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Life Arts

Out of many, One

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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to None 2/20/11

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The latest episode of Hampshire Independent's "Independent Full Gospel Hour," narrated by the world's foremost living radical pantheist, a progressive missionary to the conservative heathens in the hills and hollers of Hampshire County, West Virginia.

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Yoga class was cancelled yesterday morning due to icy roads. So since I don't have any late-breaking metaphysical bulletins to report, the cosmic clash of East and West, Hindu vs. Radical Pantheist, will give way to perhaps less exotic fare in this installment of "Independent Full Gospel Hour."

(I say "perhaps" because, in all honesty, I never know what fabulous ancient ruins I'll encounter in my splendid little journeys down the paradisial streams of consciousness, delightfully snaking through this errant child of God's mental wilderness. But who knows? It may turn out to be as pedantic as the everyday imperial mindpulp now haunting the cyberlands of our fascist social Matrix. Now that's some boring doodoo--the cheery propaganda pablum of ever-grinning post-ironic imperial broadcast scribes.)

(You can probably tell we don't get cable.)

I actually couldn't go to yoga class anyway, because my cat, Elizabeth, was stuck up in our walnut tree. We had been freaked that, since we hadn't seen her around the night before, her absence at breakfast was bringing reality to the very gates of our worry (I actually get that from my mother; I can be ten minutes late getting to her house and she's already got me with half my fingernails removed by some sadistic Arab somewhere. I'm glad I meditate as compensation. She's a Republican, as if you didn't know).

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Anyway, I'm coming in the back door from wandering the spread on my morning chores round, when I hear this plaintive cry, and I know immediately it's Elizabeth. (All the cats have different voices, and each breed its own dialect. But cats rarely will allow a human to hear their real language, which they only speak openly in their own company. I've only overheard it twice in my life (I will never forget the time they suddenly realized I was listening, and they immediately shut up; that was spooky). It is truly a fascinating tongue. You can hear snips of it when they're trying to talk a bird into flying into their mouth, but that's pretty simple stuff, really--equivalent to "Here, birdy, birdy." Their true language is hieroglyphically complex.)

So I hear Elizabeth's cry, and I immediately answer with her name, because I can't tell where the cry came from. I first thought it was under the house. She cried again and I answered again, because now I knew she was outside. She cried a third time and I thought--what the you-know-what?--because this time it sounded like it was coming from midair--which made absolutely zero friggin sense to my customarily Cartesian analytical thought processes. You know what I'm talking about.

I whip around to re-establish my sense of reality and of course the sound is coming from the tree--what cat hasn't been in a tree?--and who should be up there, raggedy wet and as pissed-off as I've ever seen her (a pretty monumental statement; you can ask any of the other cats), my own darling Elizabeth.

Now there was a certain anomaly in Elizabeth's predicament, in that she doesn't usually venture that high in a tree. And at the very moment her feline AWOL status was cresting in my now-feverish mental surveillance of her possible whereabouts, her surprisingly elevated appearance had an undeniably serendipitous and magical effect. If my relief hadn't been so total, and my concern for her immediate welfare so intense, I would have laughed.

I rushed in the house and yelled to my wife that Elizabeth was in the walnut tree, and then ran back to the shed to get my 32' extension ladder. I thought about the wild frightened look I'd seen in her eyes, and decided to grab my long woodstove gloves for the effort, too. I knew that if I did manage to get a hand on that little orangy ninja, I was in peril of some serious laceration without protection. No matter how much a cat loves you, if she's scared, she's wildly scratching with some truly razor-sharp weapons. Not a comfortable companion, dancing fifty feet above the ground on thoroughly icy branches.

I raised the ladder extension as high as it could go, but she was about twenty feet further up, and the trees of the majestic walnut family tend to spread their limbs wide, with few auxiliary branches cluttering the graceful reach of their arms.

Before you get too alarmed, and picture me writing this in a local hospital bed, my meat puppet swathed in plaster wrappings, with several limbs hanging on steel cables, I should tell you something about myself: I grew up in a tree.

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It was an oak, maybe eighty feet high and about a hundred years old, I figure in retrospect. It was in the front yard of my parents' house, where I would climb down to sleep at night, in an isolated rural suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. I didn't have any playmates my age living close by, and the sight my legally-blind mother wouldn't let us out of there in that wilderness was of predictably limited range.

So when I tired of the chatter of my little sisters, and had run out of creative new ideas on how to tease them even more unmercifully, I headed to the oak for a recharge. Looking back, I think that, with the possible exception of an intellectually clever Franciscan nun, that oak was my earliest spiritual mentor in this incarnation. I spent many a summer afternoon resting cradled in his arms, wandering the landscape between the material world and dreaming, listening to the breeze stirring cosmic secrets in the whispering leaves. Unlike the walnut, the oak branches out sufficiently to give a lanky little Druid a congenial enough structure to scamper around in its branches in a remarkably carefree manner, that would have struck terror in the heart of my worried mother had she been able to see me that high.

One Easter a few years back, I decided to swing by the old home place for a visit, on my way to my sister's for holiday dinner. When I crested the small hill just by the house, I discovered that from the gravel driveway on, they were widening the rural lane into a six-lane suburban artery, and my old and dear friend lay there slaughtered and dismembered on the ground. I cried and I cried and I cried.

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Michael Hasty wrote a column for 7 years at the Hampshire Review, West Virginia's oldest newspaper, named "best column" in 2000 by the WV Press Association. His writings have appeared at hundreds of websites, including Online Journal, Common (more...)

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