Cat vs. Therapist  - theHumm February 2021

Cat vs. Therapist  - theHumm February 2021

By John Pigeau

Last week my therapist said something to me that struck me as exceedingly important. We were talking on the phone and I have a famously poor memory, so I said, “Whoa. Can you hold on a second? I need to write that down.”

He said “Of course,” and I reached over my cat, who was sitting on the coffee table watching me, to grab a pen. Or rather, I tried to reach over Ellie to grab a pen, but she wasn’t having it. She gave my wrist a nasty little “love” bite. Her little teeth pierced my skin like a mouthful of sharp, steely needles, and I yelped, “Ow! You little bugger. Get down!” 

She did, jumping down to the carpet, then trotting off into the kitchen. 

“Everything okay?” my therapist inquired. 

“Oh, fine,” I told him. “My cat just gave me a little nip. She thinks I’m not paying enough attention to her or something.” 

“Ah, I see.” 

Ellie had drawn blood, I noticed, when I put pen to paper. “Lacking the cognitive wherewithal,” I said aloud, and printed on a fresh page in my small Mead notebook. We’d been discussing how and why it was that some people are unable to realize their inactions can be harmful to someone else. It was a breakthrough moment for me. It made perfect sense and would be helpful. And I was dripping blood droplets on my notebook. 

We wrapped up our 45-minute session with some hopeful talk of September vaccines, then I tended to my wound. 

And of course when I found Ellie she was up in her back window, stretched out languidly, her eyes shining just so — a gentle, knowing yellow — her head tilted up toward the light, where she was either tracking some birds or waiting for them. It’s impossible to be angry at Ellie at such moments, no matter how fierce her bite may be when she’s bored or wanting attention, or just in a snoot. She meows without making a noise, when she notices me, as if to say, “I’m here, but busy-busy, important things to do and see.” It’s a sort of apology. And I can’t help but watch her for a little while. The way her elegant form looks both relaxed yet poised to pounce, should the need arise. Her fur coat of marbled tans and browns. That gentle glimmer in her eyes. 

I don’t need to re-read the science to know that spending just a few minutes in the presence of a cat lowers your blood pressure.

I’ve heard people describe life in lockdown as a kind of hell. I feel for people when they say this. Sincerely. Especially older or disabled folks, and those who live alone. The loneliness and isolation can cause severe mental duress. I’ve talked to my therapist about this, and he says it’s certainly one of the biggest concerns among mental health professionals.

At such times, I always tell him about my good friend who is an ICU nurse at Kingston General Hospital. She gets pretty exhausted sometimes, but does her job efficiently and compassionately, without complaint. So, I can’t really think of my own life during this global pandemic — as isolated as I am, as lonesome and anxious as I get when the walls seem to be pressing in — as a kind of hell.

My therapist of course believes this is a healthy approach: keeping things in perspective. “Yes,” I’ve agreed with him, then he’s quick to remind me to get out for as many walks as I can, despite my physical pain. “Do what you can,” he says. “The cardio will do you wonders. Physically and mentally.” 

We talk once a month. For about an hour, normally. I talk to Ellie far more often. And it might seem silly, but talking to my cat — this mostly gentle, loving, and playful little soul — is helpful.

One day I was reading Barack Obama’sA Promised Land in my chaise lounge (a pandemic gift to myself) and I barked a laugh and paused to tell Ellie, who sleeps in the chair next to me while I read: “Ha! Listen to this — ‘And what became abundantly clear as soon as Sarah Palin stepped into the spotlight was that on just about every subject relevant to governing the country she had absolutely no idea what the hell she was talking about.’” I laughed again. Ellie looked up at me. “She was a silly woman,” I told her. “You’re far, far smarter than Sarah Palin, Ellie Bird. And cuter too.”

Have no illusions, a cat is a lovely companion. Many times at night I wish I could camp out with my spouse, put on a silly movie, and snuggle and laugh and just be together. Give her a back rub. Fool around. But I don’t have a spouse anymore. That fact has caused me a great deal of pain and grief over the last eight years, and the isolation of a pandemic, the loneliness, the fear, the anxiety — they all heighten that pain, that aftergrief. If I am personally experiencing any sort of “hell” because of this deadly virus, that would be the hardest thing.

My therapist has reminded me — although not as often as I remind myself — that grief is unique, and my pain — your pain, your suffering, anyone’s — is not small or petty; it all matters; we all matter. It’s not a matter of comparison. If you’ve a wound, it needs to be tended to, just as other people’s do.

It helps me to hear this from a very good mental health care professional, if only once a month. I need the reminder. Just as I need Ellie’s sweet and restful company. In the case of Cat vs. Therapist, the verdict is inherently beneficial for everyone: all parties are winners.

Seeing that on occasion we go off on tangents during “my” sessions and get talking about our shared admiration for the music of Leonard Cohen or the writing of Julian Barnes, I bet my therapist would agree. He gets some joy from our chats as well. And he can feel good too, knowing, at least, that he’s helped another of his patients maneuver over some of the bumps along the way.


Kaija Savinainen —A Brush with a Gifted Environmental Activist - theHumm February 2021

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

When theHumm first featured oil painter Kaija Savinainen Mountain (her married name) in 2007, she responded to my inevitable question as to why she created her art with this statement: “I have a terrible need to create. It chases me.” She has continued her race to the top of her creative powers, but she has raised the bar on her ambitions. Today her answer is: “Nature needs our respect and care more than ever these days, and I challenge us all to be mindful of......


Interested in Writing?
Check Out Winterwords Online Events!
- theHumm February 2021

In the December issue of theHumm we issued an “invitation to write” by the name of Winterwords — asking readers to contribute up to 1000 words on the theme of “Back to Better in the Valley” and to contact us if they were interested in facilitating a writing workshop of some kind. The response has been warm and wonderful, and we are delighted to launch the 2021 Winterwords schedule of online events. All are free (or by donation to facilitators), and there is room for additional workshops should mo......


Artistic Excellence in our Area - theHumm February 2021

By Miss Cellaneous

Mary Pfaff: Companions

From February 17 to March 26, Sivarulrasa Gallery in Almonte is pleased to present Mary Pfaff: Companions, a solo exhibition of new paintings by Almonte-based artist Mary Pfaff. The Gallery is thrilled that this exhibition will include, in addition to new smaller works, four new 60-inch canvasses entitled Beyond, Home, Uncertainty, and Conversing with the Trees.

Mary Pfaff earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts (with distinction) fro......


Build a Birdhouse! - theHumm February 2021

By Glenda Jones

The birdhouse auction in support of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists is only three months away, and crafters are scouring their treasures for the makings of a unique creation to tempt bidders. While a classic wooden house will suffice, a dwelling that once was a watering can or a toy could up the interest. Turn children loose with a box of odds and ends, and their imaginations are limitless. An old key will become a perch; an assortment of bottle caps will become shingles; a milk carton will......


Happy Hiking: an Interview with Vickie Walsh - theHumm February 2021

By Kris Riendeau

Just before Christmas, I picked up a copy of Vickie Walsh’s Guide to Hiking Trails in Ottawa and Region. As I perused the pages and learned about many trails with which I had not yet become acquainted, it occurred to me that Vickie’s insights would be a wonderful addition to theHumm. Imagine my delight when she responded to my enquiry to say that she had just moved to Almonte and was interested in collaborating! Her background is varied and fascinating, and her dedication to promoti......


The Last Generation: to Act on Climate Change - theHumm February 2021

By Emily Pearlman

“I am inspired by empowered young people coming to realize our place in the world as the last generation to challenge Climate Change and environmental injustices,” says Ahlena Sultana-McGarry, one of the facilitators of Climate Network Lanark’s Youth for Climate Action group. She speaks with a quiet confidence which seems the right note to strike with the twelve young people from across Lanark who recently assembled as strangers for the group’s first meeting.

Sultana-McGarry, a graduate in Cro......


Hedgerow (where the domestic and the wild mix and mingle) - theHumm February 2021

By Susie Osler

I ride a friend’s beautiful big black horse Izzy out into the fields on a farm east of Perth. It is a gloriously eerie afternoon in late November. A wet snow has fallen on not-yet-frozen ground and now a thick, vaporous veil of fog has gathered over the land.

Izzy is a game companion and I anticipate the adventure we have ahead of us. When the curtain of fog closes around us, separating us from buildings and barns, suddenly I am transported into the pages of childhood books — a girl on a pony, ve......


Finding Joy in Lockdown - theHumm February 2021

By Sarah Kerr

I had a bit of the “blue Monday” feels as I sat down to write this month’s Little Humm column. But the whole point of this column is to add some joy and encouragement to all my parenting peeps in the Valley. So in an effort to find inspiration for February, which is currently forecasting a continued lockdown and possibly a polar vortex, I decided to survey the kids of the Ottawa Valley to see how they think we should handle this situation. And it turns out, they’re not as upset about lockdown in wint......


Back to Better in the Valley - theHumm February 2021

By Jeanne d’Arc Labelle

Jeanne d’Arc Labelle sent in this thoughtful note and hopeful poem in response to our Winterwords invitation to write. She says: “I see the turbulence of the pandemic posturing on the unknown, all the while… its isolation being spun into hope, and gratefulness; and in small and big ways, all around me. I wondered, could such a context be captured in ‘Tritina Poetry’? Tritina poetry is choosing three words (1,2,3), to be used in rotation, at the end of three sentences, using ......


Dear Little One - theHumm February 2021

By Jaaron Hamilton

Jaaron Hamilton sent in this letter to her young son (as well as the photo) as her contribution to theHumm’s Winterwords invitation to write:

By the time that you’ll be reading this, all of this will be a distant memory. Maybe you’ll be reading about it in your history textbook, or watching a documentary about it on Netflix. In any case, there is one thing that is absolutely certain: this was not the year that we imagined. I don’t know what we expected, but this definitely wasn’t it.......


Homesteading. Homeschooling. Homebodying. - theHumm February 2021

By Nick McCabe

Nick McCabe sent in this gently insightful contribution to theHumm’s Winterwords invitation to write. Artist Catherine Orfald allowed us to use her painting Ontario Farm Remains to accompany it.

This past summer, while tying up our tomatoes in the garden for what felt like the 100th time, my wife noticed our son Theo, in flight, speeding past the garden with a rusted-old-broken-thingamajig in hand toward the woodshed. She, boldly, remarked as to whether he had gotten around to co......


We and Covid - theHumm February 2021

By Frank Hirst

Frank Hirst is the author of A View from the Forest — a non-fiction collection of stories about his life. Born in England in 1939, Frank came to the Ottawa Valley in 1948. He taught for two years each in Ottawa, Northern Ontario and Dawson City, spent four years at Queen’s and retired from high school teaching in 1990, returning to his farm. Frank lived off the land for the most part in the Ottawa Valley, in a log cabin he built in the bush with his wife and kids. Frank’s adventures, captur......


Winter Haiku - theHumm February 2021

By Barbara Bolte

Barbara Bolte sent in this evocative Winter Haiku in response to theHumm’s Winterwords invitation to write:

Do not touch me with

your icy fingers —

I cannot give you my warmth.


The Return of the Almonte Lectures - theHumm February 2021

The Almonte Lecture Series promised to return, and they are — via Zoom! They have fascinating lectures lined up for the last Friday evening in February and March, and welcome everyone to attend v......


Public Libraries During Tough Times (Like Lockdowns!) - theHumm February 2021

By Jill McCubbin

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Or as my son said: “We are blessed to live in these times and we are cursed to live in these times.”

And so, in these times, libraries have ......


C.R.A.V.E. Raffle for Interval House
- theHumm February 2021

Lanark County Interval House and Community Support is offering the chance to win $100,000 with their C.R.A.V.E electronic raffle! LCIHCS has had to cancel all in-person fundraising events and act......


Reading and Writing in the Time of Covid - theHumm February 2021

By Jaaron Hamilton

The pandemic has caused a significant number of difficulties for many industries and communities, but one vibrant community is finding new ways to foster creativity during a challenging time.



…and Now for Something Completely Different - theHumm February 2021

By Glenda Jones

Yesterday I could have sworn I was an extra in the movie Groundhog Day, but today I realize that, just like the proverbial river that is never the same for an instant, life moves on and it’s all ......


Sovereignty Gardens: Growing in Arnprior - theHumm February 2021

By David Hinks

I find it very encouraging to meet young enthusiastic gardening entrepreneurs. Shelby Gibson’s business in Arnprior, Sovereignty Gardens, is in the beginning stages. She is planning to offer a va......


Community Blossoms Flower Share Program - theHumm February 2021

Community Blossoms is a new flower share program developed by Johnny Slack and his wife Emma, owners of Calabogie Family Farm. With the knowledge that the pandemic is putting stress on the commun......


Cat vs. Therapist  - theHumm February 2021

By John Pigeau

Last week my therapist said something to me that struck me as exceedingly important. We were talking on the phone and I have a famously poor memory, so I said, “Whoa. Can you hold on a second? I ......


Winter Play Challenge - theHumm February 2021

Lockdowns and Covid restrictions driving you stir-crazy? The folks at Unposed Photography have come up with something fun to help out over the next couple of months. This is a not-for-profit......


MERA’s Speaker Series - theHumm February 2021

Brighten up your winter on Thursday evenings with an exciting series of talks presented by MERA. They will be shown on Zoom, so no danger of Covid or driving on icy roads. The topics include worl......


The Cat’s Meow
Our Area’s Certified Feline Master Groomer
- theHumm February 2021

What is a Certified Feline Master Groomer and how can one help you and your cat? For Cassandra Prince, co-owner of The Cat’s Meow, the answer is multifold. Regular cat grooming can help owners wh......