Saturday, March 19, 2011

We Live on a Trembling Earth

We live on a trembling earth.  The new earthquake in Japan with its horrific tsunami, the unimaginable loss of life and the nightmare of a possible nuclear meltdown remind us, after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, that nature runs us in a big way.  Earth is very old, it has gone through its cycles and repeats again what it has done in the past.  Mankind is a new phenomena on the planet and even though we have become the top dogs here, we are no match for the land when it shows its moods, its might and power.

The awful destruction in Japan reminds me of how vulnerable and insignificant creatures we are after all.  Even if we construct the incredibly tall buildings like in Dubai, and set huge bridges across the water like the Kobe-Awagi bridge in Japan, carve long tunnels like the Delaware Aqueduct in New York, set rails across countries, all our tectonic plates have to do is shake a bit and we are at risk of losing it all.

In 1974 I lived in Lima, Peru, when a very bad earthquake took me by total surprise early in the morning as I was bathing my young daughter while my son rode his bicycle outside in the front of the house.  The noise started slowly at first and intensified to an indescribable roar; a sound I will never forget.  I hurriedly took my daughter to the middle of the garden where the terrified maid had already taken refuge and handed her my daughter.  I went back inside the house while the earth was shaking and books and things were falling down all around me; the earth, normally always under my feet, was failing my every step, undulating wildly.  I found my neighbors all in a circle hugging each other on the moving street and my son, on his bike. He ran toward me and said innocently "Mom, is there something wrong?"  I grabbed him frantically, ran again inside the house and rejoined the maid and my daughter.  It was still shaking and the walls of our living room were parting in the middle like a big mouth opening and closing.  Our cat was trying frantically to climb over the tall wall covered with ivy.  I thought the shaking would never end.  My husband came home horrified, took his cameras and went through the devastated city numb under a cloud of dust and debris that hovered for days. Lima was a sad sight.

The aftershocks were so many one could not find a Valium anywhere in town.  It lasted over a month with some tremors strong enough to scare the daylight out of you.  I went to bed every night with my car and house keys and my purse next to my bed in case I had to wake up the kids and quickly escape the place at night.  It was a sheer nightmare.  This was "only" an earthquake of 7.2 on the Richter scale compared to Japan's recent 9.1.  But it killed 304 people and devastated over 4000 buildings.  I had been in earthquakes before in Mexico where the maid had jumped in my arms after my mother, who was visiting was telling me the advantages of having an older maid who would be the responsible one.  We both had a good laugh over it afterward.  Because of my familiarity with many earthquakes and their aftermath in many countries, including Colombia, I identify enormously with all the human beings that suffer through them and their inevitable aftershocks and huge destruction.

I found out that the earth shakes all the time.  Most days and everywhere.  Many of its movements are felt and many are barely noticed.  But once a big one happens, the whole community of countries is alert since we have become this global village with the speed of our instant communications and instant messages plus the world-wide presence of the internet.

So we are not safe ever.  Safety is an imaginary feeling, the calming thought that we are okay, but it is just a dream.  I think of the importance of living life doing what we love and loving all the people that touch us and inspire us to be more than we are.  I think of all our family of friends and blood and the need to share our love and our feelings.  The need to say what we think and express who we are.  The need to be honest with ourselves and honor our integrity.

After all, we are just creatures moving on big tectonic plates fighting odds against the planet with the possibility of seeing our creations destroyed.  It may happen and it may not.  We can only hope for the better.  It takes a lot of courage and a sort of huge arrogance to do what we as humans do.  But earth will survive.  It has been a part of the galaxy for eons of time.  Our beautiful Milky Way that we observe in total awe at night.

We may go on and survive as a species and we may not.  Time will tell.

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Copyright 2011 Micheline Brierre
Edited by Barry Kaplan

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When a Cat Comes To Visit

The cat looks at us from his high perch on top of the kitchen cabinet.  Big round eyes glowing with discovery stare at me.  The tail flicks in the air. This is Miso, my daughter's big cat.  He is spending time with us so she can be on vacation.  He entered our quiet life and brought with him the old concerns about his safety that we used to expend upon our children long time ago. My husband, Barry, created for him soft landing spots on our sofa in the living room so he could jump from his high perch unharmed -- but he never looked at it and lands carefully by its side.

Miso the Cat
Miso jumping to his perch

Then Barry created a step on our bookcase leading to the high spot by adding my thickest books to its top but the cat ignores it and just jumps amazingly where he wants to go.  It is a big distance from the shelf top to the perch but he does it as he would take a stroll in the garden.  Daringly and elegantly.

In other words, we have become like new parents while he does of course what he wants; prideful creature that cats are.  He also showed us incredible catlike affection, turning his tummy up for us to pet him, sitting on Barry's lap while he would tell me "Answer the phone, I cannot move!"  I would look at his face in total bliss and laugh watching his hands stroke the cat's fur.

Miso allowing Barry to pet him
The pets in our life pack with them a whole lot of joy and activate new concerns, keep us entertained, bring us the happiness that our unpredictable life sucks out of us at times.  I remember a friend in Florida who photographed pets, told me that they were our kids especially after our children were gone and had started their adult lives.  I had proof of that with so many people around me loving the furry, feathery or fuzzy creatures we have as pets.

I sometimes look at Miso with wonder thinking how another specie has come to be our friend and adopt us as foster parents although our pets run our lives in many delightful ways.  I peek in the mystery of Miso's green eyes and wonder often about his allegiances, his choices, his ancestors past as an older predator and his familiarity with us, his human friends now.  It is itself a great mystery and a marvelous step in our development.  I know the scientists have their theory but I retain the mysterious approach of the cat to my life as a compelling tale of friendship and attachment. 

It is a proven fact that pets are important to our well being and keep us alert, alive, involved.  They are our companions, often our lifeline, as many handicapped people can attest.

We have had many cats.  Mimi was one of our favorites. We went with him through the destruction and the horrors of Hurricane Andrew and traveled with him from Miami to Colorado when we took my small Honda and explored the state.  I remember the big orange tabby that he was, looking out of the little car, waiting every day to eat until we reached a motel at night even though we had provided him with his cat litter and food bowl to no avail.  We would stop at dusk at a motel that would not always welcome pets. We would sneak him in at night and hope for the best only to find him at the window in the morning innocently looking out giving his presence away.

The day he died, he came to my studio already so bony and sad and I petted him till he retired in the adjacent guest room to die silently.  I discovered him later and wrapped him in my best shawl to grieve alone until my husband came home.

In our case now, we cannot keep a cat when show season starts as we are often gone for several weeks at a time.  We tried with Coz, a brown tabby, but once when we returned from a trip, my friend the cat sitter had left me many notes telling me that she never saw the cat who hid under the bed every day when she came to change his cat litter and check on his food and drink.  The cat would miss us horribly and we would miss him as well.  After a while he became almost neurotic and we gave him to a good family with children where he thrived.

But we miss all our furry ones and I envision the day when a cat will delight us again.  Not just for a few weeks as it is now, but every day as I want it to be.  I like cats since they stand for what they want and not what I want; their sense of self and undeniable regal attitude, their great dignity and purr and their quiet affection.  They would climb on me if I was sick and lay on my stomach purring.  They were great healers concentrating at making me well in the silence of the night.

Of course people like all kinds of creatures that add to their life in some manner.  Our pets are our companions that speak in their own way and tell us tales of love and loyalties.  For many that is enough, but for me, their mystery enhances my life and adds a taste of the wild even though they are tame, and make me a constant care giver.

Mystery of Miso

Copyright 2011 Micheline Brierre
Edited by Barry Kaplan