In late August, as I was gardening, I heard what could be described as cat chatter from the nearby woods. It strangely had the rythm and cadence of speech, with an overall insistent effect, as if asking for or even demanding help and friendship. Over the next few days, I caught glimpses of the cat hunting and hiding under the cascading japanese maples. Soon I started feeding the feminine cat, becoming concerned if she wasn’t on time for her meals, which she usually was.
Over the weeks, she wove herself into my gardening, delighting me when I looked up and saw her running toward me full speed down a grassy expanse,
sleeping on a log, and dancing down a newly filled hillside.
Why didn’t I see the grass that way before, or notice that the logs looked like a beautiful bed, or comprehend the delightful quality of the bare earth on the hillside that slid just enough to make a running footprint exciting?
This small spirit provided grace and movement to the garden, causing my eyes to wander and follow her traceries in a soothing and rythmic way. This was Eden-
like, this was the ancient Kashmir, garden cradle of the world, gladly celebrating life without limit.
But there was a limit. As fall approached and nights got longer and cooler, I realized that this garden cat, named Koko early on, would face brutal Michigan weather and need protection. The only question was how to “snatch” her into the house, because, though she loved to be petted, she was wary of our doorway. So we did the almost unthinkable, we lured her into a cage to eat and quietly closed the latch. I’m not sure who was more distressed, she or I, but we made it into the house, then bedroom, where I quickly opened the door. One nano second later, she was under the bed. She was now safe, but how does a bed compare to a Japanese maple? She was too quiet, running exuberant legs, now tucked defensively under her.
It so happened I was reading an article the next day by Nyla Khan, “A Walk Down Memory Lane: Kashmir and Its Environs” describing her feelings on leaving Kashmir for school in Delhi. Her feelings gave voice to what any being, human or animal, must feel after being taken away from a garden. Here is an excerpt:
“I always carried Kashmir inside me,
wherever I went: the verdure, the aromas, the majestic panorama…….became an integral part of my being. While in New Delhi…..I experienced despair at the disintegration of familian spaces….I traveled to Kashmir for my summer vacations with an insatiate hunger for home and hearth, and an excitement that knew no bounds. After the sweltering heat of Delhi, the nippy air of Kashmir in the months of May and June, made aromatic by the swathes of dahlias and gladioli, swaying to the sounds of birds and crickets, susurrating through the fluttering leaves was a pleasure to my young mind and fluttering heart.”
My heart was fluttering too as I read this. Seeing a garden as Kashmir-like and wanting to make it more so, and missing something much much earlier, much more primal, something encoded in the far reaches of our DNA, of perfect unity with nature and all that would entail. But in winter Kashimir fades, gardens fade, till they become Gustav Klimt-like atmospheric auras we and they wear like clothing, till they merge again with the verdant auras of spring.