Six weeks ago today a visiting friend found an hours-old kitten in the corral. He brought her inside and I thought she was a white mouse or a tiny weasel—she looked nothing like a kitten. When he’d first spotted her wallowing in the dirt beneath the shuffling hooves of the milk cows and their calves, my friend had thought the same thing. Only the kitten’s yowling gave her true identity away.
I wasn’t excited about trying to raise a kitten that tiny, and neither was he, so first we put her in a box filled with soft, fresh straw, then placed the box in the barn by the corral. Perhaps her mother had been moving her den, and had dropped the baby by accident on the way from point A to point B, we reasoned. But when we went back later to check, the baby was still crying with an intensity that seemed impossible considering her frail stature. No Mama Cat in a half-mile vicinity could have missed the poor baby’s howls of hunger and fear. It was clear there would be no feline rescuer.
Honestly, if I were any less soft-hearted, I would have turned and walked away. I had taken in a few bottle kittens before, though never one so young, and it always ended with heartbreak and exhaustion. Neonatal kittens must be fed every two to three hours around the clock and even with the best care, the prognosis isn’t good. But, as I am quite notably much more soft-hearted than I am sensible, I took the kitten inside.
Never once in the following five weeks did I expect that kitten to make it more than another few days. And never once did she waver in her desire to live. There were some very rough patches, but through them all she yowled her amazingly loud and resonant yowl at regular intervals asking for milk, even when she was too sick to drink much more than a sip at a time. This morning I went downstairs to feed her and discovered her calmly waiting at the bottom of the steps. She’d figured out how to climb out of the playpen we’d been keeping her in and knew right where I’d be when breakfast time arrived. “Well, it definitely seems like she is going to live!” I said to myself.
Meanwhile, I have been struggling through a season of health issues that are as mysterious as they are limiting. Every time I think I’m in the clear, random symptoms and the accompanying anxiety return without warning. In other words, the thrill of the kitten’s triumphs has been vastly overshadowed by my own woes.
After finding the kitten waiting at the foot of the steps, then feeding her breakfast, I took her outside for a short play session. She gamboled through the weeds by my feet while the dogs jogged around attending to all their morning appointments. It’s been unseasonably cool here, but you could feel the weather had turned. The air was damp from the dew but warm; the early light caught the microscopic beads of moisture in the air and everything had a little extra shimmer. I had on a sweater and shorts, and the sun peeking up from the eastern horizon felt like medicine on my bare legs. I turned toward it, leaving my back to the cool shadows of the western horizon.
There’s an old adage about the two wolves that live inside each of us, locked in an eternal battle. One represents the parts of us that are expansive, joyful, and loving; the other represents all the parts that are cramped, gnawing, and fearful. The story goes on to admonish: The wolf you feed is the one that will win.
I think of that adage all the time and have spent a lot of my adulthood earnestly trying to figure out if I’m feeding the right one. Turning toward the sun this morning, basking in the presence of my little miracle kitten after so many days of fretting, a younger version of myself would be tempted to tell you I’ve finally figured out how to feed the right wolf.
That would make a wonderful ending to the column, wouldn’t it? But the truth is I could feel the shadows at my back as viscerally as I could feel the sun on my front. And now I’m suddenly wondering if the next chapter of my life won’t be learning to accept and live with both wolves, because, after all, both of them are me.
Eliza Blue lives on a ranch in northwest South Dakota. She’s a musician, mom, author, and shepherd. She writes a column for newspapers in her region and produces audio commentary for South Dakota Public Radio. You can learn more about Eliza on her website.