My pet cat has ancestors. He'd like me to remind you that your lap is a very important place.

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- excerpt from an essay written by Ornette "Kiki" Coleman-Seagraves, my smart and orange cat, who fearlessly challenges the laptop every chance he gets

Let's always keep in mind: Our pets are the original lap-tops.

We think we keep them in our lives, but in actuality, it's a mutually agreed-upon cohabitation. They stay in our lives knowing there will be an exchange. They live and love for a bit of food, some water, and the chance to learn a new, more complex language. The human language. A-B-C, 1 2 3, you and me.

I think animals are after our language. I think it's their goal to know us. Maybe that's why they keep so close - why they have hearts, lungs, legs, bones. They have mouthes, throats. They eat and drink. They have voices. The give birth. They want to be like us. It's why they've kept their mind beyond science, and still serve the Earth in spirit. We know that if they kept us as pets, we'd live outdoors. In the forest. Upon the mountain. Underground. So if you keep pets, be sure to slow your mind sometimes, and talk to them, and let your little animal comrade know how much you love and appreciate him.

Cats are strong and dainty. What's the word? AGILE. Yeah, that's it ...
The more you know about the way they live, the more you'll understand the things they need from you, and why they are always greatly important. Cats know how to use the art of mystery to pursue whatever it is they're after. In mystery, they find their nobility. And their mystery preys upon our spirit, and calls to us, and we strongly sympathize with them. We leave food for them, knowing they must be hungry. And even when the only dish that's clean is the dish that cost the most - the finest kitchenware - we'll still choose to lay it out with gross, wet, stinking meat for Cat. Because perhaps we understand, on a very deep level, that the cat is a royal creature - one who deserves to eat from a golden platter. He is our guardian and our guide.

Dogs are rugged lovers. LOYALTY is a word that rings true. A dog will help you in whatever way he can. He will sleep beside you and share the warmth of his body. He will look you deeply in the eye and never back away from what he finds there. He will raise his voice, bear his teeth, and become a vicious beast to defend you. Against anything. A squirrel, an old boot, the doorbell, a passing car. Even if he knows he would never be able to take down that evil thing, he'll willingly stand between It and You. The dog is well-versed in the symbolic language of love and unity. When you have a dog near you, you have a second heart. He only hopes that you'll feed him. He might try and beg, dance up on his toes, sing a little song and spin around in tight circles, in anticipation of his reward - but even when you never feed him, even when you beat him, toss him out and curse his name, Dog will always love you. Dog will always wait for you. He's here to serve you. Because Dog is honest. Because he really knows that he is Dog for a reason.

Dog and Cat are tied to us, but other animals have also made the decision to take up with their cause. All the little, gentle, busy animals made time for us in their busy lives. Mouse, Rabbit, Ferret, Guinea Pig. And because they're so little and so fragile, those who choose to keep them must be tentative. They need less, but they need less more often - and we, as their Human Host and Friend, must adjust time itself to adapt with them. They are busy, and they teach us to keep ourselves busy too. Busy and aware.

All mammals are very knowing creatures.

Fish are strange pets. Swimming in their fishbowl - that must be kept clear - they're like little lights, and the whole fishbowl a lantern. Fish is a strange pets. You can't train it. You can't touch it. It isn't warm and soft. It even smells a bit bad. But in the way it seems foreign, it softens the heart of whoever tends to its specialized needs. You're learning to love something without any good reason for doing so. Kind of like PRACTICE. That's right. Fish trains YOU.

We're so lucky. Even the solitary reptile is on our side to teach us. Snake and Lizard. Who are forever moody. They call for exactitude and sensitivity. They need the right kind of warmth. The right kind of nourishment. The perfect environment. And they've asked their Friends-That-Keep-Them to know their exact way of living instinctively, and to be sensitive to their exact needs. Folks who keep reptiles must be unique, receptive, and responsible.

Frog is similar, but Frog needs more wetness. Amphibians are always in-between. They call for the same things Snake and Lizard call for, but they offer some added release. Water. A lot of Water. It's their creative outlet. Frogs teach their keepers the value of responsibility and creativity. They say, "Keep yourself healthy in every way - Physically well, on the land, and Emotionally well, in the water."

People keep all kinds of animals as pets . . . The stranger the Human, the stranger the Animal.

And the rest of the message lays in the tiny, soft haven of the Bird. Birds are all magicians. They hold the gift we've always sought after. Controlling the Air. The ability to FLY. I think it's possible birds truly are the manifestation of the human soul. Those who tend to birds must adopt the lessons of all life, of all animals, and of souls. Birds are royal and mysterious. Birds are loving friends and need warmth. Birds are busy and fast. Birds call for space, and often seek what seems like solitude. This is an important lesson: that of appropriate distance and space. In essence, they teach RESPECT. Birds are finicky, and need certain amounts of water, certain foods, enough space to live in their own particular way, controlled levels of light and dark at certain times, certain moods and environments, and perhaps the most important necessity: tasks. Birds need excess. They need toys, and things to figure out. The need to keep an active mind. When a bird is satisfied, he will be himself. He will be Bird, and he will teach you, and finally deliver his most important gift.

That of Song and Potential.
That sugary, joyful Voice.
His perfect, fragile, psychically demanding Egg.

Bird's happiness can almost be measured according to its individual Song - or the lack thereof. A bird won't sing when he's sick or unhappy. But when he is happy, the MOOD of his Song will speak very directly to and of his situation. Because the bird has influence. His body and life ARE his soul. He's lucky. So, when you have the patience and devotion to satisfy a bird, you could certainly satisfy any other thing upon this Earth. The lesson is to treat yourself the way you would treat a bird. It only takes effort, practice, trial and error, and VERY DIRECT INVOLVEMENT.

So, animals. I feel like I was born loving them. When I was little, I wasn't much for dolls and action figures. I wasn't much for dressing up like a Space Man or Mommy. I'd ask Mom to cut off a piece of yarn, or ask Dad to let me borrow one of his ties, and I'd tuck it into my pants. I'd have a tail. And I'd feel more graceful somehow, like Cat, or Lizard, or the great Dinosaur. I'd eat dinner too fast and be protective and tough, like Dog. I'd make a fort inside a cabinet, arrange things just-so, and be like cozy Mouse and Rabbit. I'd ask for permission to go swimming. And in the pool, I'd sometimes be quiet and meditative, sometimes very expressive. It was always a real triumph to come up with a game I could only play while swimming. Permission was an integral step that I had to always take before getting in the water, though. I think, somehow, that was important to keep in mind.

And some days - SPECIAL DAYS - when it felt just-right outside and the sky was clear, I'd borrow a white towel from the linen closet, drape it over my shoulders, and run into the yard. And keep running, with my arms spread wide on both sides. Over the hill in my neighbor's yard. And I'd come up with songs and whistle, and climb up on the wall to perch and sing. Just like a bird. I was using my imagination, and that was important to me. As a child, my imagination relied on animals. For inspiration. And for that reason, I loved every kind of animal. I liked learning about them, and drawing pictures of them, and pretending to be one. It almost felt like I was collecting them. I'd even make up animals of my own to add to my collection.

And I still love all these animals.
And my imagination is still important to me.
The imagination is a condition - one well worth the effort it takes to maintain it.

Because Imagination becomes Skill, and the very Strength that keeps us alive and vertical. Standing. Up and up, and into the sky.

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