It Is Time

The little, rescued mouse,
Who licked my hand
And burrowed between my fingers,
In dying,
Finally gave us the courage
To bury the ashes of the dogs
We lost more than six years ago.
 
One went under a pear tree,
The other a peach,
And the little mouse under an apple.
 
How sad the loss of what might have been
For one so young and innocent.
How devastating the loss of those so loved
Which we could never fully let go.
 
It is time.
It is time.
 
One small heartbreak
Cracked open our hearts to grief,
Reopened our wounds from loss.
We gently touched the hurt places,
With tender fingers,
Finding fewer tears, less pain.
Finding they were ready to heal.
 
We were ready to accept the truth.
 
Every creature
Must return to the ground
(we cannot keep them)
Since it is the only way
They will grow again.
 
Every creature
Must be willing to let go
(however long it takes)
Since it is the only way
They will bloom again.
 
It is time.
It is time.

Saving Mr. Jingles

We found half of a mouse in the basement the other day. The back half. Not sure where the other half is, but I assume it’s in the belly of one of our cats.

We also found a whole mouse, cowering under my husband’s bass drum, a cat on either side of it–one all white and fluffy, one black and sleek–watching it intensely.

My husband pulled the mouse out and brought it upstairs. “What do we do with this?” he asked, motioning to the mouse sitting patiently in his hand. It was just a baby, fully furred, yet unstable on its feet, eyes slightly open, mouth suckling the air. It quivered uncontrollably. Undoubtedly, it had seen its sibling get bitten in half by a giant beast. We were torn.

At first we put him out in the woodpile, finding a sizable notch in a piece of wood and wrapping him in a garden glove. We dropped some flax seeds around him for nourishment. He nestled in and we left him there, hoping he would survive.

As darkness fell an hour later, we began to question our decision. Did we just sentence this little creature to death? Surely he’d freeze in the night; it would get down to fifty degrees overnight. Plus, there are stray cats out there all the time. Could he even eat solid foods yet?

My husband went out to check on him and came back twenty minutes later. “His name is Mr. Jingles,” he said, matter-of-factly. Of course it is, I thought, since he’s Stephen King’s #1 fan. Well, on second thought, he’s his #2 fan…

Once he had a name, we had no choice but to bring him in. We decided to keep him warm overnight, then free him to the wild when it was warmer. So, we poked holes in a shoebox and lined it with a piece of a fleece blanket. I made a concoction of half and half and warm water for him to drink. The internet said to feed him powdered kitten milk, but we didn’t know where to find something like that. (Was someone out there milking cats?) It was nine at night and we used what he had. He drank it, slowly, from an eye-dropper. After a few drops he quivered and we thought he was dying, but he didn’t. He climbed around the blanket, buried his nose into a fold and nestled in. He slept in our bedroom that night next to the heater.

Maybe we were crazy. Maybe we should have let nature take its course. But, we’re part of nature too, aren’t we? And, in a way, didn’t he have more of a right to live in our house than us? I mean, he has BORN here! (I know, I’m stretching it there…)

The next day he spent in the garage while we were at work. That evening we fed him by putting drops into our hand and he lapped them up. It worked so much better than the eye-dropper. He eagerly crawled into our hands when he sensed us near–his dexterous, gripping toes clinging for dear life as he climbed our fingers. As he walked more, he built strength and balance in those wobbly little limbs. The next few days were cold, so he became a full-time house dweller.

I’ll admit that after three days I felt a bit like a crazy person taking care of this little guy, but I figured I was doing it because we have four month old dachshund puppy and I have some ‘mother’s milk’ running through my body. The innocence is all too familiar; the trust too sweet. Or is it more than that?

I think the moment we knew we’d protect him and try to save him was when I ran a finger along his head and under his chin and he closed his eyes and stretched out his neck. He loved to be touched, to be pet, like one of our dogs or cats. He wasn’t ‘vermin,’ as some people would say. He was a scared, little creature asking for safety and comfort in a big world after he’d lost his family.

How could we refuse?

————————————–

I wrote the first half of this a few days ago, and really thought we were going to save Mr. Jingles. I had visions of creating a little home for him in our house, or letting him free in the garage, where he would come out and visit us when we were working on projects out there. (I probably watched too many Disney movies as a child…)

Last night he snuggled up in my hand for a while, then I lay him on my shirt as we watched a movie. He was fine until his back legs spasmed. Then his whole body spasmed. I tried to get him to eat, but he wouldn’t. He started gasping every few seconds, sucking in air. We each held him for a few minutes until he passed. We hoped he wasn’t in pain, but it was quick, and he wasn’t alone.

We thought he was going to make it. And we had been ready to take on the responsibilities. We were feeding him numerous times a day, making sure he was pooping (he did so…in my hand, often…) and we kept him warm. But, it wasn’t enough.

We only had him for four days, but he became a part of our family, however briefly. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears when he died, and I went to bed sad, and a little shocked, with no shoebox on the floor next to the heater.

We knew the odds were against us, but we tried. I’m glad we tried. I hope he is too.

I know this happens all the time–people try to save birds, squirrels, chipmunks and other animals who are orphaned or injured. But why? Is it just instinct to care for those who are helpless? Or do we have so much love inside of us that we can give, and give, and give and never be empty?

I hope so. That’s a nice thought.

We did love that little guy; he had personality. 

We’ll bury him in the backyard under a fruit tree. And we will remember Mr. Jingles.

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The Apple Tree Whispers

The apple tree in my backyard has not been well cared for. It is diseased and weak, and when overburdened with apples, branches often come crashing down. The apples are no good to eat.

I can only assume that in the years before we bought this house and moved in, no one took the time to trim the tree, to care for it properly. No one attempted to stop the spreading black fungus which crept along, year after year, eventually covering many of the larger branches. No one tried to halt the invasion of boring insects.

It won’t survive for many more years, this old apple tree, but we’ve done our best to save it by fertilizing and watering it often, applying treatments to heal its ailments, and trimming it back in the spring and fall.

This apple tree will be appreciated in its final years, for I believe there are many lessons to be learned from it. On quiet days, the tree whispers to me with the wisdom of an elder.

I look out over my backyard as I write, towards Lake Superior and this craggy apple tree. It resembles a bonsai tree, with a Zen quality that can only be attained through time. It is still beautiful in its old age, and in the darkest days of winter when the sun rises behind it, the creeping red over the lake horizon casts the tree in a celestial glow.

Clearly visible in that halo of light are the stumps where branches have been sawed off in the distant past, and long, spindly new shoots, jutting in every direction, which must have been hidden behind leaves and apples when we trimmed in the fall. We will cut most of them back in the spring. Those that are strong and straight we’ll leave, to balance the tree where a branch may have broken the year before. When a healthy shoot rises next to a sickly one, a choice will need to be made.

My life often feels like this tree, overburdened, with new shoots coming up every year. There is so much that requires my attention, my time, my life energy, that I must continuously try to determine what to keep and what to cut. If I don’t trim back some branches, I will get diseased and weak, like the apple tree. I cannot sustain them all.

Choices need to be made.

Some shoots fill in areas that are bare. They stretch toward the sun and even out the places where I am vulnerable. They make me whole. They are keepers.

Some shoots are harmful, unnecessary, demanding or negative. They need to be trimmed. Those are the easiest decisions to make.

At times I must cut away branches that I have nurtured and loved, though it hurts terribly to do so. When something has become so toxic that it causes distress, I know in the long run I will be healthier for it. Sometimes a part of the branch remains as a reminder. In bonsai this is called jin, signifying that the tree has had to struggle to survive. How fitting.

When the saw makes the cut–back and forth, back and forth, back and forth–it is a long and tortuous, painful task. Often it’s better when the axe does the job. There’s an abrupt end with the axe, very finite, with little time to ponder or contemplate. The pain is quick and intense, then passes.

Other times the branch simply breaks, splits under the pressure with a resounding crack, and falls to the ground. Afterwards I feel lighter, never realizing until then how much that branch had been weighing me down. Unfortunately, the breaking usually leaves fragments, splintered remains, or pulls off more than it should, tearing away at the bark of the trunk. I have learned to remove those branches before they fall; they can do a lot of damage on the way down. Sometimes they break other branches on the way that I had intended to keep.

In the fall, trimming helps the tree to conserve its resources so it can survive the harsh winter.  After trimming in the spring, the apple tree blooms. It has more to give to the branches that remain, more energy to thrive. It stands taller, is less weighed down, more balanced. Healthier.

And really, isn’t life all about staying healthy and finding balance? How much can we handle? How much can we give? How much can we ask for? How much can we take? How much can this small bit of matter we inhabit actually accomplish in a lifetime?

With each trim and each new growth, my energy changes, what I have to give changes, and similar to the silhouette of the apple tree in the sunrise, the way I am perceived changes.

Looking out over that tree I have realized that there will always be new growth and letting go of the old. And it is good. It’s okay to accept that something doesn’t work in my life anymore. It is okay to move on, to leave behind that which is toxic, to let go of an old dream and create another, and to keep what I need for myself. Because in order for me to thrive and care for what I love, I must be also well cared for. I must be balanced and healthy before I can be fruitful.

“It’s up to you to choose what is important and worthy of your precious life energy. It is up to you to decide the things you need to let go. It’s up to you to be bold and keep only that which will help you grow healthier, find balance, and become a beautiful, craggy tree in your own way, with your roots firmly planted in the Earth, and your branches dancing in the wind, joyously reaching for the sky.”

That is what the old apple tree whispers to me.

 

Noseprints

If you are a pet owner, you know about nose prints.

They show up on your patio doors, windows, windshield — anywhere your pet decides it’s interesting to watch the world outside. When you have more than one pet, you can tell whose nose prints are whose by how high they are off the floor. Sometimes they’re wet and smudgy, so you know there’s been a lot of snorting and barking going on, and other times they are perfect impressions, like the heart-shaped nose prints the cat leaves on the bay window.

I’ve tried to keep up with cleaning nose prints, but as soon as I wipe them away, they’re back. Sometimes I forget about them, or don’t notice them until a whole strip of window is covered and I think, ‘didn’t I just clean that?’ It seemed to be a never-ending battle, then…

A few years ago, we lost both of our dogs in a short span of time. The first dog, Adora, was sixteen and had been our ball dog, always wanting to fetch, always carrying a ball around the house. She would catch balls bounced off the garage roof, swim after them in the lake, and dig through the snow to find them. Because of her, we went outside every day, rain, shine, or snow. She was an Australian Shepard mix, and though her name was Adora, we mostly called her Ora, Dee Dee, or by her rapper name, Doggie-D.

Our other dog, Jackson, was a black lab/shepherd mix who took off hats, no matter what kind. When someone came over with baseball hat, a winter cap, anything, he would gingerly step his front paws into their lap, gently take off the hat, then hand it back to the owner with a big wag of his tail.

If you rubbed the side of Jackson’s face, just along the whiskers, he made a snarly face like Elvis. He also barked at the bust of Elvis our friends had at their house, so we called him the Elvis-spotting dog. We also called him Bilbo Beggins, Mookie Bobo, The Black Panter and many, many more.

Jackson died somewhat quickly of kidney failure at only nine years old. He’d been losing weight, but since we’d just lost Adora we didn’t realize he was sick. We just thought he was sad; that he missed her. She’d been there since the day we brought him home from the animal shelter at ten weeks old.

We gave him water infusions under the skin. We gave him medicine. He threw up a lot. The fur on his face turned gray. We did our best to save him, but in a short amount of time he faded away.

After he was gone, whenever I would sit in the living room I would see those nose prints on the patio door. He would never make another. He would never ask to go out again. He would never press his nose up against that door, transfixed, watching the fat squirrels run across the top of the fence in the back yard.

Never.

For months I couldn’t bring myself to wash them off, and neither could my husband. I would run my fingers across them and think to myself that I would wash nose prints off windows all day long just to have him back. All day and all night.

I look at everything I love from that perspective now. All things we love leave nose prints.

I love where I live but the winters are so darn long and cold — nose print. My husband is amazing, but never fills the ice cube trays — nose print. He lets it go that I leave my socks all over the house, just like those pesky nose prints.

We need to learn to let the small things go, because in the great scheme of things, it isn’t what really matters. What matters is that we love what we love while we have the chance. Everything else is just nose prints.

For a long time after losing our dogs, the thought of getting another dog made us feel miserable and guilty. No dog would be able to compare. We would never love another dog like we had loved those two.

I still think that’s true, no one will ever love two pets the same way; because no two pets are the same.

And by loving them we are not the same.

When we decided to get another dog, we needed something different, so we found someone who had a litter of ‘oops’ puppies, and brought home a four pound mini-dachshund. Then we began another journey with another set of nose prints, this time much daintier and much closer to the floor.

After many months I finally wiped those tall nose prints off the patio door.

They returned in full force a year later, when we rescued another mini-dachshund, Frank, who was two years old. He’s a bit taller than Penny, so now we have two parallel nose print lines across the bottom of the patio door, one a slight bit higher than the other.

And I can’t express how much I love seeing them there.