by Jan Baughman
(Swans - December 15, 2008) Looking back on 2008, it's hard to even remember worrying over the high price of oil and whether Beijing could pull off the Olympics under its polluted skies. There were riots around the world over rising food and fuel prices; killer cyclones, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes; bombings in Afghanistan, Algeria, India, Iraq, Istanbul, Pakistan, Palestine. Fidel Castro, Pervez Musharraf, Thabo Mbeki, Prime Ministers Fukuda of Japan and Sundaravej of Thailand resigned, while President Bush stood firm, talking up the economy and his legacy as a peacemaker. Overshadowing all this was the seemingly infinite US presidential election, and the eruption of the global economic boil that has been festering quietly below the surface for years and leaving us all in a state of uncertainty and impending doom. On a personal note, we lost a beloved friend of Swans, Philip Greenspan, and our 18-year-old cat, Luigi. And then, out of the dark smoke, something powerful appeared.
Luigi's mother Bijou died in my arms in 2007, and this spring her son followed suit while I was traveling on business. Gilles had the misfortune of discovering his body, attending to the funeral on his own, and breaking the sad news to me by phone. Over time we discussed, on a practical level -- the mouse problem and all -- getting a kitten, though we weren't ready and anyway, cats have always adopted us, never the reverse. All I knew was that when the time came, I wanted a cat that looked nothing like either of our lost souls.
Then came a frightening night in late June, when Northern California erupted in dry lightening storms that for hours ignited the sky in awesome flashes followed by deafening thunder, sending our two 80-pound dogs desperately seeking cover. The next morning smoke began to fill the valley, slowly at first, and by late afternoon it had turned to an oppressive dark cloud surrounding us. Fire seemed extremely close by, yet there was no mention of it on the local radio, so I decided to embark on a reconnaissance mission to town to see what was on fire. (All of Northern California, as it turned out, but our house was not immediately threatened.) Driving down our dirt road, I spotted a tiny kitten crying along the side, but I continued on, putting my own fear of fire in these vulnerable hills over his predicament. What was I thinking? I stopped the truck, grabbed a towel, picked up the tiny creature that fit in the palm of my hand, and set him on the passenger seat where he remained without struggle while I drove to town. He barely moved. And of course, he was the perfect amalgamation of Bijou and Luigi...
|Marcel, one day after having been rescued, still uncertain he is alive and well, wonders what the future in this miserable year will hold. Or maybe he is wondering when those giant bipeds will feed him again. Or again, he may simply be philosophizing about the meaning of life... Photo: Jan Baughman.|
I saw no visible fire in the hills of Anderson Valley or the town of Boonville, and I returned home with my report and tentatively showed the kitten to Gilles, who paused for a moment, then without saying a word, went to fetch a cage and prepare some straw for him. The kitten was dehydrated and malnourished, with an upper respiratory infection and both eyes glued shut from conjunctivitis. On Monday I took him to the veterinarian for antibiotics -- he weighed in at 28 ounces -- and for three weeks I brought him to work every day, bottle-feeding, medicating, and nurturing him. During that time, my company was on the verge of bankruptcy and all our projects were on hold and the mood was dire. Word quickly got out about the kitten, and before long colleagues with whom I'd rarely spoken over the past three years were now sitting on the floor of my office every day, playing with the symbol of hope that put a smile on our worried faces. One couple was inspired to adopt a kitten, which they also brought in from time to time. The kitten gave us a very important project, and my popularity waned when he was well enough to stay home, which was around the time our company was acquired and work resumed.
When it became certain that he would survive and we allowed ourselves to get attached (as if we hadn't) he became Marcel, for the prominent "M" on his forehead and for Marcel Proust, whose Swann's Way and its relation to Gilles d'Aymery's past was the inspiration for the name of Swans Commentary.
Marcel, or Marcel the Menace as he is often called for his typical kitten destructive behavior like completely unrolling and then shredding the toilet paper, is growing up to be one of the dogs -- they protect him, nurture him, and chase him around the hills, though he gets to climb trees, which appears to make them envious. He has a vast fur coat that has no business being in the country with its ticks and burrs, but he recently caught a potato bug and his first mouse, a proud moment that secured his position in the household -- practically speaking, that is.
|Marcel, November 2008, basks in pride next to the first catch of his early life. The mouse could not comment, but Mestor, another rescue and a faithful guardian and defender, is watching over the scene with obvious personal interest in the outcome (he did get his share of the bounty). Photo: Jan Baughman.|
During the stressful times of 2008, with people fighting to keep their jobs and their homes, threats of fire in the hills and uncertainty in the air, many forces converged on one small creature, giving me hope that despite the difficulties that await us in 2009, we can find commonality and help each other emerge intact on the other side -- perhaps better off, and even with a smile.
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