Yesterday morning, the wind tickled the bellies of the leaves remaining on the hardwood trees and set them off like flocks of birds into the blue morning sky. Off they flew, in great gatherings, some dancing off toward the east, other flocks spiraling upward toward the sun. By mid-afternoon, the trees had been fully, finally stripped, and the leaves were still dancing on the wind.

On our daily forest walk, I tilted my head up in amazement as waves of migrating leaves moved across the sky, going wherever fall leaves go when the wind refuses to grant them a quick ride to the forest floor.

By sunset, the breeze had kicked into a full gale, and the bare trees groaned and creaked like old rocking chair runners on a stone floor. Some clacked against their neighbors in noisy, wooden duels. Small limbs crashed onto the roof and back deck. Darter the cat decided the house was a good place to be. But the dogs wanted to run up and down the street in excitement. Wind often does that to them—gets their juices running…

Wind often fills my body with a vague sense of anxiety and something akin to irritation. Actually, I recognize those feelings of unsettled discontent stirring in my chest a lot these days, whether the wind amplifies them or not. I have my stories about why these feelings are so common to me: Childhood stuff, the state of the world these days, too much work to do, insubordinate pets, money troubles, uncertain futures, whatever. Many stories. All told to convince myself that I am justified in wandering through my days in a state of fretful, mild crankiness.

It’s all bullshit, you know. These stories. Since getting off of antidepressants, I am faced with feeling more of my feelings lately, and I am horrified—yup, that’s the right word: horrified—to realize that it is far easier for me to wander through my days with a background static of anxiousness and (gulp) resentment, than with a glad and grateful heart.

It was easier to be numb.

In Oregon, after the New Moon Pipe and Prayer Ceremony (see, I made a vow to myself to bring more happiness into my days. Happiness is not a common palette on which I paint my days, and I don’t believe it ever has been. Why not? See those stories several paragraphs up. Those stories, I realize, are absolute crap, but they run in my head like a loop tape. Discontent is familiar. It plays on like background music in my head, ever present.

It is said that awareness changes everything. Through my meditation practice, I am becoming more aware of the extent of my discontent, resentful, put-upon feelings, but as yet, the awareness has not helped me dissolve them. I am just more aware of them, and so more disgusted with myself when I realize how my life has been—for the most part—given over to them.

Abe Lincoln once said that people are just about as happy as they want to be, and I want to be happier. I want to have a background music in my heart of harp music with dulcimer overtones. No more heavy metal, rap, or grunge!

I pray about this quest for happiness each morning. I ask spirit to make me more aware of when the nasty, agitated music gets going in my head, so that I can purposefully turn it off, and bring in the dulcimers along with thoughts of gratitude. For now, Spirit is sending me help through my dogs and other members of my small animal family.

Hannah and Mazel Tov are—like most dogs—engaging and inclusive. They are both habitual happy greeters, saying “Howdy!” with tail wags, body wags, and grins throughout the course of each day. I can always count on them to greet me at my bedside each morning, to greet me when I’ve been away, to greet me with an invitation to play stick or to go walkies, to greet me in the kitchen after dinner with high hopes for some tasty scraps, or to greet me when I am sitting silently and staring off into the distance in some funky trance.It is amazing how often I can utterly tune them out. I notice this because Spirit is making me notice it. How often do I ignore the push of a cold nose into my hand, the sound of a thumping tale, the sweet and expectant whisper of a panting breath against my leg or cheek. Now, almost at the moment when my dogs finally turn away from my leaden lack of response, I notice them. I notice their open-hearted faces, their happy grins, their determined efforts to get me to simply see them and say “Hi.”

In that near-missed moment of “Hello, I see you,” I realize where I have been—off in some grunge music, off in some isolated not-happy, not grateful place.

Spirit is that cold nose in my hand, that soft panting breath on my knee. See, she says. I have sent you  to wake you up. I send them many times a day. See? Their hearts are light. The music that fills their days is the music of glad heartedness. Look at them. See them. They bring to you the music, the lightness your heart-mind seeks. Touch them gently. Their gift of goodness, gratitude, and love will pour into you like warm, nourishing tea. But you have to see them.

Last night, I sat on the floor of my bedroom, turning idly through the pages of a current events magazine. Talk about mindless negativity. The pages citing the week’s events fairly grumbled at me. Cookie, the possum, waddled about the floor, getting some evening exercise. I try and take her into different places in the house and let her explore. She gets excited about new ground, new smells, new tastes. That evening, our closet floor full of shoes had really grabbed her attention. I could hear her pawing through the piles of slippers, Crocs, and hiking boots. Then my attention drifted away to blend with the distressing, deadening vibe of the weekly news.

Suddenly, sharp teeth bit down on my bare toe. I yiked and pulled my foot up under me and came face to face with Cookie. She was gazing up at me with an expression of both wonder and indignation. She arched her neck back and stretched her long nose up to see me even better. Great toe! she seemed to say. Tasty and fat! What?! Why are you hiding it? Goodness, you’re no fun…

My angel brought me back to Earth with a sharp jolt. The more peaceful approach hadn’t seemed to work. I vaguely remember her licking my wrist earlier, but I had not been able to register that message through my habitual trance. So she tried harder.

I set the magazine aside and turned my full attention to my possum friend, noticing how much she delighted in the smell and taste of our shoes. She systematically stuck her head inside each one to get a good, strong whiff. When satisfied, she bit down hard on the rubber or leather bindings of shoe in question, and then rubbed both cheeks on the rims in a cat-like gesture of claiming. A far better way to spend and evening than fretting over Italy and the world economy, I’d say.

Taking a deep breath, I made myself feel the gratitude I have for this small, goofy possum friend. Just as I make myself feel the gratitude I have for my dogs in that moment when I actually “see” them. I try to hold that feeling of appreciation and peace, to make it become—out of new habit—my background set-point.

A lifetime of habitual dis-ease can’t be overcome in a day, but with the help and persistence of my animal angels, I am making ground. And I’m making it one bite, sniff, and lick at a time.

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7 Responses to THE QUEST

  1. I have followed your blog on and off, only recently. Because you were/are a donor to the Yellowstone Project I intend to send you a photo essay, at least it has become a photo essay, about wolves and their plight, state management being an umbrella term for self interested action that ignores the commonweal and seems to despise the world as it was made. I’m surprised to read this post or rather at my my own reaction. I have not fully understood what I have so far read I think, among other possible reasons, because I have read from my own point of view, with my own thoughts and plans in view, an action, inattention.
    I share your despair and your gratitude. I have lived my life awash with the past, present and future wrongs and the ever present good of the animals I love, that is all the animals I have known alive or now gone. You share. I will now. I had always wanted to have land. It was an old family longing, to return to land. My father’s father died at 45 living in town, selling farm equipment, longing for a farm that had been sold. They’d been farmers for centuries.
    I had land. But to satisfy a different old family longing, to be treated badly in ways that were familiar, I had a farm in company of a partner who provided that other need. Our plans to rescue animals and live an ethical life were not shared. The land would not be my land. In a chrysalis state of new life I gathered everything I owned, many inherited objects, whatever goods remained in my possession that had been fashioned with creature bodies, shell, ivory, wool and burned them with prayers. If emergence was protracted and painful and only another beginning, giving back those things made change of state possible.
    I live with animals. I then tried to make my animals conform to my perceived need for a kind of pure land. My animals taught me instead to love their natures, and nature, nature being full of life and death exchanged, tolerance. Finally I’ve had to learn tolerance for my mistakes, my frequent inability to function without conditioned response. I am part of nature.
    I’ve been reading about wolves and Aldo Leopold, “You can’t love game and hate predators”,a step to, you can’t love nature and hate predators. If I am apart of nature a kind of love follows.
    A wolf will defend its young to the death. Hunters perceive a need to hate and kill. I choose wolves. But I know, somewhere the sentence grows short. You can’t love and hate.

  2. d.B. says:

    Check out Jon Katz daily blog(Bedlam Farm)he has been on a similar journey and shares his thoughts and experiences, very helpful and he has wonderful shots of his animals!
    It is said “that which we put our attention to is what we will always draw unto ourselves” I’m not trying to preach or give advise, I just want you to know I am blessed by your work and the honesty that you offer, you are a gift…your beasts great and small know this and so they will always find you and spend time with you!


  3. mosesinptown says:

    Hi Susan, your struggle with depression and the medication issue are very familiar to me. I wish you luck. I have been unable to get off the meds, have tried several times and been unable to live with the anxiety and panic. For a few months this summer, I lived drug free and was able to cry again, but then I crashed. I hope you can do it and don’t be so hard on yourself. I think you’re wonderful.
    Love and light, Barbara

  4. kathey says:

    HI Susan, it is so wonderful to receive your blogs and read through your ways with words the great stories that you tell us, your readers. You always lift my heart and I feel the depths of my relation to the world in which I live after getting a good dose of your experiences. Thank you so much for sharing with us, your blog makes me feel grateful to be alive!

  5. Carter says:

    I watch the news and slowly, I am coming to realize there is no good in it. When the media is not playing the blame game, it is telling us about the horrible things people do to each other. Does any of it make me happy? NOPE.

    My time growing up in a small mid-western town was spent outdoors in a sand box made from a tractor tire from my great uncles farm or in a tree fort that my dad built with a window that opened and a sliding door made from re used barn door hardware or at the nearby creek or swamp. There simply was not enough time for TV.

    In the 50s there was barely TV, no iPhones, internet nor lap tops. Electronics were at best rudimentary. We still lived with Nature. In today’s world, Nature is secondary, the elements are an inconvenience and electronics are too involved in the maturing of children. TV, video games and laptops have taken the place of nurture and have become baby sitters.

    Humans did not evolve in an electronic environment. Humans evolved in the wild. Senses of the survivors were honed in the wild. We live in world that we have built that avoids nature and in a “civilization” that contravenes nature. In light of disasters like New Orleans, the Mississippi flood plain and Japan I ask “How’s that workin’ for us?”

  6. Susan, this touches me deeply…I KNOW this story. Somehow you have written words that I am not articulate enough…or perhaps not courageous enough…to utter. Thank you.


    • Susan McElroy says:

      Christine, and everyone who has posted here—thank you so much for being there to respond to the words I write. You heal me.

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