So this is what having just one pet in the house is like, huh? Weird.

                       

                                      

      I hail from a Norman Rockwell painting sprung to life. Tucked away on the back roads of Western New York, it’s the type of place movie scouts prowl for, to perfectly capture a bygone era, since proclaimed all but extinct. I was always a tie-dyed sheep in that place. They were never quite sure what to think of me, and didn’t seem at all surprised to see me go. Home isn’t always the place of your birth though, I’ve learned. I was itching to wander anyway, so that suited me just fine.

     I’ve always been pretty clueless when it comes to having friends of the human variety. The four words “we should hang out,” despite my best attempts to the contrary, usually invoke terror in my soul. (This, unbeknownst to whomever it is that I’m talking to, and a reaction I’d happily relinquish.) That’s been the case with me forever, with occasional exceptions- those friends who, for whatever reason, have just stuck like glue- that happens sometimes, too.

     The self-imposed solitude I grew to love as a wild child, seems to be the rule though, and is what makes me who I am, I suppose. While my classmates were busy doing whatever it is that kids do, I could usually be found in my darkroom developing film, or off in the woods somewhere, reading Thoreau and practicing any number of feeble teenage attempts at self-sufficiency from books.My favorite haunts were the public library, and any open spaces I could manage to find that were peopleless. I dabbled in herbalism, taxidermy, orienteering, tracking, astronomy, building, winemaking, textiles…I was a backwoods alchemist and wanderer by day, photographer by night, and in between I devoured books and tried my damndest to blend into the indescribable awkwardness that was high school.

    I did run with a handful of my fellow weirdos on occasion, all of whom I’m still close to today. (Thanks, guys.) But in large part, I was painfully shy and most of my peculiar quests were solo --at least where humans were concerned.

     My animal friends though, now they were a different story. Those born with fur and feathers have been some of my best teachers and closest friends. I’ve always found it strange ( just foreign to me, really) when people have just one cat, or one dog, or a fish, maybe, in a bowl. Weirder still, no pets at all . Ever since I can remember, when I first visit someone’s house, I scan the room for two things: Their bookshelves and their pets.

     The house I grew up in was home to an odd menagerie of inhabitants, always. Aside from our two dogs and a revolving door of cats both tame and feral, we had quite the legion of rodents through the years (guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, mice), parakeets and finches and a house sparrow (who I brought home dying and still featherless, and who went on to live with us until he was thirteen.) We had tanks of fish and crayfish, snails and frogs and lizards, and sometimes sickly or abandoned orphans that my mother, a nurse, would coax back to health and release, given the best case scenario-- birds, mostly. It got to where people would just bring them to her sometimes, knowing she would help them. She always did.

     It was obvious which of them I’d been given the honor of naming. Among them, Pythagoras, my beloved white rabbit. She had a litter box and the run of the house and was sure she was a cat. Zeus, my mammoth tiger cat, was a most gentle fella, and my personal bodyguard and shadow. Yoko, was a six foot ball python I’d inherited from my cousin. Her house was an old gutted console T.V. I’d often carry her around town draped around my neck, invoking either curiosity or horror in passersby.

     Yep, along with my mama and brother, these were my housemates. That’s not taking into consideration all of the wild animals who somehow got word of our place, and showed up in our backyard to see for themselves. Norman Rockwell town was too small for a zoo, but it had our house, and that was the next best thing. 

     I left that little town and the family zoo the day after graduating from high school. I bid farewell to everyone, and headed on down the road to the fabled lands west of the Mississippi. My travel companions were my then boyfriend/now husband, his ornery but determined VW van, our dog Turtle, cat Jerry, and last but not least,Yoko the python, soaking up the June sun sprawled across the dash.

     Over the years, we too, have cohabited with our fair share of creatures who’d each hopped on the bus somewhere along the way.We’ve done lots of wandering over the years, and our animals have always gone with us, (all but our honey bees and chickens, anyway.)

     At one point in the story, we shared our seventeen foot RV with our two dogs and three cats for almost four years, (another story for another time...)Our vendor friends were always curious as to who we’d brought along from year to year, and would poke their heads in the door of our little gypsy wagon as we set up to vend away the winter months in warmer climes. Our neighbors in Durango would smile and nod when all seven of us would go out for walks, the three cats single file- bringing up the rear behind us and the dogs leading the way. They always kind of amazed us too, falling into step and never dawdling-not wanting to be left behind. We were a tight little pack. An odd lot of intrepid travelers, out to see the world. 

     I started writing this today, because I realized that it’s the first day that I can ever remember, that I’ve been living with only one cat, and it feels really strange- somewhat akin to what empty nester parents must experience, I imagine, or the closest I’ll ever come to it, anyway. It’s weird. Old age caught up with our two dogs at different times earlier this year and our oldest, feistiest feline yesterday, leaving only Mr. Wendell to hold down the fort (along with a motley flock of chickens.)

     Wendell is a beautiful boy. A blue-eyed ragdoll cat who looks enormous, but is really mostly fur. He’s my Andre the Giant- a mouser he’s never claimed to be, but that’s okay, he’s a sweetheart. He’s sleeping in the sunshine contentedly at the moment and another winter’s day is beginning to take shape. I suspect we’ll stumble across a wayward pup or mewing kitten again sometime in the not-too-distant future, and he and mystery furrball will become fast friends, no doubt. We seem to be an adaptable lot. I’m grateful to them all.

3 comments

  • Keena, you are the most amazing person I met, while living in Durango. I’m so happy our paths crossed, if only for a short while. I so enjoyed reading your story tonight, and I love how you shared your path from where you were at one time, to where you are now.

    Cary
  • I enjoyed this so much and can really relate. Coming to the shop on Saturday and bringing a friend. She will love it too.

    Teri
  • Keena, this is such a beautiful expression of who you are. Thank you for sharing this. I find myself responding to people who ask where ya been or I haven’t heard from you, “Yeah, I’m a bit of a recluse”! Your writing reminds me to always accept who I am with no apologies.

    Judy Siekerk

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