Survival Stories

Books about survival

First, some book reviews of 25 words or less:

Because They Wanted To by Mary Gaitskill

Raw, kinky stories, populated by conflicted heroines engaged in short term urban relationships. Men are welcome; I think.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

These stories are comfortable as old jeans, but there are holes in the pockets through which all your money to call home has vanished… forever.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Grief will make you crazy. But, that’s ok; it’s supposed to. It may also make you eloquent.

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

A guilty survivor wandering through the grimy back streets of memory, the game of cricket, and New York, post 9-11.


The mug shot to your left is that of a homeless cat I’ve named Spanky. Recently, he’s become my favorite survival story. I first spotted this fellow in the fall, prowling my neighbor’s pasture in search of gophers. In December, during our cold snap, when temperatures were in the single digits and snow covered the ground, I realized he’d taken up residence under our front porch. On several occasions I watched as he stalked the juncos and quail that I feed over the winter.

For the most part, Spanky only succeeded with interrupting the bird’s dinner. The juncos skittery nature make them difficult to catch. Furthermore, they are not much of a meal. The quail also have survival skills: they feed as a group and position several scouts to warn the covey.

Then, one frigid morning, after spreading chick scratch under the rhododendrons, the cat appeared and began licking at the cracked corn. Obviously, he was starving.

Spanky's mantra

Finally, on the following day, as I spread the bird’s food, Spanky came up to me and introduced himself. He began nuzzling my leg and telling me in cat talk how strong and handsome and wonderful in every sense he was and, by the way, did I have any cat food to spare? Thus, the saga of what to do about this little rascal went to another level. Suddenly, I was involved with saving his life.

I reasoned that it would not be fair to my cat Buckwheat, given her advanced age, to introduce a young rambunctious male into the house. Buckwheat is, herself, a survivor; she’s lived for 20 years in coyote infested country. Therefore, she’s earned the right to idle away her remaining days nestled next to the pellet stove. There, she keeps me company as I read the likes of those books above.

But, what was I to do with Spanky? Fortunately, a customer made me aware of the Columbia Gorge Cat Rescue. This strictly volunteer group provides foster homes and adoption services for homeless cats. They required photos and a checkup at a cooperating veterinarian. I learned that Spanky is a healthy neutered male between three and five years old. I’ve checked with our few neighbors but he seems to be a stray. Now, the CGCR will post his picture and a story on their website and attempt to place him. Spanky’s future remains uncertain but things are looking up. In the meantime, I will not let him starve.

Will Spanky find a home?

Of late, a knack for survival, epitomized by this cat, appeals to me. Each month, at my multiple myeloma support group, I spend a couple of hours with a determined group of cancer survivors. Daily, I visit the blogosphere and read the exploits of others coming to terms with this disease. Each one, including me, has a tale to tell of their struggle. Like Spanky, we are scratching and clawing against harsh, unforgiving elements that threaten our lives.

The passive-aggressive nature of this blood cancer puts us in a state of limbo. Each diagnosis comes with the admonition that MM is incurable. Every remission has its relapse. Treatments have consequences. With cancer, you get a lot of practice at survival.

As evidenced in the books I recommend above, life is unpredictable. Relationships fail, accidents occur, and not everyone lives a long time… fair or not, it’s part of the deal. In the case of Spanky, who is either lost or abandoned, an opportunity presents itself. He reminds me that compassion is a gift given to us by those in need. All we must do is accept it.

6 thoughts on “Survival Stories

  1. Hi John, I’m glad you leave book reviews, I am always looking for a good read. I just finished Andre Agassi’s book and then started Friedman’s “Hot Flat and Crowded” but its too technical for me right now or something, its going slow. I need a good “Kite Runner” or “Life of Pi” to really captivate me/ allow me an escape. I am trying to get into a book club here in Texas, wish me luck on that.

    Reading your posts helps me realize how blessed I am to have so many resources at my disposal/ within driving distance. Our support group meeting and my oncologist are about 30 miles from the house. I am trying to find a dialysis clinic, looks like one that will meet my needs is over in Plano, about 35 miles away. I am very glad I am not “STUCK” with the one I visited last week!

    Keep up the good work, the good words, and be strong!


  2. I had a kitty show up at my house last winter. She’s still here! The local rescue groups told me that abandonment is way up. This cat is a wonderful creature and has become my constant companion. I hope Spanky will find a home. You’re doing a wonderful thing!


  3. What a coincidence, John. My old cat Sammy crawled under the porch to die this past fall, in anticipation of not being able to survive another winter, I can only imagine. He was a good cat, stayed out of the road and my house; kitty hair in my house is a no-no. He spent much of his time in Chenoweth Creek canyon across the road from me, no doubt fetching scrumptious meals, though fresh food was put out daily here at the house. I wonder if your Spanky might fit in here, I need a cat to keep the critters at bay. And Crockett misses his dear friend Sammy something awful. I’ll give CGCR a call!
    Good to read how you are doing; miss the “old days” when you spent more time on CC. Wishing you many blessings, Matt


  4. Hey you, glad to hear that Spanky found a home with you. I don’t think I could stand to be without a cat for long. I dread the day I lose Imogene, or worse, Schotze. But for now they are in reasonably good health so I figure I’ve got time with them!
    Good reviews. I am in the process of finishing a really good one – “The Angel’s Game” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It is a translation of a Spanish novel and has caught me quite by surprise. I will be reviewing it most likely later this weekend. Alrighty then, I’m off to do a little shopping, i.e., it’s my weekend! 🙂


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