Soul Searching

Excerpt From Jane's World

The poet William Blake said, “For every thing that lives is holy,” and his words play over and over in my mind—every day, but especially today.

It’s May Day, and it’s been spitting rain all day. The clouds hover low, making it hard to distinguish morning from evening. This is the kind of day when I give silent thanks for my good fortune of having electricity. I’ve turned on the lights in the living room, hoping to inject some energy into Benny and Joon, the parakeets, whose lives seem to revolve around darkness and light. Put a cover over their cage and they go silent. Take the cover off and they chirp, squawk, interact, and play endlessly with their toys. 

I’m home from work, ill, and have been on the couch most of the day, a rare thing to happen any day for me. Farley the cat is pressing himself against my chest. Before he settles there, his front paws alternately reach out toward my chin. The motion reminds me of kneading bread dough. With every reach he seems to sink further into me. I find his purring soothing as its hum vibrates through my body.

Finn is under the blanket, sandwiched between me and the couch, pressed tightly next to the curve of my waist. How he can stay there, so still, except for occasional moans of contentment, is beyond me. I had always thought little dogs were constantly active. Not Finn. Finn is a master sloth. He’ll run with wild abandon in the woods with the rest of his pack, but at home he doesn’t move. Not even an inch, which can make repositioning myself challenging. Finn is a warm, lovable brick.

Raime, my hypervigilant border collie, is on the floor with his head shoved as close to me as it can get. Instinctively, as I pet him, my fingers search for ticks. I don’t even need to look, and with one quick twist I’ve detached a swollen one. I reach over to my empty tea cup and drop it in. I find another and repeat. Raime settles on the floor when I stop.

Benny and Joon have come alive with the artificial light and are busily sinking baskets on their miniature hoop-and-ball toy. They play loudly. When they first arrived here, a gift from a friend who could no longer keep them because of health problems, they were so noisy I didn’t think I’d ever be able to focus again. But as I began to watch them interact with each other and their toys, the noise became a non-issue. Now it’s when they’re quiet that I can’t focus.

I’m using this unusual gift of time to read Sy Montgomery’s book The Soul of an Octopus. Sy is one of my favorite authors. She combines science with heartbreaking humanness that fools me into thinking I can feel her books breathe. Although it’s difficult to hold the book around Farley’s slack body, I’m engrossed. I find myself smiling, nodding in agreement, and crying.

I do not find it astonishing that the octopuses Sy befriends have different personalities, nor that they enjoy interacting with their human keepers, are playful, can get moody and be depressed, can solve the puzzle of unlocking a small chest to get a crab treat, are master escape artists, and lovingly care for their eggs. 

I reread the section that talks about hormones and neurotransmitters, chemicals attached to love, fear, sadness, joy, and human desire. Montgomery’s book goes on to explain, “This means that whether you’re a person or a monkey, a bird or a turtle, an octopus or a clam, the physiological changes that accompany our deepest-felt emotions appear to be the same. Even a brainless scallop’s little heart beats faster when the mollusk is approached by a predator, just like yours or mine would do were we accosted by a mugger.”

Living the way I have chosen—surrounded by animals, and choosing to spend much of my free time in the woods, renewing my energy with the earth’s energy—it’s no surprise to me that a scallop can react in fear. Over the years, I’ve observed fear in my animals. Once the hard, gut-wrenching decision is made to put a beloved pet to sleep rather them watch them suffer, they know. It’s the hardest part about being a pet owner and also the most loving, unselfish act I can think of. 

I set my book aside and fall into a deep, much-needed sleep, giving my body a chance to recover from being ill. When I wake, Dane is by my side, telling me he has bad news. Blackie, the last of the first runner ducks that came to live with me over seven years ago, has passed on.

I’m shocked, though I shouldn’t be. Blackie was old, had a limp, and needed gentle reminders to come into the duck hall at twilight. Just last week, I was thinking about the craziness of me being almost 60 years old and hopping from rock to rock in the creek, eventually getting both feet wet as I tried to persuade Blackie to get out of the water and get to bed where she could sleep safely in the duck hall. As the days became longer this spring, Blackie spent more time floating in the water and napping in the grass than she did finding bugs to eat.

In pajamas now, groggy from not feeling well and just waking up, I ask Dane to please bring her to me as I try to wrap my head around the fact that I’ll never see Blackie out my bay window again. I’d always be searching for her, and whenever I spied her black-and-white body curled up by the pen, under her bush, or next to the creek, I’d relax. I wanted to see Blackie once more. I wanted to hold her and give her old, sweet soul the respect she deserved.

A short while later, as I set Blackie’s cold body down, Farley and Téte both come over to smell her. Death, after all, is part of life and is a universal thread that ties us all together, whether we have fins, feathers, fur, or skin. With a heavy heart I go back to the couch, back to letting my body heal while thinking of all the souls my house and yard encompass. I'm thankful that Blackie appears to have died peacefully while sleeping next to the pen.

Dane wraps Blackie in a blanket and places her in the snake shed, because the ground is too muddy now to bury her properly. Many times over the years, one of my furry or feathered friends has spent the winter in the shed until the ground thawed enough to make burial possible.

Like Blake, I believe that all things are holy. I fall asleep thinking if we would all just agree on this one principle, maybe our world would start to heal.

* Today Jane shared the full story. Please consider a $30 annual subscription to Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout. or wait for my next book!

Originally Published May 18th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout