Tales of a Golden Heart, Chapter 1: The 1100 Mile Cat

Let love be your balance and staff of life.__Sayings of Jared

At first he was a mere puff of smoke, a ghostly wisp of lightning fast gray nothing glimpsed from the corner of an eye dazzled by South Dakota prairie sunshine. Speed and caution kept the wisp alive, the only survivor of a wild litter born somewhere in Route Two’s dog pack infested corn country. It took weeks of effort before either one of us got a solid look at the wary stranger as he dashed from the house cats’ food bowl in the garage: A tiny gray tabby kitten who would never grow up to be an overstuffed Garfield or a Heathcliff.

More weeks passed. Smokey grew gradually bolder, less panicked at our nearness. We spoke to him often, watching his trust grow millimeter by millimeter. There came a day when once, then twice, he felt the gentle stroke of a human finger and arched his back nearly double in appreciation. Starved for both food and affection, he would gulp ravenously for several fast mouthfuls before suddenly realizing he was being leaned over by…a human!

Zoom! Out under the door and gone, his thoughts trailing in the warm air behind him.

Gasp! That was a close one.

“It’s okay, Smokey; we’re friends.”

Ha! That’s what they all say. Just keep putting out food. I’ll be back.

Who were we to argue? We kept putting out food. True to his word, little Smokey returned regularly, gentling bit by bit yet retaining his essential wildness, his love of freedom. His was a most curious and admirable combination: Full of love and full of caution. No cat could express more affection when stroked (but not held), and no cat could absent himself with greater speed when he felt his freedom threatened.

It wasn’t until South Dakota’s blizzard weather settled in with a vengeance that Smokey decided being a part time house cat might be worth the risk. Through autumn, he’d made occasional cat-curiosity forays, black nose sniffing at the edge of the garage-to-living-room door left purposely ajar. His little striped gray paws would venture hesitantly forward, one at a time, only to bunch under him and launch a laser fast dash for open spaces the moment a human dared breathe too loudly in his presence.

The other cats were no problem. Cindy, Rusty, Mini, and the others all thought Smokey was a real treasure among cat buddies, sharing space and food with him readily. Only humans presented a threat: Huge, monster sized critters. In his infancy, perhaps, some feline storyteller’s tale had frightened little Smokey with an image similar to those passed to one another by humans.

“Relations with an elephant? They’re great friends, but don’t ever lie down under one.”

Certainly, the gray visualized humans as having ten ton elephant feet and reacted accordingly. Yet we saw so much of the Eck, or Spirit, flowing through this furry little being, through those gentle green eyes, that it was easy to wonder if we were in the presence of a superior being…or just a superior cat. Did he have a mission? Was he send by Sugmad (God) to teach us about love?

He certainly had one mission. With the mercury at 23 below zero Fahrenheit and a howling wind soft-scrubbing the Dakota prairie vigorously with cloudfuls of furious, frigid white cleanser, his mission was first and foremost to get inside by the toasty woodstove. Following the other feline examples, he learned the pleasures of soft green carpet, friendly bodies, and the radiating life force that is a functioning wood heater during a Great Plains winter.

He also learned the pleasure of sex, albeit briefly. Sugar came in heat, and Smokey was thrilled with the result…until he was stuffed into an excape proof toolbox and taken to the veterinarian along with three other youngsters his age (Sugar included) for a mass desexing and declawing session. Terrified as he was, much as he tried desperately to escape, not once did he so much as offer to turn to bite or unlimber his short lived claws. It became amazingly obvious that an overpowering ability to love dominated every breath he took; here meowed and purred a living example of the Golden Heart.

August rolled around, turning summer’s corners on tractor tires heated by 100 degree air temperatures, more than 150 degrees above the wind chill of December. Our family moved, two humans and five cats headed for a new job in Gillette, Wyoming.

Correction. Two humans and four cats. Smokey didn’t make the move but stayed behind to share cornfield mice and area handouts with the big, cross-eyed, vampire fanged Siamese tom we’d come to know as Sinbad the Sailor. The commotion of final vehicle loading and house cleaning proved too much, spooking the wild part of the gentle little gray. He stayed in the yard and watched but refused to be caught or lured inside where doors could be slammed behind the unwary.

Time ran out, and he was left behind to face an empty house with a For Sale sign out front. No food bowl remained in the garage with the dog proof door. Humans have schedules, you know; cry if you must, but be there on time.

Two nights later, we unloaded the U-Haul in Gillette and settled down for much needed rest in our new quarters. Promptly at seven a.m., my eyes popped open. I nudged my wife.

“Mm?” Sleepy.

“Smokey’s in trouble. I’ve got to go get him.”

One eye lifted a reluctant lid. “You’re crazy.”

“No doubt.” But the dream recall was too strong. I reached for the dream journal beside the bed, remembering….

Setting: The house we had just left. Numerous cats with black heads, not nice critters. And there, Smokey, his rib cage torn open in a great gaping wound that exposed his vital organs to the elements. Love moved in me. I picked him up–he allowed it–and cradled him tenderly. His soft-hard furry head burrowed under my arm in gratitude. Carefully, I adjusted his body position to get a good look at the wound….

“His heart is broken. The house is empty, his people and cat buddies are gone, there’s no more free food. He’s back there dying of a broken heart.”

“Back there” meant 560 miles to the southeast, more than 1100 miles round trip, and it was impossible to get away immediately. By the time the U-Haul was turned in, which had to be done in Sheridan because the U-Haul dealer in Gillette wasn’t open on Sunday, and the pickup driven back to Gillette, my mate had gassed the Chevy Citation, packed sandwiches and sunflower seeds for my rescue run, and agreed to explain to our new boss that I might be a teensy bit late for Monday morning’s introductory meetings and briefings. Time of departure for South Dakota: 4:17 p.m.

Speed limit, 55. Actual speed, 80. An Eckist is hardly immune from traffic tickets when breaking the law, but Smokey is in trouble. Maximum intuition is cranked up to advise when to slow down, when a patrol car might be around the next corner, over the next hill. All day long, I’ve been telling Smokey it’ll be all right, talking to him inwardly.

“Hang on Smoke. I’ll be on my way as soon as I can.”

Now it is, “Hang on, Smoke. I’m on my way. Should be there around midnight or one a.m. Be at the house, sweetheart.” I envision my great love for the little cat with the big heart, send it to him in waves of reassurance, ask both the Mahanta, the Living Eck Master, and Prajapati, the Eck Master who cares for animals, to assist in this project, to reassure Smokey, get me there on time, have him waiting when I arrive.

Shortly before reaching Rapid City, two hitchhikers join up. They turn out to be Job Corps runaways younger than they looked by the side of the road, a hard bitten sixteen year old named Joe and an innocent of fifteen named Ted. Wily Joe smells my desire to be rid of this illegal load of juveniles and sticks to me like the IRS to a Las Vegas winner when we pause at a roadside rest stop to hit the restrooms and water fountain. He suggests slyly that we should dump poor Ted for being a nerd; I decline with chagrin, realizing this young hardcase knows full well that leaving them both behind was precisely what I’d had in mind.

Later, well after dark, I leave the boys at a truck stop in Mitchell with the excuse that my route will not pass near any more good hitching spots. This much is truth, though the real reason for refusing to carry them farther is a bone deep unwillingness to let Joe and his Omaha streetwise consciousness within twenty miles of the house. The youngsters have done their part by keeping me alert in return for the ride, and I pull into the driveway at Elk Point a little past 12:30 a.m. in heavy fog with the smell of the neighbor’s hog farm heavy in the night air.

The worst was over. Smokey greeted me at the door, meowing his little heart out. Happily, cheerully, and ever so casually I unlocked, turned on the lights, put down the bowl I’d brought and loaded it with a little dry cat food and a cheese wrapped tranquilizer pill. He fell to, chomping away as though he hadn’t eaten for three days, which he probably hadn’t. Keeping my thoughts as neutral as possible, I closed the front door just in case, made sure he’d gobbled the tranquilizer, gave him a few extra love strokes…and popped him into the cardboard cat carrier brought along for the purpose, giving thanks to Prajapati and the Mahanta as I did so.

If Smokey hadn’t been short a set of front claws, he’d have shredded that box into cat confetti and been gone before you could say “greased lightning”. As it was, his gray muzzle got shoved back or nose-thumped twenty or thirty times in the first ten minutes of containment–no mean trick one-handed while driving a floor mounted four speed with the other. Nearly two hours later, he was totally stoned and unable to struggle except for a weak meow at frequent intervals; it was safe to leave him in the car while we stopped at Mitchell to top off the gas tank and grab a soda pop or two for the final hours ahead. Innocent Ted had been abandoned by hardcase Joe after all; the teenager slept curled on a bench in the truck stop, alone and probably wishing he hand’t run from the Job Corps in the first place.

I left him unaware of my passing and rolled down the highway once more, picking rag-limp Smokey from the box to cradle next to me on the seat, stroking, crooning, soft-talking the rest of the way while drawing on every old stay-awake trick in the book (excluding drugs) to prevent falling asleep and decorating a South Dakota ditch with drowsy travelers.

We rolled into Gillette just before nine a.m., right on schedule. Set down in the front room of our new home, our little gray staggered toward the food bowl, trying to get his land legs back as the others crowded around in greeting.

From that moment forward, Smokey’s trust in his own personal humans took giant moonwalker sized leaps. He knew we cared, and we often awoke in the mornings to find him stretching luxuriously on the bed covers between my knees, his black mouth lining visible in a mighty, eye-squinting yawn.

Often, as I continue to unfold spiritually, it becomes clear that the Mahanta has once again gone the extra distance to rescue me from one or another of my own wild fears, done the spiritual equivalent of driving 1100 miles round trip at the end of a long effort without rest, only to teach me to trust Spirit, to realize more fully that the Eck loves me as I love Smokey.

That sort of thought can brighten your whole day.