Thursday, February 28, 2019

Unfathomable Mysteries of the Cavalier Mind

Bisou has a new friend, a big, blond Cavalier fellow named L***.Whenever they see each other, they fall into each other's arms, like Tristan and Isolde after drinking the magic wine. But unlike T&I, the love scene doesn't last long, and they each quickly return to their private obsessions, Bisou with her ball and L*** with squirrels.

The latter didn't manifest until L***'s owner brought him over for a play date with Bisou. At first all went as usual: joyous greeting followed by racing around the cottage looking for the cat Telemann. Unfortunately our sun room's sliding glass doors give directly into the backyard, which functions as the village square for the local squirrels, who come in search of spilled bird seed, water from the bird bath, and the society of other squirrels. The minute L*** saw a squirrel at the bird bath, he stuck his nose to the glass, eyes bulging, tail wagging, shivering with excitement, and there was nothing any of us could do to distract him.

"This is so weird," his owner said. "At home he never watches the squirrels, but it's probably because there is a screened-in porch between our glass door and the backyard."

After a few more play dates during which even Bisou gave up trying to lure L*** away from his obsession, we reasoned that if we gathered at L***'s house he would be able to concentrate on playing with his friend. Our arrival chez L*** elicited from both dogs the usual yelps of ecstasy, frantic circling and thoughtful mutual sniffing. L***'s owner brought out a selection of balls and squeaky toys that immediately got Bisou's attention.

But where was L***?

L*** was at his sliding door, nose pressed to the glass, looking for the squirrels that he assumed followed Bisou wherever she went. "Bisou is here," he reasoned. "Therefore, there must be squirrels."

So certain was he of this that, again, it was impossible to distract him. He did chase a couple of balls, but his heart wasn't in it. His heart was with the invisible but nevertheless very real entourage of squirrels that accompanied Bisou like rodent paparazzi.



Compared to other dogs I've known, Cavaliers often strike me as a little odd, albeit in the nicest possible way. I've heard of some that have to be kept indoors in the summer so they won't exhaust themselves chasing butterflies. In her youth, Bisou was obsessed with the frogs that lived in the pond behind our previous house. Not that she wanted to bite them, God forbid. But she delighted in bopping them with her nose so that they would jump into the water with that satisfying plop. Half the time it was Bisou who ended up in the water, but that did not dissuade her, and if we hadn't moved away, I'm sure she'd still be hanging out by the pond, hoping for frogs to bop.

Sometimes when I ask her to sit, or to come to me, she looks at me with a strange, not unfriendly look that seems to say, "Have we met before?" And that's when I'm reminded that she's not a little red person with a tail, but a dog, and that most mysterious and quirky of dogs, a Cavalier.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Life's Too Short

I was scrubbing away at my once-white sofa with one of those magic eraser thingies the other day when I suddenly stopped in mid-stroke. Life's too short to be doing this, I thought. Who cares if my sofa is white, or just white-ish?

I put away the eraser and sat down to hem some pants. I am an excellent pants hemmer, at least at first. Look at those tiny, barely visible stitches, I say to myself. Sister Dorothy would approve! But it doesn't last. By the time I'm a quarter of the way through the first leg, my stitches grow imperceptibly longer. When I get to leg #2 I can barely restrain my impatience. How much longer is this going to take? Life's too short! I bite off the final thread, and see that my stitches would appall Sister Dorothy.

Then there's ironing. Life is surely too short for that. I own an iron, and an ironing board, but years go by without my disturbing their repose.  This despite the fact that I don't really hate ironing, and I wear lots of linen in the summer. But ironing, especially ironing linen, is the ultimate Sisyphean task. There is nothing I like better than a pair of well-ironed linen pants--until, that is, I sit down and when I stand up  my legs look like they are encased in those pleated paper lanterns. So I wear my linen wrinkled, and try not to look in the mirror.

When we moved to our cottage after the Grand Downsizing four years ago, I put  the few items that had survived the purge--half a dozen pottery salad bowls, some crystal, a silver champagne bucket, and a couple of wooden spoons carved by me-- in my glass-fronted china cabinet and closed the door. The other day, I went in to get a brandy snifter and saw that the base had left a dark circle on the shelf. Somehow dust has been getting into the cabinet! I should take everything out, dust the shelves, wipe each glass and dish and spoon, and put them back. Is life too short for that?

Then there's the silver, which now that we're in our golden years I insist on using every day, but it has to be polished every few months...

Remember that weird Zen saying: "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water"? Whoever first said it did not think that life was too short for these mundane tasks, but that in fact these tasks were life itself. If you are truly enlightened you perform them with all the care and attention of which you are capable, every single time. The saying reminds me of Saint Benedict's advice to the monk in charge of washing dishes to treat them with the same reverence as he would the vessels of the altar.

I am not totally lacking in self-awareness, so often when I'm struggling with some tiny,  boring, repetitive task unworthy of my higher talents, I think about the potential satisfaction to be found in chopping wood, carrying water, washing dishes. And sometimes I do manage, for a couple of minutes, to banish thoughts of important stuff and focus on the next stitch or the next dish. But it doesn't last, of course, and I shouldn't attach to the idea of its lasting.

It's not easy, this Zen business, but once you come across it it's hard to ignore. What is life not too short for: producing masterpieces, ending wars, saving the earth? How many of us have the talent or the opportunity to do those things? I sure don't. But I can try to pay attention to the heft of the ax, the crack of the wood, the coolness of the water as it sloshes out of the pail. And when the last fork has been polished and the last clean dish put away, I will have truly lived another day.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Magpie Cat

These days, when you walk into my house, you are met with a barrage of warnings:
"Better hide that scarf inside your coat pocket, or the cat will play with the fringe."
"Let's put your boots in the closet so the cat won't chew the laces."
"Please do NOT leave your purse on the floor, or the cat will rummage in it."
In the past, I've neglected the purse warning, which is how we've ended up with:
#1 a tube of lip balm
#2 a felt zippered bag, containing ear buds
#3 a soft eyeglass case (empty)
#4 many tissues, some used, some not.

Whenever I bring something into the house, even if it's just a stack of mail, Telemann is on it like a flash: What is it? What are you doing with it? Can I have it? Not that I wasn't forewarned: at nine weeks old, when he saw me filling out the adoption form, he jumped on the page and tried to grab the pen out of my hand.

He'll be two years old this month, and he doesn't break as many things as he used to. Now he just appropriates them. In the night, when we are sleeping, he roams the house looking for interesting stuff--paper clips, small ornamental objects, the contents of unsecured wastebaskets--then plays hockey with his findings until they disappear under the furniture.

His favorite toy is a long "snake" of fuzzy fabric attached to a stick. I can get him to chase it and do air-borne pirouettes for a minute or two, but then he catches it, kills it, and, with his head held high, drags it into the mud room.

The mud room is his territory. Not only does it house the litter box, but the hot water pipes run under the floor, which remains toasty winter and summer. The mud room is also where, a year before we got Telemann, a mouse squeezed through the hole where the heating pipes come into the cottage. My spouse stuffed the space with crumpled chicken wire and we've had no more mice. But that doesn't deter Telemann from spending hours staring fixedly at the spot where that mouse once entered, hoping to add him to his pile of loot.

True, my magpie cat is a pain sometimes (often). But when he jumps purring into my lap, gives me a slow blink, and says, I'm the BEST thing that's ever happened to you, I am almost tempted to believe him.