Lost and Found, Kitty Edition

The kitty stayed. His name, by the way, is Oliver.

Oliver has now been living here for about five months. In return for his food and lodging, he gives me messes to clean up, noises in the middle of the night, and a certain amount of quiet but very affectionate companionship. His funny little striped face is the happiest thing to come home to after work. And having him here means that I’m never really alone here anymore.

Until he ran away three days ago.

A friend had been in town all week, and, though she hadn’t been staying with me, she’d been spending quite a bit of time with me. For the most part, Oliver is a fellow introvert. New people aren’t usually his thing. Monday afternoon, he slipped out the door when one of us was coming or going, and we didn’t notice he was gone till some time later.

It was a gorgeous day, so I knew that calling him back right then would be pointless. Besides, I had more people coming for dinner. I might as well just wait until they’d left. He’d wandered off a few times before, but always came back around bedtime or dinnertime, at least after I’d walked around the block a few times and called him.
But he didn’t come back that night.

I was worried sick. I know, it seems silly. Cats can take care of themselves, right? But I live next to a busy highway, with cars flying past at 50-60 MPH day and night, and I’ve seen my share of poor creatures lying dead beside the road.

All night I alternated between dreaming he had come back, and waking up thinking I heard him on the porch. After dashing out of bed to let him in, I’d open the door, but there was no striped tabby on my doorstep.

I was all the more uneasy because I knew I wouldn’t be home till very late the next day. When I finally got home around eleven at night, rain was pouring down and the wind was whipping it in my face. It was a miserable night for any creature to be out, but, despite my calls, there was no Oliver.

After another less-than-restful night, I got up early so I could walk around the neighborhood and call for him again. I didn’t hear or see anything until I got back to my apartment, at which point I distinctly heard a cat crying. It sounded like Oliver.

I rushed out to the front door. Nothing. I ran around the back of the apartment. Nothing. I couldn’t even hear him. He wasn’t on the roof or in any of the trees out front. But when I came back inside and started making breakfast, I heard him again.

He sounded like he was in the bathroom, but there was nowhere he could be hiding there. (My bathroom is all of six square feet, if that.) Once again, I looked all around. By now, I was beginning to suspect that he might somehow be under the building or in a neighboring apartment. I had to leave for work, but at least I had a few places to check now.

I hurried home from work, not only because I wanted to find Oliver, but also because someone from maintenance was coming to fix a hinge that had broken on one of my cupboards. Two screws had fallen out a couple of days ago, and he’d already scheduled a time to come.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Oh, all right,” I lied.

He pulled out new screws and an electric screwdriver and had my cupboard fixed in a second. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” he asked.

“Actually, yes. Do you know if there’s a crawlspace under the building and how I can access it? My cat’s been missing for two nights and I think he might be stuck under there.”

He looked at me with sympathy. “I’ve never been out here before, but I’d love to help you look. I have a cat that I love dearly and I’d be frantic if she went missing.”

We walked around the little fourplex and checked for holes. None of the tiny openings we found looked like Oliver could possibly have gotten down them. Nonetheless, when we finally found the crawlspace access door, I eagerly yanked on the handle.

“It’s screwed shut,” said the man, whose name was Zach. “You don’t want to go down there.”

“Yes, I do,” I said, tugging at the door again.

“I’ll unscrew it for you. Why don’t you get some food to tempt him out?”

And, because it was screws that needed fixing on my cupboard, he had exactly what he needed to have that door off in a second. I held out an open can of wet food and called for the kitty. Seconds later, Oliver’s funny striped face poked out of the crawlspace.

Sobbing with relief, I picked him up and carried him inside, thanking Zach over and over. Oliver thanked me by struggling and biting, but once we were alone again, he rubbed all over me and purred like he would never stop… then he ate the whole can of food. I guess he’d wedged himself through one of the tiny holes during the rainstorm and then hadn’t been able to get out.

I suppose it’s not every day that Zach gets called on to rescue cats for sobbing English teachers. And it’s not every day that I am fine with being the damsel in distress. But apparently I don’t mind at all when it means rescuing a cat.

Oliver five months ago, when he first came to stay

Oliver five months ago, when he first came to stay

Oliver yesterday, sitting contentedly on my lap

Oliver yesterday, sitting contentedly on my lap

Creating “Shadow-Bride,” Part 1

Ever since I read Tolkien’s poem “Shadow-Bride” about six years ago, I’ve been wanting to illustrate it. This month, I decided to accept the challenge.

The poem itself is the perfect little mix of sweet, sad, and just slightly creepy. Creepy in the sense that I like—the Doctor Who sense, in which creepy enhances rather than overrides any inherent sweetness. For it is very, very sweet. Judge for yourself:

There was a man who dwelt alone
as day and night went past
he sat as still as carven stone
and yet no shadow cast.
The white owls perched upon his head
beneath the winter moon;
they wiped their beaks and thought him dead
under the stars of June.

There came a lady clad in grey
in the twilight shining:
one moment she would stand and stay,
her hair with flowers entwining.
He woke, as had he sprung of stone,
and broke the spell that bound him;
he clasped her fast, both flesh and bone,
and wrapped her shadow round him.

There never more she walks her ways
by sun or moon or star;
she dwells below where neither days
nor any nights there are.
But once a year when caverns yawn
and hidden things awake,
they dance together then till dawn
and a single shadow make.”

(originally published in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil)

All thematic elements aside, the poem presents an immediate artistic challenge: drawing two figures, dancing, but casting a believable single shadow that, at the same time, could represent those two figures.

Beautiful little poem with vivid imagery and a sadly sweet story? An artistic puzzle to solve? Bring it on!

I decided to do the piece as two separate 16×20 parts, which would allow me to reproduce the entire poem in calligraphy and, at the same time, have room for a large illustration. If I did it right, I could even make it look like two facing pages of a manuscript. So I planned the two by sketching ideas.

PICT5455

The next step in my process is to draw the pieces, full-size, on tracing paper before transferring to the illustration board. This allows me to make all my messes without damaging my final surface. As you can see, I’m still at this stage. Today I hope to finish the tracing paper work, transfer, do the ink work, and possibly begin painting—after, of course, my lesson plans are done for Tuesday and Wednesday. We’ll see how far I get.

Yesterday I focused on the faces. The faces are, to me, the most important part of this piece—it’s in the faces that I, the artist, choose which mood or theme I want to emphasize, and in this work, I want to emphasize the gentle romance. The colors—by very nature of being moonlit—are going to emphasize the other aspects of this poem. So I drew the faces and drew them again and again. I’ll have to see how well they transfer—sometimes it’s a gamble—but for now, I am pleased:

PICT5457

Hopefully, by next week, I will have some final pictures to share.