Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Antidote to Summer Doldrums



New developments with the cats .. the new neighbor downstairs has been feeding them.  Slowly, little by little, the young mother cat and her adorable wee kitten come up to the stoop and eat.  Mowgli, my manly cat pal, leads the way, curling himself right next to the doorway like he owns the rug.

I'm glad to see that they are being adopted, even though I'm a bit sad to lose the opportunity to interact with them in the wild.  Yesterday, they showed me there was still that streak of wild cat in these jazz babies.

I went out to get into my car and go to work and right there on the sidewalk was a fresh (and dead) mouse.  It was a touching gift of gratitude for the folks that have been feeding the cats.

Wildlife aside, I will say that the urge to create has gone rather dormant in me, perhaps as a result of the summer doldrums.  Doldrums.  Such a nice word for the stillness of hot, sticky summertime.  You might stir yourself enough to get up and go into the kitchen and pour a glass of water ... 

The Walkway over the Hudson is one antidote.  No matter how hot it is, there's always a breeze over the river.  And there's a positive spin on the Walkway, no matter who is doing the walking.  It might be a man and wife with a stroller or a couple hand in hand or oldsters walking three abreast in threadbare cotton and canvas hats.  You can overhear heartbreaking conversations or banal ones.  Kids on skateboards and scooters.  Dogs.  Lots of dogs.

Here's one of the photos I took of the Walkway, one of the amazing skies.

We had a tinkering of a rainstorm for a half an hour tonight and it's already gone.  The breeze has run off to ruffle somebody else's hair, and the sticky night is back.  The dense call of insects, stacking their songs one on top of the other like cells under a microscope.

A skunk has crept under the window and asserted herself.  I can imagine the cats hidden back in their lair, sniffing the sweet night air, far away from human civilization.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Feral Cat

I've been jotting down little phrases on slips of paper for weeks.  This is what we writers do, I know.  I always have the best of intentions about writing something later.

But here's a situation that I could not put off writing about any longer.

To start, I live next to a woods where I can watch all sorts of animals and birds go about their daily lives.  We have deer, raccoon, skunks, bluebirds, a woodpecker, various crows, robins, wrens, sparrows, mourning doves and a family of wild cats.

The tomcat is an amazingly scruffy fellow with matted black fur that perpetually sticks out like he's angry at all the dogs in the neighborhood.  He streaks through the parking lot once in a blue moon, probably on a hunt.

For two years, his gray and white female mate has had kittens.  Last summer, she had five.  One didn't live, but three females and one small male managed to make it.  My neighbor Ray downstairs, an elderly Italian man who has a cat of his own, put out a cardboard box for them and left food out for a few weeks.

We could see the kittens tumble around, engage in mock fights, chase insects, and try to keep up with their mother all summer.  By fall, they were larger, and spent more time in the woods.  The old man still fed them occasionally.  Somehow they made it through the winter with the rest of us hapless souls, with foot upon foot of snow falling much too often.  My allergy to all kinds of fur and feathers was all that prevented me from taking them in.  The old man's house cat Tiggie had become jealous, so Ray also did not adopt them.

Somehow, by Spring, at least two had survived, along with the mother and the scruffier-than-ever father.  During the first few weeks of April, the three kittens who are now nearly young adults kept coming around the stoop.  The old man had stopped feeding them, to appease Tiggie.  I could see her lying on his windowsill, enjoying her status.  The feral cats completely ignored her, and frolicked on the stoop, ready to accept a crumb from anyone.

Since I had cats years ago, I know a bit of cat language.  My old cat Venus tried to teach me the subtle difference between "I want to eat" and "I want to go out."  I always got it wrong when she was standing by the kitchen screen door.  She finally gave up trying, and decided I was hopeless.  But I do remember some of my lessons.

At least, I know how to say "hello" in Cat.  So I started talking to the kittens.  The females would dash to hide in the shrubs, but the male jumped off the stoop and lingered just beyond.  One day I was in a particularly friendly mood and I gave him the eyelash blink that means "I love you" in Cat.  I guess that was a bad idea.

Now, this cat is on the stoop every day waiting for me to come home.  When he sees me, he arches his back and rubs himself against the door.  He flops on his back and flirts.  He meows most adorably.  He reminds me of the way people will talk a blue streak to you in a foreign country after you speak a few words.  In spite of myself, I named him Mowgli.  He really is a very handsome little gray tiger.

The past few days he was waiting for me, crouching in anticipation of the leap into my door, which I had to close very quickly to avoid him coming in.  I tried, of course, to discourage him in Cat but my accent is really bad, and I'm probably saying, "Oh, sure, maybe later."

Anyway, this all came to a head the night before last.  Here in Dutchess County, we've had a lot of what people call stink bugs.  I don't know the real name, and I've actually never smelled them, but it's said if you kill one they give off a terrible smell.  In any case, I'm a Buddhist and I never kill anything.  When I find a bug, I usually trap it and take it outside, unless it's a spider, which I tolerate in the house.

So I had cooked some dinner, and since it was warm outside, I had the windows open.  I just sat down when I noticed one of those stink bugs had fallen off the window onto my table.  I got a small glass and an index card, and trapped the bug and carried him down the stairs.  When I opened the door to the porch, Mowgli was waiting for me.

He seemed surprised to see me so late, but he took a step back, and watched me take the bug over to the grass and release it.  I noticed him tiptoeing over to the bug as I went back inside the screen door.  He seemed very nonplussed by this apparent gift from me, and a haughty gait, he stalked away.  In comparison to my dinner upstairs, this was indeed an insult.

Perhaps he was saying to himself in Cat, "If she thinks this is what I eat, then she is too stupid to waste time on."  He had already eliminated my Italian neighbor with his tamed animal.

Sure enough, last night, Mowgli wasn't on the stoop waiting for me.  I saw him over near the dumpster, where he probably figured he would have better luck.  I meowed "hello" but he gave me a "You talking to me?" glance.

I wonder what our karma (or his catma) will be in our next life.  Maybe when we meet, he'll offer me a bug in return.  Maybe I'll be a spider and consider it a feast.  Oh, the circle of life ...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Searching for the Library

I need to write a new poem.  And while a poem seems to be slowly coming to the surface like leaves in a heavy rainstorm, so far, it's eluded me.  I have dreams like that.  Dreams that feel like they’re coming to the surface, but when I wake up, they’re gone, submerged into the dark mud of my night world.

Could it be the oppression of snow?  We’ve not had this kind of snow before.  The relentless piling of heavy chunks of white on top of everything, week after week.  I suppose we could get used to it, but we’ll not get the chance.  By the time we’ve accepted all the inconvenience and danger, it will be spring.

Where does creativity spring from?  People talk about having a muse.  I suppose that’s an interesting theory.  Like being in love and being inspired to give the world everything you wish for your lover, or maybe love of an idea that lodges in the mind like a familiar.  I think it has to do with energy, some kind of physical chemistry. When I reach out for that, it just eludes me.  Could be the season or just the nature of my work these days.

Managing a database is like having a virtual orphanage or school.  Each child’s progress has to be recorded, and graded and graduated to adulthood.  Some get adopted.  Some repeat and repeat until you have to send them out into the world, ready or not.  Sometimes they get into my sleep, these bits of data, struggling to coalesce, to become discrete and assume or assert identity.  When I wake from dreams like that, I feel cheated. 

I’d rather have one of my recurring nightmares than a dream about work.  My nightmares follow two patterns.  In the first one, I’m driving my car and I come upon a somewhat familiar route, but it looks different and I get lost and hopelessly unable to find my way.  Sometimes I reach a cul-de-sac with boulders toppled everywhere, or cliffs with trees growing along the sides, or other times the road turns into a canal.  Then I have to get out and walk.  Sometimes I miraculously have a purple umbrella or a white raincoat, or some other helpful item.

In the second nightmare, I’m in a school.  It’s usually a huge building with a very tall elevator, and I’m always looking for the library, which is in a mezzanine and not easy to find.  You can’t get there by the elevator.  So I go up or down the stairwell, stopping on floors and wandering around, hoping to find the entrance.  Sometimes I wander into places I’m not supposed to be, where marble corridors and hunt pictures presage executive suites.  So, if I don’t find the library, strange people arrive and try to draw me into things I don't have any interest in, and I get more and more lost. 

But once in a blue moon, I do find the library, and it’s magnificent, with a high-domed, ornately carved gold ceiling, very high windows and tall, tall shelves of books.  An old Oriental carpet is worn in places, and there are stuffed arm chairs.  It’s just heaven.  And of course, no matter how I try to memorize the doorways, I always have trouble finding it again.

You can surely see how searching for libraries and being lost in a wilderness could be more fun than holding the reins of a database, or shoveling inches and inches of snow around a car that’s totally inadequate for the season.

Maybe creativity, like dreams, is just an escape.