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Finding It

Vicki in NL

Vicki before the Move

As you have just noticed, 2012 is a leap year and that elusive 29th day of February has come and gone. This year that day marked the twentieth anniversary of our departure from the Netherlands in search of…. What is it that we seek so badly, that we are sometimes prepared to engage in what others might deem to be exercises in madness? And how do we know that we have found it, if we ever do?


Early in the morning on 29 February 1992 Vicki and I, bleary-eyed and seriously fatigued, crawled out from under a pile of bed clothes on a mattress on the floor of a living room in east Amsterdam, which was strewn with a jumble of disassembled furniture, boxes, suitcases, pet flight crates and some other unrecognisable stuff. The cats were howling for food and their liberty. They received the former but were denied the latter, because they were destined to fly with us to Hawaii within a few hours and we did not

Purdy and Pepita demonstrating sisterly love

Purdy and Pepita demonstrating sisterly love

dare to tempt fate by running the risk of them seeking refuge elsewhere during the fracas which passed for packing. After the cats got theirs, we got ours: breakfast on the hop. And then it was back to packing, packing and more of the same. How did we ever manage to accumulate so much stuff?

We were still packing when the removal firm arrived a little later to start loading all of that stuff. And when they had finished loading what they could, the workers helped us pack the last few bits of stuff which we deemed to be so important as to warrant the effort. I seem to recall that there was still a little bit of stuff left which we shrugged off as unimportant and abandoned it. Right there and then I should have learned about the nature of stuff and its tendency to get in the way of the nature of being. But I could not because I was embarked on a journey in search of … and this stuff would help us recreate home elsewhere, providing us with a haven from which we could venture forth and find it.

There is always a last-minute thing that requires a suitcase to be opened after it has just been secured and so it was with us. Being who I am, there were a number of those last-minute things before the van arrived us to take us to the airport. The cats we had managed to keep inside by closing them in a spare room and posting a notice on the door which, if meaningfully read, would unmistakably communicate to the reader that more than his life was at stake if he so much as dared to even consider turning the knob, much less opening the door. The cats accepted their incarceration in their travel crates without too much fuss before being loaded into the van along with our suitcases, a couple of friends helping out and the two humans whom they addressed as ‘Andrew’ and ‘Vic’, although we were not as acutely aware of our presence as those names implied. There is a space following tired, where sounds and movements seem to travel down a long tunnel before they reach you and your limbs seem to be as distant from you as the sources of those sounds and movements are. It was just such a space that I found myself in as the van started off on the trip to the airport.

Panter (Dutch for 'Panther') in Hawaii

Panter (Dutch for 'Panther') in Hawaii

It was then that the world opened up and roared into the van as a cacophony of traffic and the regulated chaos that passes for city life. Light and noise rushed in as a sliding door on one side of the van lurched open. We were startled but only momentarily. That was when the panic began. One of the cats – Pooh it was – had taken fright and forced the door on his crate. He was out on the floor of the van and the vehicle was open. There are times when I am utterly amazed at what the human body is sometimes capable of. Fatigued to the point of near hallucination, I still managed to envisage with the utmost precision there and then exactly what Pooh’s escape would entail. The implications were simply unacceptable. More than a year of planning was about to be put on hold for as long as it would take to find Pooh and the last time that he had gone on walkabout it had taken about two weeks to find him (on a building site) and another two days to convince him to crawl into a cage after midnight. Add Amsterdam at its busiest to the equation and….

Well it was simply unthinkable, so the body, tired as it was, had to move. And it did. I yelled out for someone to close the door to the van and then calmly turned to Pooh. He allowed us to scoop him up and return him to his crate, calamity avoided and sighs of relief all round.

The scene at the airport was one to remember. Family and friends, who had come from far and wide to wave us off on an emigration journey to the other side of the world via a six-month stay in Hawaii where the animals were to be quarantined, hovered around us and the crates containing our four cats. Panther, Pooh, Purdy and Pepita were then joined by Ibo, a bichon frise, whom we had agreed to care for during our stay in Hawaii, as she was also set to join her owners where we were ultimately heading: New Zealand. Little did we know that Ibo’s owners would become very dear friends and that Ibo would give birth to what was to become our little Dubu, who would eventually return with us to the Netherlands.

Dubu in Australia

Dubu in Australia

Our final farewell at the airport had been preceded by an emigration party for friends, family and acquaintances and a more intimate gathering of family (Vicki’s) to take our leave. We subsequently realised that those occasions were the last time we ever saw some of those individuals. Looking at the photographs of those gatherings over the years, we are aware of just how many of the people whom we took our leave from then, are no longer around to greet us upon our return. If there is anything sure about life, it is that nothing is sure. The prospect of not again seeing any of the people who came to the airport to see us off, was one which did not linger long in thought at the time. Through the tunnel of fatigue that enveloped us, I was vaguely aware of tear-filled eyes as we made our way towards passport control and turned our heads for a final wave. Then we were on our way, a crazy adventure in search of…. Would we find it? Would I?

Yesterday, 20 years later, I asked myself that very question again albeit this time with the benefit of reflection: Have I found it? Was it our home in New Zealand, where Pooh died and The Smudge and Dubu joined us? Was it the home we had in Australia, where our other pets died and the horses came into our lives? Was it our move into the countryside, where we lived in the midst of some of the most beautiful parts of nature that the world has to offer? Or is it that calm sense of acceptance and contentment, which was simply waiting to be discovered within me with the help of the horses? In one sense I feel that I have returned only to learn that there had never been any reason to go in the first place. In another, I realise that without going in search of …, I would never have found it, what really matters: being.

Finding it ... with the help of the horses

Finding it ... with the help of the horses

3 Responses to “Finding It”

  1. Laraine says:

    Wow how often is it that when we reflect on where we have come we realise that we are still where we have come from. As you have said before re your horses I have discovered through my cats, the art of just being is what it is all about, yet it is illusive because we are part of the hustle and bustle of human life and humanity has complicated life to the point of frustration.
    I love following your journey it is really the journey that all of us if we are honest with ourselves are on.
    I wish you well on your personal discovery as I journey on mine, I thank you for allowing me into yours,
    Andrew you write so well I love your reflections and way of observing things, thank you for coming and staying at our humble B&B and inviting me on your journey.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Laraine

      You have a lovely home and I thank you for sharing it with us at the beginning of what has turned out to a tremendously worthwhile journey. I feel privileged too that I can share my journey with you.

      Vicki has passed on the news about Tigga. I know the huge, horrendous pit of emptiness you find yourself in. In the past I have drawn compfort from the fact that the depth of one’s grief is a measure of the beauty of the relationship between human and animal, a beauty that overrides all of the pain. Perhaps you can find solace in that too. Be strong and enjoy the living, for they are with us still.

      Take care!

  2. A beautiful “pièce de réflections”. No further comments this time :-)))
    And what a good looking lady you married and are still!!…..OSISO….
    Warmly, Geerteke