Maia Madden

Book Author, Journalist, Blogger

Archive for the category “dogs”

COQ AU VIN

photo 2Last month I got jumped by a rooster. There I was, alone on the top of a mountain, where cell phones don’t work and bobcats and mountain lions roam, fearlessly caring for my friends’ two Savannah cats, two Chihuahuas, seven chickens and one rooster, while they were in Hawaii on their honeymoon. I never imagined that it would be the rooster, not the snarling dogs or the semi-wild cats, that would be my nemesis.
At first the Chihuahuas yapped and yapped, baring their sharp little teeth and refusing to come into the house at nightfall. I imagined finding their mangled bodies in the morning, their long brown-and-white fur matted with blood, or worse, not finding them at all. But no way was I going to let them bite me, so I left them out in the cold, huddled on their pillow bed, snarling.
tn-3The next morning I brought Newman’s Peanut Butter Treats. By noon, Poppy and Candy were following me around in silence. By four, I had them in the bathtub. By five, they were snuggling together on the top of a red leather armchair, their big brown eyes fixed lovingly on mine. Okay, so they were waiting for more treats. Still, it felt like true love every day for the next two weeks.
The cats were a bigger challenge. Savannahs are a mix of the wild African Serval and domestic cats. Lenya, the female, had more wild in her than Jag, the big black male. She sat on a beam jutting out from the loft bedroom and glared down at me with shifty yellow-green eyes. She was beautiful to watch, lean and untamed, her golden fur marked with brown striations. She would jump gracefully from table to chair to sofa to the top of her deluxe cat tree and her bowl full of kibble.
Jag was older than Lenya and three times her size. His striations were less visible on his dark coat, and he had the noble sloping nose of a Jaguar or Panther. I was told he was very affectionate and would come around asking to be petted, but for the first three days, I never even saw him. He hid under the bed and only came out to eat when I was outside.
I bought small chicken drumsticks and left a couple, raw of course, in the food bowl. Lenya smelled them immediately, leaped up and devoured one. Not Jag. I watched through the window as he pushed them aside, preferring his dry kibble.tn-1
On the fourth day, Jag suddenly appeared and jumped up on the dining room table next to my computer. I put out my hand and he sniffed it, then nudged it, then let me scratch him vigorously behind his ears and tail. His purr startled me: a deep roar punctuated by loud guttural meowing, as if he were talking to me. Thus began our ten-day love fest.
Lenya grew a little bolder as she watched Jag throw himself at me, whether I was sitting at the table or lying on the sofa reading. He would nudge me with his big head and start purring loudly, commanding me to pet him, and when I would come in from the hot tub, he would lick and nibble my toes as if they were lollipops.
On the fifth day, Lenya joined him on the table. I held out my hand, and she sniffed it carefully. Then I went back to rubbing and scratching Jag’s head and neck. All of a sudden, Lenya wrapped her front paws around his neck and started licking his ears. Slowly, I switched my fingers from Jag’s head to hers, and she let me run them down her back to her tail without flinching. I went back and forth between them until she finally relaxed and stretched her thin body against Jag’s huge one.
Every day, I brought raw meat for Lenya and let her eat it out of my hand. Finally, one quiet afternoon, she jumped up on the couch and settled herself on my lap. As I stroked her perfect little head, she started purring, a sound as faint and hesitant as Jag’s was loud and insistent.tn-4
I had now tamed the dogs and cats, but the chickens were another story. I would let them out into their pen in the morning and lock them up at night, always nervous that they might peck me to death like a scene from “The Birds,” especially when they pushed past me in a mad flurry of feathers, cackling and beady-eyed. I guess I’m not a chicken person… The rooster always emerged last, looking arrogant and menacing, a magnificent black and white fowl with a bright red crown.
After a week, I had the routine down: unlatch the small coop door, let the brood out, then go around to the big side door and check the grain supply – which was exactly what I was doing when something heavy landed smack on my head, almost knocking me over. Squawking triumphantly, the rooster catapulted himself onto the ground and ran off, crowing in glee. I swore. He had been hiding in the rafters, just waiting for his chance to escape.
I had surely lost the rooster and could not imagine how I would explain his disappearance. No way! I grabbed a rake and started chasing that devious bird through the yard, onto the porch, into the redwood grove, around the trampoline and back to the house. But he was fast and clever, heading me off or turning around to run in the opposite direction, until I finally gave up and went inside, exhausted. I needed a better plan of attack.
After a few hours nursing my trauma and vowing revenge, I had a brilliant idea, at least for someone ignorant of the ways of chickens. I shooed the hens back into their little house and locked them in. Then I opened the door to the pen. This time, that damn rooster would see who was boss. Scaring him with my shouts and brandishing my rake, I cornered him until he had nowhere to run but back inside the enclosure. Eureka!
But the battle was far from over. Imagine my surprise – and anger – the very last afternoon of my guard duty when I arrived and saw that brazen rooster standing like a statue by the front door. The devil had managed to fly out of his pen, as if to say “Ha, ha. I win! Catch me if you can!”
We stared each other down. I flapped my arms, he flapped his wings, and the chase began, a long and arduous one that left me panting with adrenaline but victorious at last. I locked up that cocky rooster and his harem of admirers way before dusk, a punishment he richly deserved.
And that, my friends, is when I decided that coq au vin would always be one of my favorite dishes.

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What is Happiness to You?

ScanA friend recently asked me why I never write about happy things. I wonder too. So I started to think about my memories of perfect happiness. And surprise, surprise, they were all quiet moments of reflection when a scene, a feeling, a thought or an experience was suddenly stamped into my consciousness, never to be forgotten.

The first imprint on my mind seems cosmic and invented, but to me it has always felt real: a man with a beard and kind eyes turning his palms up to me. They have holes in them, and he says, “Don’t worry. They don’t hurt at all.” He smiles, and I feel safe and loved.

Another is waking up as a tiny child on the sofa in my grandparents’ New Jersey apartment under a multi-colored patchwork blanket my Baba has crocheted. It’s a small apartment, a poor apartment, and they are refugees from Yugoslavia, but it is warm, and I can smell something sweet and yeasty baking in the kitchen. My Baba makes me eggs scrambled in brown butter, my Deda tells me a story in Serbo-Croatian, and I feel safe and loved.

I am ten years old, spending a year away from my parents and siblings to stay in France with my mother’s parents. They have a country house in Barie, a tiny village in the Gironde, and going there on weekends is what I love most about France. It is June. The sun is setting over the flat cornfields and beyond, over the Garonne river. I am sweeping the narrow back deck and stairs while the sky slowly turns orange and purple. I am sweeping and sweeping, sweeping myself into the future, as only a young romantic girl can, sweeping myself into the arms of my prince charming, into an imagined world of perfect love. I feel the ecstasy of being alive, safe and sure that great love awaits me just over the horizon.

Then I am on a train with my brand-new all-American, now ex-husband, speeding from Paris to Bordeaux and deep into the countryside to introduce him to my French grandparents. He is asleep on my shoulder. My nose presses against the window, and when I see the colors start to mellow into soft silvery greens, I feel an overwhelming gratefulness and happiness. I am bringing my beloved into my past so he can be a part of me. In this intimate union, I feel safe and loved.

It is July in Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains. My oldest son is almost seven, my daughter is almost five, and my newborn son is a month old. I am walking with my mother in a field of wild flowers. The baby is bundled against my chest, his small sweet-smelling head warm under my hand, and the two eldest are running and laughing and picking flowers. My daughter comes to me with a bouquet, and my son presents another to my mother. They are smiling, their faces glowing in the light of the summer sun, so beautiful, so young, so sweet. I think: this has to be a moment of perfect happiness. And I thank God for keeping us safe and loved.

Buying our first house and sitting on the front steps in the gloaming of an August day, thinking, this is really happening, as we hold hands and smile at each other, is as memorable as anything I have lived. Perhaps not feeling safe, but surely feeling loved.

Hiking all the way down Vail Mountain in Colorado with my ex-husband is an unforgettable memory of joy. Jumping across streams and bounding across fields of wildflowers and through groves of shimmering Aspens, and finally, finally, getting all the way down the mountain, then drinking the best beer in the world at an outdoor table, looking up at our conquest, delirious with fatigue yet as happy as children.

And then there was the first day I ever went camping with my new boyfriend and woke up in Utah under the most brilliant blue sky I had ever seen, with the scent of sweet pines and rich loam filling the air. It was a moment of pure ecstasy, a moment when the beauty of nature suddenly saturated me with love.

But for me, the one highest defining moment of happiness, the one space where nothing comes between me and the infinite joy of being, is lying next to someone I love and who loves me, encircled by warm arms, soothed by gentle hands, feeling beautiful and appreciated. For me, that is the ultimate happiness, the ultimate feeling of being safe and loved. And yet, sadly, those moments are always too few.

As I get older, I don’t take as much time to appreciate the life around me or feel thankful for moments of grace. I get too busy working and caring for others and rarely pause to register moments of happiness. Thank you, my friend, for nudging me to remember what makes me happy instead of dwelling on life’s inevitable suffering and disappointments.

When I think of those poor parents who lost their children in such a senseless school massacre, in a place where feeling safe and loved should be, and used to be, taken for granted, I wonder if the pain will erase their happy memories or if their happy memories will deepen the pain. I pray instead that the memories of the short time they were blessed to be with their children will sustain and comfort them as they grieve.

For in the end, memories are all we have, yet even those can be snatched away by trauma or disease. Treasure your happy memories this holiday season and pause, often, to appreciate the moments that give life meaning. Those are truly the gifts worth sharing.

Scan 3

Who Decides When It’s Time to Die?

 

Lily was 17, a lovely black-and-white American pit bull, wiser and gentler than any dog I have ever known. My son had owned Lily since he was a teenager, but as his drug problem had escalated, his sense of responsibility had evaporated.  He had been smart enough, however, to realize that Lily needed better care than he could give, and he had let his girlfriend take her. Now clean after ten long years, he was driving to his ex’s house to tell Lily he loved her before the vet sent her off to eternal sleep.

Kept in prime shape with a raw food diet and regular exercise, Lily had outlasted her breed’s average life span. Although it seemed she would live forever, despite her arthritis and her hearing loss, despite her cloudy eyes and her mottled fur, she finally succumbed to a kidney infection. Incontinent and unresponsive, she lay on the bed with her eyes closed and her tail limp. It was finally time to say good-bye.

When he arrived, my son cradled Lily’s head in his arms.  She opened her eyes and licked his hand. Her tail came up and thumped lightly against his leg. He picked her up like a baby and pressed his nose to hers. She licked him again.

The scent and touch of her first owner seemed to bring Lily back to life.  My son placed her gently on the floor, and she took a few wobbly steps. The vet was called and cancelled.

Lily was no longer ready to die. Today, she is still getting by, slowly, sometimes painfully, but clinging to life, wagging her tail and enjoying every caress that comes her way. Lily will die sometime soon, of course, but not yet, not quite yet. She still has love to give and people who love her, no matter how frail and old she is.

Ten years ago, the doctors told me my mother was going to die. When I got to the intensive care unit, they had stuck a tube down her throat and tied her tiny hands to the bed. Weak and shrunken to barely 80 pounds, she had still summoned the strength to try to break free from the tubes and lines that bound her. When she saw me, her sea-green eyes filled with tears and her face crumpled into a look of frantic pain, as if she were begging me to release her from torture.

The nurse gave her more morphine.

A team of social workers and nurses escorted my brother and me to a windowless conference room. “Your mother cannot survive,” they told us. “Her lungs and heart are shutting down.” They asked if we wanted them to keep her alive no matter what or refrain from resuscitating her should she start to fail.

We went out to the hall, a depressing dull beige hospital hallway, and wept.

Long ago, my mother had asked me to help her die when she could no longer take care of herself. I had promised, but I later realized that I could never actually “pull the plug.” Now she had been ill for at least three years due to a pulmonary embolism, leashed to an oxygen tank, in and out of hospitals — where, being French and a picky gourmet, she refused to touch their nasty food or sip their cloying Ensure or even drink their water, which she had always hated. To please her, we would smuggle in red wine, oysters and strawberries. No, my mother would not have wanted to be revived, would not have wanted to be a burden, would not have wanted to have us suffer because of her.

So my brother and I signed the “do not resuscitate” order. They removed all her tubes, unhooked the clicking and buzzing monitors, and wheeled her out of Intensive Care. They put her in a little room with a big red dot above the door, a dot that meant “let this patient die.”

But she didn’t die. She woke up, saw us standing by her bed and smiled a big happy smile. She reached for our hands. We kissed her and smoothed back her blonde hair. She called us by name. My mother wasn’t ready to die!

We went out into that hall again and wept under the big red dot.

Every day that I went through that door, the red dot seemed to glare at me. Meanwhile, my mother continued to improve. The nurses and doctors called her “our miracle girl.”

One day, as I was painting my mother’s toenails a brilliant blue and laughing at how silly they looked poking out from the sheets, a nurse walked in. My mother looked up at her with a smile and said, “You see, I’m so much better now that my daughter came.” She gripped my hand and looked up at me with the sweetest look of love and gratitude.

She was giving me credit for her recovery when in truth I had signed her death warrant.

My mother lived another two years, slipping slowly away yet always eager to see her loved ones. She said knowing what her children and grandchildren were doing kept her wanting to live. At the end, we moved her to a hospice, where she received the most loving care.

The last day I saw my mother alive, she told me I was beautiful even though she could hardly speak.  But soon her breathing grew ragged and her translucent green eyes were fixed on a faraway place, a place I couldn’t see. I held her hand and I kissed her and I whispered how much we loved her and what a great mother she had been.  When she was finally ready to die, she did.

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Natalie Breuer

Natalie. Writer. Photographer. Etc.

mfourlbyhfourepoetry

p 1 o 2 e 3 m = Four By 4 By Four

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