Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bright Eyes

I can't remember ever not loving animals.

I've basically known what I've wanted to do with my life since I was five years old. As soon as I found out that you could take care of animals for a living, the word "veterinarian" became part of my everyday vocabulary.

Now I'm in college.
Studying Animal Sciences with a Pre-Vet option.
It's funny how that worked out.

If I think back through all the animals I've raised throughout the years, there have been some truly great friendships forged; there have also been some terrible disasters and heartbreaking pitfalls. But despite all the laughter and tears shed, there's always been an underlying need for me to keep myself surrounded by animals.

I've never questioned this need, although I'm sure my parents have on more than once occasion.
But I am questioning it now.
Why on earth do people, because I know there are others like me out there, feel the need to take care of animals?
Why do we continually immerse ourselves in relationships where there are no words spoken and no material rewards?
Why do we keep coming back to these simple relationships despite the hurt of loss, and despite telling ourselves we'll never do it again?

Is it the promise of blind love? That animals don't care who you are, where you come from, or what you look like?
Is it the satisfaction you get, knowing that some living being is dependent on you?
Or is it simply to befriend another soul on this chaos-ridden spinning rock, another warm being to share bits of your life with?

Two days ago I was driving my mom and sister over to our farm. I pulled out of our driveway and almost immediately saw a dead cat on the side of the road, a fairly common occurrence. No sooner had the words, "poor kitty" left my lips, when I recognized the body.

I don't think I've ever cried so much at the loss of an animal before. Perhaps it was the shock of seeing the limp body, perhaps it was the stinging memory of the first time I saw him as a newborn kitten, or maybe it was the years between, but one thing I know is that burying him is one of the saddest memories I possess.

And it's true, how losing a pet is just like losing a part of your family. In most cases, you're there from the beginning to the end, creating a long string of memories that you can look back on like snapshots.

My cat's name was Jasper and I keep thinking he's still around somewhere. Maybe lurking in the tall grass. Maybe he's hidden, stalking some subterranean rodent or even a wild turkey. Perhaps taking a nap under the Japanese maple, making the ground look as comfy as any bed could possibly be. Or maybe I'll be able to find him prowling his territory like a lion on the savannah.

It all should be in past tense, but it hasn't quite sunk in yet.

Trying to find pictures to do him justice reminds me how he was always the worst photography subject. He'd be posed perfectly, so you'd try to sneak a good picture of him, but before you knew it he'd bound over to you and rub his face all over the camera. Over the half-decade that he was in my life I only have a handful of pictures of him. Most of them blurry close-ups of his face...

... but a few decent ones survived. If you really did ever capture a sneak shot, or hold him still long enough to capture an image, it always turned out gorgeous. He had brilliant blue eyes with black cheetah-like facial markings and a beautiful fluffy white coat.

But he really did have the absolute worst fur possible for what he loved to do. A super long cotton-soft coat that was always full of burrs and other clingy seeds in the summer, when he wandered, and full of dreadlocks in the winter, when he became lethargic and never moved off the cat bed on our front porch. This summer was the first I decided to forgo the constant dreadlock trimming by having him shaved before he started to mat. It was truly comical how much he resembled a small lion, a long and lanky hunter with a mane.

I'll never remember exactly how many toes he had, but he was freakishly polydactyl. At least 25 toes in all, when a normal cat should have 18. I am sure he had an odd number though. My dad used to call him Johnny Bench, after the famous baseball catcher.

He and my other cat, Sweet Pea, had the weirdest relationship. Every day he'd rub up against her to say "hello" and she'd immediately hiss and often take a swipe at his face with her claws. The body language always said it all...

Once I was lucky enough to capture one of Jasper's secret little "shitster" moments.

Cue Sweet Pea, minding her own business in the Japanese garden, probably meditating on something deeply profound...

Enter Jasper with his sneaky, surprise attack, ass-bite!

Sweet Pea, clearly disturbed by the chain of events, quickly retaliates...

Then Jasper looks around, wondering who would commit such a terrible act, while Sweet Pea gravely acknowledges the camera, glad that her side of the story has been caught for once in her life. 

Despite his endless wandering through the woods and up the mountain side, Jasper could always be found when I needed him. He let me cry all over him during terrible high school break-ups, family fights, when I was stressed, and when I just needed someone to hear me out. He always knew and he was always there.

It seems like we always take things for granted until something goes wrong and it suddenly disappears.

I guess, in short, the meaning of this post was to pay my respects to a beloved friend. And also in a small way to remind everyone that this time we have on earth is so temporary, you never know when your number will be up.

Jasper taught me many lessons over the years, but his final one was to live each day like it's your last. There is so much we can learn from each other, animals, and nature if we're patient and just listen.
I'm sure Jasper had no regrets about his life as he took his last breath.

Rest in Peace Jasper
March 4th, 2006 ~ September 4th 2011

Is it a kind of dream
Floating out on the tide
Following the river of death downstream
Oh is it a dream?
There's a fog along the horizon
A strange glow in the sky
And nobody seems to know where it goes
And what does it mean?
Oh is it a dream?

Bright eyes, burning like fire
Bright eyes, how can you close and fail?
How can the light that burned so brightly, 
Suddenly burn so pale?
Bright eyes. 

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