When I was eighteen, I was sitting in the backyard of a rental basement suite and looking at the garden I had planted. It was summer and I was wearing jeans, suspenders and a white tee-shirt. I weighed in at about 165 lbs. I hadn't yet known a woman in the biblical sense, that is. I was pondering this existence and I remember being surprised that simply growing a few squash and tomatoes could give such a feeling of satisfaction. I had a room-mate and thus didn't suffer for company. I worked full-time and had no desire or designs to get rich. I wanted to find a woman and make a family. My stereo was constantly on. I saw in my minds eye, a little cabin in amongst some pine trees and hills. I smoked Drum tobacco and read many, many books. My social interactions consisted of either telling stories or philosophizing with anyone who passed by to visit. I wouldn't have traded places with anyone I knew.
Thirty-nine years later, which is about last week, I was sitting on the porch of my trailer in Lillooet, looking toward my garden. It was late summer and the hills were already starting to rust and the wind smelled of change. My ground was full of tomatoes and yellow crooked-neck squash. I was wearing canvas construction pants, a white tee-shirt and suspenders. I still weighed in at about 165 lbs. I had known six women in the biblical sense, that is and had married three of them. I was pondering this existence and was surprised to experience a deja vu from 1975. I was retired and thus did not work at all and still I had no desire to become rich. I had eventually found a good woman and we have enjoyed twenty-three years to date. I have two fine sons who are bigger than I am. I still smoke Drum tobacco and read many books. My stereo is constantly on and my trailer is nestled in some pine-clad mountains. My social interactions still consist of telling stories or philosophizing, sometimes with a fishing pole in my hand. I wouldn't trade places with anyone I know.
I love females with a universality and totality that has perplexed me since I was climbing trees and catching frogs. Casanova and Van Gogh were two sides of the same ego in my book. I have fallen in love more times than I can count though I have never been unfaithful not even to a girlfriend. I admire men as if each was a father, a brother, a grandfather or a son to me. I have always treated them as such in my dealings. I revere animals and have felt easier in their company than amongst people but have never placed them above my own species. I spent much time alone with several dogs when growing up and they taught me many valuable lessons and some honorable codes of behavior. I am Wolf clan or Aniwaya, in Cherokee and there was a natural harmony between me and the canines. I felt like I really understood Mowgli when Jungle Book came to the theaters in Louisiana. Unlike him, I would have dropped everything for the little gal with the water jug and never looked back.
I have wandered the streets of my birthplace, Houston, Texas and wondered if I would live to see the sunrise. I have walked the highways of Japan and felt not a pang of danger nor culture shock. I have walked the diesel-choked streets of Athens and wondered that if this was the cradle of civilization, why somebody didn't wash the baby's damn dirty blankets and empty the overflowing ashtrays. I have traipsed through the volcanoes and jungles of Guatemala and seen how genocide is justified by bananas, coffee and pineapples. I have been to the Philippine Archipelago and seen how three growing seasons per year, minerals, fish, oil and timber are no guarantee of well being in this world. I have a soft spot for cowboys and for sailors. Cowboys are the same from Tierra del Fuego to the Chilcotin. One drinks mate from a gourd and one drinks coffee from a enamel mug but both live by the same code and it is a good one. Any working sailor knows more about world politics and sociology than a dozen politicians plus he can fix 80% of his problems with a ten-foot length of rope.
I married outside my race twice and if the theory of the land bridge migration from Asia giving rise to the indigenous populations of North America be true, then I have reunited my Cherokee genes with their Eastern origins and spiced them up with some German schnapps, Swedish mead, Irish whiskey and Welsh ale along the way. I taught my boys that assholes come in all colors and pray to many different gods. One son is Cheropino and the other is Chinokee so the poor buggers can't be bigots or racists without being hypocrites first, which they are not. I remember when I was a child that the dogs we had that were mixed-breed were always the smartest and the healthiest. Go figure.
Now I have a young cat. It is the first time since I was in my twenties that I have had one. He's from the reserve in T'it'qet and we call him Dusty, Dusty Bones. He has taught me a lot. Foremost is this: If you are trying to do something and someone stops you, try again. Do this three times. After that don't be stupid and persist. It obviously won't work. Wait, nay, abide awhile and when the antagonist is distracted try again. If you are thwarted yet again, register your discontent with a little snarl and stomp off with your dignity and free spirit intact. Act as if you can care less about whatever it was for the remainder of the day and first thing in the morning, have at it again.
As I learn from the cat, what cats do and how they do it, life is becoming easier for both of us, especially now that our woman is fifteen thousand miles away for a month. I tried to take him for a walk with some little suspenders and a leash and we did not get far. It was like trying to train a wheel-chock to heel. The problem was that it was daytime. I smartened up and rigged up the harness one midnight with a half moon dancing in the dry wind. Dusty freely walked usually within three feet of me either in front or behind. He showed me over the course of an hour how to take a few paces and pause to listen and sniff.. Exactly what one does when road hunting mule deer.
He snugged between my ankles when I stopped to smoke and although every fiber of his feline being was as taught as an anchor chain in a stiff wind, he acknowledged in cat ways the bond we have developed over the past two months. He doesn't have his adult fangs yet and still finds comfort in my proximity. Unlike the submission/domination rituals of canines, I have found that feline society is based on mutual grooming. They do not follow nor lead in their world which is divided into five classifications. That which I eat, that which amuses me, that which I shall shag, that which annoys me and that which bores me. I have found that they share without being trained to do so. Physiologically they combine the front limb dexterity of a raccoon and the strong back legs for leaping of a hare. Claws, fangs, a tail for unparalleled balance, hyper-hearing and night vision complete the package of this hunter who has much to teach.
So, here I can confirm that come what may and regardless of which roads we take, we remain exactly ourselves. Cats are cats and dogs will be dogs. Each will have their afternoon by the garden when it hits home. There will always be something new to learn and it behooves one not to be prejudiced of four-legged teachers. Regardless of the times and many traditions of man, the way we humans were put together in reality changes slower than the course of the Fraser River. I saw a cartoon in a city paper at the Subway yesterday. A woman was reading from a little book of two pages entitled, “Understanding Men.” She wore a big grin that conveyed more confirmation that it did surprise. Next to her was a man reading from a huge tome entitled, “Understanding Women – Volume 32.” His expression was similar to Dusty Bones' when I remind him that he is not free to eat Billy, our Guinea pig. Same look I carry every time I snap off the barbs on my fish-hooks.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.