The Greatest Gift

If I had a blog, today I would write about the greatest gift a human can receive.

Miranda

Miranda

Not long ago, I thought I was out of the Crazy Cat Lady business for good. Last November, when my puppy, Gus, fractured his shoulder, I gave my two house cats to a friend, leaving me with one barn cat, Miranda. Miranda is thirteen years old and while she’s friendly, she prefers to send her love from a distance rather than be cuddled or petted.

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Francie

 

Then, sometime in May, Francie showed up. She was thin and her long hair was matted and tangled. She wasn’t afraid of me, but not tame enough to groom. I fed her every day in hopes I could eventually catch her and get her to the vet. I was sure she was a female and the last thing I wanted was a barn full of feral kittens.

 

 

As our rapport grew, I began to miss the quiet presence of my house cats. I didn’t regret giving them up, but the Crazy Cat Lady in me had a longing she couldn’t quite shake. That’s when I had the dream:

About two weeks ago, I had a dream where I was in the presence of lions, tigers, leopards, and cheetahs. I was on the Serengeti in a Land Rover watching a female lion when my transport changed to something more like a dune buggy without doors. The lion kept following me and tried to get in my vehicle. I had to floor the gas to get to my compound, where I would be safe. It was a close call, but I zoomed through the gates just in the nick of time.

As I always do, I looked up the symbols in my dream to see what meaning they might have. I looked up lions et al and gleaned the following:

To see a cat in your dreams is to highlight your independent spirit, creativity and power. Take note of what the cat is doing and perhaps find ways to emulate what it is trying to show you about yourself. Fearing the cat is in essence the fear of your own power. The cat beckons us to realize that when we turn within to our own hearts, minds and souls, and trust in ourselves we will always be shown the truth of matters.

The dream resonated where I was having struggles expressing my artistic talent. I wasn’t afraid of the gift, just of using it. If I listened to my heart, though, I would forge on and trust that I needed to stay with my art: My writing, painting, and photography, taking firm hold of the belief that one day, my work would be a career. I also took heart in the feeling that one day, I would have cats in my life again. I just didn’t know it meant it would happen within twenty-four hours.

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Greystoke

The morning after my dream, I went out to feed Miranda and Francie and I saw another feline slipping into the Cat Room. I hoped it wasn’t a male, come to meet Francie’s feminine needs, but when I looked in, I saw the interloper was a big, black-and-white kitten and his three siblings: A calico, a silver tabby, and a grey kitten with a white nose. Francie had pulled a fast one.

 

The best I can figure, Francie had been at the barn for longer than I knew and she’d had her kittens right under my nose. Being a good mother, she kept her babies hidden until they were up and going on their own and now, eight weeks later, she was ready to introduce them to the world.

Naturally, all my negative thoughts about feral kittens vanished at the sight of Francie’s brood. They were utterly terrified of me, of course, but I didn’t want them gone, I wanted to make them my friends and the socializing began.

Every morning I go to the barn, set out five dishes of loud-smelling canned cat food, sit on the floor of the Cat Room and wait. Some mornings all four kittens come out from behind the vet cabinet and sometimes they creep in one at a time. I can tell their fear is giving away to curiosity, most of which I attribute to their mom.

Francie has been a doll. After she eats, she comes over to me to be caressed and brushed. Yesterday, the grey kitten (Greystoke) followed Francie and came within a foot of me. This morning, after Francie came over for loving, she headed out and left the kittens alone with me. At first they looked askance at me, but then they relaxed into eating, grooming, and playing. I am hoping they will let me take their photo in the near future, but for now, they prefer to remain incognito.

For me, there is nothing more rewarding than earning the trust of an animal. We don’t speak the same language, in most cases I am a giant in their world, and I come from a predator species. In short, there is no reason these kittens should trust me. If I can project the empathy and compassion I have for them without human devices like speech, it tells me I am the kind of person I want to be. If my being radiates love, then I am a success, worthy of the greatest gift in the world.

 

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Walking With Giants

If I had a blog, today I would write about my friend, Big Bluestem.

09032013_180602 WebI call big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi) my friend because it has been part of my life for over twenty years. Big bluestem is a native grass of the tallgrass prairie, a vast domain of largely treeless expanse that, before the coming of the white man, dipped down out of southern Canada, expanded to over 600 miles in width across the Midwest, and ran for more than a thousand miles towards the Gulf of Mexico.

Here in the Missouri Ozarks, we touch the boundary of the prairie that extended, and broadened, as it went north. Plants native to the tallgrass prairie grew here, though not in the lush abundance found to our north and east. To honor the sea of grass that once touched The Greenwood, we planted grasses and wildflowers common to the tallgrass prairie here on our farm and big bluestem is the first of the grasses to bridge the gap from summer to fall.

09212013_070226 webGrowing up to nine feet high, big bluestem was a wonder to the first settlers. In his book Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie, author Joan Madsen writes “[big bluestem] was a marvel to the early settlers who plunged into it and left accounts of big bluestem so tall that it could be tied in knots across the pommel of a saddle.” I see these slender sentinels as the guardians of my homeplace, keeping watch over the long gravel lane that connects our farm to the outside world.

In August, big bluestem begins to go to seed and as it opens, reveals a three-branched seed head that has given rise to another name, “Turkey Foot.” Its unmistakable silhouette tells me fall is near.

10282011_155806 (1) webI am not the only one to await the ripening of big bluestem. From late September until November, the seed-heads are an endless bounty to sparrows, juncos, and a host of migrating birds who rely on the nutritious seeds to fuel their winter stores of fat. Driving along the lane on a fine autumn afternoon, the giant grasses are bent to the ground under the weight of feeding birds. The continual rise and fall of the stems makes it appear as though the plants are moving under their own power, bowing to the mellow sun.

09202013_181510 webThis year, the big bluestem began to open on July 31st. It will take some time for the seeds to cure, but already the sparrows are gathering, testing the crop to measure the breadth of the harvest to come.It is a welcome sign that summer’s reign cannot last and the time of harvest, then rest will come.

There are only a few tallgrass prairies left today. Most fell to the settler’s plow over a century ago, so I am proud to know the big bluestem, so see them dance, as Wallace Stegner wrote: “in the grassy, green, exciting wind, with the smell of distance in it.” I walk among giants as my forbears did and dream of what lies just out of sight, oven the next wave of green.

Bees

If I had a blog, today I would write about the coming of the honey bees.

080116_2132This summer we have new visitors at our hummingbird feeders: Honey bees. While we could buy hummy feeders with bee-guards to keep the little guys at bay, their urgent need has prompted us to make room for them at the table.

In past years, we’ve had problem with wasps taking over the hummingbird feeders. Wasps are aggressive and disinclined to share. They will drive hummys away if possible and if their threats go unheeded, they will even attack the little birds to drive them away. Not so with bees.

080116_2105On any given day this summer, you will find the holes around the feeders ringed with bees; six or seven per feeding area, but instead of jealously guarding their bounty, they are more than happy to share with the hummingbirds, letting them sip at will in the center of the ring of bees.

The bees are gentle with us too. When the feeder is empty, Mom and I have only to gently brush the bees away. They go without quarrel and return without malice, sometimes landing softly on our hands as we hand the feeder on its silver hook.

We don’t know where the bees came from. Perhaps they are a swarm that left an overcrowded farmstead hive along our road or maybe they have come from a long distance, finding solace in our little valley. From wherever they arrived, The Greenwood is now home and we are honored to host their banquet.

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In a world where hatred seems to be the dominant force, I am glad to see cooperation, kindness, and gentleness right out my back door.

                          Poet Kahil Gibran wrote:”For bees, the flower is the fountain of life;                For flowers, the bee is the messenger of love.”

This year they are our messengers of love as well. I love you little bees.