I am writing this on a laptop sitting at a kitchen counter. An area I am now calling my office. I’ve been inundated suddenly with writing projects, some of which require extensive phone interviews, so beside me are a notepad, a cell phone, and the house phone. I have been exchanging emails with an aide from the governor’s office. However, lest you think I am getting too fancy, I am also wearing pajama pants, which is by far the most exciting part of this line of work. My second favorite thing is the silky, black barn kitten purring in my lap as I write. She is snuggled into my flannel shirt and every once in a while stretches and looks up at me with her wide, blue-green eyes blinking sleepily.
I’ve resisted naming most of the kittens, but Dora was my favorite from the first. Honestly, there wasn’t much competition, because Dora was the only kitten that could be caught at the beginning. She was the spindly runt, and had weird, popped-out eyes that were always watering, giving her a sweet, tragically tear-stained expression.
All the other kittens are variations of gray. Some have stripes, some have streaks, one has a wee white chin and tiny white paws, but Dora is all black, a slightly disheveled recreation of her sleek, beautiful mother.
Dora is the kid in class who is always late lining up after recess, who loses her homework in her own backpack, and whose untied shoes are never on the right feet. But every night her teacher goes home and tells her husband, “You’ll never believe what Dora said today.” Dora has the unique quality of being kind of a mess, but utterly lovable.
Meanwhile, there is a loud choir of crickets outside practicing their closing chorus of the year. Things are changing just like they always do. The kittens are growing up, the puppy is too; the lambs don’t look that different than the yearlings, and all the baby chicks I raised this spring are laying hens.
The change of season always makes me feel a little raw, a little fragile. The glowing yellow field of sunflowers west of the house is brown now, those tall beauties leaning their round heads to the ground, no longer following the sun with their faces. I am reminded of the poem Autumn Movement by Carl Sandburg:
I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.
The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.
In autumn, it is said we approach “the arc of descent” in the year — a return to the home and the hearth, to what is central in our lives, and it is not without regret we leave those expansive, sunlit summer days behind.
I know the only constant is change, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Roxy, our mama cat, has disappeared, and I miss her. Her spirit remains in the presence of her babies, but it is not the same. Where there once was a slim, black shadow waiting for her supper, there now are six leaping, purring, growing kittens, who swarm around my feet with squeaky requests for milk in the mornings and evenings.
I take Dora back to the barn to join her brothers and sisters. Two are wrestling with coils of twine and two more are curled together on a pile of rough saddle blankets. One sits in the middle of the floor peering at me with round, yellow eyes. I set Dora down and she scurries toward her sibling, prowling like a jungle beast, tumbling over before she even pounces. Oh Dora, what a delightful disaster. She stands up, black fur dusted with straw, and continues her play. Soon she will grow into her paws and eyes, she will turn stoic like most barn cats, strolling along the edges of ranch life, her roly-poly kittenhood behind her. It won’t be long and they’ll all be grown – they will belong to themselves and the barn and the fields where they scatter to hunt.
I go back to the house, to my home and hearth, to my computer, to the world of imagination and memory. I take a sip from the round mouth of a cooling mug of coffee. I hear the cricket tick of the little wall clock. I watch the dappled light dance on the kitchen countertop.
The wind is coming up, shaking the leaves. I go over and open the sliding glass door just a little. Just enough to let in a chilly slice of air. It is good to be cold sometimes. I am getting ready for winter, when the snow will drift up the tin sided barn, glowing rose red at dawn, softening to a luminous blue-gray in the evening, the whole prairie smooth and still as a pearl sleeping beneath the ocean tides.