Dogs

A Halloween To Remember

From the film Dracula (1979)
Dracula and Lucy discuss the sound of howling wolves.

DRACULA:
Listen to them, the children of the night. What sad music they make.

LUCY:
Do you think it’s sad?

DRACULA:
So lonely, like weeping.

We named our first two dogs for a bat and a wolf – the animals Dracula turns into in the novel. We named our pack WolfChild – as they were our Children of the Night. A year later, near Halloween, two more WolfChildren joined the pack. They made beautiful music together. Then one of our wolves left the pack far too soon for his journey to the Underworld. This year he was followed by first by one, and then another of our wolves as they too journeyed into the Underworld. We are left with only one wolf, our original bat.

When I think of my musical wolves I feel sad, lonely and constantly like weeping. The time will come when I, like Lucy, will not feel sad at the sound of howling wolves, but that time is not now. It is Halloween – a time for tricks and treats and honouring the dead.

Our dogs are buried in the backyard. Three little graves testifying to the fragility of life and the call of death. They are constant reminders of what we have lost and confronting reminders of what will happen to us all. But they are also comforting. When I look at their graves I remember their lives and their deaths. The pleasure and the sorrow. I remember them playing and running around the yard and I remember laying them in their graves and covering them with dirt. They are always with me and yet they will never be with me again.

Not long after Wolfy, our first wolf passed away, I saw a post on a pug forum about Shelter Pups, a dog charity in the USA that custom makes small stuffed dogs and cats based on your own photos. We knew straight away that we wanted one of Wolfy. Little Wolfy arrived on Halloween 2013. When our next two wolves, Wally and Furghy, passed away, we had little versions of them made. They are in our bedroom where we all slept, watching over us. We also had one made of our remaining wolf, Batty. But she won’t be introduced to the world until she passes away, which we hope will be a very, very long time away.

The Little WolfChildren

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Wolfy Maynard WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

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Wally DennyCrane WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

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Furghy Fergie WolfChild and her Tribute Doll

Death and food are intimately linked. In honour of the decreasing howls of my Children of the Night I am sharing a recipe for Hush Puppies. These feature corn which is an ancient symbol for birth, death and renewal – appropriate food for mourning and Halloween.

Hush Puppies
Some stories say these fried cornmeal treats were used to “hush puppies”.

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Ingredients
vegetable oil for deep frying
1 + 1/2 cups cornmeal
3/4 cups self-raising flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 cup canned corn kernels, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup buttermilk (more or less may be needed)
extra sea salt for sprinkling

Method
Heat oil in a large saucepan to 180C / 350F.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, egg and oil. Add the spring onion, corn, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined.
Stir in half the buttermilk, adding enough buttermilk for a loose batter that is still thick enough to drop.
Drop tablespoons of the batter into the oil, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook, turning them over halfway, for 3-4 minutes or until they are evenly coloured and cooked through.
Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with salt to taste.

A Daughter Of Eve

Like the biblical Eve I have a time before the Fall. I have a time when I wasn’t plagued by fear and panic attacks; a time when I believed in friendship and family; a time when I felt the world was a fun place to be. But that was a long time ago. August 1999 to be precise.

I had just submitted my thesis. It was the end of an eight year journey that had been exhilarating and exhausting. I remember walking down my driveway with a huge smile on my face. I was so happy; I was so free. But a visit to someone would change that. By the end of 1999 I would discover that I had been betrayed and hurt by those closest to me. I would ring in the new millennia with only my long term partner and a couple of close friends. I have talked about the time after the Fall and how I came through it – which I did! – in A Personality of Pandas.

Moving forward, by August 2013 I had fought many personal battles and won many victories. I was again in a great place. But another challenge was on the way, and it would be followed by more. I was about to be tested again!

On the first of August my partner Paul was unexpectedly retrenched from work. As the main breadwinner this threw all our financial security into disarray. It was one of my greatest fears. I’ve never worried about myself as I have lived with little money but supporting four high maintenance dogs was my deepest concern. Sadly, by the end of August we only had to worry about three dogs as our beloved Pug Wolfy was euthanised after a long battle with cancer. August 2013 is not a month I want to live through again.

But in October 2013 we were lucky enough to travel to China (the trip was paid for one week before Paul was retrenched!) I think this trip was one of the defining moments of my life and gave me the strength to face the challenges that just kept coming. I have written about this extraordinary journey in A Glimpse Of China. 2013 ended and we were doing okay but “slightly” stressed by the lack of work and lack of income.

Early in 2014 we were visited by another of my greatest fears – a venomous snake in our backyard! Again I’m not bothered by snakes but I am bothered by them being near my dogs. This three foot beauty was right near my babes but luckily we enacted our snake plan and we all survived the visit alive – even the snake 🙂 After it was all over, my first thought was “we have to sell the house!” My second thought was “I won’t be run out of my home by a snake!” The second thought won.

alchemy 03Being a former Christian, and now Vampirologist and a Pagan Witch, snakes aren’t just snakes, they are mythological creatures of supreme power and magic. I wanted this visit by the snake to be more than just “better fix the snake proof fencing” and more a lesson from an archetypal creature. My desire to project an esoteric meaning to the encounter was influenced by the nightmare I had the night before the snake visited. I had a dream that one of my dogs was bitten by a snake and was dying as I drove her to hospital. I woke up shaking and couldn’t get the dream out of my mind. Did the snake send a forewarning of its intended visit? I don’t know, but it was very polite and didn’t bite my dogs or us and for that I am grateful.

After a few tarot readings and taking a long, hard look at where I was, I began to think that the snake was warning me of enemies in my midst – enemies very close to home. Was I about to experience similar betrayals to the Fall of 1999? In a way I was, but it would be in no way as devastating as it was the first time. In fact, realising that I meant much less to some of my closest allies was liberating and healing. It allowed me to shed some dead skin I was carrying and for the first time in a long time I felt lighter.

After the Fall I closed myself off from friends, wary of being used and abused again. In August 2007 (what is it with August!) I welcomed two of my eventual four WolfChildren into my home and with them came new adventures and new friends. Some of these friends remain close and dear while some were not the friends I thought and they are no longer a part of my life. But what I kept focussing on was the bad friendships, the mistakes, and what I kept failing to see was that even during the Fall I had friends who had stood by me and they are still with me now!

Unlike Eve’s snake, this snake didn’t help cast me out of Paradise but showed me that I had returned to Eden. I had what I had before the Fall, what had sustained me through my childhood, guided me through my adolescence and stood by me through my twenties, thirties and forties – friends – great friends! It was this realisation that helped heal some of the last of the wounds from the Fall.

There is one wound left to heal – perhaps the biggest of them all and it’s one I keep avoiding. I wish I had addressed it earlier because I think it precipitated another visitor to come and push me onto the right path. Yep, we had another venomous snake come into our yard and on a very special night – the eve of the Southern Hemisphere Summer Solstice. This time the dogs were safe inside so it was much less stressful. While waiting for the snake catcher I went outside to keep an eye on the snake. I was mesmerised by its beauty, its grace, its power and its deadliness. I wanted to reach my hand out and touch it – but naturally I didn’t!

As with the last visit I also had a nightmare about a snake the night before. Again I woke in a sweat and couldn’t shake the dream. Again I wonder was it a warning of a snakey visit? And again I don’t know. What I do know is the next path of my journey. I’d had an inkling of what I was missing before the snake visit but bizarrely enough the snake catcher said something that reinforced my suspicions. I have a new path to travel in 2015 and I am very excited!

As the year winds to a close I am happy about so many things. Paul finally got a job in October 2014, the day before Northern Hemisphere Halloween! I have made so many fabulous new friends through the Panda Chronicles blog and have strengthened the friendships I already had. A few friendships and relationships have ended, but I have let them go without remorse or pain. I am happy for what they have taught me and the way they have shaped my life.

IMG_3346For me, 2014 started and ended with a visit by a snake. These visits had many things to teach me, and I am grateful. I feel like I have finally left the Fall behind and that I am back in Eden, ready for another journey. The time of fear and panic attacks is hopefully over. I know the world is a fun place to live in and I not only believe in friendships I celebrate them! There is one more lesson that I learned from my snakes – but I’m keeping the snake’s final message a ssssecret – for now 🙂

Happy New Year to my wonderful Friends!
Looking forward to continuing our wild ride together in 2015 🙂

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And The Bagpipes Played

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Today is the anniversary of the passing of my beloved pug Wolfy Maynard Wolfchild. While I miss him terribly, I am also inspired by the stoic way that he continued happily through both his treatment and the progression of the cancer that eventually took his life. Here is that story.

And The Bagpipes Played

The passing of a beloved pet is always tragic, even more so when you have to choose the time of the passing.

The dreaded question that plagued us during Wolfy’s two year battle with cancer was “how will we know when it’s time?”

How short is too short, how long is too long?

Any time would be too short for me. The thought of losing my beloved pug was killing me. The thought of never seeing him again, of never touching his soft fur or having him cuddle up to me when we watched television was beyond painful.

We were charged with making that fateful and irreversible decision and the burden weighed heavily.

Some dogs will let you know when they want to go but I knew that Wolfy would struggle to the end. He was the most stoic dog I have ever met. Wolfy came to me from a pug rescue with only one eye and was a bold, feisty little boy. Every challenge thrown at him he dealt with in a creative and courageous way. Yet it was his bravery and stoicism that were going to make the decision difficult.

Wolfy became a part of our family in August 2007 and somehow, as his time came close, I knew that he would be leaving us in August 2013. August slowly wound to an end and I watched as Wolfy’s symptoms became more acute. We made the appointment to let him go on the evening of Friday, August 30.

As the day arrived I prayed to the Pagan Gods I had almost lost faith in to give me a sign it was the right time, but none came. The almost two hour drive to the vet gave me plenty of time to question our decision. I felt bile coming up in my throat as we neared the destination. We had decided to take Wolfy and the rest of our pack for a final walk around Lilydale Lake. The lake is only a few minutes from the vet and has been a place we visit often with the dogs. Many a day has been spent sitting and drinking coffee in the park while waiting for one our dogs to finish having surgery.

We drove into the darkened park and I said my final prayers to the Underworld Gods Hades and Anubis – please give me a sign. Surely they would understand. Hades has his own dog Cerberus and Anubis is … well he’s part Jackal!

As we got out of the car we heard bagpipes start playing in the distance. It was surreal and haunting but more than that, it was a sign. One of my favourite television shows is Hamish Macbeth and in the tragic episode “Wee Jock’s Lament”, bagpipes are played at the little dog’s grave. As I listened to the bagpipes I cried and said “They are playing the bagpipes for Wolfy”. So began our pre-funeral march. We went for our final walk as a pack towards the darkened lake, glistening in the dim lighting. The bagpipes filled the air with sombre notes, nudging us towards our final task.

Wolfy passed peacefully surrounded by his family and his pack. He died at 7.20pm, the same time that I was born. Another sign and another link that will bind me forever to my beloved Wolfy. As a life was taken, a faith was renewed.

My pug friends say that Wolfy is at the Rainbow Bridge. My Pagan friends say he is in the Summerlands. My mother says he is in Heaven. I know that Wolfy is running wild with Cerberus and his pack.

Until we meet again in the Elysian Fields.

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A Very Special Adventure

IMG_0238Wolfy was diagnosed with an inoperable nasal tumour in July 2011 and given three months to live. After the initial shock of his diagnosis things moved quickly. We were advised that radiation therapy could extend his life and that a twelve day stay in hospital with a daily dose of radiation – weekend off – could give him an extra six months or more. The best treatment centre was in Brisbane – two states and about 1,700km (1,000 miles) away. He could stay in hospital for the whole time or if we wanted to go to Brisbane with him we could pick him up for the evenings and just drop him off daily. After careful consideration we decided Wolfy should go to Brisbane. The decision was made easier by the fact that Wolfy was insured. We put Wolfy on a plane and worried the whole time. He arrived safely in Brisbane on Sunday night. I would be joining him in Brisbane on the following Sunday for his second week of treatment.

I was picked up at the airport by Kathy, someone I had never met in person, but who I knew from OzPugs, a pug forum we were part of. She had picked Wolfy up from the hospital Saturday and he had stayed with her and her pugs overnight. I couldn’t get to her home quickly enough. When I finally arrived, Wolfy looked at home and seemed surprised, but happy to see me. He said hello to me and then went back to Kathy. She was surprised at his actions – I wasn’t. Kathy had been giving him treats and, like a typical pug, he went where the food was! But when it was time to go to our rental holiday home, Wolfy was happy to leave the treats behind and come with me. We spent the rest of the weekend together before his next round of treatment.IMG_0246

I knew I would be too stressed to drive in Brisbane so I ordered a taxi to take Wolfy and me to the hospital in the mornings. I dropped him off on Monday and met the staff and specialist taking care of him. They loved Wolfy. They said he was such a character. He had spent the first week trying to teach one of the other dogs to stop barking by barking at him. Unfortunately the poor dog was deaf so Wolfy’s efforts were in vain. After leaving Wolfy at the hospital, I set about exploring Brisbane, making sure I would be back in time to pick him up in the afternoon. Two more Brisbane OzPuggers, Nat and Maree, also caught up with me. I got to meet Nat’s adorable pugs and she even took me on a cemetery tour. Maree had Wolfy and I over for dinner and introduced us to her family and pugs. These online friends that I had never met before were instrumental in making a stressful time not only bearable, but fun.

IMG_0263The week passed quickly and while making the final preparations on Thursday night for our flight home on Friday afternoon I had a massive panic attack. Wolfy had his transport to the airport arranged and I was to meet him at the cargo depot, sign him in and then get to the airport to catch our flight. I could catch a taxi but they wouldn’t wait for me to do the paperwork – unless the meter was running – so I would have to walk to the airport. Normally the walk wouldn’t have been an issue but with the Brisbane heat, an uphill walk and a suitcase, I was terrified I would miss our flight. Paul came up with the perfect idea – hire a limousine! It was going to cost the same as a taxi but the the driver would wait for me to sign Wolfy in and take me to the airport. I had never been in a limousine before so I thought “why not”. Lucky I did as Wolfy arrived late! The limo driver took me for coffee – and paid for it – while we waited for Wolfy. I didn’t have much time left to get to the airport once the paperwork was done. The thought of running uphill in the heat dragging a suitcase was terrifying so I am glad Paul came up with the limo idea. We made it home and were greeted by our pack. It was a stressful but fun adventure thanks to the wonderful people I met in Brisbane.

Back Home

IMG_1035Six months after his radiation therapy Wolfy went blind. We were told this might happen as they had needed to direct the radiation through his remaining eye. We were worried how he would cope with this but he dealt with his blindness in his usual stoic and heroic way. He remained happy and confident and would sun bake in the backyard as usual. When he wanted to come in he would simply bark and wait for me to pick him up. He did the same thing when he needed to go to the toilet or get off the couch. He even licked a path along the walls of the bedroom to the lounge so he could scent his way from the two rooms at his pleasure. The radiation therapy had greatly reduced the size of the tumour but by April 2012 it had started growing again. He surprised all the specialists by surviving for two years after his initial treatment. But he could only battle for so long. The above story And the Bagpipes Played was written shortly after we made the decision to let him go.

Memorialising Wolfy

I always knew I wanted to bury Wolfy in the backyard but I wasn’t sure what other memorial piece I wanted. There is so much on offer now for deceased pet mementoes. Nothing felt right until I saw a post on a pug forum about Shelter Pups, a dog charity in the USA that custom makes small stuffed dogs based on your own photos. And that was what I wanted – a small, stuffed pug modelled on Wolfy’s face. Little Wolfy (what other name could he have!) flew from the USA and landed in Melbourne on OctoIMG_7385ber 31st – Northern Hemisphere Halloween. What a perfect time for a death memento to arrive. I couldn’t wait to pick him up. I even bought a little black and white bag to carry him around in when he goes visiting. He mostly sits on a tallboy with some very special pandas keeping his eye on us as we sleep.

Some people have thought that Little Wolfy is creepy or macabre. I just think of him as one of the family.

Deathiversary

One year has passed since we brought Wolfy home from the vet, wrapped in his camouflage blanket, and buried him in the backyard. It hasn’t gotten any easier to get over his death. It’s just easier to cope with. Wolfy left a big hole in our hearts and our souls. The hole hasn’t gotten any smaller. It is still a hole and it still hurts.

Cancer took Wolfy away from us. But if he didn’t have cancer we would never have gone on our very special adventure. I had some of my fondest moments with him there. In my saddest moments I often think “you may be gone Wolfy, but we’ll always have Brisbane.”

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An Archetypal Homeland

A friend of mine told me she is going to Romania this November. I am so excited for her as I think she will love it. While talking to her, the memories of my own trip to Romania nine years ago flooded back. I thought I would share what I wrote about it all those years ago.

I called my trip A Tale of Two Draculas. In case you don’t know who the two Draculas are, here is a quick rundown:

IMG_0002The first Dracula is the historical fifteenth century Prince and warrior Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula. While not a vampire himself, nor associated with any vampire mythos, Vlad Tepes is a colourful figure who has associations with many parts of Romania. His main haunting ground is the area of Romania called Wallachia. Six of Stakes

The second Dracula almost needs no introduction having been created by Irish author Bram Stoker in his nineteenth century literary masterpiece Dracula. Loosely based on the figure of Vlad Tepes, the famed vampire count has been a part of popular culture ever since. His main Romanian stalking ground is in the Transylvanian town of Bistriţa and the nearby Carpathian Mountains.

 

Below is Part One where I take you through the historical Vlad Tepes sites. In Part Two I’ll talk about my brief trip through what I call Stoker Land 🙂

An Archetypal Homeland

As an Australian-born child of Macedonian migrants it would be natural to assume that I have cultural ties to two countries; my ancestral land and my birth land. Yet even though my parents entertained me with tales of the “Old Country” I have never had much interest in visiting the land my ancestors called home. That is because at a young age I developed a kinship with another country. Fuelled on a steady diet of Count Dracula movies, the place I desperately wanted to visit was Transylvania – the land beyond the forest. After decades of studying the myths and legends of the vampire, my desire only grew so I decided to celebrate my fortieth birthday by travelling into the heart of Romania with my bemused partner.

Carpathian Mountains 2After a gruelling journey involving three planes and over thirty hours in non-stop transit I finally land in my beloved Romania. The excitement staves off the exhaustion as I eagerly rush to meet my first Romanian – the guy from the car hire firm. With guide books in hand and virtually no Romanian language skills, we jump in the car. Driving on the right hand side of the road, and the left hand side of the car, appears to be no major drawback for my partner, but the giant potholes, daredevil drivers and equally daredevil horse and cart riders are some harrowing terrors we face on the drive. It all adds to the mystery of the country which, having never been to Europe is almost overwhelming in its unfamiliarity.

tsel2 1As I relax into the drive I look out the window to observe a country that has haunted my dreams. The image of a gypsy careening at breakneck speed down the road in a horse drawn cart is so archetypal and so Romanian that I laugh out loud. Yet that image is strikingly juxtaposed with the sight of pristine green valleys vying with hideous concrete monstrosities for dominance over the landscape. The gypsies evoke the wild lands that Bram Stoker wrote about but the communist love of concrete and uniformity has certainly stained the land. In the process it has also tainted me.  By the time I reach my hotel room all I want to do is cry and go to sleep, but this is supposed to be a dream holiday, so I rally my spirits and step out into Romania.

No sooner do I step onto the pavement when I see a gorgeous stray dog holding a shrink wrapped sandwich in its mouth. It trots off to its lair, an ancient church in the middle of the suburbs. And that’s when I take a really good look around. Here, among the communist concrete blocks, history still survives. Like the dog nestling in the ruins, Romania’s true spirit has been buried, waiting for its time to re-emerge. For me, the dog becomes the key to understanding Romania. It shows me that behind the ugly communist façade, the spirit of the country and its people is alive and well. This is the reality of modern day Romania. It is a country haunted by a brutal past yet vibrant with future promise. It is also a land that retains a powerful link with its dark, vampiric heritage. How appropriate that the wolf’s closest ancestor, an animal with an intimate connection to the vampire, becomes my spiritual companion on this journey. With the Romanian dog as guide, I am happy to continue my journey through the land beyond the forest.

Targoviste - Vlad's Court 3 The first Vlad Tepes site we visit is The Princely Court in Targoviste. These are the first human-made ancient structures that I have ever seen. I am stunned at the constructions that have lasted over five hundred years. The archaic murals painted in the church are awe inspiring. I am so caught up in the magnificent history of the ruins that it takes me a while to comprehend that I am standing in one of Vlad’s ruling courts. The realisation that I am in a place where the real Prince Tepes once walked completely overwhelms me. His feet had once touched this earth, his hands had once touched these buildings. I am finally in the presence of the man who inspired Bram Stoker to name his infamous vampire after him. I am humbled.

 

Drac's Castle 4Our next stop is Citadel Poienari, the real Castle Dracula. This is the castle that Vlad Tepes actually lived in. To reach the top we must climb nearly 1500 steps, all of them uphill. For me, the climb is long and arduous. The only distraction is the surrounding forest. Ancient trees effortlessly climb the heights I seek, their tall gangly limbs swaying in the eerie breeze. Animals scurry in the bush and a field mouse runs across my path while a skink suns itself on a rock. This is the land Bram Stoker wrote about, wild, untamed and filled with life. I can almost hear the sombre howl of the wolves that still run free in these forests. After an eternity of huffing and puffing I finally come face to face with Vlad Tepes’ castle. Again I am awed by the sight. This is the castle that has haunted my dreams since childhood. I cannot believe that I am here. Once more I allow my imagination to run wild with images of Tepes ruling his kingdom from on high. Outstanding panoramic views of the countryside dominate the scene. Down below is the village of Arefu, where the proud descendants of Vlad Tepes’ minions still live. As I imagine talking to these descendants around a crisp bonfire, I realise that I have connected deeply with the Tepes siteDrac's Castle 6s but not with the Romanian people.

The next day I stop on my way to Sighisoara to pay homage to a statue of Vlad Tepes that guards the gateway to the village of Arefu. In the distance, towering above Vlad are the ruins of his mythic castle.

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As I turn to leave I slip and fall right in front of the bust of Vlad. I lie there looking up at him, knowing that I have badly twisted my ankle and scraped my knee. As my blood drips into the land in the shadow of that archetypal castle, I feel that I am paying due homage to the vampire prince. A scrape of flesh and a touch of blood will be left in the Romanian soil to form a blood tie with this ancient land. As my partner helps me hobble to our car I have plenty of time to ponder the severity of my injury.

The drive to Sighisoara is long and slow. We chose the Transfagarasan road where snow capped mountains and majestic forests compete with the sheer windy majesty of the concrete construction that is this road. My stress levels rise as the snow creeps closer to the car. It feels like a scene from The Shining. Just as we ponder whether to put chains on the tyres, the road stops, blocked by an avalanche of snow. This path to Sighisoara is cut-off. We have to turn around and try another route which will take us four to five hours to traverse. By now I am worried about my ankle and my enthusiasm to meet people is severely dampened. All I want is a good night’s sleep and a few painkillers.

But as we finally reach the fairytale spires and cobblestone streetclock 01s that is Sighisoara, my spirit is awakened. Leaning heavily on my partner and limping noticeably, I eagerly explore the craft market. Painted vampire masques and Dracula mementos vie with beautifully embroidered handicrafts and traditional souvenirs for table space. I stop and admire a delicate piece of embroidered lace, but before I can pick up the fabric, the black clad old woman running the stall waves her hands frantically, stopping me from touching the cloth. She gestures in sign language, pointing at my foot. I mime falling over and hurting my ankle. She laughs and pats my arm, gesturing for me to peruse her wares. As I wander away from the stall, I look back and see the woman pick up the only piece I had handled and make a complicated sign over it before placing it back. I recognise immediately what she is doing. She is warding off the evil eye. Even though my injury is only temporary, the old woman is taking no chances. If I am carrying a curse, she is prepared. It is a superstition I remember from my childhood.

As I take aSighisoara 2 good look at the villagers I see glimpses of my aunts and uncles, my grandparents and parents. I see a resemblance to my own Slavic relatives; a connection I did not feel till now. It is both physical and mythic. I see a tabby cat that looks just like the one down the road back home, complete with feline aristocratic attitude. SlowlySighisoara 1, unbelievably, I begin to feel at home. The bond I had so longed for is appropriately forged here. In the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, I finally connect to my ancestral roots. In the process I also connect with the Romanian people, so similar to my own family. It has taken a fall and an injury to bond with these people, but it is a price well worth paying. I enjoy a drink and a meal in the house Vlad Tepes was born in, secure in the knowledge that I too, have been reborn.

 

Fittingly our final stop in Romania is Snagov Monastery, the burial place of Vlad Tepes. The monastery is situated on an island and the only way to get there is by boat. As we are gently rowed to the island, I cannot help but feel that I am on the river Styx, about to enter the Underworld. As a blacSnagov 2k robed priest greets us at the door and welcomes us into his church I am transported to my own childhood. I remember the Orthodox churches of my youth with exquisitely painted interiors, framed saints and fragrant incense. It makes me yearn for a religion I no longer practice. But my reverie is broken by the sight of the altar. At its foot is a grave on which sits a plaque of Vlad Tepes. This is his final resting place. Vlad’s decapitated body supposedly lies beneath that slab of concrete. As I solemnly stand beside the grave, the priest stands next to me and, unbelievably, poses for a photo. I try not to laugh as his irreverent reverence so reminds me of the priests I grew up with. It is a deeply moving place to visit and the perfect way to end the Vlad Tepes leg of my journey.

I finally return home, butdoggy 2 not as the forty year old Countess Dracula I had hoped to be, but as Igor, the twisted servant of the vampire. I know I am deeply changed. Romania surpassed my dreams and the reality certainly lived up to the myth. Every time I look through my photo album I am stunned at the beauty of a harsh country that I nearly failed to see. The ancient ruins and archaic Dracula sites are breathtaking. But my favourite photo is of a small stray dog with matted fur. It brings back some of my most precious memories. Throughout the trip I had expected to see the stray dogs that so inspired and enchanted me being mistreated and shunned by the locals. But I was surprised at the tender way the Romanians treat their furry comrades. The images of school children sharing their lunches with the dogs, women bending to pat them in the streets and an armed and vigilant guard inevitably surrendering to the need to play with a stray puppy are unforgettable. These experiences bonded me to the people as I had always been bonded to the land, its turbulent history and gothic mythos.

Dracula brought me to this strange land, but its flora, fauna and people won my heart. I know that a part of me now lives in my archetypal homeland, and a part of my soul will always dwell in the land beyond the forest.

Animal Crackers

I love animals. I always have. From my earliest years all I ever wanted was animals. I loved visiting zoos, wildlife parks, petting zoos and seeing animals in their natural state was an absolute pleasure. I loved coming home to my pets. I loved playing with my stuffed animals and my animal models. My favourite board game growing up was the 1960’s Wild Life game; a game recommended by the World Wildlife Fund. When I left home I took that game with me. During my many moves I lost it and was devastated. But, thanks to the internet, 25 years after I lost the game I managed to find one in England. The day it arrived in Australia was one of the happiest. So many of my childhood memories were there in that one box. And yes I have played it again and again!

Although I loved all animals, one thing I didn’t have was a favourite. I wanted to have one so I tried ways of picking an animal that would be my favourite.

The Children of the Night

As a vampire fan from a young age I formed a bond with Dracula’s animals – the wolf and the bat. We are lucky to have fruit bats in Melbourne that fly through the night sky, just like bats in a Dracula movie. One of the local parks has colonies of bats that you can visit during the day. If you go there at dusk you can see them wake up and get ready for their nightly flights. Many an evening has been spent watching these magical creatures. It was a colony of bats living in the trees of a caravan park I was staying at in Sydney that inspired me to create the Dracula Tarot!

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hanging around

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daytime flight

 

While we don’t have wild wolves in Australia, we have their domesticated brethren; the dog. It is through these pack animals that I have bonded with the wolf archetype. While I will one day write at length about my special pack of dogs, for now I need only say that I call them my WolfChildren from the WolfChild pack. My first two dogs – Batty and Wolfy – were named after Dracula’s bat and wolf 🙂

Astrological Symbols

In Western Astrology I’m a Taurus and my animal is the bull. I researched bull and cow mythology which is quite fascinating. But while I liked them as animals, I just couldn’t bond with cows or bulls on a spiritual level.

I had a bit more luck with my Chinese animal sign which is the snake. Snakes are extraordinary animals mythologically. They are so extraordinary that I’ll be doing a separate post on their mythologies 🙂 But I will mention that snakes are linked to vampires – especially Dracula – which makes them very special to me!!

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is that a python on your shoulder?

The main problem for me with snakes is that they are also creatures of fear when you live in Australia. We have 9 of the world’s Top 10 venomous snakes here so they are always in the back of your mind when you go outdoors in Spring and Summer. I’ve seen a few in the wild and they are magnificent creatures. But your heart always goes into overdrive as you wait to see what they will do. Usually they will leave you alone if you leave them alone – which is what I do! I’ve always said that I don’t fear them but I do respect them. That fear and respect was tested this year when a large, venomous tiger snake came into my yard!! While I waited for the snake catcher to come, I stayed in the yard with the snake – at a not so safe distance. I had plenty of time to reflect on this creature of myth, legend and fear. And I realised they really are scary! But I still love them – just not as a favourite 🙂

A Very Special Pair

While I couldn’t find a favourite animal I found two that are very special to me; the red panda and the puffin.

I first encountered the red panda at Melbourne Zoo and it soon became one of my favourites. Whenever I went to the zoo I would go see the red panda first and visit it again before I left. I loved its red fur and adorable face. I thought it looked like a fox in a tree. There is even an International Red Panda Day which is celebrated on the third Saturday in September.

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feeding the panda

I became fascinated with puffins when I was lucky enough to go to Iceland for a holiday. Before the trip I researched the local fauna and thought they sounded interesting. When I first saw them on Grimsey Island I fell in love with their precious, serious little faces. They won my heart when I saw them fly. Their wings are so tiny that when they take off you think they are going to fall out of the sky. But they flap and flap those tiny wings and off they go!

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puffin road trip – iceland

Two important animal organisations for me are The Red Panda Network and Project Puffin. Through them I sponsor a red panda and an Atlantic puffin. It is a lovely way to give back to these animals that have given me so much pleasure.

I tried hard to find a favourite animal but I never did. And then a most peculiar animal chose me. It took a long time but I finally have a favourite animal. I’ll be telling this “tail” very soon 🙂