Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Toolsheds & Spiritual Nexuses

Behind the tool shed was a treasure trove of good junk. An old mattress. A large wooden electrical-cable spool. An equally large metal cube-like thing (I never did figure out what it was) that Dad had picked up somewhere. A couple of down-on-their-luck pink plastic flamingos. Assorted boards and some defunct lawnmowers that he probably had plans for – after all, he’d once welded a metal vegetable-bin drawer to the base of another lawnmower, creating a curious but perfectly functional little cart.

It was, to my ten-year-old eyes, heaven. I could make a place of my very own there. And did.

The metal cube was already perched up on the spool. A board across the top bar, another board placed a little lower down on the opposite side – and voila! -- I had a look-out post, a desk, and whatever else I wanted it to be. It didn’t exactly qualify for tree-fort status; but with six people in our family, space was hard to come by, and this was all mine.

Eventually, of course, it all got carted away to the dump. That was O. K. because by then I was a little older. I needed something more in keeping with my 5th- and 6th-grade aspirations.

The toolshed.

My father had built it along with the house back in the late 1940s. It had a brick floor and two big windows on either side. The cats lived out there (Dad had cut a cat-sized doorway right next to the people-sized door), and I saw no reason why I couldn’t as well. I’d go there after school and play with the cats, imagining how I’d fix it up. The wide junk-strewn shelves would hold my books and treasures. There was already some furniture – my grandfather’s old dented milking stool and a disabled pot-bellied stove that Dad had gotten off an antiques-dealer friend – and I figured that I could somehow squeeze my bed, my desk (really an old-fashioned dressing-table that had belonged to Mom when she’d been my age), and bookcase in, too.

In the meantime, it was my place to hang out and dream in. Many years later, I read Mirabel Cecil’s book Lottie’s Cats to my own child. I’d come to the part where Lottie was sitting in  with her seven cats in their shed, reading stories to them, and I'd sigh happily, remembering my toolshed with the afternoon sun sifting in through its dusty cracked windows…the cats peering down at me from the rafters, the air thick with their purring….

In time, our cats gained indoor status, so I didn’t have to go out to the shed to play with them. There were other out-of-doors places where I went to read and write my stories. But I never outgrew my affection for the little brick-floored building – which, thanks to Dad’s cat door, still provided shelter for various strays, including my much-loved Tikvah (whose story I have already told in my book Catsong.)

Fast-forward about thirty years. Dad was dead, Mom had just gone into a convalescent home with advanced dementia, and I was a widow with a teenager. I knew that I didn’t want to live in my parents’ house again, but I also wasn’t quite ready to let go. So I decided to rent it out.

The old toolshed needed replacing. It, like Mom, had been falling apart for some time. The only part of it still intact was the brick floor that my father had put in. Jaysen, the guy handling the project, built the new shed on top of it. So something of Dad’s work remained, even though nobody could see it. I liked that.

But it wasn’t my toolshed. The magic was gone – from the shed, from the field, and from the house itself. Within the year, I sold the property.

We need our magic places. They heal and renew us. Author Frances Hodgson Burnett knew that all too well: she spent a lot of time writing in an English rose garden following a very messy, very scandalous divorce back in the early 1900s. The Secret Garden, the story of an unhappy child who brings a once-loved garden back to life, was written a few years later; but the idea for it came to her as she was working in that other garden, trying to put her own life back together.

People talk about spiritual nexuses, places that that are inherently powerful. Are there such places? I don’t doubt it. But I also believe that with places, as with rituals and relationships, it’s what we bring to them that makes them magical. At least that’s how it was with those hideaways of mine.

I drive by my mother’s house frequently. And sometimes I get kinda wistful as I glance at it. Paradise lost. But I have new places now, places where insights and stories come to me: my gardens on summer evenings; by the brook and the clearing where I love to walk in the mornings; and the little hillside by my old cat-buddy Zorro’s grave. You see, magic is a fluid thing, and it travels with us.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Writing from Grief

(From The Not-So-Way-Back Files -- The Best American Poetry blog, June 2014)

Many years ago, when Tim and I were first dating, I wrote a poem called “Dulcimer.” In it, I tried to capture how the “muted mauve&gray sky” of a winter’s afternoon, the dulcimer music on the radio, and our lovemaking all came together to create a beautiful outside-of-time moment.

Tim always liked that poem and not just because it was sexual. “That’s the way it really was,” he’d say.

We married and had a child, Zeke. We were not a picture-perfect couple by any stretch of the imagination, and we both had pretty good ones. But we got each other. He was my toughest critic and my fiercest supporter. “If I’ve done nothing else in my life,” he told me, “I’ve tried to be supportive of your writing….I believe you have what it takes to be a great writer.”

So, when he was killed in a car accident, I was lost and not just because I suddenly found myself a 34-year-old widow with a three-and-a-half-year-old child. My best friend, my cheering section, was gone. And for what seemed like a long time afterwards, I could not write. Then a poem came to me. It wasn’t a very good one. But it let me know that there was a survivor in the wreckage.

More poems began to appear. One of them was “The Wild Things”: it deals with the weeks after the tragedy and two “small good things” that happened, bringing me out of the fog….

One muggy afternoon, I walked listlessly out into the backyard. There, at the edge of Tim’s vegetable garden, stood a doe. I stopped. Time stopped. In that space, only the deer and I existed. I stared at her, and she returned my gaze without fear. Never had a deer – or any other wild animal, for that matter – looked at me like that. I felt oddly comforted despite my grief.

Not long afterwards, I was going out to the shed when a hummingbird flew by, drawn to the red bee balm alongside it. We’d never had hummingbirds before despite all the fancy feeders I’d hung to lure them into the yard. And, once again, the pain inside me loosened its hold for a bit.

Both deer and hummingbirds have a rep as messengers, symbolically speaking. Tim and I had both loved animals, birds, and just being out in nature. Among the many things he had given me over the years were a river otter sculpture, a book – America’s Favorite Backyard Wildlife – and a beaver-chewed stick that he’d picked up by the river, knowing that I’d like it. And once, during the holidays, I’d picked out a wildlife calendar for my mom to give him. He’d thanked her, then said, “I suspect Tammy had something to do with this.”

So, when the deer and the hummingbird appeared so soon after his death, I couldn’t help suspecting that Tim had something to do with it. That it was his way of letting me that he was O. K. Both creatures lifted my spirits – made me feel as though, yes, he was out there somewhere – and then they went into my poem.

Writing that poem – and the Tim poems that followed – gave me a way of processing all that grief that I didn’t know what to do with. But doing so also gave me a life-line. Slowly, I drew myself up out of the sad, dark place his death had sent me to.

I haven’t had a lot of contact with the other contributors to The Widows’ Handbook, but I get the sense that their poems have worked in much the same way for them. Patricia Savage speaks in “How Could I” of “turn[ing] toward the light, the children in the kitchen, bound to the care of the living, choosing alchemy to create cold sense out of the molten lead of your passing.” In “Wonderland,” Gail Braune Cormorat writes about being “shaken, transformed” and then “stepp[ing] through the door once again.”

Because it is a transformation, a going through the looking-glass into a world where nothing makes sense. And we use – we need -- the alchemy of poetry to make something transcendent out of our wanderings there. That is what characterizes the poems in The Widows’ Handbook for me and why it’s ultimately an inspiring and not a depressing book.

The landscape of grief is an ever-shifting one, and no two people experience it quite the same way. Those moments out in the yard – the doe greeting me from the garden, the hummingbird whirring about like a tiny jeweled miracle in a world gone gray – have stayed with me. At a time when I hurt too much to cry, they were a connection with Tim and more. They took me out of myself and brought a kind of healing with them.

When I read “The Wild Things” now, I find that I tend to skip over the opening, which deals with Tim’s death. Instead, I focus on that last section…on the deer, the hummingbird, and the messages they brought me. On the gifts that came to me when my hands felt hopelessly empty. I read those lines, and it all comes back to me in a rush. Because that’s the way it really was.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Touch of Magic: Mette Meyer

                                   “Expression is everything to me.”
                                                                        -- Mette Meyer

Mette Meyer loves all animals. Growing up, she was more of a dog person: her first pet was a Newfoundland, who left her “with a love for gentle giants.” After that, the artist imported some of the first Leonbergers -- Mountain Dogs that are a cross between a Barry Dog, a Landseer Newfoundland, and a Great Pyrenees -- from Germany to her home in Norway. She even had a kennel prefix and bred several litters. 

When the last of her Leonbergers died of old age, Meyer took a break and began traveling around the world. But the animals weren’t done with her. Somewhere a cat was waiting…and in 1998, a simple unpretentious moggy came into her life and made all the difference, opening her up to a love of all things feline. Ten years later, she got her first purebred, a Ragdoll named Brutus; he was followed by Charlie and Bounty, two silver-shaded or black-tipped British Shorthairs. “I do not breed,” she says. “They are pets only, but I love shows. All the boys have done well at shows.”

Somewhere along the way, Meyer’s love of animals merged with her art. Two-and-a-half years ago, she began doing portraits of them, using photos as a basis for her work. “It started as a hobby, as an experiment,” she recalls. The hobby soon became a passion, and she began doing commissioned portraits, “making all the personalized backgrounds and layers.” The resulting portraits are both very life-like and very soft and impressionistic. They look as though they’ve been painted by hand.

“I have not been influenced by anyone, not copied anyone,” Meyer tells me. “Whatever I have made is home-made. However, I need photos and must admit I have done quite a bit of ‘catnapping’ on Facebook….I have an inner need or urge to make them. Not one day will pass that I will not make a picture when seeing a photo of a cute cat.” But she hasn’t forgotten her first love – dogs – and they figure in her work as well.

Meyer also does abstract and scenic pictures, the latter based on “photos taken on holidays. Not tourist attractions – more like a narrow street in an idyllic village in, let’s say, France.”

Still, the cats are what call to her. She always gets “stunned” by their beauty; as she works, she finds herself thinking about the best way to preserve that beauty.

The response to these portraits has been overwhelming: Animal Art, her Facebook page, has garnered close to 400 followers, and quite a few of them have commissioned work from her. Some of them have even become repeat customers.

“I think I have found my niche,” Meyer says happily. “I have a dream to do this for a living. It is what I love to do, and I do not do it lightly. It’s all about making a pretty cat even a little more beautiful, adding a little touch of Magic. I think I can say that I have developed my own style.”

Related link:


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Talking to Horses: Gina Barry

                                   To me, horses are magic.
                                            -- Gina Barry

Gina Barry has been talking to horses since she was a kid. At 12, she was working as a volunteer with the Therapeutic Equestrian Center: there she met a Quarter Horse gelding named Jasper, and they changed each other completely. “I was at the awkward adolescent stage,” she recalls. “And he had just come in from Montana, and he was a bit of a mess himself. So we worked with each other, and we both blossomed. We were just an amazing team.”

Sadly, they were also a short-lived team. In 1984, less than a year after they met, Jasper tripped in the frozen mud and shattered all the bones in one leg. There was no mending that leg, and he had to be euthanized.

The grieving girl he left behind grew up and went to law school. She was working as a law clerk for the Hampden County Superior Court when she was offered a position as an attorney in the trusts and estates department at Bacon Wilson in Springfield.

She loved her work, but something was missing. “I had always loved animals,” the lawyer muses, “and felt that I needed to bring animals into my practice.” So she became involved in estate planning for her clients’ pets. “But I still didn’t have enough animal contact.”

Barry had been mulling over the idea of working with horses again for awhile, but she hadn’t quite firmed up the details. After she did a few Tony Robbins seminars and a Date with destiny program, however, it all became clear to her: she would take in abused, abandoned, and unwanted horses and ponies. They would be Jasper’s spiritual heirs.

The Joy of Jasper, Inc. was started in 2007, following a phone call Barry received about a former show horse whose owner could no longer afford him. Arie, a Dutch Warmblood gelding, became the first of many horses to find safe haven at Legacy Farm in Easthampton.

But it’s not just about the horses. Children and teens work at the farm on a volunteer basis. They are at-risk kids, kids who are lacking self–confidence and/or failing school; working with the animals helps them blossom, just as Barry did with Jasper. “Horses and ponies are powerful yet graceful and sensitive,” she says. “They have an uncanny way of inspiring confidence, self-esteem, love, and trust in those who care for them.” She would like to see the program “continue along these lines and hopefully continue to grow so that we can provide for more horses, more kids, and more adolescents.” There are adults in the program, too, “because children aren’t the only ones with angst.”

The horses are never adopted out. “I think it’s important that we keep the horses until they pass,” maintains Barry, who is also a Reiki Master and an animal communicator. “It allows the children a chance to build up a relationship with them. When it is time for the horse to pass away, we surround their passing with love and dignity, and it teaches the children about loss.” Remembering what she went through, she knows how losing one of the horses or ponies “impacts the children. Everybody’s sad, but we work through it….We honor the horses that have crossed over by bringing in another horse in need.”

She reflects on Jasper, the horse who started it all. “The thing that made it so poignant was that the time we were together was less than a year.” Barry’s voice is both wistful and matter-of-fact. “Well, Jasper had to leave, or I never would’ve left the barn.” Nor would she have gone on to law school and made the pivotal connections she needed to set up the sanctuary.

“To have it be so tragic is what at the same time made it so inspirational,” she says. “If I had spent ten years with Jasper, and he had died in an old-age situation, I don’t know if I would’ve been so driven.”

Related link:


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Telling Stories

                                                       (Blog Cascade)

Thank you, Samantha Mozart, for passing the baton on to me in this blog cascade. Samantha’s writing is both humorous and sensitive: each piece is colorful and multi-layered as a tapestry. She has written Begin the Night Music: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume I (2012) and To What Green Altar: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume II (2013), two incredible books that no caregiver, assisted-living facility director, or hospice worker should be without. She can be found at her blog, The Scheherazade Chronicles, spinning some pretty exceptional and imaginative prose. – http://www.salmonsaladand

What am I working on?

I’ve just finished updating Catsong, winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award. I’m also writing a new book – Abys Among Us – which is about the Abyssinian cats that have played such an important part in my life. I have a couple of other book ideas that are percolating on the back burner, so to speak.

And, of course, there’s “Sketch People,” the blog that inspired the book of the same name. I also write a weekly cat behavior column for and features for Western Mass Women Magazine and Hartford County Women Magazine.

How does it (the book/the writing in general) differ from other works?

At first glance, Abys Among Us might not seem all that different from Catsong or Derv & Co.: A Life Among Felines. But both those books are collections of stories and poems, whereas Abys Among Us is a chronological narrative. I decided early on that this particular story needs to do a gradual unfolding. You see, it’s not just about the cats. The people’s lives are interwoven with the animals, much the way they are in Joyce Stranger’s novels: the two are connected on a heart-and-soul level. In fact, in some ways, this book is even more about the human-feline bond than Catsong is.

My writing process?

Sometimes my stories start with an image or a memory-picture. I’ll drive by a field, a stretch of woods, or a house and say to myself, “That looks like a good place for a story to happen.”

Sometimes it’s a well-turned phrase that sets my writing pulse racing. Or a historical event. (Case in point:
A Time for Shadows.)

I write in bursts. I read somewhere once that it’s good to stop just as you reach an exciting point; that way, you’re rarin’ to go the next time you sit down to write. That happened a lot with Shadows -- primarily because my heroine, Iris, and the other characters were always doing such wonderful unexpected things.

I still write my rough drafts out in longhand. I make a big glorious mess, full of arrows and cross-outs; then, when I sit down at the computer, Editor Me takes over. Editor Me is kinda like a mechanic: she gets in there and takes everything apart and fiddles with the passages until she gets the story/articles/book running smoothly.

I’m in love with the rhythm of words. So, whether I’m writing or editing, I like to have some music playing in the background, something to bounce the words off of. (I had this 5th-grade teacher who used to have us write poetry to the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, and that’s how it started.) The music “trances” me, as my son, Zeke, used to say when he was little; and I enter a place where it’s just the words and I.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m a storyteller by nature. My interests are eclectic, and I think my books reflect that to some extent.

I wrote Souleiado because I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of time-travel and I like a good ghost story. I also wrote it as part of my healing process after my husband Tim died.

A Time for Shadows was written for my grandmother, Esther. She lost her older brother, Max, over in France a month before the Armistice was signed. She told me his story when I was 11. It stayed with me and became the basis for Shadows.

Sketch People: Stories Along the Way was my way of getting back to my journalistic roots. A friend made a comment about his work, and I thought, “That’s good – really good.” Suddenly, I wanted to do interviews again and talk to people about their work and their passions. Their true callings, if you will.

The cat books  -- Catsong, Houdini, and Derv & Co. -- are a natural outpouring of my love for animals in general and cats in particular.

Passing on the baton

I know a lot of incredible bloggers. Two of them, Ingrid King of The Conscious Cat ( and Bernadette Kazmarski of The Creative Cat (, obviously share my love of all things feline. Ingrid is the author of Buckley's Story, one of the most moving cat books I've ever read. It is the 2010 winner of the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award and a National Book Awards finalist.  Her latest book, Purrs of Wisdom, is a philosophical gemstone and a book I reach for whenever I need a spiritual pick-me-up.  Bernadette's Great Escapes is more than a 16-month calendar:  it is a lovely and heart-stirring collection of portraits and stories of rescued felines she has known and painted.

Ingrid and Bernadette are both such good writers, I really can’t choose between them. So I’m passing this blogging baton on to both of them: it’s up to them whether they decide to use it. Either way, I urge you to check out their blogs and their books. You’re in for some excellent reading.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Human Tapestry: Izaskun Arandia & "To Say Goodbye"

                                      “Some Stories Need to Be Told
                                        Some Voices Need to Be Heard.”
                                                       -- From the trailer for “To Say Goodbye”

“I didn’t want to leave, and of course my mama didn’t want us to go, but papa said it was only for a short time,” recalled Josefina Stubbs in a 2012 interview. She remembered being dragged away “with my teddy….The boat was terrible, really terrible. I remember the screams and cries of the children packed into this boat. There was no space to even lie down.”

Stubbs was one of roughly 4,000 Basque children who were sent to Britain for their own safety following the Nazis’ bombing of Guernica in 1937. Her story and those of other ninos (their name for themselves) or “Basque babies” (the more pejorative British name) have become part of the human tapestry of “To Say Goodbye,” a movie co-written and produced by Izaskun Arandia.

“Being a Basque, I always knew about the evacuations,” remarks the award-winning scriptwriter, script consultant, and producer, “but what I didn’t know was that were 250 of the evacuated children who stayed in the UK for good.” She was actually living in there herself when she “saw Matt Richards’s documentary ‘The Brits Who Fought for Spain,’ where this fact is mentioned briefly. It prompted me to ask myself: ‘Why did these children stay? What happened to them? Are they still here?’”

Arandia had always had a feel for a good story – thanks in part to her vivid imagination (“I used to spend hours in my room, writing stories.”) and in part to her journalist grandfather’s influence. “I used to watch him type away on his old Olivetti. That was fascinating to me as a little girl, and I desperately wanted to do the same.” She tried writing this story as a fiction film, only to realize half-way through that she needed more info. The trail led her to Prof. Alicia Pozo at Southampton University. Pozo shared her research with the filmmaker. The academician had “traced all the survivors, now in their 80s and 90s, and interviewed them. We had access to hours and hours of interviews. The second I heard those voices, I knew they had to be in the film.” Her fictional screenplay had morphed into a documentary. As the two women listened to the recordings, it suddenly hit them that the former refugees “all remembered the same traumatic moments: when the war broke out in the Basque country; the moment they had to say good-bye to their families; the crossing on board of the Habana.”

Arandia traveled the length of the UK to talk with “all the children who featured in our film.” She felt that it was “essential” for them to meet face-to-face with her, especially since some of them were sharing their stories for the first time ever.

“These visits became my motivation,” reflects the writer-producer, “and when things went wrong – which they did! – I kept visualizing these visits and their wrinkled happy faces telling me all sorts of amazing stories.” Her first visit was to Paco Robles, and “the first thing he said to me was ‘They have forgotten about us.’ I promised him that was never going to happen again.”

“We do try to speak to our sons about ourselves,” another subject, Valeriana Llorente, remarked. “But I think it’s only in recent years that we have done so, talked about all this, what happened to us.” Was this a typical comment? I ask Arandia. She says that she thinks it comes down to the ninos “wanting to forget, not wanting to worry their own kids.” In fact, so strong was this feeling, some of their children and grandchildren only learned about the evacuations through the film.

It all seemed to be falling into place, except for one thing: how exactly was Arandia going to tell the story? Dramatic reconstruction was a possibility, of course, but it was one that she “wasn’t very keen on.” And there wasn’t much archival footage. Then Richards came up with the idea of using animation, with the film “Waltz with Bashir” (Ari Forman, 2008) as their “visual inspiration.” The interviews became “the backbone” of the film. “So there wasn’t that much growth in the way you may get by filming a traditional documentary,” observes Arandia. “But there was a lot of flexibility from me as the producer…. [D]ue to lack of funds, the team had to come up with alternative ideas to the original scenes and adapt the story accordingly.”

Basically, “To Say Goodbye” reclaims a lost chapter of history. Of those thousands of children, only about 250 stayed in the UK; the rest returned to Spain before the outbreak of World War II. But whether they stayed or went home, they were all left with a sort of split consciousness, that sense of being neither one nor the other. “When they are in the UK, they sound Spanish, so they don’t feel completely British and the other way around when they are in the Basque country.” Identity and a sense of belonging – or of not belonging – are recurrent themes in the film, she adds.

During this time, they lost two of the “children,” Rafael Flores, and Bene Gonzalez, the founder of Evacuated Basque Children’s Association in Bilbao (later the Asociacion Evacuados Jubilados de la Guerra Civil). Arandia recalls Flores as “a happy charming man who used to sing and dance at the camp in Southampton when they were first evacuated, to raise funds for the group.” When she met him and his wife, Valeriana – another one of the evacuees – he sang her “a song they used to sing at the camp – a beautiful traditional Basque song, ‘Boga-Boga,’ which he still remembered word by word after 75 years.”

Gonzales and her sister had spent two years in the UK before being claimed by their mother and returning home in 1939. She was fiercely supportive of the film right from the get-go, and filmmaker “shared many unforgettable moments with her.”

“To Say Goodbye” has been a hard sell, Arandia admits. But she has seen people come away from it in tears, “questioning what they would do as a parent, having to send their own children away.” She believes that the film “forces you to reflect on your own life and to put things in perspective”…that it “will now outlive us all and will be a testament” to all those frightened children who arrived in Southampton 75 years ago. Arandia has given them a way for their voices to be heard.

Related link:


Friday, May 23, 2014

The Reiki Cats

Even as a kitten, Zorro had healing in his paws. The eight-week-old Abyssinian-tabby mix who’d wandered into our backyard one summer morning always sensed when he was needed. He was a paws-on healer. After I’d had a bad day, he would seemingly materialize out of nowhere and lie on my chest. He’d place his paws on me, and tension would ebb out of me immediately.

I didn’t learn Reiki till years later. By then, Zorro was a crusty old codger-cat with failing eyesight, chronic upper-respiratory problems, and all the charm of a Dickensian con artist. Slowly, our roles reversed, and he started to come to me whenever he felt the need for Reiki. He would lie down and, stretching his paws out Sphinx-style, look up at me with those eyes that were still wonderfully expressive despite his thickening cataracts. He wasn’t a terrifically demonstrative cat, so I was careful not to touch him during our early sessions.

The energy would begin flowing immediately, and not all of it came from me. Zorro was a strong-willed old guy despite his age and infirmities. He’d seemingly telegraph things to me -– letting me know in the middle of a session, for instance, that he really needed the Baytril for his congestion, even though we’d been focusing on his stomatitis.

Somewhere along the way, Zorro ceased being an old family pet: he became my Reiki Master and taught me everything he knew about healing and reading energy. All that last year, we worked together, doing sessions two or three times a week. Once in awhile, he would bump his head against me whenever he felt the need for hands-on healing. For the most part, however, he simply lay nearby, looking content.

Zorro’s coat grew scruffier – he didn’t like me fussing with the mats – and his eyes cloudier. The nineteen-year-old cat’s spirit remained flame-bright, however, and my vet told me that his kidneys were in surprisingly good shape. My son Zeke and I joked about Zorro cheating death; and knowing my old guy as I did, I figured he was probably playing with a marked deck. At the end of our Reiki sessions, I’d whisper, “You’re going to have to let me know when it’s time for you to go.”

One night, when we were doing Reiki, Zorro’s energy was unusually low, a mere flickering of what it had been. The next morning, I found him wandering disorientedly around the cellar, stopping only to suck up the contents of the water bowl….I looked into eyes – sunken, all the light and magic gone out of them – and called my veterinary clinic.

Zorro’s kidneys were finally shutting down; and judging from the yellowish tinge on the inside of his ears, so was his liver. My vet gave him the abdominal injection that I always requested for my animals: it made for a more peaceful, if slower, transition. But here again, Zorro surprised me. Within seconds, he was gone, practically leaping into the afterlife. I’m outta here! I could imagine him saying, his green eyes shimmering again. Got places to explore --!

Through all our Reiki sessions together, Zorro had guided me, letting me know what he needed and when he needed it. As a result, he had been able to make his transition so beautifully, so seamlessly, it took my breath away. Saddened as I was over the old con artist’s passing, I knew that I hadn’t acted too soon or waited too long. My Reiki Cat and I had gotten it just right.

But that wasn’t the end of it, as I soon discovered. Zorro remained close by – on a consultant basis, as it were. As I delved more deeply into Reiki, he was there, guiding me and helping me puzzle out the hard parts. I felt his presence on my walks or when I sat outside by his grave with my morning coffee. He wasn’t going to let a little thing like death slow him down.

Besides, he had somebody to pick up the slack on this side – a Red Abyssinian, as it so happened. My Dawntreader or Dawnie, as we called her.

Dawnie was a former show cat, a gift from our breeder friend Mary. I had bred her years before, but her baby, Aspen, had died young. In the aftermath of her loss, Dawnie bonded with me.

There are heart-cats, and there are soul-cats. Dawnie was both. She knew when I had cramps, and curled up next to my stomach, pumping out an incredible amount of heat for a little cat…knew when I needed a good pick-me-up purr…and knew when I just felt like having somebody sit on the stairs and mull things over with me.

It was a two-way deal, however. Dawnie was high-strung and prone to nervous coughing fits that irritated her throat. I’d bring out the Reiki; she’d begin to relax, and the coughing would soon stop.

I kept up the Reiki with her and our other cats. After awhile, friends began asking me to send Reiki to their animals: I did it, figuring it was a good way to deepen my understanding of how Reiki worked.

Then, almost a year ago, I brought her in for what my vet and I thought was routine kidney-stone surgery. A few minutes into surgery, he called me: what he was looking at, he told me, were not kidney stones but a fast-growing untreatable tumor in her bladder. There was only one choice to make, and I made it. I told him not to let her wake up.

This was not the quick, clean leave-taking that I had experienced with Zorro. And I felt all the worse because I had not been with her at the end.

But the more I thought about it, the more that began to make sense. A lot of times, the dying wait till their loved ones

leave before they transition. That had been the case with both my parents, and it had been the case with Dawnie, too. Because of the titanium-steel strong bond between us…the bond that our regular Reiki had deepened…she had to take leave when I wasn’t there.

A couple of months went by. They were bumpy ones and included the loss of another one of our feline old-timers. And, of course, it was all harder to take because Dawnie wasn’t there to soothe my soul with her own brand of Reiki.

All the while, I kept getting requests for Reiki. Usually, these requests involved friends’ animals, which suited me just fine. The bulk of my work had, after all, been with our pets, and I did not want to lose all the ground I had gained working with Zorro and Dawnie.

Gradually, I began to think about starting a Reiki practice in addition to my work as a writer. I let the idea grow inside me like one of my stories. Then, one morning, just as I was heading out of my bedroom, I happened to glance toward the built-in bookcase by the window. Dawnie used to like to sit on top of it, away from the younger cats who got on her nerves. Suddenly, time seemed to fall away, and it was as though she was sitting there once more, shimmering red-gold in the morning light…giving my practice her blessing. It was then that the name for it came to me, taken from an old poem I had written about her: Dawnstar Reiki. And I felt pretty sure that she and Zorro would be with me every step of the way, just as they’d always been.