life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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Note to Future Self

This year has been one for the record books, at least my own life record books, full of unanticipated stresses, betrayal, drama, anxiety, and many opportunities to shake my attachments to outcomes and life plans. The month of September, which included negotiating the beginnings of the sale of my house in Alaska, a trial by telephone from Brussels to Alaska, illness, a temporary exodus of my life partner to the United States while I moved through the final four days of my second yoga teacher training, was one of the more stressful spans of weeks of my existence. It seems that for the first time since beginning this blog, I actually did not post a single piece for the month of September. I created this blog in the July 2010, and I have never missed a month until this year.


Something I have wished for during the past year has been a less exciting existence, particularly in the realm of finances. My husband and I have crossed our fingers for the trial to go well, for my house to sell, and for him to receive funding for his doctoral studies in Brussels. So far, we continue to keep those fingers crossed.


Another desire I have held in my heart since the passing of my beloved wolf dog and since my parents “borrowed” our beloved Naih husky while we searched for a place to rent where we could have a dog and then expressed a desire to keep her around “for a while longer,” has been to bring to a canine companion into my life once more.


The bar is quite high, however, for a canine companion, which puts a lot of pressure on any being who might walk through the doors of our quiet home in a forested corner of Brussels.


My mental (and yes, I do mean this for the many entrendres it carries) wish list for a canine companion has included the following tenets:


Will be wolfie

Will be my shadow

Will be most bonded to me

Will get along with my cats (at least with the cat who thinks he is a dog)

Will be a gentle giant

And so on and so forth…


With this list, I found it difficult to ever settle on a possible dog to rescue and bring into our home. How could the dog ever meet my ridiculous standards? I was certainly not setting up any dog for success. There was also so much unknown. When we first met Okami at the husky rescue we adopted him from, he was not at all interested in any member of our family.


I vividly recall exchanging a glance with my husband, replete with shoulder shrug: Well, I guess we will just bring him home and see…


Within 24 hours, he had become my shadow, but it was still a challenging transition in all of our lives for us to adjust to this new member of the family and for him to adjust to life with our three cats and us.


The first night we brought Okami home, we thought we would just put him on the run outside since that had been the preference of our previous husky, Blue. We went to bed but were soon roused by the most haunting, mournful howling I had ever heard.


Ok. Okami was not going to be an outside-at-night kind of dog. First lesson learned.


Next lesson. Okami was terrified of small, enclosed spaces. He would never set foot in the bathroom, and the wire crate we had set up for him was definitely out of the question. What to do if/when we had to leave the house?


We tried to always either bring him with us or make sure someone was at home. At the time, my husband’s daughter was still living at home (the summer before she headed to college in the Pacific Northwest), so we were on a kind of round the clock Okami caretaking committee.


The times we did leave the house, he would try to break his way through the window screen to get out and knock things over in the house in the panic-ridden process. With time, he began to adjust, and after years of remembering the ease with which we settled into our life together, it was not until bringing home a new rescue dog that I was reminded of the initial stresses and anxieties of that transition time.


Enter the being I have been referring to as BWD (big, white dog).


We have a perfect life, Marieke, my husband told me on several occasions this past year when I would bemoan the absence of a dog in our life in Belgium. It is peaceful, and you have the love of two cats.


Cats are not the same as dogs, I would retort.


Can’t you be happy with what we have? Isn’t it good enough?


I guess, I would respond, but my heart remained steadfast on the idea of a goofy, gentle, shadow canine. Like so many things in my life (ukulele, mandolin, dog, red shoes, etc.), once I get my mind or heart set on something, it turns into a strange obsession until I either let it go, or more often, until I bring it home. It doesn’t matter how unreasonable or ridiculous the idea, I can’t seem to shake the desire. It takes root and grows at an alarming rate.


The other night, as I desperately texted with my husband about the stress of the reality of having all of my canine wish list granted, he responded, When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers (which he later told me came from an Oscar Wilde play, An Ideal Husband).


I am not one to admit defeat all that readily. By nature, I am quite competitive, and I really like being right. I rarely give my husband the satisfaction of being right, but he was definitely spot on with this one, and I let him know this without shame.


I was clearly crazy to bring such chaos into our perfectly peaceful life.


So, on the first chaotic evening with my this new, furry being, I tried to remind myself, You asked for this. There’s a reason this is happening. I was at the point of tears, listening to the strange yowling howling sounds coming from downstairs, where I had attempted to put the dog in his kennel for the night since he couldn’t figure out how to go up the stairs, and my terrified cats were hiding upstairs.


I eventually decided that maybe I needed to ease him into spending time in the kennel and went to sleep on the couch downstairs with him. He eventually settled down and slept on the dog bed I had placed beside the couch. Periodically through the night, I awoke to see his big head right in front of mine. He gave me kisses and went back to sleep on his bed. In the morning, I fond him sleeping on the other half of the couch, his head nestled next to mine on the pillow, the bottom half of his body extending off of the couch and onto the wide stair beside it.


The next day I informed my husband of my concern that I had ruined our perfect, peaceful life.


I still feel really freaked out about bringing a dog home, I admitted.


It will be fine, he assured me. Patience.


I hope so. I am worried, and I miss the cats and the second floor.


Just give him time. He needs a safe place to land, just like Jack. (Jack is a young boy in one of our favorite books series by Deborah Harkness, who is taken in a couple after a life with stability in the streets of Elizabethan England).


Ohhhhhh, I responded. I love you!


I love YOU!


Maybe he chose me, and it was not really me at all making the choices. So I am not to blame. I plead insanity, I responded.


Ha…no, you are.





I am L


But it is FINE. Really. Or, it will be.


I’m worried about money, too. And our freedom to explore.


All in good time.




The dog will open up different doors to explore.


True. I have talked to more people in Boitsfort since he arrived and more of our neighbors than in the past six months. So I am learning more French!


We engaged in many of these kinds of texting conversations. They mostly involved me freaking out over this huge transition and questioning my sanity and whether life could ever be peaceful again.


For example:


I don’t know what I was thinking!? I texted my husband.


I really think it is going to be just fine. You should write a blog or note to your future self, telling how you are feeling right now and how the initial experience with BWD is going.


So my future self will never adopt another dog?


No, so your future self will remember how nervous you were and how good things are “now” (in the future). Showing you that things WILL work out just fine.


Oh my gosh, I STILL love you.


Well, that is good.


You get the idea. So, future Self of mine, remember this:


Remember this crazy time.

Remember the peace of life with two relatively subdued cats and the overwhelming stress of bringing a new being into the mix.

Remember how nervous you were about whether or not everything would work out.

Remember wondering if the dog and cats would ever carve out an amicable or at least tolerant existence.

Remember the stress of the unknown.

And, most importantly, remember to keep breathing!


Everything is already alright.


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We are each on our own path

I was meant to be a helper. The times I feel most alive and present, I am doing something that to help make the world a happier, more beautiful place. Since I was a child, I have been drawn to help creatures beyond the human realm. Bless my parents for opening our home to all kinds of animals, including the rabbit whose owner couldn’t keep it anymore, fish, gerbils, etc. I recently scooped up a magpie who had been attacked by other magpies and carried him to the forest to give him a chance to recover in a quiet spot.

I don’t know if I would call myself an animal whisperer, but I am drawn to help and there are many animals who either chosen to cross paths with my own or have at least humored me in my attempts to assist them. When I lived in the North Cascade mountains of Washington state, I rescued all kinds of animals: a racing pigeon with a broken wing, baby mice whose mom had been eaten or killed in a trap, birds that had flown into windows, the list goes on. A young squirrel sought me out when I was living in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts. I really wanted to bring him home, but he was young and healthy, a state that would not last if I introduced him to my two cats. [As an aside, my husband tells me I am part squirrel because I seem to create little nests of things. He refers to my collection of earplugs and Kleenex underneath my pillow on our bed as my squirrel cache. I recently scooped up a magpie who had been attacked by other magpies and carried him to the forest to give him a chance to recover in a quiet spot.My mom has also informed me that when I was baby, she would have to stick her finger in my mouth and do a sweep in my cheeks for hidden grapes and other items that I apparently stashed there, perhaps for a midnight snack? I can only wonder.]

My desire to help creatures in need is not completely selfless. I experience great benefit from this act. My heart practically bursts open from the love that comes pouring out. I feel alive and present. I think I also benefit from feeling needed by another being.

There is so much suffering in the world, and I often feel helpless to make a difference. On our recent visit to Rome, I witnessed animals in need of medical attention and food, but I knew that I could not help them all. When I bemoan my inability to save all creatures, my husband tells me that each animal is on its own path. We can help them along their way, but we cannot make their own choices for them. I have come to believe that this may indeed be true. We cannot know what goes on for each being, so I do my best to help keep them help them as I am able and as much as they will allow me in to their hidden lives.

The greatest gift I have ever received came in the form of a wolf dog named Okami. My husband and I adopted him from a rescue near our home in Prescott, Arizona. He was with us for only a very short while, but he imprinted deeply and permanently on my heart. We were inseparable. We went everywhere together. He followed me and became my shadow. My husband described him as a wise, Zen creature. Perhaps, he had experienced great suffering or trauma in his short life before our paths crossed. We couldn’t know, but his gentle, grounded demeanor was the most soothing influence on my own anxiety-riddled spirit, second only to my husband.

Okami shared five months of his life with us and then I made the difficult decision to put him down. He had been struggling for a month while our vet tried to figure out what was causing him to waste away. It wasn’t until I researched his symptoms online and suggested a tick-borne disease that we were able to determine the culprit. The vet admitted that testing for tick-borne disease was one of the first round of testing he normally did, but he had forgotten. The test came out positive, and we began treating Okami right away, but it was too late.

For a month, I had provided around the clock care for my beloved wolf dog. Even that fateful afternoon when I brought him to the vet because he could hardly stand up I would not have believed I would be leaving without him. When the vet assistant came to the exam room to tell me he was having difficulty breathing even with an oxygen machine to help him, I made the decision to put him down.

I left with his body in a box and the emptiest feeling my heart has ever known. Without Okami to care for, I felt adrift. I convinced my husband to let me bring home a baby husky the woman from the same rescue had told me about. I needed to be needed again. Our baby husky was full of joy and life, and she made me laugh every day. But she didn’t need me. When we made the decision to move to Brussels less than a year later, my parents generously offered to look after her while we were overseas. It occurred to me that her presence in our life may also have been meant to be only temporary. She helped my heart to heal in absence of Okami, and now she was going to my parents to do the same. We sent her to my parents not 48 hours after they had put their own dog down. They had been heartbroken, and my dad had sent me texts that read: Without Kota, there is no need to leave the house.

We were a little worried about sending them another dog so soon after the loss of their beloved Labrador, but it quickly became clear that Naih the bundle of husky joy was just what they needed. She gave my dad a reason to continue his walks through the woods. She gave my mom a grand puppy, which helped alleviate some of my own guilt at not having provided her with the human kind.

We miss her every day and hope to be reunited in the future, but we sense that her purpose in this life is to bring joy to as many creatures as possible. She is able to do this with my parents very well. In the short time she has been with them, she has helped a young boy overcome his fear of dogs and gained many friends—human and canine—at every dog park she visits. My husband and I joke that one day we will receive a letter from her, thanking us for giving her a home for the first year of her life and kindly requesting to stay with my parents forever more, where she has free reign of a 2400 square foot house, a huge yard, daily walks and visits to dogs parks, a canine best friend who lives around the corner, my mom to bring home toys and treats for her, my dad to wind around her little princess paw, and better healthcare than many people living in the United States and around the world will ever receive.

The spirit of the wolf continues to haunt my heart, and every time I go for a walk in the woods near our home I make a silent (and sometimes not so silent) wish that I will find a baby wolf who will fill the void in my heart and become my constant companion and shadow.

This afternoon when my husband and I went for a walk through the woods, we happened upon a young cat. It became clear that this cat needed help. Its collar had become wrapped around its neck and front leg, so much so that the fur had been rubbed off completely. As we approached, the cat mewed but moved farther away from us and underneath a fence. My husband and I went in different directions to try to get nearer to him.

I found a spot where I could manage to climb over the fence, and I moved toward the cat very slowly, stopping periodically to crouch down, whisper, and rub my fingers together in an attempt to cajole it closer.

Amazingly, kitten did come closer. We did this back and forth dance until he was nuzzling into my hand and legs while I say cross-legged.

Can you take off your shirt and toss it over the fence to me? I asked my husband. My own tank top would not be enough to try to wrap around the cat in order to carry it without being scratched.

If I throw it, he will run away, my husband said.

It’s ok; he will come back. I felt sure that he would. He needed help.

Kitten did run away, but he did come back. We danced a little more until I was able to wrap him up in the t-shirt and draw him into my chest. I whispered and comforted him until he settled into me. I thought I would try to hand him off to my husband so I could get over the fence, but I was afraid he would escape, so my husband held the fence down while I sidled and slip over the top. Apart from my leggings getting temporarily caught on a loose fence end, I made it over with relative ease. Kitten stayed calm for most of the walk except for some panic at the large road crossing between the forest and our quiet corner of Boitsfort.

Once inside our house, my husband cut the collar off and closed the doors between the foyer and the front door. I sat with kitten while he went through two bowls of food. I didn’t try to pry the collar off because I wasn’t sure if it was embedded in his skin, but it eventually fell off of its own accord. Free from the collar, he was much happier. He purred while he ate and let me clean his wounds with a soapy washcloth and wet wipes. He even let me cover the wounds with Neosporin.

My husband came in to say hello, but kitten was not so sure about him. Our other cats were very curious, so we let kitten out for a chaperoned meet and greet. It was clear that kitten did not want to stay inside. He immediately went for the large glass doors that led to our terrace. It was only a few more minutes before he discovered the open kitchen window that my husband had opened to air out the house from the awful stench his collar had carried. I yelled out, No! and went running out the front door in an effort to scare him back into the house, but he was gone.

My husband had walked around the corner to see if this cat might fit the description of a poster we had seen on several windows and light posts around the neighborhood. He did meet the description, but he was also no longer in our care. We walked over to the house where he had once lived and spoke with the owner. She was over the moon that he was still alive. We all walked around the neighborhood, looking for him, but to no avail. Kitten was gone.

Back home, I felt the return of the void. We had been so close, and the lack of resolution was woefully uncomfortable.

I had been texting my dad questions about how to care for the cat in its current condition and then shared my remorse when he escaped. He responded, an animal used to the outdoors would probably not want to live inside. Don’t feel bad. You enabled to continue doing what it loves.

My husband echoed my father’s words. You gave him a real chance to live, my husband told me in a reassuring voice. With the collar, he might have made it maybe three more weeks, but he would have died.

I know, but I’m worried that his wound will get infected. And he was so skinny. He needs to eat so much more food, I said.

When I started to cry, my husband wrapped his arms around me. I told him how I hadn’t felt needed since Okami had died and that I thought this was my wish for a wolf puppy come true.

I thought he would be my wolf cat, I sobbed into my husband’s chest.

You gave him a miracle; you gave him the ultimate wish to be free from a bonded trap that was killing him. His ultimate wish was not to be released from a trap only to be put into a larger cage, a house where he would live indoors.

I took a deep breath in and let out a slow exhale. I think you are right, I said. Maybe, he didn’t want to go back to live with that woman. He was meant to be a wild and free spirit. I hope he will be ok out there.

Even though I know kitten is now somewhere out there, roaming free, I left a bowl of food and an almost empty can of tuna in the windowsill, just in case.


Can you hear it ticking?

It has been sometime since my baby homo sapiens clock slowed to a whisper, and no amount of time spent with young children has caused those hormones to kick back into overdrive, as they functioned for several years.

It was such an enormous relief to be freed from the perpetual ticking of the block, and this recent stirring has taken me a little by surprise. I felt free to envision and create an identity and life for my partner and me that involved our own passion and desire.

However, my hormones have recently taken me by surprise. In recent weeks, I have been experiencing something hormonally new to me, a condition I am referring to as the “Canine Clock.”

I have always had a propensity for the maternal. As a child, I tried to adopt every creature in need of a home. My parents were generally quite supportive of this need to nurture.

I did not change very much as a young adult. I adopted a pigeon with a broken wing and tried to raise baby mice whose parents had been killed in traps set around the pseudo-renovated barn my partner at the time and I lived in.

I just assumed I would have children because of this maternal tendency and because that is “what you do.” It was a shift for me to realize that I did not have to have children, that I could give myself permission to serve a different purpose for the bulk of my time on this planet. I was not a failure if I did not procreate. I was not being selfish wanting to love and be loved solely by my intimate partner.

Of course, in the years of extreme ticking of the biological clock, I managed to adopt 2 dogs, 4 cats, a lost pigeon, and 25 chickens. The hormonal force was strong with me.

While I am thankful I did not procreate, it has been an emotionally difficult process of simplifying to get to the point where I had only 2 cats left of my previous menagerie. I lived along in a city, a place where dogs and chickens were not a realistic addition to my life. Save the previous haunting from animals long gone from my life, I was comfortable. My life with other creatures was manageable.

A few months ago, I moved out of my urban abode and out to the Arizona desert to live with my partner. In this move, I gained two homo sapiens companions, 2 more cats, and a dog. One of these cats, a nervous Maine Coon named Puck, I previously owned. He was far too sensitive to travel, so when I moved from Alaska to Massachusetts, he made a long-term pit stop in Arizona.

Animals are a lot of work, even cats. They need attention and have their own set of idiosyncrasies and neuroses.

Puck has spent the bulk of his life hiding under the bed, coming out periodically to communicate his sensibilities by spraying various pieces of furniture and carpet corners. Not the most pleasant personality trait.

Smokey, an inherited feline, likes to pee on bathmats and doormats.

Arwen is quite vocal with a leaning toward more whiney communications. She likes to kneed one’s appendages, is obsessed with eating (perhaps from her life beginnings living around gas stations), and purrs quite loudly.

Fin is a general terror and also obsessed with food.

These are the traits of my feline companions. I will not go into details for other beings more adept at reading and surfing the Internet than the former.

Inheriting a Siberian Husky named Blue gave me a taste of canine companionship that had been long absent from my life. I had a hiking partner and a friend with whom to sing and howl. His sudden passing two months ago left a lump in my throat and a void in my heart. When I found a blue heeler wandering along the highway near our home, I thought that the universe had decided a canine should be a part of my life. It was not to be in that instance, however. I was not meant to be “mom” but rather a conduit for helping that particular being to find a better home. At least, this was how I reassured my aching heart in the days that followed my almost adoption.

My partner has informed me that I do not “live by halves.” I move through this life at full aortal tilt, my heart wide open to the world. It is not always an easy way to operate. When I feel things, I feel them deeply in a very raw and unfiltered fashion.

My rational mind is there, constantly explaining the reasons why my heart’s desires may be whimsical and capricious. My partner is there, offering his own rationale for patience and acceptance.

But I am ruled by heart. I am all heart, in fact.

And so, the canine clock continues to tick.

Can you hear it?