We have a watch-cat. Our relationship with Him is very simple, so simple in fact that I cannot say for sure whether He is actually male. Clearly we do not “own” him; cats are seldom owned but rather ‘run operations’ as it is, but in this instance we are talking about a cat whose relationship, if any, is with the people living about four houses down from us. But he patrols the neighborhood, and seems to take particular care checking the perimeter of our place, both house and property, daily, so he is ours in that way–or we, his. In any event, he has no name here other than Watch-Cat, because being a businesslike and vigilant gentleman he seems to require no other, and we have both grown quite attached to him.
My husband isn’t even a so-called cat person, since he has allergies to those of the feline persuasion, which makes this arrangement ideal for him, and seemingly so as well for Watch-Cat, because on those rare occasions when we see him making his appointed rounds while we’re outside rather than observing from a window, he prefers to halt in his path or step aside discreetly while we pass and then continue unperturbed on his way. He’s a compact cat, appearing younger than I think he is because he’s fine-boned and small and sleek, but has such admirable equanimity and steadiness of purpose that I cannot imagine but that he’s fully mature.
Watch-Cat has a fine domain here, as we live on a wonderfully peaceable road with no through traffic and our modest property is bordered, however closely, by the fenced gardens of very kind, if nearly invisible, neighbors at either side (all of them also rather fond of small creatures) and by an excellent small leafy ravine with a sometime-stream that bears both the city’s storm drain access and the more meandering waters of ordinary rain runoff. Additionally, the greenbelt there has an outstanding mini-forest of oak and soapberry and elm, some lacy variety of Mahonia that is almost visually impenetrable by virtue of its large-numbered community, and enough other friendly brush that the birds, possums, raccoons, rabbits, foxes (so I’m told), armadillos and the elusive-but-heard bobcat all find it exceptionally homey and inviting. There is plenty to keep Watch-Cat’s vigilant attentions at any given time.
And while he apparently eschews suddenness or unpredictability, he is in fact a fine guardian for our place. I have observed his managing with a certain sang-froid a rather noisily growling stare-down from a much larger and more imposing stranger-cat that dared to come hulking uninvited into our territory. I’ve seen Watch-Cat zoom up a tree after a piggish squirrel nearly the cat’s size and tell it in no uncertain terms that it was not welcome to be quite so impertinent. My favorite indicator of his dominance over the wilds of his territory was when we had afternoon guests one day, and as we sat in the front room visiting I looked out the window next to us to see Watch-Cat sauntering by with a small dark snake in his jaws. The snake hung limply on either side, looking remarkably like a very impressive bandito mustache on the handsome little black and white cat, and it seemed to me a perfect representation in that way of his insouciant approach to running his universe here.
That said, I think it’s fair to guess that Watch-Cat has an admirably confident sense of his authority and value in the world, one indeed from which we could all take a lesson. I’m quite certain that if he happens to catch his reflection as he passes by our windows or if he should pause at the ravine’s tiny stream, what he sees looking back at him is a magnificent and unconquerable beast, the ruler of his marvelous territory (where, luckily for us, he allows us to live as well), and the beneficent master of all good things. Who are we to argue with that?
I curtsey now to our little king of the suburban jungle, because it is Thanksgiving Day, when I am particularly aware of how many people–and creatures–do their part to keep us safe and sheltered and loved and well attended in every way. Including you!