life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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The wolf that lives within

This past Tuesday, August 15, was the two-year anniversary of the passing of my beloved wolf dog, Okami. Since he left this reality, I have been searching for him. Every few months, I go through an obsessive online search, combing through rescues to see if I can find a dog like him. Though I know full well that there is little chance that his spirit will return to this life in a similar form as the one I knew, I somehow cannot stop myself from looking nonetheless.

 

I feel this deep longing, a kind of craving of the heart, to experience the bond of wolf and woman once more. I seem to find evidence of wolves everywhere I go, in the eyes of passing dogs, graffiti, and even stickers posted on lampposts.

In my online searches, I find many dogs in need of homes. There are wolf like dogs a plenty as well, and yet somehow I cannot bring myself to go beyond the search. Is it because I know deep down that there is no way to replace my beloved? Is it because my husband will only allow me one dog, and I worry about what will happen if that one does not fill the void in my heart?

 

It’s not like buying a pair of boots, I joked to my husband the other day (I have a propensity for buying shoes, and since my feet haven’t grown since I was 12 I have many pairs in my possession.

 

That’s right, he laughed. You better find the right size and color because you won’t be able to exchange them.

 

I know, I responded. I only get one chance.

 

It has only just occurred to me, however, that it’s possible I have been thinking about this whole wolf search from the wrong vantage point. This afternoon, after writing and reflecting on the idea of the Wild Woman Archetype written about by Clarissa Pincola Éstes in Women who run with the wolves, I experienced a moment of clarity where I wondered if perhaps all of the searching was really for my own inner wolf, the spirit of wildness that lives within me and is always present but can be difficult to find and even more challenging (and not a bit terrifying) to set free.

 

Discovering my own inner voice of Self and learning to listen and embody that voice has been many years in the making. In the process, I have found many inner voices who often wage war upon one another.

 

Since Okami’s passing, I have convinced myself that I need a wolf companion to feel complete; however, I wonder if what I need is to engage more closely with the wolf within; my own wild spirit that still lives largely contained despite momentary outbursts when the wolf breaks free and makes itself known.

 

What is an inner wolf? Is it a voice, and if so, what does it sound like and what does it say? What does it feel like to listen to it? What does it feel like to set it free? What would/could life be like if I set it loose all of the time?

 

Is it less a voice than it is a kind of familiar like the ones you read about in fantasy witch stories?

 

Searching for a wolf may not be the answer I seek. It could hold part of the answer, but it could also be somewhat of an illusion. I know that true happiness can only be found within and not without. Tolle has written about the idea that unless we learn to be fully present in the what he refers to as the Now, then no matter what we attain in the future or what problems are resolved, we will create a new set to replace them and recreate our pattern of suffering over and over again. With this idea in mind, I begin wondering if part of what caused me to feel whole when I found Okami was his ability to fill a void that I had not found a way to fill with my own spirit. When we were together, I felt like an absent half had completed my whole being. Is it possible that I could once again find a way to fill this void even in the absence of a live wolf spirit by my physical side?

 

It is possible that I need only to let loose my own inner wolf, to embrace a spirit that may already be present within me and may be the key to becoming whole. If this is true, how do I go about accomplishing this seemingly Sisyphean task?

 

As with most of the self-work I have tackled over the years, awareness seems to be the first step. Awareness of what is or what might be missing and also of what is possible. Next, it’s time to imagine what fullness feels like. Then, I will need to really reflect on what changes I can make in my life to attain that fullness from within, to embody and be whole without grasping for something external to fill a void that I fear can only be filled from within.

 

I will keep you posted on my progress.

 

I invite you to spend a few minutes reflecting on your inner ‘scape and consider the following questions:

 

Do I have an empty place inside?

Do I wish to fill this place?

 

What does my own inner wolf look and sound like?

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The cat came back!

I wrote a few days ago about my husband and my rescue attempt of a cat we found in the woods near our house in Boitsfort. The cat appeared to be young because it was so small. When we saw it, was walking along a back road next to an international school in our neighborhood. We called to it, as we like to greet all the cats we meet on our walks, and it immediately crawled underneath a fence and ran ahead along a trail that paralleled the road.

 

As we came closer, my husband noticed that it had its collar wrapped around it neck and front leg. He called it from the road, but it didn’t respond. I climbed/crawled over the fence and walked slowly toward the cat, crouching down intermittently to call it. I figured that perhaps we could coax it toward one of us if we both approached slowly from two sides. What wound up happening was that the cat came running toward me each time I knelt on the ground. He (I deemed it a he because it seemed to have male energy—don’t ask me how, I just sensed it. My husband calls it my “witchy sense”) would nuzzle his nose, head, and body against my legs and then dash off the second I moved even the slightest bit.

 

I convinced my husband to toss his t-shirt over the fence near me, waited for kitty to come back to my lap, and ever so slowly wended by body around to be able to scoop him up in it.

 

Kitty did not smell good. In fact, he smelled like rotting death. His energy and spirits were high, though, and he allowed me to carry him back to our house, where I cleaned him up while he purred nonstop over two bowls of dry food (croquettes en français). We spent some quality time in the small area between the front door and the rest of the house. My husband had closed the set of doors opposite the front door in order to create a small, safe place that would be separate from our two cats. When I opened the door to let the cat out to explore a little, he was not happy about meeting our larger male cat, Fin and lasted only a few minutes before bounding out the front window, which my husband had opened to try to air out the death smell from our small house.

 

I was beside myself, especially after we visited the owner, who had posted flyers all over the neighborhood nearly two months earlier when the cat first disappeared. We showed her the collar and explained what had happened. She was so thankful we had found him, but I felt heartbroken that we had lost him again.

 

My husband explained to me that each animal is on its own path, and I tried to convince myself each night as I lay in bed that he would be ok. My dad was a doctor and said that animals generally do a pretty good job of cleaning their wounds. I woke up each morning after nightmares about trying to catch the cat. He had a pretty serious, raw wound where his front right leg was supposed to be attached to his body but the collar had caused a separation from so much rubbing.

 

I spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday returning to the place where we had found the cat (who turned to indeed be a male called Elio). I brought food with me and shook the container, calling out in English and French to Elio to come with me and that I wouldn’t force him to live indoors but that I thought he would benefit from medical attention, which I was happy to provide for him.

 

Monday night, we heard a knock on our door. I opened the door to find the owner, who immediately informed me that she had found the cat! I was so shocked I just there, instantly feeling an emotional meltdown coming on.

 

I invited the owner in, and she proceeded to tell us how she had gone back to the house she had recently moved from and found the cat there. She had been looking there when he first disappeared but then stopped because she gave up hope that he might still be alive. When we told her we had found and lost him, she went back, and there he was. The vet had told her that he weighed less than a kilo and would not have survived beyond a week with the infection and gangrene inside his wound.

 

He was so thin that there was no extra skin to pull toward the wound to stitch it back up, so he may have a limp for his life unless the skin stretches as he gets older.

 

But who cares! He was alive and he would survive. My husband and I stood teary-eyed as we listened to a tale we never thought would come to be. Hugs were exchanged, and we were gifted with a purple flowering plant.

IMG_1294When I walked the woman to the door, she turned around, cupper her hands around my chin, and whispered the words, “Petite Marieke” in such an endearing tone I nearly started weeping all over again.

The rest of the day and ever since, my husband and I have periodically broken into jubilant singing of the song, The cat came back. We have texted it to each other back and forth throughout the days. Every time I lament over a hardship in our life, I respond, but it’s all ok because… to which my husband cries out, the cat came back! Literally, the very next day!

 

And then we start singing all over again.

 

Of late, I have made many wishes between my recent birthday and the tossing of many coins into myriad fountains on our trip to Rome. So far, the only wish to come true was one I made on a tiny, perfect blue-black feather that I found in the forest. It was and continues to be the most important wish because it was, after all, a wish for life.

 

It seems so rare to have happy endings such as this. We see many animal missing posters around our little community and wonder if they are ever reunited with their human families. I was so happy to take down one of the missing Elio posters, leaving an empty canvas for graffiti on the side of the mailbox, and post the flyer proudly on my fridge as a happy reminder that this ending is not only happy; it is also a beginning.

 

Huzzah!

 


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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.


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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?