Cat Whiskers and the Sea Urchin
When I lived in Michigan, and Zoot and Kubaba were young and healthy, I often found cat whiskers throughout the house. One friend said it meant good luck. If that is so, I had good luck aplenty. Another source said you should leave a found whisker next to a bowl of milk
and honey on a moonlight night. “In the twinkling of an eye, between one blink and the next,
it will vanish; gathered by the fairy-folk to sow foxglove coats and caps, and buttercup belts
No matter how much I appreciate a nice buttercup belt, I wasn’t willing to share and instead put those whiskers on the shelf of an antique fireplace mantle in my bedroom. When the sea urchin came into my life, it was without much thought that I gathered the whiskers and placed them, like the most delicate flowers, into the fragile “echinodermal" vase. When we had guests, kids would barely get their foot in the door and they’d ask “Can I see the cat whiskers shrine?” They were never allowed to touch it, but they'd look up and behold, their mouths agape, in silent awe. Kitties are related to tigers and lions, and sea urchins are related to sand dollars.
It was such a strange and wonderful mixed marriage.
In 2010 the cats, the whiskers, and the sea urchin moved with us to Santa Fe. The fireplace mantle stayed behind. I placed the cat whiskers and sea urchin on a shelf in a New Mexican style nicho.
When I photographed the relic, I kept rearranging the whiskers but none of the images came alive for me. Thinking that movement might make a difference, I procured a small hand fan and took several dozen photos. It isn’t enough that the whiskers would move, I wanted to capture that perfect moment when they were juxtaposed in a poetic, balanced way. I fanned and shot and fanned and shot and fanned and shot. In reviewing the images, this was the only one that had poetry, balance, and to my delight, a unique kind of elegance.
I’m sorry to say that the sea urchin didn’t last here in Santa Fe. The dry dessert air took its toll and the shell cracked into pieces. The whiskers have been delegated to a votive candle holder. Surely I can find another vessel worthy of them.
This is one of my favorite images on my Black & White page.