Over the last five years my dogs and I have created this bond of love. We have come to this understanding of the depth of our ties to one another. This is what it has meant to have two small dogs dependent on me. I have felt like I stumbled into the quintessential master-dog bond, the one anthropologists expound on. I have believed nothing could shatter our little pack.
Then last week I got a bright idea. I was moving into a new studio. Out in the world there were little kittens in need of homes. The word euthanasia clouded my brain. Now I did not like cats. I remembered the one I had tried to keep in Africa. It was so obnoxious I allowed my garden boy to have Kenwa for dinner. I grabbed a pet monkey instead, and lived happily for the next two years.
I spoke to the local humane society.
“Got any cats looking for adoption?”
“Two really cute ones, a brother and sister.”
“Maybe I could take one to keep in my art studio?”
“You will be leaving them alone, sometimes?”
“I think you will want both of them. They are cute. We will pay for them to be spayed, nuetered…….. Come see them. They are really sweet, and full of mischief.
I dragged Patti up to the humans society. There they were. Two little fluff balls. Big fuzzy ears. Inquisitive faces. Racing across the room after one toy or another,
I believed, I knew it without a doubt. Cats could be left more easily than dogs. I knew they were more independent. Give them food and water, keep their litter box clean. They could survive virtually without people around. Probably did not even like peopel. I was only doing these poor, feral kittens a noble favor. I was single-handedly saving them from the dumpster.
I visited them in the humane society a few more times. I listened to instructions for their care, to intimate details of their immune systems. (Those, I learned, can be compromised by being feral.) I was told about their poops.
They are just cats. They will survive. Nine lives and all.
Then I moved them into my studio. That room took on a new identity. Here was a cat paradise. Sticks abound. Some of them stood up. Trees. Twigs lay across the floor. Toys. Mobiles hung in the corners. The eyes on these kittens grew huge. They raced around the room with wild abandon.
I noticed I was beginning to look differently at my furballs. They attacked an assemblage I had carefully constructed. I did not race to protect it from the beasts, I chuckled.
These cats seemed to like the fact I was there. They came and climbed over me as I sanded a piece of wood. They crawled across my back, into my hair. This was not the dog affection I had grown accustomed to. There was a wilder nature to it. I believed.
I finished my work for the day, prepared to leave. I checked their water, surveyed the mess in my studio to be sure I was not leaving out any dangerous chemicals they could get into. I walked toward the door. They looked almost sad, regretful that they were going to be left alone.
I retreated to the comfort of my dogs. I did not tell them about their cross-town rivals. We snuggled into bed as if nothing were different.
The next morning I arrived at my studio. As soon as the key turned in the lock I watched the kittens bound across the room, jump onto the counter so they could get the first view possible of me coming to them. They genuinely greeted me! They knew they were my cats.
Guilt washed over me. What was I doing? I was a dog-person. I had a sweet, lovely pair of dogs at home. I had committed my hearts to them. I allowed them to entwine their bodies with mine as we slept. I couldn’t be intimate with another set of animals. Or could I…….
I worked for several hours gluing sticks together. These were to be my Christmas angels. I needed something to have on hand for the holidays four months in the future. As I worked, the kittens wound their bodies around mine. They bound across the room climbing century plants and batting at my sculptures. I barely flinched when my bobbly-structured piece, the one I had spent hours balancing, became a punching bag for them. After all they were having fun! When I left, I neglected to put my emerging Christmas ornaments away,
My parting was once again sweet. I stroked the kittens soft backs. With another twinge of guilt I rushed home to my small pack of dogs. They danced in joy as I approached.
Is his how men feel when they have secret families? Aah guilt! I know you well!
Those ornaments were now strewn across the floor. My work on these pieces was apparent only in dry globs of glue at what was once the joint between the two pieces of wood. And I did not really care! Dangerous! This was the first inklings of love. Watch out dogs. You have rivals.
I do not expect I will ever share my bed with two cute cats. That space has been promised to canines. But as I stroke my dogs’ necks, scratch their backs, my mind slinks over to my studio where two cute little kittens must curl up together in amongst sticks of dry wood, with no human hand for comfort. I have got to get up, go work in my studio!
For the past few days my dogs have been getting extra-long walks each morning for my penance. No walk today. I must move beyond this guilt, accept the fact it is OK to love both cats and dogs. And, besides, those cats need my company!
Monday. Today is the day I will gain occupancy to my new studio. I stop by the space, stop in to talk to George, the original tenant, proprietor of Appliance Junkies. He gives me the key. I open the door. Such an empty space, so pregnant with possibility. I shut the door quickly to be sure all those creative sparks stay within the space.
Tuesday. I drive down to my new space on 6th Street. Darlene is waiting. We have arranged for her to bless the space, work her sacred magic. She goes into the space by herself. She emerges with a clean report and we move on. We smudge the entire space with sage. We put garlic, Alabaster chips and seeds in the corners. We walk through the space with a glowing candle, then extinguish it with prayers for peace, creativity and prosperity. We end the morning with Violette’s muffins and coffee, and a friendly chat.
Wednesday. I notice a post from a fellow artist in Jerome, Robert Jackson. I know he is active with the Jerome Humane Society. He has statistics on euthanasia for unwanted cats. The figures are appalling. I remember George has a rescue kitten living in his space, and therefore must be cool about keeping kittens there. I call the Humane Society. They invite me up to meet the kittens ready to adopt. Although they have a litter of nursing kittens with unopened eyes, they direct me to two absolutely darling kittens cavorting in the other room. I immediately christen them Junipurr and Manzanita. I cannot bring them down the hill until they get a clean bill of health.
Thursday Moving Day. I arrive at U-Haul at 8:00. Chris a local veteran, is there. We sign paperwork for the 12 foot truck. Tom joins us. We drive up to the Jerome studio where Don is already dismantling his worktable. We need two trips to get all the wood and furniture down the hill. Don and Tom depart at noon. Chris and I continue to carry stuff down the steep stairs most of the afternoon. We dump the stuff into the studio. By the time Chris and I finish at 4:00 we are filthy, and thoroughly exhausted. I go to bed at 5:00 and do not wake up until the following morning.
Friday. Forty years ago I took an adult education class and discovered sculpture. I loved it. We moved from place to place after that and all I could do was affirm that someday I would find the right place to work with clay. I drive out Sycamore canyon to investigate the ceramic studio of Don Reitz. The potential for expanding my art here overwhelms me! I arrange to join the community and return Tuesday for my first lesson in using a pottery wheel.
I have just returned home after doing this afternoon’s errands. Today was the day to set up all the missing links for my move down the hill from Jerome High School to 432 S 6th Street. Deposit paid, insurance proven, lease signed. The new space is mine. I even bought an “ugly” work sink from Habitat for Humanity for twenty bucks. In the next few days I will pick the magic day for our move, sign up the vets to help and secure a rental truck.
As I drove around town I was struck by the circles I run in. On one end of 6th Street is the Cottonwood Library. Three years ago I was busily putting the finishing touches on my book, It Happened in the Cottonwood Library Parking Lot. I posed for a picture in late July there with my dear friend Patty Gilson. She took one look at the concept photo I had, clicked two pictures and the cover was set. One of my stories in the book, “Ditzy,” about a man who finds a dog advertised on the bulletin board at the library, features a jog down 6th.
Perhaps a new book is in order, Driving on 6th. In addition to the library, the recreation center, and the county mental health offices, all of which were mentioned in my first book, the police station is on 6th. That is where I had to deliver Baruch when he was quarantined for ten days after nibbling on a man. The mortuary where I picked up an American flag for Patty’s husband’s funeral is on the street. I go to the senior center on 6th once a year to have my taxes done. Top Hat Liquor Store is on the corner of 89A and 6th. Across 89A is Juanita’s a fabulous Mexican dive where I eat frequently.
And now I will be hanging out in Suite C of Appliance Junkies, George’s collection spot for washers, dryers, fridges, microwaves, and stoves. Don, a dumpster diver extradordinaire, will be treasure hunting regularly in the back lot! He got in trouble digging through the dumpster at the high school in Jerome. This one will be more friendly!
I enjoyed my year and a half up in Jerome. I went up there looking for adventure, looking for an answer to my question, Am I really an artist? I hung out with artists up there, learned the lingo, tried out the lifestyle. I met Sue, my website designer there. Don blew into my life while I was up there practicing art.
In Jerome I tried out ways to share my art. I quickly got my pieces into three galleries, where nothing really sold well. I drove from Jerome to the Village of Oak Creek three times a month to try to learn to work in an art gallery. For me, that experience was frustrating because most of the merchandise featured, and selling well there were touristy crafts. My assemblages did not speak to the tourists who wandered in.
For the past few months I have been affirming I was ready, with my improved assemblages, to find a space where my art could be featured as art. I have wanted a space where I could set up individual pedestals for some of my pieces so they could sing solo. Many on them out-shout each other when crammed onto shelves as where they need to be placed in more touristy venues.
My new location is in the hub of Cottonwood activity. So many of my friends have told me, “I would love to come see what you do, but….” They do not make the five mile curvy drive up the mountain into Jerome. My studio in Jerome is on the second floor of the high school. For those of us educated in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, we remember the wide stairs we had to climb between English and biology classes. Those stairs are even more intimidating fifty years later. I understand the hesitation many of my friends feel as they contemplate visiting me. Now they will not have no excuse. My studio is right between lunch at Juanita’s and the post office. Ace Hardward, where I visit frequently, and where I have made so many friends is less than a quarter of a mile away. Everyone is nearby!
In the next six weeks I will chronicle the steps I move through as I transition from Jerome into Cottonwood. My first challenge will be organizing the mess I have made with my supplies, boxing them up and bringing them down the hill. Don is already designing a sign on a very special piece of Cottonwood bark. Our large supply of beaver sticks need to get gathered up and brought down. Don has a number of ideas for decorating the front space as a showroom. My magic wand tree, its branches a survivor of a lightning strike which Don watched, will be taking up residence in a corner of the new space. This blog will feature a few stories as the time unfolds.
And, mark your calendars for mid to late September. There will be a grand opening, a big party. I hope you can come!
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"