David Bennett at the Light Reading blog says that guinea pigs are ambassadors for world peace, and I believe him.
There’s a place I go when I’m angry, or upset; when I’m frightened, or confused, or when I just want everything to stop for a while. I grab a sketchbook and a pencil and head for the guinea-pig pen at the top of the park.
It’s a steep climb up the hill which also helps, because walking fast uphill is a good way to get things out of your head. Today I stomped up the path between the dark lime trees with the damp afternoon air cold on my face, breathing hard, head down, trying to empty my mind.
When events or circumstances overwhelm me, emotion takes over and I can’t think – or rather I can’t stop thinking, but only in the most chaotic and unhelpful way. A long time ago I discovered that if I stop whatever else I’m doing and just look at something and draw, before too long I’m back in myself again and the chaos recedes. There is peace and sanity in drawing.
I talk to them softly because at first they are edgy and two of them dart inside their drainpipe tunnel, but after a second they emerge again backwards, first their round little rumps, followed by sleek bodies and finally dark eyes, ears like crumpled petals, whiskers twitching. They watch me for a moment and then turn to nibbling carrots, and one of them comes to the water bowl near where I stand by the bars of the pen and climbs up to drink, balancing delicate front paws on the rim, raising an inquisitive nose in my direction, sniffing.
There are maybe a dozen of them altogether – I don’t count – and their enclosure is long and narrow, with a partition at the far end where a small dark entrance leads to their shelter. I keep my eyes steady on first one and then another and hardly look at the page, just moving my pencil and looking. The late afternoon light is fading fast and a breeze has started to pick up.
Suddenly, a gust of wind swirls round the garden, lifts a flurry of leaves on the path beside me and catches the calico bag I have slung on my shoulder. It rises and flaps in the air like a flag and instantly, in the blink of an eye, every guinea pig has vanished. I hear a scurrying, catch a glimpse of blurred motion, and that’s all. An empty pen.
I’ve forgotten my irritation, my confusion, the pandemonium inside my head. I am as still, as quiet as the garden. Last year I came here with grief, at other times when I was depressed, and often I come just for the joy of it. It always works; they never fail me.