In the recent January snowstorm in New York City -- where two feet fell in 12 hours, burying cars completely and people slightly -- I learned a lot about what matters to me. My dog getting a proper walk matters to me, for example. My cat’s litter box cleaned out matters a lot to me.
I have always loved the way my husband fills the bird feeders and, when it snows, I find his habitual care of things that fly even more delightful. Filling the bird feeders is practically a spiritual practice for him. He likes the way the birds fly into our tiny patch of yard. So do I. They make the concrete jungle of our abode more appealing.
We also were ever so slightly short of groceries the day of the big snow and totally out of chocolate, our usual after-meal dessert. We can make a good bar last a week. But if you eat a lot of garlic, it is always nice to have the counter-taste of sweet at the end of a meal. Thus, my lament, as a well-fed first worlder, that night of the big snow was this: “I wish I had something sweet to eat.” It wasn’t a real complaint, just an overall wistfulness, laden with appreciation for my normal days and their normal ways.
Warren went out and scooped up some of the clean snow and poured maple syrup on it. It was delicious. He wasn’t filling up the bird feeders but could have been. It was sweet and good, cheap and available, making a delight amidst a storm. I don’t want to put Ben and Jerry’s out of business, even in the winter, but suffice it to say that their new flavor “Swirl,” brought out for the Paris climate talks, is almost as good as syrup on snow.
I would like to tell you that my dog is a low-cost form of personal entertainment, like syrup on snow. But that would belie how much our lovely vet charges to keep her in a licensed collar or fit to attend a kennel from time to time. I’d like to tell you that our cat was a low-cost form of personal entertainment, too, but she often nudges me when I am on the computer, turning me into a raving maniac because when I want to type, I want to type.
What matters to me is being able to love my dog, my cat, my husband and all sweet things, not necessarily in that order.
I also love the way Pope Francis praises animals. “Each organism, as a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself,” he says in his encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”
“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another,” he adds.
I think Francis would like my cat, Hudson, long deceased, buried outside my window, who was my best friend for years. He would love my current upstate cat, Dutchess, named for the county where we sometimes live or my current downstate cat, Gracie, a real bruiser of a beast. The pope would also like my relatively new dog, who is in heat right now, bleeding a tad on the floor. Sybil is her name, after a famous Hudson Valley revolutionary Sybil Ludington, who rode a bit longer than Paul Revere on a similar mission.
I won’t bring up our chickens or the goats we raised when our kids were little or even the goats that my sons birthed at age 6 and 8, when we were out for the evening and the teenagers next door were in charge. They used The New York Times blue plastic wrapping to cover their hands and help the goat, named after Angie of the Grimke sisters. As it turned out, the boys were useless but Angie the goat didn’t seem to mind the companionship. The babysitters fled and I still love them, too.
On our recent California vacation we enjoyed many loveable things, as well, including friends, food and wine. But what we will remember are the animal moments. First, we saw a coyote, the first I had ever seen. Then we watched a mother cow play with her calf, nudging her away affectionately, so much so that I had to declare myself anthropomorphizing. Then we stayed at River’s End, in Jenner, Calif., where the sea lions gather to take in the morning sun after their morning swim and frolic.
Animals vastly outnumber humans on this planet. To illustrate, almost 60 billion animals are bred and killed for food each year worldwide, compared to the entire human population of 7.3 billion.
There is more to love than we could possibly love. We can’t survive without the chance to love stuff and souls other than our own. But with that love, we can more than survive. We can even find our way to enchantment and what Francis so rightly calls praise.