Saturday, September 17, 2011

sweet prince

Now cracks a noble heart.

-- Hamlet

Alabaster Huston, who rose from humble origins to become a mentor for his peers, an explorer of streams and forests, a protector of homes, a loving friend and a counselor to counselors, died peacefully on Friday, with family gathered round him at his home in New York City, after a long illness. Named "Alabaster" by his adoptive family because of his uniform white coat, he was orphaned and spent formative stages of childhood in a rescue shelter. He won the family's invitation with his fervently expressed wish to adopt them as companions, reaching his paw through the mesh of his cage.

As he grew to maturity, his character was unaffected by the trauma of early childhood. Neither shy nor excessively demonstrative, he was described by many who met him as having "a great attitude." His interests were catholic and inclusive, and he was never willingly left out of an activity, rushing to find vantage points from which to observe household or public events without once being killed by his curiosity. He displayed a remarkable comprehension of the mechanics of door-latches, and it is understood that if he had possessed opposable thumbs he would now rule the world, or at least have led a Fortune 500 company.

He was companionable with a characteristic reserve, declining to sit on the laps even of his intimates, but preferring instead to stretch on the couch beside a friend, exerting light pressure on the thigh with all four feet. He was perfectly capable however of soliciting affection at the appropriate time, reaching up to touch a face or a forearm with a gesture whose meaning was: "It's time for you to pet me now." Many who knew him wish they could be as clear in their communication, or as effective.

Though he never practiced ministry he consorted all his life with pastors, and they often thought that, had he chosen to pursue such a career, he would have done well in it. His ways were quiet and his voice was small, but he chose his utterances carefully and displayed excellent listening skills. Comfortable with silence and clear in his boundaries, he put all at their ease and comforted many during his career with a truly pastoral presence.

Though his heart was firmly anchored in the home, he always enjoyed the outdoors. As a child growing up in the suburbs he investigated the perspectives available from garage roofs and from the upper reaches of grape trellises, conducting research from those locations on avian behavior and the domestic habits of squirrels. He spent most of his adult life however in a home located amidst forests, ridges and miniature streams. This wild and constantly changing terrain called him irresistibly, and he would sometimes take a walk through the woods with a family member, lagging behind or running ahead as his curiosity might prompt him, checking in by voice with his companion just at the moment when he seemed to be lost.

His frequent solo expeditions in nature were sometimes rewarded with zoological discoveries. He would return with an enlistee for home athletic events, carefully preserved from harm and voicing its enthusiasm from the jaws of its recruiter -- a mouse or a mole or, on one memorable occasion, a baby bunny. That these guests were uniformly unharmed when members of his family returned them to the environment is a testament to his innately gentle disposition. Nature was not in his view, at least his part of it, red in tooth and claw.

His habit of peaceful play with the smaller creatures of his world sets one of his last actions in remarkable relief. About a week before he died, although much weakened by his disease, he caught, killed and ate a mouse who had invaded his city home. His younger feline apprentice stood by in amazement, to see his elder display such determination. It is hoped that this vivid example of domestic protectiveness will serve the youth as a model, in the course of an urban future.

Alabaster's remains will be cremated, and his family will devote his ashes at a suitable time to a location that suits his interests and affections. Good night, sweet prince.

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