Tag Archives: Peterborough

May – June 2004

If you’re not interested in cats, or at least in pets, I suggest you stop reading now.

As some of you know, I’m a cat person. In my entire life, I think I’ve been sans feline company for a total of about three months. I’m the kind of person that while I’m walking along the street, cats will trot out to greet me. On occasion, they’ve sought me out when in need and I’ve rescued a few from short brutish feral lives.

I’ve also suffered some feline losses the last few years, as age or illness has taken its toll. Moon passed away in my arms at twenty-one-and-a-half. Charlie died rather unexpectedly of cancer when he was only ten. That’s left me with Skye, the last of my Peterborough brood, who for a couple of years was a single cat. He’s now twenty, blind and requires additional nursing, but he’s a happy boy, full of purrs and cuddles and with a hearty appetite that rarely fails him.

About a year ago, with the aid of my friend Lorena (a very serious and talented cat person), we rescued a cat who, through an unfortunate series of circumstances, had been left alone in the apartment across the hall from me. Dashiell, as she came to be known, was a lovely little cat, who was unfortunately easily frightened and consequently sometimes responded aggressively. (And yes, she was named for Dashiell Hammett, who’d also seen some of the darker side of humanity, but successfully turned it into something creative.) Things between Dash and Skye never really settled down. She teased him and he got upset. Over time, her behaviour was starting to tell on him, wearing him down. I thought Skye was on his way out. I had friends stopping by to check on him whenever I had to be away for a whole day. Then my household underwent an unexpected tragedy that has bloomed into a very positive outcome.

About a month and a half ago, I came home late one afternoon. Dashiell hesitated, but she did come and greet me, jumping onto the piano to say hello. I still didn’t have my jacket off, when she let out two very loud, pained screams, swooned, lost her balance and fell to the floor, where she continued to cry out, writhing in pain. I was shocked. I didn’t know what was happening, what to do. Then she stopped. There were a few twitches of whiskers. Then stillness. I felt, I listened. There was no heartbeat, no breathing. It seemed utterly impossible. This was an active seven year old cat, who’d been fine only a few seconds earlier and now she was dead.

Rarely have I felt at such a loss. I didn’t understand what had just happened and didn’t know what to do. I was conscious that I was in a state of shock and needed to do something. Reality check. I phoned two friends, left two messages. Sat with Dashiell’s body, waited for the phone to ring. Lorena called back first. In recollection, the message I left her was essentially a demand to tell me what the hell had just happened. Fortunately, she recognized that shock makes people say odd things, or perhaps reveals more primal traits. I needed an intellectual understanding of the event and she was able to supply that. She checked a few details and then told me it sounded like a heart attack. Apparently some cats have congenital heart problems and tend to die early from them… kind of like some people. Somehow having a rational explanation helped. My other friend, also a cat person, called back and explained he’d had a couple of cats go the same way. The sense that I was in The Twilight Zone was fading through a combination of rational understanding and caring conversation.

Although I’ve experienced a few sudden human and feline deaths, because they’re so out of the blue, there’s no expectation, no mental preparedness. There are substantial heapings of shock, anger and guilt to be gotten through before one can even begin to approach grief. When I can see death approaching, somehow it feels more natural, it’s easier to slide into grief. But as Neil Gaimen so aptly stated in the character of Death from The Sandman comics, “You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime.” And that might be a second or it might be a century. Then you’re off to wherever… Heaven, the ether, Summerland. Somewhere light and safe and loving.

As with her namesake, Dashiell died during late middle age. Although I miss Dash and am sorry that her life was so short, there was an odd sort of completion to her death. She died the day the apartment across the hall was finally reoccupied.

The unexpected upside of Dashiell’s demise has been twofold. Firstly, Skye rallied. He’s rallied like I didn’t think possible! He’s more active, eating voraciously, has gained back the weight he’d lost and his fur’s looking better again. In short, he’s a happier guy because he’s not being harassed.

The second unexpected event took place about a week and a half ago. I got an e-mail from Lorena describing the circumstances of a cat she’d rescued. This cat had obviously been well loved until recently, when his owner was taken to hospital by ambulance, seemingly never to return. The landlord had emptied the apartment of everything including the cat, who’d been out on the street for three weeks and was having a rough go of it. Some of the neighbours were feeding him, but having not been raised feral, he was used to a much easier, less competitive lifestyle. Lorena had taken him home, where he was settling in, but was a little uneasy with her clowder of cats.

Without much coaxing, I adopted him, with the proviso that Skye would also have to approve. I didn’t want to subject him to any further torments. By the time I had this new cat in my building, I knew his name: Monte. And once you know a cat’s name, he’s yours. Although Monte’s only about two, he’s very laid back and non-confrontational. He’s curious about Skye, but doesn’t want to get into anything with him. Essentially they avoid each other, although even that’s beginning to break down. Skye sleeps at the head of my bed, Monte at the foot. Skye’s still purring, his appetite’s good and he’s become even more active and interested in exploring. Monte does his best to stay out of the way, although Skye, being blind, occasionally stumbles into him. They’re curious about each other, but it’s a very peaceable household.

As is written on a little framed picture my brother once gave me, “Home is where the cat is.” For me that’s certainly true. My home would feel very empty without a feline presence. I’m hoping to get them up to the cottage for a little change of scene and scent for a while this summer. (Not to mention that having a little eau de chat around the place helps keep the mice at bay.) I don’t know how much longer Skye will hang on—after all, he is twenty—but I’m glad Monte’s here now. He’s a wonderful addition to my little family and with his relaxed persona, I’m sure he’ll be around for a long time to come.

P.S. If you’re interested in adopting a feline, I urge you to select a shelter with a no-kill policy. Information on Toronto Cat Rescue and the Lakefield Animal Welfare Society can be found on my links page.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2004

June 2002

May was a month of travel as the Swimming in the Ocean tour began. My first reading from the new book was in Peterborough (my old hometown), then I read in Ottawa (where I lived for a couple of years), Montréal and Kingston. Travel tends to adjust my perspective in a unique way. New environments enable me to see things I wouldn’t notice otherwise.

Peterborough is a pleasant enough place, but it was frustrating to spend my youth there, especially because I’d already travelled in Europe and knew there was a lot more arts and culture in the world than Peterborough could offer. Nevertheless, it was fun to get my picture in the paper because of the new book and to have an enthusiastic hometown crowd at the reading.

Ottawa and Montréal kind of run together in my head as I was back and forth between them for a week. (Note to self: Don’t ever again agree to readings which entail this kind of travel!) I stayed for the week at my friend Péter’s house in Hull where we ate good food and I raided his rhubarb patch. I spent a whole day wandering around Ottawa, up and down Bank Street, the Sparks Street Mall and the Market. I love the smell of the Ottawa market. The outside stalls only have fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables and maple syrup (for half the price it is in Toronto). You can buy fish and meat and cheese, but you have to enter a store to do so. So as you walk through the outside stalls, you’re never overcome by the smell of protein.

I’m not as familiar with Montréal, having never lived there. I’ve explored the old city on previous trips but this time, because my time was limited, I stuck pretty much to the area close to the McGill campus. I was disappointed that avenue des Pins had no pines or trees of any sort and pleased that I could understand as much French as I did (although I’m a long way from considering myself bilingual). On the second trip, Péter and I drove in his car so we went to Fairmount Bagel and bought a couple dozen each. They really are the best bagels I’ve ever had; they’re not tough the way most bought bagels are.

So I came back from the Ottawa-Montréal leg of the tour with rhubarb (which I stewed and preserved), bagels (some of which I froze) and maple syrup (which is sealed until the next time I make waffles). I think the store of comfort food has helped make up for the mild exhaustion.

As with Peterborough, the moment I got off the train in Kingston, I found the air easier to breathe than the air in Toronto. I’d never had much of an opportunity to explore Kingston, but I had a sense of comfort, of familiarity once I started walking around downtown. Sometimes I can’t picture a place in my head, but once my feet are on the ground, the familiarity of it is somehow evoked. This trip I had more time to wander and found some interesting juxtapositions that revealed a lot about the town and its history.

As I walked up Princess Street, I found its intersection with Clergy Street dominated by St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. On the side lawn rested a cannon, one that anyone entering the church’s side door would have to pass in front of. The plaque revealed that this was Shannon’s Cannon which was used in Londonderry, Ireland to defend the (Protestant) faith between 1649 and 1688, was presented to one William Shannon of Kingston in 1865, was subsequently presented to St. Andrews Church in 1909 and then restored in 1990.

Continuing the walk along Clergy Street, I found it intersected with Ordnance Street and when I entered McBurney (locally known as “Skeleton”) Park, I was confronted by a cement-mouthed cannon with the word “Peace” graffitied to its side. To my right stood an ornate stone Celtic Cross placed in memory of the estimated 10,000 Scottish and Irish immigrants who were buried in this park between 1813 and 1865. To my left was a kiddie’s wading pool and extensive playground equipment. Kingston is a complicated little town.I’ve lived in Toronto for over five years and I’m still getting usedto it. One has to park one’s body somewhere and nowhere is ever perfect; every place has its pros and cons so there doesn’t seem much point in complaining too loudly. I’m looking forward to exploring the polar opposites of Picton and New York City next month.