What you fear is what you get.

My husband had a poignant encounter with a fearsome beast, and a little girl wise beyond her years.  A few years ago Frank had a surveying job at a farm outside the city where we live. He finished, and was walking from the fenced-in pasture toward the farmhouse to let the owner know he was leaving, when he heard thumping behind him .

He looked back to see a very large cow approaching him. Alarmed, he started to walk faster. So did the cow. Then he started to jog, and the cow did too. It was catching up. Pretty soon Frank was running as fast as he could, his breath coming in spurts, his heart thumping.

The cow was nearly touching him when Frank finally reached the chain-link fence and scrambled up. He looked down to see the cow looking up at him. It mooed. Frank hoisted his legs and then the rest of him over the top of the fence, climbed down on the farmhouse side, and stood there catching his breath.

Pretty soon a small freckle-faced girl with a cowlick came marching up to him indignantly from the farmhouse. She had seen the whole thing. She stopped in front of Frank and looked up at him, her jaw set, her blue eyes boring into his soul.

“Rose just wanted to be petted, Mister,” she said fiercely.

Isn’t this what goes on between human beings so many times? So often a person just wants to be friends or get to know someone, or even just have a friendly conversation, and we misinterpret things, or we’re misinterpreted. We’re afraid to approach, to get close. We run fences like Linda Ronstadt’s Desperado, we scramble away like Frank from sweet affectionate Rose, we climb out of reach. We miss opportunities to connect. Rose just wanted to say Namaste, the divine in me greets the divine in you, bovine style. She wanted to be acknowledged in her tactile, animal way. It all went right over Frank’s head, but the little freckle-faced girl understood. If we were all more like children and cows, the world would be a better place. And that’s the truth, Mister.

Advertisements

A beauty goes missing.

“It was just here! Where the heck did it go?! Oh, there it is….”

Was I in a Stephen King novel, I wondered?  I was walking by the plants along our backyard fence when a single leaf moved. Only one. Spooky. The day was perfectly still, no wind.

I tiptoed up for a closer look. The moving “leaf” was slightly lighter than the dark green leaves that surrounded it. It was a praying mantis. I was certain, even though I know zip about entomology and I had never seen one. But I recognized the elegant and poignant beauty I’d seen in pictures—the elongated body, the small head (like E.T.’s) on the long skinny neck, the tall antennae, and most of all the spiky, folding forelimbs. It was a 2-inch-long work of art.

The exotic creature was moving very slowly. Eventually I went inside and when I went back a little later I looked everywhere but it was nowhere. Of course it was somewhere, I just couldn’t see it.

It looked so fragile, but the mantis is equipped with ingenious survival skills, mainly the mighty defense of camouflage, and strong front legs lined with spikes for gripping prey. And an inner guidance system for locating nutrients that brought it to our insect-rich yard. My husband grew up in Hawaii, where insects are accepted, and uses pesticides very sparingly. Our yard was no doubt a tasty smorgasbord for our visitor.

I didn’t see it for a few weeks, then one day a small piece of greenery moved on a fern in the shade. If it hadn’t moved I would have never noticed it, it blended in so perfectly. All summer I would see its loveliness now and then, unexpectedly, when a leaf twitched or greenery moved.

A little while after summer ended, so did my glimpses of the mantis. I’ve learned that a year is its average life span.

It was a mystical, magical summer of playing Where’s Waldo? It was always a thrill to see the mantis in the rose bushes, among the ferns, nestled in the geranium leaves.  I miss my strange, beautiful, exotic Waldo.

Believe

One day my minister saw his beloved Maine Coon cat, Marcus, staring out the window intently. Wildlife sometimes wanders close to their apartment building, at the foot of a range of hills.  Marcus was meowing and agitated. Dr. Jay went over to look out the window and saw a feral cat in the process of patiently moving four kittens, one at a time, that were hidden under shrubbery. She returned after moving the second one and then left the yard with the third one in her mouth. She never came back.

Straightaway, Dr. Jay went downstairs to the bushes from his second-story apartment, and carefully picked up the tiny kitten. Mewing, eyes still closed and ears still folded, it fit in the palm of his hand. Holding it gently, he started up the stairs.

He had no idea what he was going to do with it. He had never taken care of a newborn kitten. He mentally took inventory. He had some milk in the apartment, and possibly a dropper around, somewhere, to feed it with. He wondered how he could get the kitten fed often enough. He remembered vaguely, from some conversation somewhere, a schedule of every two hours. It would be a challenge with his busy life. But those were details. He knew he would figure it all out.

Then he saw a young couple who lived a few doors from his apartment coming down the stairs. “What have you got?” the young woman asked. Dr. Jay told her the story and held the kitten up closer to her. 

“Oh,” she exclaimed, delighted. “Can we have it? We know what to do, we’ve taken care of feral kittens for shelters. We have all the supplies.”

“Sure,” Dr. Jay said. They tenderly exchanged the precious cargo and the young couple turned around to go back home and begin caring for their little lump of new life. Dr. Jay returned, alone, to Marcus.

My friends and I think this story is incredible. What an amazing and miraculous coincidence, we all agree. But Dr. Jay doesn’t see anything unusual about it at all. He has the most confident, unshakable faith I’ve ever witnessed.

He simply knows that if you expect good to happen, it will.

Main Coon

Story of a foundling cat

There was no hope. Hope was lost—our cat Hope. Our loving and lovable foundling cat leaped over the back fence one morning like she always did when I let her out. But she didn’t come home.

We were heartbroken. My daughter had found Hope outside of a friend’s house. Leaving a party, Michele heard faint, tiny peeps and followed them to a bush. Underneath was a little pile of fur no larger around than a hamburger bun, peeping like a baby bird. Michele took it in the house, they fixed up a shoebox for it, and she brought it home.

We named her Hope because she was near death when Michele found her. White gunk oozed from her eyes so I took her to the vet, who said it was from a bad respiratory infection. We went home with antibiotics and kitten formula. Michele and I fed her with a bottle for a few weeks, until she bit the nipple off one morning.

She got cuter and cuter.

We all fell deeply in love with her, her tenderness and sweetness and her love for us. She loved to snuggle under my husband’s chin and suck on his beard. It must have reminded her of her mother. We cheered and clapped when she appropriately used the tiny containers of kitty litter we put out for her.

When she was old and big enough, I let her out in the backyard every morning. She usually stayed close by and always came back by early evening. Until the evening that she didn’t. I called and called that night. I went out and called some more early next morning, when all of a sudden it began to pour, a very, very cold rain. I began to sob uncontrollably, thinking of sweet, tender Hope out there in the bitter cold.

She didn’t come home the next day or the next. We walked the neighborhood, called her, put up posters, passed them out door to door.   

Hope was nowhere.

Then, after a week, a woman around the corner called. She had our poster. “I think your cat is under our house,” she said. Frank and I rushed over. She led us to a room where the removable floor board to her crawl space was laid aside, and saw two vivid yellow eyes staring up at us from the darkness. Hope! The woman had noticed her dog acting strangely outside, in front of an unscreened vent, and she peered in and saw Hope and called us. Something must have startled Hope, maybe the same dog, to make her leap through the open vent to under the house. But she couldn’t get back out.

It was a joyous homecoming. Hope walked around everywhere, with her tail as tight and straight as a flagpole and vibrating so fast you could almost hear it. She ravenously gobbled her wet food, she rubbed up against us.  

I know now that not everything that seems negative is negative. That cold rain that made me burst out crying very possibly helped Hope survive. She was under that house for a solid week, yet when we found her she was plump and healthy. I believe the rain that flowed through the vent to Hope’s dark cave kept her hydrated. It might have saved her health, if not her life.

Remember, even when things look relentlessly bleak…there’s always Hope.

The Right Connection


hummingbird-1041323_1280I have a hummingbird feeder hanging in the patio that I keep filled with fresh sugar water all year round. The other morning I was having one of my dark moments, feeling isolated, unconnected, lonely…just generally down. I ate some breakfast so I could take my anti-anxiety pills, which have to be taken with food, then wandered into the living room and walked over to the sliding glass door that looks out on the patio and backyard.

When I looked out, the first hummingbird I’d seen that year was perched on the feeder. I watched as it sucked, and sucked…and sucked…and sucked. And sucked some more. It just wouldn’t stop sucking. As I watched I became more and more amazed. Then I became alarmed, afraid it would pass out or explode or something. Finally it stopped sucking. Then it sat there for several minutes completely motionless, as if sleeping. But when it became active again just several moments later I knew it hadn’t been asleep. When hummingbirds sleep their metabolism slows down so dramatically it can sometimes take 20 minutes to wake back up. This little hummer woke up much faster than that.

I stared at it for a while. I was stuck in my mental funk, having an anxiety episode that even my mighty medication couldn’t ward off. Mental patterns established way, way back have become deeply embedded in my mind. My father was mentally ill before I was born, in a schizophrenic world of his own. When he was 48 he committed suicide, ending our relationship of occasional visits over my 21 years. My brother was a heroin addict. I have fuzzy memories of being close to him when we were toddlers but I can’t really remember anything back that far.  When he hit his teens he frequently disappeared, often for a year or more during which he would be in jail or drifting in a drug haze. I missed him and worried about him in silence. My mother never talked about him to me. Not even once. In later years she and I became estranged.

I long for connection. My one remaining family connection is my half-sister and her daughter and family. I treasure her, and them, and make the long drive as often as I can.   

Back to the bird. My dark mood began to lift as I watched it. Either that or my medication had kicked in. The hummer had been clearly ravenously hungry and utterly exhausted. I began to wonder about it. It took my mind off myself. I’d be starving and exhausted too, if I had gone through what my little guest might have survived to get to my feeder. For many hummers, their annual migration is an incredible journey. How could something three inches long, weighing about a tenth of an ounce, survive the arduous journeys these birds undertake? I’m not sure where the hummer on my feeder came from. I’m not very scientific or methodical about studying and identifying the hummers who visit my yard. I just enjoy them. But, incredibly, some of them migrate all the way from Panama in Central America. Let’s assume the little beauty resting on my feeder came from there. Here’s what its journey might have been like.

My wild guest would have covered more than 3,000 miles to reach my yard and perch on my feeder. It lives alone. It also migrates alone because it knows with ancient wisdom that in a flock, it and its kin will be dangerously visible. Tiny and defenseless, they could be eaten en masse by predator birds. It departs yearly from Central America on a schedule mysteriously coordinated with its fellow hummingbirds, so that they stagger their departures over a three-month period. This way the entire population won’t be wiped out by a single catastrophic weather event.

My little visitor didn’t fly very high off the ground, probably around treetop level so it could keep an eye out for feeding opportunities on the way. It flew through wind and cold and other harsh weather conditions, over cities, mountain ranges, deserts, lakes and inlets. It may have flown 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico—nonstop, because there is no place to land. This flight lasted about 22 hours, straight into 20 mile per hour headwinds. After it cleared the Gulf and landed in North America anywhere from southern Florida to Texas, it flew 20 miles a day to get to my little Perky Pet feeder in Fremont, California. A deep respect welled up in me as I watched it rest in perfect stillness. I was blessed and highly favored that it had chosen my yard over all others. It very possibly came to this same feeder every year, my feeder, always following the same route. Realizing that, I felt loved and worthy.

The nectar I supply is not its primary food. It is used as fuel for hunting its survival diet of insects and spiders. That dainty, sweet-looking little jewel is a ruthless carnivore. Its trip from Central America to my backyard was so strenuous it had likely lost half its body weight and it needed protein. Suddenly I no longer felt unconnected. Rather, I felt deeply connected to the entire universe to think that I had helped this brave, resolute, delicate bird survive just by keeping fresh nectar out. I helped sustain it on its courageous journey. I matter. I have important work. The hummer resting on my feeder and others to come would need nutrients, especially in the fall, to build up energy for the arduous journey back to their winter homes.

And so, I quite possibly have a direct connection with Central America. And with other hummingbirds besides this one, seen and unseen, from different regions. All those I have helped, as well as those I will help in the future, are widespread over the earth and they are a crucial part of a vast and complex ecosystem. They are food to many other species—cats (not mine I hope), snakes, praying mantises, other birds such as blue jays, hawks and crows, and sometimes even bees, wasps and spiders, all of whom in turn are food to other species, up to the top of the animal food chain. Hummers are also important pollinators of our earth’s flowers, shrubs and trees. I am a partner in a mega-connection with the entire universe.

Added to that, my personal story has become a lot more cheerful. With a lot of psychotherapy, some good friends, my sister and her family, my husband, and lately the support of members of the church that, to my amazement, I recently joined, I’ve managed okay. And then there’s my writers group, my counselor, my pharmacist, my interests like reading and writing…and let’s not forget shopping. How can I possibly think that I don’t have connections? The fairy-like, delicate being in my patio had made me realize that just by mixing sugar and water, pouring it into a container, and hanging it in my yard I am connected with a vast cosmos beyond my personal world. I’m never alone.  

milky-way-1023340_1280If you want to expand your connection to the cosmos and feed hummers, go to hummingbirdsociety.org/feeding-hummingbirds/

Want to make a cat laugh?

cat-598884_640

Tell it your plans. I have two feral cats, which tells you right away that I’m a little crazy. But wait, it’s not my fault. I didn’t choose them, they chose me. Joe, the orange one, started coming through my backyard three years ago and, foolishly, I fed him. Soon he began to leave right after he ate and would come back with a small black cat following him, now named Jack. They would sit very still, with Jack behind Joe, and watch me intently.

I didn’t want to feed Jack—one feral cat seemed like more than enough—but they wouldn’t leave until I did. Joe was obviously taking care of Jack, seeing that he got food. It was hard not to fall in love with this bonded, loyal, black and orange duo. Eventually I trapped them and brought them to the clinic to be neutered and immunized. The veterinarian said they were about a year old.

Now, three years later, Jack and Joe live together in my patio. They still love each other. They always will. These wild cats travel together, groom each other, romp and play, sometimes fight but never very hard, sleep close together, and wrap themselves up in each other when it’s cold. They’re almost always together. Their souls are connected. The veterinarian believes they are brothers. She has no doubt that like nearly all feral cats they were separated after leaving the litter, located somewhere in our neighborhood, but somehow in the face of overwhelming odds they hooked back up.

photo 13 - Copy

Jack & Joe

I think the main reason I “adopted” them and made a home for them in my patio is so they would have a stable place where each would always know where to find his brother. Living wild, it would be easy to get separated, possibly for good at some point. Now they have a home base. They know where to find each other. They sleep in their comfy beds in the patio, and wander around their old haunts in the neighborhood the rest of the time, periodically dropping in to their patio home for rest and food.

They always eat outside except for breakfast, which is served in my house at 5 am, 7 days a week. This follows the perfect plan I devised for them. The key is that I have conditioned them to like wet food, and I only serve it in the house, in the morning. That makes it possible for me to catch them and give them their flea/ear mite/heartworm medication every 30 days, and remove foxtails, and all that kind of maintenance stuff, and also to crate and bring them for treatment if they have injuries or other problems, or when their shots are due, and so forth. Outside, I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of catching them. Inside, I can. My brilliant plan allows me to give them some protection, from rabies, feline leukemia, ear problems, heartworm and other things.  

They’re quite addicted to wet food, which is how I planned it. For three years they’ve come in practically every morning for their can of Friskies. But now…horrors…SOMEONE ELSE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD  IS FEEDING THEM!! I’m sure of it. They’re not at the patio door in the early morning, like clockwork, like they used to be, leaning against each other, staring in at me. They’re no longer there to scramble in eagerly when I open the sliding door, practically falling over each other as if they hadn’t eaten for days, and gulp down an entire can of food between the two of them in two minutes. Now, often just one of them is there and will come in, take a few nibbles while the other waits outside, and then they’re gone, leaping over the fence into the still-dark morning. Or neither one is there. Only occasionally do they both come in, and then they eat just a tiny bit and leave.

It’s not a set schedule anymore. My plan has blown out of the water. Obviously they’re two-timing me. They have another food source, someone who must be feeding them something they like better than Friskies. They’re opportunists. Their only loyalty, besides to each other, is to the best food. I have to go to Plan B: Fancy Feast! I’ll even escalate further if I have to. Whatever it takes. Purina Gourmet Gold au poulet. I’ll even consider Tiki Gourmet Carnivore, but OMG, I hope it doesn’t come to that, it costs $22.45 for a case of eight 6-oz cans. But I have to get those cats back in here. They’re overdue for their monthly medication. Mosquito season is coming, they could get heartworm which can be fatal. I’m going to win those cats back, whatever the cost. I just hope I don’t have to go to Plan C, the surveillance drone scanning the neighborhood in the wee hours to see where they go to eat.

Oh Lord. Sometimes I think I made a mistake taking these guys in. I use the term “in” loosely since they live outside. But then I look out in the patio and see them playing, and then cuddling up together and grooming each other, and then sleeping in each other’s arms (I use that term loosely too), and I know I did the right thing. Jack and Joe belong together.

Dogs welcome, hallelujah and amen!

My church, Unity, is all-inclusive. Anyone can attend: people of all colors, religious backgrounds, political affiliations, sexual orientation, whatever. No one, and no dog, is left behind. Lots of dogs attend our services with their people. Most of them are rescues. They never bark. The most disruptive they get is excitedly licking people who pet them.

dog-569992_640One Sunday, while we all stood linking hands and singing Let There Be Peace on Earth as we do after service, I felt a little tweak on my thigh. It startled me, and for a brief delusional moment I imagined it was the handsome man who had come and sat in the pew behind me. Of course, that was ridiculous wishful thinking. The tweak was Baby Jane sitting on the pew and nipping me. Baby Jane, a rescued Chihuahua, comes to services often, always dressed to the nines. She’s a clothes horse. Clothes dog, I guess I should say. She comes to church in ruffled dresses, adorable sweaters, graphic tees, coats, hoodies, every type of clothing known to dog.

One time, Baby Jane’s mistress was socializing in the courtyard after service without her tiny dog, which was unusual. “Where’s Baby Jane?” I asked her.

“Oh, I needed some down time so my daughter’s watching her. Actually, I get tired of that little rascal getting all the attention!” she joked, good-naturedly and affectionately. I got her point though. She was wearing an absolutely gorgeous dress, which I probably wouldn’t have noticed if Baby Jane had been with her in one of her killer outfits.

Our minister has a very charismatic Cockapoo that often comes to “work” with her. I volunteer in the church office and when they walk in, I always run up to adorable Maggie and pet her and throw her office toy across the room over and over and tickle her and just generally make a huge fuss over her. When I’m done I always look up at Rev. Karyn and say nonchalantly, “Oh, hi. I didn’t see you come in.”

“Everyone says that,” she always replies. We never tire of the routine.

face-1083900_640There are all kinds of endearing dogs. A golden retriever, Shelby, always has a toy in her mouth, and runs up to you like she wants to play and when you reach for the toy to throw it for her, turns her head and trots away. It’s crazy making, like Lucy in Peanuts when she holds the football upended for Charlie Brown to kick, then whisks it away right when Charlie gets there so he falls on his butt. And there’s dear old Sammy, an elderly, arthritic Heinz-57 mix, who slept in the aisle every Sunday right by his mistress, Linda. He barely moved, but somehow you knew he loved it when you petted him. Even in his sleep, his love for Linda and for us filled the room. One day Linda came without him. He had passed. Many of us cried, and we still miss him. His beautiful spirit lives on in the sanctuary.

Some people even bring their dogs to the board meetings. It’s totally permissible, but there is a very strict rule in force. Dogs may attend the meetings, but they are not allowed to vote.

holy-560288_640