The welcome sun had just set when I lit small white candles floating in a crystal bowl alongside delicate pink camellias. The candle glow cast warm shadows on a table in my glass-roofed solarium, where I could gaze up at the stars. Covered by a white linen cloth once belonging to my grandmother, and set with heirloom silver engraved with birds and a plate inscribed, “You are special today,” the table also held a steaming tureen of chicken soup. I pulled out a chair and sat down. Comfort food and being surrounded by beauty were what I needed.
This Sunday supper wouldn’t be the usual gossip and laughter, but an evening alone, thinking about two close friends. Actually, I was celebrating their lives, for even though one was a tree, the other a cat they had given me unconditionally love from the moment we met.
As Gerald Jay Markoe’s CD, Flying with the Angels, engulfed the room, I thought about Merlin.
She was as black as the night in which I found her, weighing less than a pound, in Golden Gate Park. Neither one of us should have been out so late, especially a baby like Merlin, and especially in the park. Scooping her up, I carried her home under my sweatshirt, next to my heart. From the beginning I knew she was special.
A few months after Merlin came to live with me I had cervical spine surgery. When I came home from the hospital, wearing a hard plastic collar, struggling to do the most ordinary things, that little cat seemed to understand. At night she would wait, perched on top of my headboard until I finally settled in, and with a soft meow, would jump down and curl up against me, one paw on my collar her head on the pillow, and purr. It was comforting to have her lying there, so warm, her round belly rising and falling with each breath. Cat lovers know exactly how I felt.
Merlin became entertainment at Sunday night supper. Just as some people make their kids show off for guests, I had my cat perform. In some oddball way I had learned to hypnotize the animal. (I once tried to get on the David Letterman “Stupid animal tricks” portion of his show, but didn’t make it). Friends would laugh as I sang, “How Much Is that Doggy in the Window” to Merlin. Stretched out across my legs, on her back, getting longer by the minute, her yellow eyes would close, and with paws in the air, tail twitching, she was out, until I snapped my fingers. Watching her, we laughed until we go silly.
Merlin and the cypress tree were in intimately acquainted, as she had once climbed to a top branch and then sat there howling, until rescued. The glorious tree that guarded the entrance to the enchanted cottage was at least a hundred years old. Along with a twin, it sheltered my home from passersby, provided shade and beauty for the entire neighborhood, and became a cherished member of my family.
During the wind and rain of a particularly bad winter, in a resounding earthquake of sound, one of the two trees was blown over, wrecking four cars, injuring a woman and undermining my sleep. From that moment on whenever the wind blew, I would gaze at the survivor, praying its roots would hold, that it wouldn’t fall. When I had it checked by an arborists, he said the cypress was near the end of its life, that I should have it cut down. But I couldn’t bring myself to part with my friend. And then, a tree fell in an other part of town, killing a man and sending me into a tearful leave-taking with the cypress.
After days of sawing there was nothing left, except memories and fifteen feet of strong branches that I had carved into an angel form. She now spreads her wings over the resting place of my cherub cat, Merlin, lying nearby under a Camilla bush, hit by a car a few days earlier and killed.
My grief for those two is as deep as if they were human. In some ways, I felt closer to Merlin and the cypress than with most of the folks with whom I dine.
Filling a bowl with the flavorsome soup, I ate slowly, mentally conversing with my lost friends. And over the mellifluence of harp music I listened for another sound, a friendly meow, and the rustling whisper of a cypress tree.
Causes Pat Montandon Supports
PETA, Women for Women, Amnesty International, Children as the Peacemakers, Peace to The Planet