Genius In A Jar

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In all of life, there is what has become standardized or otherwise known as ‘the norm’. There seems to be an accepted way to behave, to live and to think. Clusters of beings who seem to adhere to these behaviors and patterns that are familiar and shared among them tend to gravitate toward each other and form societies. It is frequently referred to as ‘hive mentality’ when these behavior patterns are born of the same set of beliefs. Once a belief becomes ones own personal truth, unless the believer can be convinced that another way or concept is better, rarely does one deviate from this.

Then there are those individuals who seem to question everything, not for the sake of being contrary, but rather to find something that makes sense to them. Being that I was born with this tendency, I fully understand it and often find difficulty in comprehending the attractiveness of being any other way. Oddly enough, us renegades and rogues, also tend to gravitate toward each other and form a sort of silent alliance. Unbound by unnecessary introductions or explanations, we just ‘know’. Our numbers are small because there are fewer of us and we often attempt to hide it to avoid ducking stones as we are driven from the villages that we occupy. So, we carefully observe and imitate, making an effort to be accepted by the majority as to not appear to be as anti-social as we feel.

But, sometimes the need to be true to our own truth compels us to quit trying to fit in. We learn to make peace with our uniqueness, strut proudly through the gates and leave the village behind. We meet other sojourners along the path, and even if we have a lot in common, we don’t feel the need to construct our own villages comprised solely of us ‘idiots’. We have come to enjoy the pleasure of our own company,  entertained by our own minds that run rampant to explore the infinite expanse of our vivid imaginations. With no one to judge beliefs we choose not to share, we bask in the joy of our own sense of freedom. Dear reader, if you too understand not just these words, but also the beauty of individuality and the mysteries we discover when left to our own unfettered devices, you will enjoy getting to know Albert.

Birds flock, Wildebeests herd, Wolves pack, and the Deer and the Antelope play. We look skyward as honking ‘V’ strands of Geese migrate and marvel at schools of Fish who seem to flow as one entity. Throughout all of Nature each species has its own standards, behaviors and beliefs that have become accepted as ‘the law’. However, just as with humans, there exists among all of Nature’s children, the ‘outlaws’.

Our deck is small, but serves its purpose. Connected to the open concept kitchen and dining area by a sliding glass door, it overlooks the back yard. In the Summer, my herbs grow in baskets attached to the rails and there is room for two chairs, a small table and about six pots of various sizes where I grow peppers, a bush pickle, and scallions.  In the course of my culinary exploits, I can harvest exactly what I need right outside my door. Heading into Samhain, when things die back and go dormant, I put a small tray of seeds out there and a suet basket. Of course, the Cats enjoy being entertained by the Birds who come for a meal, but the Squirrels really intrigue them. As you may have read and recall from previous posts, I tend to name my garden guests. For some reason, all the Squirrels answer to the name, Samwise, after the loyal and true friend of Frodo from the works of English author J. R. R. Tolkien.

They do what Squirrels do. They eat liberally of the food I offer them, burry it in the yard and in my pots, perform anti-gravity stunts in the trees, and look adorable. They play, ensure their survival by whatever means necessary and at times, feud within families and with neighbors. They reproduce and teach accepted behaviors to their young…just like us. And yes, at times, discover that they have given birth to the weird kid.

When they come to the deck, they notice the Cats watching them intently, and even though they know that they are safe, they keep their distance from the glass door. However, one day I noticed a baby Squirrel out there, nose to nose with my Kitten, Mac. To them, the glass served as a barrier that prevented them from doing what they wanted to do, which was get to know each other. Staring into each other’s eyes, they’d notice all of the things that made them different, but also, what they shared. “You have fur, I have fur, but why are your ears so much bigger.” ” Never mind my ears, look how huge your tail is, dude.” They seemed to have no idea that they were supposed to be enemies or most likely, just didn’t care.

Watching them interact became a source of enjoyment and wonder. One tiny paw would reach out and press against the glass and soon another would respond in like manner. There would be rolling and playful behavior, and most likely, a bit of frustration over having to endure this inability to touch and smell and even taste. “Why do you taste like fish?” “I eat fish, and obviously you eat seeds and dirt.”

With the onset of colder days, he came to the deck less frequently. I didn’t think much of it, assuming that he had gone off to join his family, if they had not disowned him for being a Cat lover. There were preparations to be made, and this little guy was about to discover his first Winter.

Then, one day I noticed something as I enjoyed my daily connection with Nature from my front stoop. I have a Squirrel feeder that my brother made for me that consists of a wooden frame that supports a large, empty, glass pickle jar.  It’s suspended from a low branch of my flowering crab tree, enabling me to reach it and keep it filled with sunflower seeds, peanuts and corn. There are two holes on each side of the frame that allow access into it and then the Squirrel can move down into the jar to get the food. The food stays safe and dry and so does the Squirrel.

In addition to empty sunflower seed hulls that were now spread over the entire bottom of the jar, there was also a wall of leaves that covered the sides and top, making it no longer possible to see inside the jar. Slowly and quietly, I approached, until I was right up to the feeder. Between the spaces of  bronze Autumn leaves, I saw tufts of gray fur. This is the fourteenth Winter we will be in this house and never has this been done before.

Dry and warm, with access to food and water from the nearby heated pond, this little guy is totally sheltered. Out of reach from predators, he can survey his surroundings through the glass before he ventures forth to eat, drink, or get some exercise. Glass, that he has learned, serves as a barrier.

This is the work of a genius. He is a free-thinker who has followed his heart and listened to his inner voice and has, thereby, found comfort and joy in his own little world. Perhaps, ensuring his survival by doing his own thing, being apart from those who do the predictable and time honored. And, even though the traits of  Samwise are virtuous, brave and honorable, this particular Squirrel seems to have more in common with the most famous genius of all, Albert Einstein.

My attention went to the swaying of branches in the corkscrew willow yesterday, as the familiar little Squirrel jumped into the crab tree, crawled into his jar and adjusted the leaves around him. I drew in close and bent toward the jar, “Good for you, Albert”, I said. “There is a difference between being alone and being lonely and when you follow the beat of your own drum, it will inspire you to create your own dance”. He stirred slightly and a tiny paw stretched out and pressed against the glass. “By the way” I told him, “Mac says, hello”.

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Mac, Hmandu, And Ridley Too

After the hissing subsided and Hmandu figured out that he was not being replaced, he decided that, “the kid is ok”. Just as we had hoped, Mac and Hmandu are best buds.

We decided to get a Kitten for our Kitten when our two older Cats insisted that something had to be done. Also known as ‘the ‘ladies who nap’, seventeen year old Rhiannon and fifteen year old Astarte are no longer amused by getting chased, swatted at or being put in a random headlock by an adolescent male Cat with a testosterone problem. There was much growling, hissing and ear flattening, not to mention that the ladies’ stress level was at the point that I was going to ask the vet for Xanax…for them and for me.

Mac’s arrival was greatly anticipated and did not fail to live up to our expectations of producing a high level of fun. Exploring the house, playing with a large assortment of toys and the joy of discovering the never empty food dishes had him bouncing around like a furry super ball. Hmandu watched all of this with a mixture displeasure and caution that, when thrown to the wind, would result in a Gorilla Glue kind of bond.

Mac had no reservations what so ever. He was used to being accepted solely on his masterful skill of being adorable. Encountering not only one, but three ‘tough sells’ was a totally new experience for him. The ladies made attempts at filling a tandem mothering role of keeping him in line and spit taming any tufts of unruly fur as most mothers do. Hmandu soon dispensed with his posturing and allowed his inner frat boy free reign. That was when the real fun began and I had to make peace with having a few cherished possessions smashed beyond repair. Boys will, indeed, be boys. Everything was just as we had anticipated and expected. What we didn’t plan on was Ridley.

I had actually wanted a polydactyl. We would have had one when we began the adoption process for Mac if we had not lost Millie to pneumonia. Lauren, who runs Underdog Rescue, and I tearfully dealt with her loss. It was unexpected, painful and fast. One day we were making plans to pick her up and the next, things were delayed due to Millie having pneumonia and then the phone call to say that the measures that were taken to save her had failed. However, when Lauren sent me a picture of a male poly, who was considerably older than the ‘Kitten’ we were looking for, we decided to take Ridley too. After all, how could I say, “he’s too old and not the right color.” We wanted a very young black Kitten, but orange and white six year old Ridley needed a home.

He had to get neutered and had a few dental issues and excessive ear wax, but after seeing the rescue’s vet for all of those things, he was ready to come home. I, again, had an image of everyone settling in without mishap. Introducing an adult male Cat into a household that already had one, was not going to be without issues I know, but I wanted so desperately for Ridley to be happy. He had been through a lot between coming from a distant humane society and a foster home and I was eager to assure him that he had found his ‘forever home’.

For the first two days Ridley hid under the bed in the guest room and any amount of coaxing him out resulted in his being bullied by Hmandu. This really upset me. I can’t handle seeing any animal cower in fear and it broke my heart. By the third day, he came out and sprawled on the sofa demanding, “what’s for dinner?”.  Hmandu found himself on the receiving end of a number of well placed swats and, even though they still have that macho dominance thing from time to time, there is peace in the valley.

In the midst of the chaos and frenetic energy that bounces off the walls most days, we celebrate what has become life in this house of joy. My husband and I agree that a house is only a home to us when it is shared with multiple felines. When we had lost four of the six we had, some for twenty something years, there was a void. The pain of grieving runs deep and sometimes, you just don’t feel that you can go through it again so you think, ‘no more’. Having animal companions, except when you adopt those who will outlive you, comes with a knowing that at some point they will leave you. However, the attempt to protect your heart from pain by denying that which brings you joy is no way to live.

So, we are owned by five Cats and for the most part, they keep us in line, spit tame any stubborn tufts of ‘fur’ on us and each other, and allow us to spoil them rotten. We laugh and smile a lot and pretty much fashion our lives around their needs. Rhiannon was recently diagnosed with diabetes so she needs injections twice a day, but considering that a month ago she was badly dehydrated and near death due to a bladder infection, it’s what we have to do to keep her healthy and alive. We nursed her back with IV fluids and antibiotics and celebrated every bit of food or water she’d take in. Now, at seventeen years old, she looks great and is thriving.

When you open your home to animals it requires that you also open your heart. Then the love flows in and out. Somehow, we always find room for one more.

Anticipating A Mac Attack

The relationship that a person has with Cats is as mystical and mysterious as they are. Dogs however, live to please and have you at “woof”. It’s common knowledge that Cats are natural born hedonists and for that reason alone, it makes them less popular. Sure, they will seek to charm you with their antics and take some pleasure in putting on a show, but even then, they have to be in the mood and the feedback they get from you needs to be something that they find rewarding.

After my daughter and her husband became Dog people, one of the Cats they had, Jake, just could not adapt the way that their other Cat, Peanut did. He hid under the bed and lived in fear which was very sad because Jake was a burly brute, twenty one pounds of black and gray tabby. He was also what’s known as a  Hemmingway or polydactyl, with seven toes on each foot which made him look even larger. To see this gentle giant cower in fear was too much for me to take so I convinced my daughter to let Jake live with ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa’.

The move was confusing to Jake, and although he had shared our home when our daughter was on Summer break from college when she first acquired him, it was all strange to him. Trying to blend in with our four Cats was also difficult. Micro was the only male and the three females had roles that consisted of Isis the Queen, Rhiannon the Princess, and Astarte the Duchess. Micro was definitely the court jester and he was fine with that, until he needed to confirm his masculinity. A few slaps to the head made him think that his appointed position was quite acceptable.

Jake was slow to come to grips with the fact that his parents were not going to take him back to what was familiar, though unpleasant, and the transition was hard on him. He obviously was not going to dethrone the monarchs and he had too much dignity to juggle balls for tuna. He kept his distance from the ladies, and reestablished his relationship with Micro, though the two had been apart since our daughter returned to school and took Jake with her.

I remember it so well and think of it often, even though Jake crossed the rainbow bridge about 4 years ago. I was sitting on the sofa and Jake was sitting on the floor about ten feet away. I looked at him and he looked at me, but this time when our eyes met they seemed to lock onto something that up until then, had been separated by invisible distance. Suddenly, he got up, jumped up onto the sofa and enfolded himself in my arms. His purr was as deep as what he was feeling and was so strong that he made a chirping sound between the rumbling, resonant tones. In that moment he totally accepted his new home, and me.

You have to earn a Cat’s affection. It’s not done with food, toys, or constant petting. It develops with a blend of love and trust that builds just like the bonding relationships that grow with others of our own species. Maybe that’s why people who dislike Cats find them to be distasteful. For one thing, those people see a distinct separation between animals and humans and for that reason, feel that they should have the upper hand. Dogs are fine with this and except for the instances of having their owners having to establish themselves as ‘alpha’ to keep them under their control, they find their place in the pack and contentment within it. That bond is not something they have to work for like a person has to do with Cats. No one successfully ‘masters’ a Cat. If a person needs to be the one in control and dominate when it comes to an animal companion, then a Cat is not for them. It will be a relationship fraught with contempt and aggravation. If the idea of sharing your life with a smaller, domesticated Lion or Tiger still appeals to you and you don’t want to deal with the behaviors and mindset that are part of the equation, best get a virtual version on the internet.

There are different aspects of the relationship so it depends on what an individual wants from a Cat, be it free spirited side-kick, rarely seen roommate, or doorstop. I prefer the symbiotic relationship that occurs on their terms. It’s so much more rewarding. I don’t ‘have’ my Cats, as in ‘own’ them. They are my companions, confidants, and equals. They are family. They are independent enough to not ‘need’ me, they ‘want’ me.

Last year over Labor Day weekend we adopted Hmandu…yes, as in Kathmandu. It just seemed as if the grief over losing Micro had softened enough to want to fill the space that he had left. I chose his name because he looked rather exotic with his Bengal markings, and he had a spiritual countenance about him. However, the more comfortable he got with his new home the more curious, adventurous and raucous he became. The little guru went juvenile delinquent and began to test my patience as well as that of the former Princess, now Queen Rhiannon, and Astarte, still the regal, long haired, blue eyed Duchess.

Hmandu is a teenager now, and would take dad’s little red sports car if he had Jake’s ‘thumbs’. I wanted another polydactyl like Jake had been, but Hmandu has the skills to crack safes without the extra ‘fingers’. That being said, he is bored with the ‘ladies who nap’ and they’re tired of his attempts at making them forget they’re fifteen and seventeen years old. So, we contacted the rescue that we adopted him from in search of a playmate.

There was a polydactyl female, but she was a year old and I was concerned that there would be turmoil in the castle. However, after we met her, I fell in love. She was gorgeous and had a sweet and quiet temperament so I knew that there would not be a plan to overthrow the Queen. However, we still needed a Kitten who could keep up with Hmandu and one of the new arrivals to the foster home was all that and a bag of Catnip. He and his brother took turns climbing us like trees, snuggling and purring like little jet engines. Obviously, they knew how this game is played.

My husband gave me that look when one of the boys, Macaroni, clung to him with all fours. He’s the same shade of tan that Micro was so this little weasel was clearly fighting dirty. Brother, Mick, circumnavigated my head and wound himself around my neck like a toffee colored fur scarf. Clearly, we were about to adopt two, the female polydactyl, Millie and Macaroni.

Millie had to be spayed and we were to officially adopt and bring her home the day after. However, there was an illness among the new Kittens and the foster mom wanted to put Millie on medication too so the date was postponed for a few days. Then I received an email that Millie was having trouble breathing. This was followed by another email that she had pneumonia and had to be taken to an emergency vet for oxygen therapy. I kept a vigil by my computer as the foster mom kept me updated on her progress. Hope and plans to still share our home with her ended with a phone call that brought the news that Millie had passed away in the oxygen chamber.

The grief was not lessened by the fact that we had not spent more than a few minutes with her. In my mind we were ‘family’. I was going to change her name to Skye, Celtic and lovely, and I wanted nothing more than to shower her with love and adoration and make a forever home for her that would more than make up for her lonely disjointed life thus far. It was not to be and it was so hard to understand why and what had happened  to a seemingly healthy one year old Cat.

Macaroni, aka Mac, is big enough for his surgery now and will be getting ‘fixed’ this coming week. We will officially have the honor of giving him a forever home a week from today. We inquired about brother, Mick, but he got adopted last week. There is part of me that still morns the loss of his new ‘sister’ and that will shade the event slightly, but I’m sure the excitement of welcoming the new baby and watching the interaction between the ladies and Hmandu will make this a happy event.

Hmandu is getting tired of promises of a playmate and sits by the door with anticipation in his eyes only to have us come in with groceries instead of his brother.  The ladies, on the other hand, are enjoying the peace before the storm. Interrupted naps, teaching him where the back of the line is at the food dish, and the impropriety of chasing the tails of the royals will be the norm until little Mac finds his niche in the pride.

And we will, once again, find that there are hiding places in this house that we never anticipated. Closets and cabinets will need to be checked before closing doors and the clothes dryer fully inspected before hitting the button. The food dish will empty faster and the litter boxes will need scooping more often. And I will lose my heart, once again.

Break It Up

Lifestyles are remodeled one habit at a time. The urge to take on too much, too fast can be so overwhelming that the whole process is soon abandoned entirely. Most patterns are actually comprised of various components that have a domino effect. If we attempt to eliminate the pattern without examining how it is constructed we might miss something. Deconstructing a pattern begins with the last domino that fell and ends with the main trigger. Working our way back to the starting point and discovering the trigger is the only way to create a lasting change.

A trigger is born of the senses, so it can be visual, auditory or kinesthetic, but some people are literally lead by their noses. Have you ever suddenly caught the scent of pit smoked barbeque and found yourself sitting at a table, up to your ears in sauce? If the impulse was intense enough you might not even remember how you got there.

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a real eye opener, in that when asked, the children that delayed immediate gratification and held off devouring the marshmallow replied that they didn’t look at it. They distracted themselves in various ways until the 20 minutes were up and they were rewarded with a second marshmallow. That concept has saved me from the compulsion to react to impulses on many occasions. Having the ability to delay gratification is the key.

Once we excavate and discover the root cause, we can find a way to distract ourselves and stop automatically reacting by reinforcing a habit that has become an ingrained pattern. Start with one pattern, one habit and one change. Keep at it and you will have that newly renovated lifestyle.

 

Walking Their Walk

If you wanna look like you live like that…you’ve gotta live like that. No one gets buff sitting on their duff.

It Ain’t No Big Thing

But, in reality, it is SO big. Today, just for today…let’s do one thing that will move us in the direction of a goal. We’ll write it down, because a goal that is not put to paper, is just a fantasy. Then we will accomplish it…and…wait for it….CELEBRATE. We might enjoy the process SO much that we will want to do it again tomorrow…and the day after that…and the day after that…OH DE JOY!!!