Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fall in Freedom

Fall often brings lessons for me. There must be something about going into "the dark" of winter that brings life's exercises closer to the surface where we are forced to address them as we go inward into winter.

I often think of the metaphor of hibernating. The planet hides its growth from us, yet within the cold soil, roots grow stronger as in the case of the great oak. It is in winter that the oak tree fortifies itself for the coming year. The roots grow stronger, broader in early, cold fall and winter weeks. We know that bears along with many mammals, go into a womb-like return to darkness and rest as the cold winter months creep in.

As I write this I can not help but wonder, what do polar bears and other hibernating animals dream? Are they doing their soul work in those dark moments of isolation?

This fall carries with it a more poignant reminder then I can think of in recent years that I have much to be grateful for.

I am grateful for the powerful lessons that stay with me and help me to evolve ever closer to balance and the rhythm of a life based on awareness and growth. The impact of these lessons spark my consciousness awake and force me to the keyboard and now, to this blog.

Today, I will begin with the events that lead to the changes that are the impetus for this blog.

It was this time last year that I was dealing with the loss of another dear companion, Rumi, the cat.

Rumi was a remarkable, artful cat who was colored like a Sumi painting with large circular dabs of grey that colored him in a unique way. He was a most artfully colored creature that had the spirit of an artist. He was in common cat-like fashion inquisitive. But, he'd go a step further and clearly create a daily play pattern that as best as I could tell was largely based on his imagination. One of his most notable moments was discovering that he could climb the antique ladder that was my staircase to the loft for a couple years. Each rung on this old "A" frame ladder had a good 18" between rungs. He quickly taught himself to climb the ladder one day and used it from that point forward to entertain me, or so it seemed.

Rumi presented himself to us, (myself, Attah and Cody a few years ago) atop the blazing hot roof of an abandoned building not far from my (then) Germantown studio. He shared a few short years with us.

Rumi immediately accepted Attah and Cody, (both mature shiloh shepherds that I shared my life with at that time). He was an important teacher for me in many ways. Primarily, his very playful nature reminded me that I lived a life far too wrapped into serious focus at the expense of my need for joy.

The building that housed the marvelous 1200 sq' studio we lived in was sold to a new owner which drastically changed our world. The sun filled glass walls, the ever present expansive sky, sunrise and sunset views daily, the skylight, wood stove and steel frame loft, (that I built with the help of a dear friend) were all soon to be something of the past. Letting go of the idea of this place was
a big adjustment for me. But I was far enough along my journey of visualizing my future that I found manifested before me the perfect little space.

This was a place I had eye balled a few years prior with the idea of buying it. It was not, at that time for sale. As it turned out the gentleman that bought the Kendrick Building, (where my large corner studio was located), also recently purchased and renovated the house I was about to move into.

This place offered my dear Attah an opulent yard that was 100 feet deep and four properties wide. She had managed 5 years without a proper yard. Largely she did fine with this as our world was so deeply immersed in the woods of the Whissahickon. The shared yard of our new property included a modest little apartment, with two sets of French doors that opened onto the shared brick courtyard on one side and a more private slate deck for dining under a pair of old cedars. The apartment rested on the ground floor of a wonderful old home built in the 1750's. I thought the screened in porch would be a good safe place for my dear buddy Rumi.

I agreed to that apartment, believing it would afford Attah and I the opportunity to live a bit more luxuriously. No more shower down the hall for me. I could say goodbye to the two burner Coleman stove that was my range and oven for 5 years and hello to the proper four burner stove and actual oven of apartment living. It was time to have a real sink instead of the industrial sink that I had nearly grown accustomed to. The opportunity to have an actual bedroom, bathroom and the unbelievable luxury of a bathtub was a powerful enough draw! My body needed that change above all else and I concluded if my rent was going to double, I wanted some luxuries I had been living without those 5 years of studio living.

We were there only a few weeks and Rumi had grown understandably frustrated watching us play in the yard without him. He was, after all, our good buddy. We shared nearly all good things with him. I was torn with the idea of allowing him this powerful freedom at the cost of his safety. There was a street right at our front door that emptied to Lincold Drive, a major roadway leading to the city. Our street was a busy one, though you'd not know it from the idyllic setting that quieted the noisy city.

Over the next couple weeks, I checked and measured Rumi's willingness to join up with me when I called him to my side. Immediately, I found (once reinforced with food), he'd gladly come when he was called and more importantly, I saw within him the panther arise with his new found freedom.

Rumi revealed this fluid, powerful presence the first day he discovered the large magnolia in the back yard. After sitting at its base, as he appeared to ponder the tree and all its branches, I went over and scratched my hands head level on the body of this ancient tree encouraging him to climb. Which he did, after a long claw anchored stretch that must have lengthened his spine, perhaps in prep for the climbing. After exploring the ancient wonder, he seemed imbued with a primitive force. When he returned to the ground he did so as if being moved by an entirely different motivation. It was inarguable to me, this was something that would add an immeasurable richness to his daily life. In that moment I set aside my notion of the "indoor cat" and embraced Rumi's need to be a "cat" in the large yard that was now our home.

Over the coming weeks, we worked out the kinks of this agreement. The rules I established were this.

1. Rumi could be outside whenever Attah and I were, provided he came when he was called, which was richly rewarded with praise and meat treats.
2. Rumi was allowed to go out in the presence of his canine buddy Attah in the pre-dawn hour before humans were on the streets with their many wheeled cat killers which would later be zooming about with little concern for someone as small and seemingly insignificant as Rumi.
3. If I heard cats fighting or saw a stray cat, I'd have Attah go break up the fight and/ or find Rumi to escort him inside in an effort to ensure his safety.

These rules, although they required I wake up at 4 or 4:30 to let them out, seemed fair enough. It ensured his safety, or seemed to since he seemed compliant to staying within the boundaries of our very spacious yard. It allowed both of them loads of yard time to explore, play and nap without constant human supervision. And, I had the confidence that Attah would help to keep Rumi safe, with her watchful, protective nature at his side.

Three things I had not considered were:

1. Rumi trumped Attah's position in her perception of the hierarchy. Which is important if you know the details of this hierarchy. If Rumi was a higher rank then she in our pack, he could do as he pleased unless I intervened and directed her to intercept him for any reason. So, Rumi, in her perception at liberty to manage his life as he saw fit when I was not present.

2. The gate, (that enclosed the next property that butted against ours) that ordinarily remained locked except on Sunday morning for the church service was unlocked one very particular Friday night/ Saturday morning. (from that point forward, the coming year), not once did I see that lot unlocked on a Friday night/ Saturday morning. This is a powerful bit of knowledge for me to carry from my current vantage point.

3. Rumi befriended the stray cat, I later found out lived under the porch of the apartment we shared together.

It was the combination of these three unexpected details that lead to the death of that wonderful little boy, our dear friend Rumi. He was a cheerful, calm, playful ball of joy that shared our bed. He'd often be seen cuddled next to Attah in her crate or on the bed together in one warm and toasty ball of love.

I awoke
abruptly that fateful morning at approximately 4:15, to the sound of what seemed to be a cat fight. I assumed a cat fight, although to this day all I hear in my mind is the sound of one cat defending itself. Even a cat fight was sound enough to spring me from my bed, in urgent speed to do what I could to prevent possible injury to my little buddy Rumi. I ran barefoot across the yard in my robe, no glasses.. assuming Attah would be close by. She was barely aware of what was happening as I sped past her to the sound of battle.

My poor eyesight, coupled with my still sleep-clouded brain could not make out the image I was seeing. I kept thinking cat fight.. but could only make out Rumi standing in defense on the ground and the black stray, later named "Cricket" sitting high above him on a platform. Cricket's eyes were, oddly, not focused on Rumi but instead locked in on the same mysterious target that Rumi had spied and that I was yet able to make out.

In my delirium I called to Rumi. He turned and looked at me. And I heard a rushing. I felt helpless without my vision and as fast as I could, I ran back to the apartment to grab my glasses. Still thinking it was a cat fight, I returned and saw clearly there was a stray dog standing five feet from Rumi. The rest remains a (thankful) blur.

I yelled ferociously at the offending dog as I did my barefooted best to scale the cyclone fence that divided us. The dog had, by then grabbed Rumi and given him a good shake. With desperate speed I made my way to dear Rumi, the dog quickly departed with my presence exploding onto the scene. I tried to get a good look at Rumi and I knew it was not good. Soon I realized he was facing life threatening injuries. Attah tried to get a peak at her buddy but surely all Rumi could see was another dog coming at him. I saw the panic in his face and heard it rumbling in his throat. I asked Attah to stay back. Clearly she was worried. Perhaps the tension in my voice, perhaps the smell of her buddy injured or some combination but she slinked away and laid out of his vision. With a warm blanket and the haste of fear of pain for and loss of my friend Rumi speeded me to the car and emergency vet.

My heart felt as if it were ripped open. It was clear to me, while speeding to the vet that Rumi was moving to hide his body as he prepared to die. I jolted the car onto the grass of Kelly drive to be with him those last moments. I held his head and spoke softly to him, encouraging him to let go. His breathing labored.. I did what I could to soothe him, repeating to him to just let go and it would be over... the pain would stop.

I sat with him as and after he passed, telling him what a lovely boy he was and how he was a very good teacher. I let him know how much I enjoyed his company and know that Attah did to. I thanked him for helping Attah to see how nice kitties can be and trusted he was speeding his way to bliss. I told him through great billowing tears how very much I'd miss him. And, I hoped to continue to learn from his lessons of gentle trust and joy.

The details of this horrible tale are an important aspect of influence on my state of mind spring 2008 and ultimately colored my decision to move from that centuries old garden and the power that resided there.

It was a long dark winter for me last year. All the challenges I faced ran on the heels of losing Rumi just a month or more after our arrival.

By spring I was beginning to get my footing. Although we missed the many walks we usually shared in the woods that winter. Spring was approaching and beginning to anchor warmth among us again. As it expanded so did the light within my heart.. and the joy that always await my discovery.

Work began to flow more predictably and the light was a great reflection of the joy that was building within me. (I have always been drawn to sunlight. As a child I recall sleeping in the sunspot on the rug in winter at my mother's apartment. There I'd soak up what I was missing during daily winter naps in the sun, thanks to sunny apartments.) One of the benefits of my sun soaked studio that preceded that apartment was that every February I experienced evidence that the sun that filled that space kept my heart better balanced through winter. I was still eager for spring but the sense of urgency for winter to be over was now a thing of the past. Moving to this special yard, with its less then sunny apartment and experiencing life as I did with Rumi brought with it the return of that winter challenge. But, I was well versed in managing dark winters.. and, gratefully had the lovely open yard to spend time in.

It was a challenging time, but the lessons were there... waiting for me to listen.

Attah endured this time with me with patience, and gentle grace. She and I found time for the woods and visited our friends but much of my time was spent in the apartment, with Attah having more and more solo time in the marvelous yard that became her new home.

I had no idea how powerful that winter influenced my life until I had the experience of spring and summer to bring it all in sharp focus. But, that is a story for my next posting. Until then: hold those fuzzy ones close to you, you never know how long you have to be with them.

Until next posting: Stay warm...

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