We all know that Art is subjective - one person's masterpiece may be the next person's bird cage liner. I never studied Art in school, but I've been fortunate enough to travel to Europe a few times. Have to admit that I don't get the Mona Lisa, but was in awe of The Last Supper. The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam was so amazing that I had to visit it twice. The Rodin museum in Paris is relatively small, but is virtually overflowing with his genius. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I may not understand Art, but I know what I like.
One definition of Art includes the simple statement that
Art is form and content.One part of "form" is the medium used. Painting and drawing in all its forms (oil, watercolor, charcoal, pen and ink) may be the oldest form of Art, dating back to images left on the walls of caves. Sculpture is millenia old. In the last few centuries new media have emerged, such as photographs, images created by computers, and performance art, while traditional media have been used in new and unexpected ways (a la Jackson Pollack).
In this diary, I wish to tell you about the life and death of a truly unique Artist. He was unique in that his chosen media was not at all traditional. You see, this Artist worked not with paint and canvas, but with socks. And he was also unique in that he wasn't a human, he was our cat.
His name was Harry.
Harry came to us about ten years ago. He had been neutered and declawed, and then abandoned by someone to survive a harsh winter in Anchorage, Alaska. A good samaritan had semi-adopted Harry, leaving food and water outside for him. But when she left the state, she could not take him with her. Mrs. frsbdg is a veterinarian, and the woman had brought Harry to the clinic where she works, looking for someone to give him a forever home. As I found out that evening, his forever home would be with us.
That first night was rather memorable. We already had two older cats and an Australian shepherd, so can understand if he was a little freaked out by the whole experience. The next morning, he was nowhere to be found in the house. We looked and looked for him, finally noticing that the corner of the screen in the guest room window was slightly pushed out. That's right, he had escaped the house and was out walking around on the roof. When we finally retrieved him, I told Mrs. frsbdg that we should call him "Harry Houdini," because he was such a talented escape artist (and also because he was a long-haired cat). The "Harry" part stuck, but she decided to use "Potter" as his last name. Still a magician I guess, and that's how he came to be known by us as "Harry Potter."
Eventually, Harry reached equilibrium with our other pets and they all got along just fine. In the summertime, we would let the cats out in our fenced in back yard. While six feet of cedar could contain our oldest boys, Harry had no trouble leaping over it to go exploring. He always came back though, sometimes with a furry little present in his mouth. Once, he brought back a vole that wasn't dead or even very injured, and we had to chase it around the house, moving the furniture until we finally cornered it and released it back into the wild. Whenever we would see Harry outside the fence through the dining room window, we would open it up and he would leap back into the house that way. We called that move "The Fred Flintstone," named after the part in the Flintstones theme where he puts the saber-tooth cat out the front door, only to have him jump right back through a window.
In 2009, we lost both of our older cats at the ages of 18 and 17 1/2, and Harry became an only cat. He and our Aussie really bonded then, and when she passed away in 2011, he was not just an only cat, he was our only pet. A few months later we fostered a litter of three small kittens, and he didn't know what to think of them - so small and full of manic energy. We ended up adopting one of those kittens, a small black-and-white little guy who we named "Aspen" in memory of our Australian shepherd, "Breckenridge." In no time, Aspen was curling up next to Harry for naps, and Harry became a big brother to our new addition.
Shortly after that, we brought home an 8-week old border collie puppy. Now this puppy had never seen a cat before, but when he ran up to Harry to investigate, Harry popped him in the nose with a triple left hook that was too fast to be seen and could only be heard. Wiki backed off and from that point on gave Harry a tremendous amount of respect. This cat was not to be messed around with.
So we were back up to two cats and one dog, and things felt right in our home again. Until last May that is, when Harry began to show signs of kidney failure on top of the thyroid trouble he already had. I asked Mrs. frsbdg how long Harry might have, and she said "maybe only a few weeks." This made me tremendously sad, as we were just beginning summer here in Alaska, and we knew how much Harry enjoyed sleeping outdoors in the sunshine. We added some new medications to his list and hoped for the best.
About a year ago, we started noticing that some of my dress socks would show up in unusual places around the house - a brown one here, a black one there. I kept my socks in a couple of bins in the walk-in closet, but we had no idea who was responsible for their migration to other rooms of the house. The mystery remained for a few weeks, until we managed to catch the culprit in action.
Harry was the one going into the closet, taking the socks, and carrying them around the house, depositing them in other rooms. Most of the time he did this when both of us were out of the house - we would come home and see what he had been up to. He quickly went from individual socks to more intricate compositions, which we realized were works of art. Each piece he created was individual and unique. We may not have understood it, but we appreciated the effort that he put into them. Rather than try to name them, we just photographed them and enjoyed them for what they were.
April 24, 2013
May 9, 2013
My socks were grouped into two different bins by color - brown and khaki in one, black and grey in another. Some days Harry worked mostly in one theme or the other, and still other compositions were more mixed. His earliest works were created in the master bedroom, not far from the walk-in closet. But as he gained confidence, he began exploring other places to express himself.
Such as the hallway:
June 26, 2013
Or the kitchen:
June 1, 2013
These other venues were down a flight of stairs and quite some distance from his palette of socks, and he must have made well over a dozen trips back and forth to create these masterpieces. We were so intrigued by his newfound talent that we set up a video camera to capture him in action. And what we found is that he had a lot to say while he was creating his artwork.
Whichever one of us got home first would either snap a picture or at least preserve the composition for the other one to appreciate. Then, we would pick up the socks and return them to the closet for him to use again the next day. At first, I would take the time to put them back as pairs, but eventually I just gave up and tossed them into the closet in a bunch. Each morning, I would select a first sock and then hunt around for its mate. Many days I wouldn't find it, and would end up with a pair of mis-matched socks. But I didn't mind at all. Harry was still alive, in our lives, and going to great lengths to express himself as a unique and gifted soul. What was there to complain about in that?
Death of an Artist
Harry survived through the summer of 2012 in reasonably good health. And although we didn't have much good weather, he managed to enjoy as much of it as possible. He loved to take naps in the sunshine, and one of his favorite places to do that was in my hammock. On those rare days when the temperature surged about 70 degrees, I would set up my hammock in the back yard. Harry would wait patiently for me to climb into hammock and then he would jump in and stretch out for a nap.
Summer turned to fall and the days got shorter and shorter. We didn't get nearly as much snow this year, which tends to make things seem even darker. The Holidays were soon upon us, and Harry offered to help Mrs. frsbdg with the Christmas wrapping and decorations.
As time passed, Harry became even more gregarious than he typically was. He would be there to greet us as we walked in the door, often proudly displaying his latest sock composition. If we sat down to read or watch television, he would climb up to sit in our laps. At bedtime, I would give him a "taxi ride," carrying him up the stairs to the bedroom. Throughout the fall and early winter he was doing so well we almost forgot that he was sick in the first place. But that soon began to change.
In late January, Harry began to vomit more frequently. He was always a purveyor of hairballs, but this was food that he just couldn't keep down. Despite a healthy appetite, he would vomit sometimes within minutes of eating. In addition to his food, he wasn't keeping his medications down. And no surprise, he was losing weight. Eventually, Harry lost his appetite entirely - a sure sign the end was near. We tried finding new foods that would entice him to eat, but nothing worked. He spent more and more time off in another room by himself, which was not a good sign. He had also not created any new sock art for the previous few weeks. So we began to make plans to say goodbye to him.
Over the weekend, we spent as much time with him as possible, just holding him close and telling him how brave he was. On that last day, I came home from work and he wasn't there to greet me. Stepping into the kitchen, I saw his final creation.
A single, brown sock laid on the floor near the back door. And I just lost it. I've refrained from reading too much into Harry's Art, but this piece spoke to me. One sock, half on the mat and the other half on the floor symbolized a transition - motion. The location by the back door said "leaving." This was Harry's way of telling us that he was ready to go, and that everything would be okay.
When I finally found him, I carried him into the family room and played his favorite YouTube video: John's Bird Feeder. Harry watched the birds coming and going from the feeder, and weakly pawed at the screen. For dinner, we offered him some red salmon that I caught last summer, which he ate and managed to keep down. His last day was a good day, which is as it should be. Some pet owners who go through a similar experience question their decision. They say "see, he's doing better." But in my humble opinion, it is better that the last day be a good day, rather than prolong the suffering only to realize you waited too long.
That evening, we sedated Harry for the ride back to Mrs. frsbdg's clinic. Alone in the treatment room, we shaved his leg and inserted a catheter. We held him close, and through our tears we told him over and over again how much we love him, and that he wouldn't hurt anymore. She pushed the syringe and moments later, our Harry was gone.
We lost Harry over a month ago now, and we miss him deeply. The final coda to this story came this week when I finally found the strength to gather up the jumbled pile of socks and sort them into pairs. Now back in their bins, the lay neat and orderly, and boring as hell.
I waited to write this diary, because I didn't want to write from a place of grief. Been there, done that. No, I needed time to process the loss of our dear friend. And so I write this not to mourn him, but to celebrate his life and his talents with you. And I ask you to do the same with me.
For those of you who may have recently lost a beloved companion, I understand that your grief is real, and that it is normal. As someone who has lost four pets in as many years, I know this first-hand. But I write this diary to say that grief is also temporary. The glass that appears as half empty today can in time become ten thousand glasses overflowing with joyous memories. My wish for you is that day comes soon.
Though he is gone, I know that we were blessed to have Harry in our lives at all. And in his last year, he taught us so much about how to live, and how to love. We are better people because of him. His artwork brought us much joy, and although his chosen medium was socks, I see now that his true canvas was my heart.