Many years ago, 13 to be exact, I left a career in a field that touched my heart and began a career that would "utilize my education" and a whole host of other things I should probably care about. It was my choice in the end so I can't blame others for it. But there were a ton of complicated reasons, just like there normally are in cases of difficult decisions. First, the education factor. I had spent a good deal of money on getting that piece of paper in this field. Second, if I did want to "utilize my degree" this was the only opportunity I would have in this particular community and I was land-locked at the time due to other life circumstances (mate, kids, etc.)….
Third, my career in the veterinary realm was at times difficult, mostly due to personnel issues and things that were out of my control and it did not seem anyone was willing to correct. It wasn’t a happy place to work and I wasn’t necessarily happy there at that moment. Fourth of course was money. Although my “new” career paid only a little more there might be opportunity for advancement someday…
We all make decisions based on the information we have at the moment and what we think is best. Hindsight is 20/20 so I try not to kick myself but, you know, I’m good at that too so…
I tried to stay involved with the animal care industry. I still fostered dogs and cats for awhile. But, it was too cumbersome where we lived (I had moved in with my mate by this time) and there was a whole list of other “lifestyle” issues. Not my issues mind you but again, we bend and we compromise and I find that in relationships there seems to be a helluva lot of that sort of thing and we don’t really question enough at the time whether it will impact our souls or how. So, I mostly drifted out of the industry and concentrated on my own animals, still volunteering for events when I could, which became less and less as I got consumed by each promotion at work, new responsibilities and time constraints.
Fast forward. Here I am on my own and able to make all kinds of decisions that impact only me. It has been a long haul, with good times and bad, steps forward and back, doubt. Tons of doubt. And while I’d like to say that one big jump back to myself has fixed all of my feelings of regret, hindsight and yes, anger, it has not. It is a start though. A step in the direction of my soul. I keep chasing her because she is really still pissed at me right now. She doesn’t trust me in the least as I have ignored her for so long. Put her on that shelf with the overabundance of outdated canned food that was categorized by vegetable versus fruit. Stuck her in the back of that shelf and said not now so many times she must’ve just got tired of hearing it so she left to find her own adventures. I’d see her in my dreams off and on but other than that she was absent from my life.
Now, she peaks at me around corners and in the woods. I hear her laughing sometimes when she dances with the Fae. Recently I found myself with her. Unexpectedly she showed up at my animal care conference and she was a little raw and tough to manage. She’d cry at silly times and break into ear to ear smiles when I touched a living creature so that by the time each day ended my face hurt. I didn’t bother to tell her to settle down though. This is me. This is me with my soul. She is home.
On the first day I was in awe and getting my bearings. Excited about the fact that this was actually “a thing” and amazed at it all. By the end of the second day I was down in that cellar of self-doubt and judging myself for what my life had become, the time I had wasted listening to others, building a career I didn’t care about in a place that I have hated since the moment I set foot into it over 20 years ago for college. How did I get here? Where did my youth go? What am I doing with my life?
I come from a long line of wallowholics I think mostly by virtue of being from Appalachia sometimes. Still, I try really hard to be neither too down about life or too distracted trying to ignore it, but you know, we all have our quirks to deal with. So, the second day was my wallow day and you know, I am getting older so those tendencies become more difficult to manage as you see that clock ticking…
I wrote a letter to the Blood Moon (great timing). I glimpsed her briefly through a partially overcast sky and threw her a kiss and beseeched her. I woke up on the last day of my reckoning thinking…all sorts of things. I am a FABULOUS thinker. Blessed with a dreamer’s imagination laced with the logic of a rational being. I began asking myself – Why? How? What? When? Where? Being completely with my soul IS possible. There are many disadvantages to my situation but there are MANY advantages as well…
I am fated to care for animals. I KNOW that as deeply as the roots on a 100 year old tree. I have always known it and I have always done so in one degree or another. As young as 4 I was “saving” critters. Everything from spiders to baby bunnies. Yes, I’ve made undeniably poor choices (not going to veterinary school because my mom told me I’d never pass chemistry), leaving that industry after fate brought me back around (isn’t fate funny that way?)…yet here I am winding back down that road again. And despite straying from what makes me whole I have always found a way to have and make animals the focus of my life because that is the way I am made.
I will open a sanctuary. I will do this in West Virginia. There was a question as to this location in thinking about my options for the second half of life. One of the instructors at my conference is from WV and we laughed about the “difficulty” of being anything other than a red meat and venison eater here. Our state is rural, a bit distrustful and very, very "this is the way we do things" about just about everything. But, I love West Virginia. I love the land. These mountains cradle my soul, the woods are lovely, dark and deep (for real!) and they go on and on. Driving through West Virginia softens my rough edges and reminds me that nature does still exist, that there are places right here where I could go and not see another human soul for days, weeks even. Those places are often within walking distance. Even now, just on the outskirts of the town that I work in I can walk out my back door and encounter trees that reach far toward the sky, see animals skitter about and glide through the woods. I can hear a rooster crow from a nearby farm every morning…
And I believe that sometimes in the places where things are least expected is where true magic can happen. Even in the darkest places you can light a candle and nurse the flame. And we have animals in need here. I board my horse on an actual working farm and I can barely stand to witness the process. This isn't a factory farm. It is a "natural" or "old fashioned" farm. Yet, animals still die rather than receiving veterinary care, are still herded onto trucks and taken to market (this is about to happen with the young steers from the spring - the owner was putting up his fencing to cycle them into the hauling trailer yesterday). There are pigs that arrive and then they leave. Pigs are very vocal when they are being loaded. It scares the horses. They know nothing good is coming from it.
But this is where I am from and so it is where I must speak from. I will be heard.
Yesterday I fed a cow at the barn. She looked a lot like this cow and her tongue was slippery and very long lol. I was giving her some of Takoda's horse treats and she seemed to enjoy them. I talked to her a little and commented on the size of her head. I never remember (until I'm up close) how big cows are. Especially their heads! I have this need to touch the soul of things. I like to look into the eyes of animals and see what lives there. I did this with the cow and saw, as I always do, a spirit to her. I did this with the little mouse I caught last night when I let him go along the trail this morning. His eyes seemed playful to me. Sorry lady that I'm pooping under your kitchen sink but it is really cozy there...see you tonight BTW...
I will be traveling to a place on this upcoming journey where I get to TOUCH the things I love, care for them, learn about them. I'll get to look in their eyes each day and see them look back at me and I have the feeling that what will be reflected is...peace. This will fuel me to go on. And plan for a future and deal with what I have in the world at this moment.
I think that sometimes it is the foundation of things that matter. People see me as a free-spirit and in my soul I certainly am. But, also, I plan. I map things out and I feed that soul little bits of what she needs while I tell her to be patient as I set into motion a time for us. A place for us.
There is an article that has floated around numerous times that contains computer simulated "ultrasound" pictures of various animals in the womb.
I always look at each and every one, fascinated as hell. And, with every single picture stuff like OMG how adorable and look at that lil baby how cute! and all kinds of other silly words run together and pop out of my mouth in a very high voice that is not at all in my everyday nature.
At one point a male friend told me I sounded like "one of those women in the supermarket asking to feel another's baby bump". I said, really????? ewwww that's gross I do not. And then I went about my cooing, happy to bubble over baby bats, elephants, even snakes all curled up like little bundles of animal joy.
It got me thinking though. I would have never even opened the article had it been one with human ultrasound pictures. I would have rolled my eyes and said something completely callus like oh, god look, the billionth miracle. LOL. Hey, don't hate me I admit I'm callus in an overgeneralizing sort of way. Some people say it is because I have never birthed a child. Well, I have never birthed puppies either but I could ogle puppies all day and night!
So, no, I don't think that is it. I have come to the conclusion that I am mostly missing a gene. It is the one that provides that we will, in general, find our fellow humans to be all the things I find animals to be. I don't think I was in the correct line for that gene. Maybe I got lost in the hallway. Maybe I went back to the line that was handing out extra helpings of the tendency toward mischief. Maybe I slept late while all the other fetuses were getting fed the blue pill.
The thing is, I recognized that I felt differently than most others at a really young age. There have just always been a limited amount of people that I do genuinely care about. I don't believe that blood is thicker than water. I don't wish anyone harm (unless they wish me harm) but, in general I am a loner with my own ideas and they don't tend to mesh with the societal mire that seems to surround me. This has, of course cost me companionship on a number of occasions, friendship as well, such that it is. It has gotten me labeled as "a bit cool" and things like "aloof" and even "hard". But, I'm not a good actress and I don't have time to be indirect. Life is short and I'd rather not spend it (again in general and for instance) going to lunch with people I don't truly like or agreeing with social norms that I don't really feel or getting caught up in the quicksand pit of other people's expectations that I know I am not going to be able to fulfill.
But.... I have always cared about animals. Deeply. I find them fascinating in a way no human could ever be. I find them pure. Not in the sense of "good" because good and bad are not even words that can be used to describe nature. I find them pure in the sense of they just are what they are. The lion eats the gazelle. Well, OF COURSE the lion eats the gazelle, he is a lion. Animals are the heart and soul of what gives me hope. They are often the only glue that holds my day together. They are perfect and right just the way they are and no one expects them to be anything else. They have no pretense, no ulterior motives (again, the gazelle is damn sure the lion is going to eat him the lion doesn't need to pretend otherwise), no delusions of grandeur, none of the annoying things that plague our human culture and daily interactions.
I don't look at them and see something different than myself. Rather, I look at them and I see my soul. I see their truth and their struggle. I see their history. To me, each life matters is a true statement. The difference is that it brings to mind animals to me, not people. It isn't that I don't think people matter. It is just that my heart and soul belong to the other in our world.
I always drift back to the service of animals, even when I am doing other things. I have worked within the veterinary industry, the animal rescue industry and even the animal wellness industry (working at an upscale dog food and supply store which sells only foods with human-grade/quality control tested ingredients). I've also been far from those things, while working in the insurance industry for instance, but managed to busy myself with smaller offerings to my soul companions. I think that honestly, those offerings were fine with the animals in my life, it was me who suffered withdraw from my purpose and what brings me joy.
...But different. Today is Saturday and I dusted off the website with thoughts of possibly blogging, something I haven't done in months. A year? I don't know. Other than a recap of my summer with Takoda the other day I have scarcely even remembered I have a website, blog, etc. The reasons are vast and varied. I hope to change all that with the coming Dark Season but...that is not what this post is about.
I was reading my last post in this particular blog where I talked about how odd and unsettling it was that I was no longer engaging in my Sunday barn ritual of hanging out and riding. That entry was almost a year ago and despite a period of life without horses and a tentative re-entry into the equine world I find myself once again with a regular Sunday routine of gathering at a barn with like-minded women, sharing time with the most incredible creatures on earth; horses.
Time heals just as certainly as it ticks away. One aspect we are thankful for only when we look back and realize that old wounds have grown less raw. The other we scarcely notice until the enormity of what is now the past crashes upon our very being.
There are moments when I wish time would stop. Maybe not in that particular moment but in the general experience of something that is bringing me joy, or hope, or some sense that things are right with the world. Time reminds me that these moments cannot be captured. As perfect as they are, they flow in and out of existence and eventually become the past. At some point we begin to say things like "remember when we..." and it is only then that we realize time has marched on. We mourn moments just as much as we mourn those we love who are gone from us now.
As I look at the picture that goes with this post it reminds me of time and the changing of our lives. We face the Fall and look out into the field no longer as green as it has been. With our backs to the past we look ahead. Let us not forget to be present.
Sundays are different for me now. It is still a little bit weird to not get up with my almost 10 year check-list of "coffee, a run, yoga, get dressed, head to barn...."
Those activities alone would take me up to well past Noon. Sunday mornings I went to church religiously. It was just that my church involved different activities and worship than most people's.
I'm a bit off but still, I have not filled those hours with activity. I have held off on diving into "new" things in order to make the old things forgotten, to make my time pass quickly through the period that my heart aches for, to "heal" stuff in a hurried manner so I can just.move.on.
It isn't that I want to wallow in self pity or pout. It is just that I can't move right now. I'm like the horse above, looking outwardly at something and not even to the point of truly figuring out how to get there. I'm still watching it all like a movie really. I know the stages of loss and even though this was not a true death it was a death of a time for me. An ending of a huge portion of a way of life that I had been a part of for quite some time (and actually could have continued to be a part of indefinitely although it would have been detrimental on SO many levels).
So, it was by choice that I am here and it must be by choice that I make my way back to....something. In this new year it is completely up to me to reflect, measure, take stock, move forward. I just have to step away from the window and search for the door.
During a recent group meditative exercise I had an unexpected visitor. An elephant. I have included the picture to the left in this post because it helps explain the experience.
As I began to go deeper into the exercise, my inner vision flowed from my upper left in a diagonal motion toward my bottom right field of "sight". Gentle colors came in ripples, all muted and slow and eventually a sort of wrinkling appeared. And then the slow blinking of an elephant's eye, pretty similar to the picture here, only that the elephant was facing me more "head on" and I could actually envision the upper part of the trunk as well.
The elephant blinked silently, slowly, over and over and I had the feeling that it was kind and old. Then the skin and the wrinkles and the eye slowly transformed into a partial face (same view) of a Crone and she smiled kindly. Then back to the elephant and back again.
Ever since the exercise I have been seeing elephants. Damn near everywhere. They will pop up in advertisements, as stuffed animals I pass in baby buggies on the trail. Some crazy lady handed me a flyer for a "white elephant sale" while we were in New Orleans recently. I opened a catalog yesterday that came in the mail to a random page and there hung an elephant pendant. We went to Florida to visit my mom and out of the blue she suggested we go to the Manatee rescue park where I learned that the closest animal link to the manatee is...the elephant.
So, the elephant wants to get to know me and me to know it I would say. I have learned that elephants are symbols of power and strength and that they can represent the three fold feminine aspect of ourselves. I have learned that elephants can deliver the message of our ability to deal with obstacles and that they can represent sovereignty, stability, and stead-fastness. Elephants can attest to gentleness and telepathic skill. They remind us to never forget.
I'm excited to speak with this animal further and to explore what it has to say and the connection to the Crone who visited me with it.
As Samhain approached this year several things changed in my life.
These things made me question my place with the creatures most important to me and left me uneasy. I may discuss them specifically at some point but this post is about making lemonade, not making squishy faces due to being handed lemons.
Through a chain of events that I can only say were magical, I ended up in a conversation with a dear friend of mine who told me she had been volunteering at the local animal shelter. I used to foster for the same shelter years ago. I work with them in my professional life on some of the events they coordinate in our facilities. And I always mean to go out to the shelter.... But, I never seem to get there. I contribute to the cause, I have a membership and each year give a monetary gift but my love of caring for animals seems to get lost in the shuffle of life.
So when my girlfriend said she was volunteering I made a commitment to her to be there....on the most sacred day of my year.
To me it was a little like volunteering at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving. I just wanted to put myself aside and look into the eyes of animals that would never (or never again) know fear or abuse or neglect. And wow did I get some puppy and kitten kisses that day! LOL.
It made my day happy. I haven't been so happy scraping litter boxes since I worked at a vet's clinic LOL. It made me remember how unabashed animals are. About everything! Puppies and kittens are THE experts in the phrase "just be"....
The crazy old cat lady that was supervising us gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek when we left and I came away feeling quite blessed. It surprised me. I mean, I expected to do good work and I obviously LOVE animals but as I figured it would be (and as most multiple animals spaces are) it was chaotic and a bit too cluttered for my own minimalist tastes LOL. So, I have to fight the urge to "fix" stuff. I'm a "fixer" in my professional life AND in life in general. Not a caregiver. A fixer. A fixer is more precise. Less touchy-feely. More clinical. As a side note/example I had worked at the vet clinic for a week before I organized all the blankets, asked if I could get new storage bins for the dog food (because the ones they had were cracked and then duct taped) and indicated to my locker mate that, er, your shit should not flow into my side of this cramped space....
My point being that I had to let go and just "do" the tasks I was there to do. And it was actually in the kitten room that I lost my heart. I dropped it somewhere near the little grey and white guy with the big green eyes. The purring, the gentle swatting, the fuzzy little bundles of nothing but pure bliss....
Everything is not perfect. Life does not go according to plan. But, puppies and kittens will always warm the heart of a good witch.
Another lesson from our equine friends. Today a woman who takes lessons at our barn was commenting on the mare. You know the phrase "beware the mare" - well, that describes our resident mare to a "T". She is quite opinionated, obviously the one in charge in pasture and barn, and generally gives the boys a hard time. But, like any male/female relationship they
follow her around like little puppies. LOL. OK, maybe not "any" male/female relationship but it is perplexing to me how those geldings will follow that old girl anywhere despite the fact if they get too close she threatens to kick the crap out of them.
Anyway, the rider was saying what a "bitch" the mare is. Her reputation proceeds her. It isn't that she is a nasty horse or even a bad ride. She is actually a rather nice ride. I leased this horse for some time a
few years back when I was in between other horses. I did not have a problem with her. As a matter of a fact, I found her to be much more predictable than some of the other horses I have leased, including my beloved dark prince I spoke of in one podcast episode.
The thing about the mare is that she just demands you treat her in a certain way. She will try to trick you into allowing her to be the boss for sure. She'll pin her ears at you and sometimes she'll even turn her butt
toward you when you go to get her. She'll be lazy about lifting her foot to be cleaned and she'll stand in the bay at a certain angle while you try to attach the clips to her halter and refuse to move to a position that would be so much more comfortable...for both of you. Sometimes under saddle she'll threaten to buck if you aren't certain what you are asking and prepared to back it up with clear instruction.
It is all a mind game really with the mare. Once you show her that you do indeed expect her to listen she goes about her work, quite content actually. She is a beautiful ride. She is like a chick that demands respect. Show me why I should follow you and I'll consider it. Show me why I shouldn't and....hence the discussion about her being a "bitch".
I think that we could all take lessons from the mare. Especially we women. When is the last time you demanded to be treated like you wanted to be treated? When is the last time you settled for less? Ahhhh...I
thought so. Once you start establishing clear boundaries and letting people know what you will accept and not accept there will be many people that label you a bitch, just like the mare. The deal is this though - those that feel like that probably aren't the ones you want getting you out of your stall and cleaning your feet. Because they are going to tighten your girth too tight and they are gonna plop down on your back and kick at your sides.
These aren't the people you want around you. Those that don't have a problem with "the mare" are generally those that know why she has boundaries and why she demands respect. And so they know how to give respect and in turn, they get it.
ORIGINAL POST DATE APRIL 2011
I haven't shared this yet. For over a week now, one of my cats has been missing. She just vanished one night. We have scanned the property and beyond. We live in the country though. There are coyotes and
lots of other things around not good for cats. But she was experienced at this life so I just don't know...
I have mentioned her on the podcast - my less than friendly, former stray, Queen of the house that tricked everyone in the local animal foster program into believing she was prego 11 or so years ago until she found her way to the ultimate sucker (that would be me by the way). So, I took this cat in and weeks later, by the time the vet said this cat isn't pregnant she is just fat, I was willing to say - well, she's not very lovable or
cute I guess I'd better just keep her. We named her Tally. But we only referred to her as Tally in combination with some direct order to STOP doing something. Tally, STOP fighting with your brother! Tally STOP pushing the dog out of his bed! Tally STOP being so cranky! LOL. Instead we called her The Communist (because she moved in and took over....everything) or more affectionately Big Girl (because she was, well....she was fat. Like, really fat). We always suspected she was supplementing her diet with good old fashioned hunting and killing and also had possibly made some poor old lady down the road believe she was all alone in the world and needed scraps. She was, after all, a really good con artist. I like to think she had a slow metabolism. I have no medical documentation of this it just sounded like a good excuse.
She became as big a part of our family as the more lovable cuddle-happy members. She had her own way. She preferred outside to in. She demanded it at 3AM most nights with a distinctive scratching on the bedroom door that would send me flying out of bed in a comatose rage. I'd throw open the door prepared to yell or kick her down the stairs and she'd already be gone, waiting at the front door as if to say oh hurry up please you know you aren't gonna do anything like that so just grumble and open the damn door. And I would, faithfully. All of this Sam normally slept through. As a result he really liked her. LOL. And she
him. He was always the first one she sought attention from. Sam claimed her at some point as "his cat" he says because I forever remained secretly pissed at her for tricking me into "adopting her as pregnant" years
If you were outside, she'd be there. She learned to survive outside and it was always her favorite place to be. She would follow you to the pond to feed the fish, she'd sit with me on the porch of the shop while I recorded, she'd guard our front porch like it was a fortress. You could call her like a canine when you were done doing whatever it was you were doing and she'd come bobbing along to follow you in. And every morning, after her late night wanderings, when the dog and I would go out to take care of his
immediate matters, she'd appear from the woods, chirping softly and rubbing my leg. She completely destroyed several of our front porch banisters. She had claws you see and she loved to work them on the wooden banisters! As a result several are shredded. I used to bitch at her for it. If I'd catch her I would clap loud and yell TALLY STOP IT! There is that name/command combination again... Yet, today, in the rain I
glanced at one and the tears bubbled up. I think I'll talk Sam into not fixing that one.
She had a best friend. Our big golden retriever/lab mix. He died suddenly several years ago. During their lives together she would spend the evenings kneading his chest like a loaf of bread while they lounged on this rug they shared and he'd just take it. That dog knew no protest, even to cat claws.
So, tomorrow we are going to our pet cemetery on the hillside. I have a box. It holds a picture of her along with a toy - the last one she was playing with actually the last day I saw her. I remember tossing it around our rec room for her. She played like she was a kitten that day. Also inside is a candle to light her way. And a spell jar for her journey - catnip of course, sage to protect her, oats as an offering and an apple seed for her rebirth. Clippings from her favorite sleeping beds/rug are also included as well as a piece of old collar that belonged to her dog friend. I have been saving this for several years, intending to bury it with her body when the time came. A little part of her buddy to keep her company along the way. As it turns out, we have no body, only these tokens and our memories of her.
So we'll take those things and I'll wish for her spirit to follow us up the hill to that little spot under the big tree. Sam will dig a resting place. I will talk to her and placed those memories of her in the Earth. Somewhere she is making that journey back to being a part of what we all came from. I know for certain she was brave because she never knew how not to be. I know for certain she was loved despite not being a "nice cat" and I know for certain she loved us as well.
**as an addendum to this post, we did find her some two weeks after I wrote this. She had been near us the whole time. As best we could tell she had chosen her place to die. Behind our garage we have a storage
space under roof but otherwise outdoors. We keep some random fencing material there and some gates from old farm and garden fences. Leaves tend to collect in between them and she had made a bed in those leaves between two fence gates and passed on to her next world in silence and with us unaware. She was 12 years old so it is possible that it was just her time and she chose to have it be on her terms. Or she could have been injured somehow and went there to recover or hide. We will never know. My first thought was that if she were truly hurt, she would surely try to make it back to me and that being so close she would have somehow attempted to get my attention on the many occasions we looked for her. But, perhaps that is
just my selfish human nature believing that surely her life somehow revolved around what I would think she would have done. Sam was the one who found her and he took the burden of dealing with it upon himself, placing her body in the same spot that we had buried her things. When I arrived home he was just finishing the placement of the rock mound on top of her grave. I ran all the way up the hill and of course sobbed like a
good baby while he held me up and then we sat for awhile and talked about her and her life. I'm glad we found her, even though we will never know for certain what happened. My first instinct of self loathing because she died alone will never leave me. That is my rule, see. None of my animals will ever die alone. But, again, perhaps that is what she chose. She always did have a way of outsmarting me ;)...
***as addendum to the addendum we later found the scavenger coyotes had completely overrun her grave, tore out every rock and had taken her body. This was leading into winter and I had to wait until the spring to search for anything that may have been left. About 100 feet from the pet cemetery I found what was left of her bones still wrapped partially in the plastic and material that Sam had buried her in. I have those bones and they will be recommitted to the ground in her spot, along with new tokens of her life. May you (finally) rest in peace Big Girl.