Peace returns to the valley

A man and his cat

A man and his cat

In my house there is little difference between me and the cat. We sleep until noon, lazily arise, drink some milk and look out the kitchen window at the flurry of activity at the bird feeder in the backyard.

We walk through the various rooms, opening drapes and raising blinds. We look out the windows and watch the wind whip up and see the clouds roll over the sun.

We look at each other and our looks say, Well that’s enough for now. And back to bed we go.

It is raining now and we lie in bed (I lie in the bed, the cat on the bed) and listen to the drumming of rain on the roof. A good sound for the soul. I tell the cat that later I will read to her some more of Plato’s Dialogues and her eyes half close as though to say, Man, that is so dry, I prefer stuff like you read yesterday, The Mad Trapper of Rat River.

One fearless cat

The rain is a torrent now and the trees that surround the house thrash about. Tree limbs fall—CRASH! One lands on the roof of the house. The cat looks up but she is unperturbed. She is a fearless cat, unlike some cats who would hide under the bed if a tree branch crashed onto the roof. But not this cat.

I should have named her Beowulf, except she is a dame and Beowulf was the manliest of men. Not that it would have mattered since no one can tell the gender of a cat at casual glance and this cat of mine actually looks more like and has the demeanor of a manly cat, so from now on to hell with protocol, I’m going to call her Beowulf.

The excitement of the crashing tree branch has subsided and Beowulf  has reassumed a sleeping position. I slide further down into the bed. I am thinking about my wife, as I do every day but particularly this day, the day she left the earth, one year and eight months ago, her hand warm in mine, until it wasn’t and life slipped away and I’m still on the earth listening to the rain on the roof and coming closer to her every day.

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My own ‘space dancer!’

My Buddhist teacher is cloaked in mystery

I have never met her — yes, I do know her gender — or heard her voice. We correspond via email, an annoyingly modern means that seems inappropriate for such an ancient form of enlightenment. But as she would say, and in fact did say: It is what it is.

I am new to this game so I looked up a couple of things online, notably this: 

A female embodiment of enlightenment is called a dakini — the Tibetan word for which is khandro, meaning ‘sky-goer’ or ‘space-dancer,’ indicating that these women have left the confines of earth and inhabit the vastness of space.*

A sky-goer! A space-dancer! I’ll buy a ticket to that!

I emailed her the other day saying I was planning to move away from the house my wife and I shared until her death one year, seven months and six days ago. (But who’s counting?)

Ever since she died I have had hopes of finding something as simple and yet as difficult as peace of mind, but my mind is as besieged by ghosts and grief and guilt as it ever was. If I could have one wish it would be to have Beowulf leap into my brain and slay the demons inside. What’s the alternative, a bullet?


But failing both options, as I told my teacher, I’m going to get the hell out of this house and this town and try and put the demons behind me.

“Those smoked beef strips you sent me in your ‘care package’ will come in handy,” I wrote to her, “like the beef jerky that sustained the explorers and coureurs du bois of centuries past. (I’ve eaten the chocolates and the chocolate cookies and the hand-cooked potato chips.)”

The move, I told her, will finally take me away from this wretched house. I will walk away from it like Bashō setting out on ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North.’ Except I will drive away in my Jeep.


“Please,” she wrote back to me, “don’t drive off in a state of boredom and disappointment to seek new adventure. If you can’t find comfort at home in your own company, you won’t find comfort anywhere else you go — loneliness and emptiness will follow you everywhere. Ultimately nothing external (not even Beowulf) would be able to slay the demons. We have to accept whatever reality we are dealt with and make peace with it by ourselves.”

Clearly, good sound dakini advice, and advice that I will follow. I will stay put (after all, the house is fully furnished with memories) and keep plugging away at that elusive peace-of-mind thing.


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Beowulf the Cat

My cat Bella had a traumatic day at the vets on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve — poked and prodded, ear drops, rabies shot, a needle the size of a harpoon plunged into her backside, but she did not utter a cry or bat an eye. To paraphrase Seamus Heaney in line 11 of his translation of Beowulf, referring to the Danish warrior Shield Sheafson, That was one good cat.*

Bella was brave, as my Susan was brave in those last days in Intensive Care. So, on this New Year’s Eve, as firecrackers exploded outside, I had this crazy 80-proof idea that Bella is now Susan or Susan is now Bella, not sure which way it goes, but she, Bella/Susan is all I have left in this lowly bungalow on County Road 9 and so she becomes my life—(obviously an over-exaggerated and melodramatic way to put it, but prithee, dear reader, permit me)—as Susan was for thirty years, and since Susan has been gone, a year now, an endless gods-torture of loss, I hang onto Bella/Susan with a crazy kind of madness and hope.

She is one good cat. Henceforth, despite the gender difference, she is now my Beowulf.


* Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf begins thusly:
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. W
e have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes. This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.


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