Contemplate your god or oblivion, for it will reveal that you will never experience mortality, and at least in that sense you are indeed immortal.
Concert pianist Van Cliburn is dead at 78. Cliburn won world fame in 1958 by taking first prize at the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow at the height of the cold war, a competition designed to highlight Soviet culture and musical talent. And he did it playing nothing less than Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto Number 1 (more here). This was also a time when I was starting to mess around with the piano at idle moments. I was blown away by his interpretation, one that has since become a world standard.
After Jo Ann and I started dating, his artistry remained a part of our lives for years afterward. We were both classical music fans and shared a habit with many other UCLA couples of going up into the Bel-Air heights during evenings now and then to enjoy the city panorama. The radio was tuned to KFAC, the LA classical music station, and as we settled in at 8pm the Gas Company Concert came on with the triumphant opening phrases of Tchaikovsky’s Number 1 – talk about motivational music. Two hours later the program’s end was again announced, this time by the concerto’s second movement, the languid refrain from its Adagio – it was time to start getting things together to go down the hill and back into the real world.
And so it went during our undergraduate years as Sputniks launched, Camelot came to Washington, and Cuba and Berlin vied for the touchpoint for WW3. Throughout it all Van Cliburn played his masterful rendition every weekday night for Los Angeles audiences that also included some young couples on local mountain tops in cars with foggy windows. Thanks for the memories Van – RIP.
And yesterday we also buried Leo. Leo was a cat to behold, given to us by friends as a frisky little ball of black fur nineteen years ago. We lived on Saddle Peak Rd in the Santa Monica Mountains. This was wild country where on the roads or in your driveway you could see pumas, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, owls, eagles, hawks, deer, …, and rattlesnakes galore. We always took in cats and had lost over 30 of them to local predators (mostly coyotes and owls) by the time Leo arrived. Cats were our first line of defense against rattlers, territorial critters that eat the same things that cats do. The idea was to limit their food supply to keep their population down (in ten years we reduced the annual rattler kill rate from seven to one), but the kitties paid a price for our living in God’s country by also becoming part of the food chain.
We had begun favoring black cats because they always had the best personalities, and their color helped them survive, especially at night when they just ‘disappeared’. Leo’s great temperament helped him raise two dobies during his long years. The first one, Neiu (‘nay-you’), arrived when Leo was almost a year old. Right away Leo showed Neiu the ropes and made sure she knew who was boss. The two of them settled into a close friendship that lasted all of Neiu’s twelve years, they did everything together (see picture) from rough and tumble play to serene moments on the driveway. The indelible dog/cat play rule at our house has been that the dog never uses her paws – powerful and poorly controlled - and only her mouth – extremely well controlled. And Leo was very careful with his claws around Neiu’s eyes even when his head was in her mouth.
Indoors, Leo greeted all of our guests who later during the evening would find Leo calmly jumping into their laps and making himself comfortable. When we did chores inside or outside, Leo was there in his usual supervisorial role which he insisted on performing literally until he was on his last legs a week ago.
When we moved to Nevada County in 2002, Leo took that in stride as we settled into our first year’s rental house. Neiu’s presence helped the continuity and soon Leo was dodging foxes roaming Cypress Hill streets after dark. Moving to our house with a fenced forest was a Kitty Nirvana. He became the uncontested PIC (predator in charge), although Neiu did her part in hunting and eating field mice.
As Leo got older we decided to give him some female company to maintain his libido – although I have no idea how that works when both parties have had their plumbing fixed. But it did work, and soon Leo was raising Sarah and showing her the ropes. Sarah was a little handful from the Animal Shelter, and you guessed it, another little bundle of black fur with an outsized self-image (see her stalking turkeys). Leo took it all in stride, and soon they were playing wildly and sleeping together.
With great sadness Neiu left us in 2007, and two years later was replaced by a little eight-week-old red dobie, Puna. Well, Leo immediately showed Sarah how you establish the correct relationship with a new dog in the house. With Puna, the now emeritus Leo became the epitome of dignified indifference that established itself after the unsuspecting and rambunctious puppy got his snoot introduced to some very sharp claws. It was what we call ‘one trial learning’ in the trade – their relationship immediately settled down to what you would expect between a mentor and his charge.
And that’s how it went for three more years until during the last few days it became obvious to everyone, including Leo, that the time had come to take one more trip to see Doctor Michelle. So yesterday we said good-bye to our awesome Leo, and planted him under a very large cedar tree in the forest he loved.