every sunny spot and moves from one to the next as they change. He has also discovered my lap. Although his new and oddly familiar person doesn’t sit still nearly as long nor as regularly as Ol’ Merlie, which is somewhat annoying to the boy, he often prefers my lap to sofas, chairs, or the bed.

This morning before sunrise, Ed and I both stepped onto the back stoop. He jumped down for his morning roll, and I wondered at the moon being bitten into a crescent by the shadow of the earth. What glow remained reflected the early evening light half-way around the world. I marveled at the dance of orbs, of light chasing dark chasing light, the wholeness and perfection of it all. The urge rose to run back in and call Dad to have him step outside and share the eclipse. I don’t imagine that urge will ever go away.

Instead, after his promised careful perusal of the back yard, Edward the Handsome ran up the straight walk from the shed to the stoop. We both went inside to warm up and welcome the dawn.