Winter Comforts

by Stephanie Gross

We share the house with three small, furry, feline creatures. As I look around at the moment, I see one on the guest bed quilt and hear another rumbling on my office desk. It’s quiet here, except for some instrumental Christmas music playing in the other room. Tomorrow is the Solstice, and since we now live in the south, the longer nights are actually welcome to me. My furries are sleeping a lot more, and the quiet in the house is amplified by their snoring.

Cats are people to us in this house. They talk, and we listen. We talk, and they listen. We have a pretty good understanding. As Lucy wakes up to take care of her Maine Coon cat tail, and Trouble snores on my desk as I write this, I cannot imagine life without them. We take for granted their presence sometimes, though they don’t let us forget it. The sun’s low angle shines through the window and warms the spot on the bed where Lucy bathes, and I wonder, how can I be as mindful as a cat?

Last night we had our first fire of this winter in the fireplace. It draws well, puts out heat from the oak our friend brought us from a ranch, and is really a pretty sight. Everyone showed up, even Tonks from “her” living room. She’s mostly deaf and doesn’t see well now that she’s night on twenty, but she still is a beautiful silver, double-pawed beast of a kitty. When she graces us with her presence (besides yowling for food), it’s a treat. She’s seen a lot in her days: five (that we know of) moves, three different states, the death of her two favorite humans, my mother and my daughter. She bears it with equanimity.

Trouble, our youngest fur child, once disappeared for five weeks and the grief about did us humans in. After house to house searches for weeks, we left for a planned vacation, stricken. But, by a series of miracles, my brother-in-law and neighbors managed to spot him and lure him into our house while we were away in England, just before we got on the plane for home. It was a real communal effort, and I am forever grateful to our neighbors and my brother-in-law, who drove 45 minutes every day to help, and eventually captured him.

We think somebody had him and he escaped, given his full belly and un-matted fur. I even think I know who it was, but it was comforting that the entire rest of the neighborhood called us with spottings and tried so hard to find him. Our neighbors, Pam and Ed, spotted him in their garden under a kale leaf, only a block or so away, and other neighbors lured him home. He hasn’t strayed since. Now, we usually don’t even have to call him at dusk; he just comes in from the backyard and settles in next to us to sleep all night.

I could write an entire essay on Lily, who we just lost to kidney failure at seventeen a few weeks ago. I lie in bed sometimes and imagine her long, soft fur, her gentle but ferocious purring up near my head, her nose on mine. She was my queen and queen of everything in the house. The matriarch. Trouble’s mother by adoption. Lucy’s sister. My great friend and companion. She understood me, and I her. She met me at the door every day when I came home, and she helped me with everything, especially the laundry. She stood on my foot when I did the dishes. I often found her in the kitchen farmhouse sink, just waiting for a drink. She talked to me, telling me all about her day and asking questions. I will never get over losing her, nor do I want to.

Which brings me back to winter. Its stillness. So much of loss we associate with the permanence of death, but right now, I feel it’s more about rest. The sleepiness of the trees and perennial beds. We aren’t buried in snow here, but it is still strikingly silent. The birds have gone even further south, the butterflies too, and the bees are hunkered down somewhere out of sight. The sycamore has shed its bark all over the lawn and the pecans have fallen. Except for the doves and squirrels, the backyard rests. Even the sages are settled. Tomorrow, when the light begins to lengthen, we may see the lone hummingbird again who has been showing up to drink. We may see an owl, or a hawk. I so hope the Carolina wrens come back to roost under the carport roof. But, for now, even the lizards have gone. The branches of the bare pecans gently rattle in a barely perceptible breeze, up high near the misty -faced moon as it rises over the hill.

Darkness is settling in.

The cats and the humans here hibernate, even though it’s not that cold. Sleepily, we‘ll wait out the darkness. In a few minutes, I’ll go turn on the outside Christmas lights. It’s chilly enough that we’ll light the fire. We’ll let ambitions sleep. We’ll let the Wheel turn. We, too, curl up and rest and await the sounds of the new year, the small stirrings of new growth, the expectations of whatever comes next, the ebb and flow, the losing and the finding again.

photo credit: Horology Hands, Unsplash

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