We all know that there are certain kinds of thrills that are worth the risk, that the forbidden fruit can taste sweetest when it’s a chocolate sneaked from Mom’s birthday gift selection (not that I would know anything about any such thing from my youth!), the extra hour out past curfew when one thinks one’s parents are out of the house, the bouquet picked from a neighbor’s flowerbed en route home from grade school. And there’s no doubt that some are drawn to romance most powerfully when it is risky, when it defies convention, when it defies logic. Is anyone really immune to the lure of breaking with tradition, just a little?
Let’s not quibble about why I’m here; just show some respect for my dedication. I keep watch, I am the guardian, I stand undaunted at attention. I am a tireless protector. Never mind that I’m protecting what I hope might be my lunch, or at the least, my plaything for the while. I am a cat, and that is what the best of us cats do. It is nature and vocation.
The mouse living in there, well, he might have a slightly different point of view. But let’s be honest: his place in the natural scheme of things is as a cat’s toy or treat, isn’t it just. So I shall perch here and keep my patience, and never you mind criticizing my ways. That would be too—well, human of you. And you didn’t want to share your house with a mouse, now, did you! Just look away. I’m busy here.
I prowl the alley on dark nights, looking for trouble spots and fights
And hissing, spitting, yowling, loud, my claws and fangs splitting the crowd,
So don’t be fooled if I look fine: wildfire is in my feline line–
My zoot suit is as cool as ice; my blood, though? Hot, not cool; not nice–
I’m fast, I’m fine, the cat that has searchlights for eyes, wild stripes for jazz,
A heart of iron, soul of steel, and toughness that’s dead deep, for real–
I’m fuzzy, but I warn you that I ain’t no prissy pussycat;
I’m lean and mean; I’m slick and sleek. But sweet? I’ll kick you to next week!
Get me riled up, it won’t be pretty–Bad Cat, yeah, but never Kitty–
All the same, at home a tub of cream is nice; a belly rub;
I’m tiger tough, to say the least, but hey! I ain’t no senseless beast–
Living things, like certain mathematical systems, are attracted (or not) to each other in a wonderful variety of ways. It’s pretty hard to predict what will constitute an individual’s attractors. Some people might say that a warthog, for example, could only be attractive to another warthog, but that’s a very limited notion, because we all have different definitions of beauty and those definitions can be strictly visual but can easily also include appeals to our other senses, not only the standard receptors of touch, sound, taste or scent but also our sense of curiosity or contentment or spirituality or a whole range of other concepts.If I were a little tiny Texas Spiny Lizard, for example, I might be interested in mating or procreating only with a similar little tiny lizard, but I could also very easily be attracted for other purposes to the warmth of a sunny concrete slab, the smorgasbord of yummy insects that visit a group of potted plants, or the shady shelter between the bricks on which the pots are perched, where I can hide from the patrolling cats of the neighborhood. If I were one of the cats, I can imagine I’d be very attracted to the lizard, not just out of feline curiosity but because cats apparently like Texas Spiny Lizards, I suppose because they are small, moving targets for the hunt and possibly just because a cat might enjoy a good set of lizard drumsticks or baby back ribs or tenderloin on occasion. Do cats analyze their dining on a basis of whether or not a meal ‘tastes like chicken‘? I don’t know, but I do know that small, moving objects and food are both common cat attractors.I’m sure it’s also safe to assume that others are attracted to these little reptiles. Most likely that’s the main reason I’ve rarely seen one on our patio or porch any larger than this three-inch/10 cm specimen. If one of the local hawks swoops close enough to notice them, such dainty critters would logically look like the animal equivalent of fast food, and some of the smaller but reasonably aggressive birds (I’m looking at you, bluejays) might compete for such a snack. Snakes, if any of those nearby are larger than my typical garden snake visitor, would find them delectable. So it goes. We are attracted to partners and friends, but also to that which will sustain our progress toward finer dining or just plain survival.My admiration of Texas Spiny Lizards, tiny or not, is based on several of these elements. There’s the simple appeal of the handsome patterning on and sculptural shapes of their infinitesimal-alligator bodies, of course. Those zippy dashes they make from one spot to another first catch my eye and then intrigue me, especially when one of them stops to practice his pushups for a while. I like the way they hold very, very still in between moves, moving only their eyes as they seem to scan for bugs to eat or new heights of patio slab or plant pot-dom to conquer. And very often, I like to contemplate them at equal leisure, attracted most of all to their very differentness from me.
For vigilance that no one can surpass,
No guarantee I make to you, alas,
Yet I can promise still, for what it’s worth,
No danger to one who has left this earth,
So if you want protection from some dread
Predation, fine! (As long as you are dead.)
For if you want this cat to feel at home
As guardian, put me in a cat-acomb.
Cats are nature’s hate-seeking missiles. If there’s a houseful of guests, only one of whom dislikes or is wildly allergic to felines, everybody knows that’s where the household cat will make a speedy beeline and glue itself to the ankles of whichever sufferer would rather the cat were somewhere about a thousand miles away. As it happens, when they choose to do so, cats can also sense affinity. Some are so quick to attach to the humans who will indulge their every whim that they must probably have a sense transcending the dimensions we with our merely mortal five senses perceive.
In both, I have seen parallels in human form. There are some who manage at every turn to recognize quickly and attach themselves instantly to others who will love and appreciate them and all their gifts—and some, conversely (or perversely) who have only the knack of finding and sinking their hooks into people who would rather they were about a thousand miles away.
When cat and dog and sheep and goat, yea, fox and hen and hog and stoat
Befriend each other, work and play like boon companions, night and day,
It’s time to question if the world as we have known it is unfurled,
Unraveled, undefined, undone–if we should pack our bags and run–
For such behavior’s a disgrace and flies in Mother Nature’s face.
So, be alert! The fox and hen, sheep and the goats, like gods and men,
While I’m channeling the warmth and fuzziness of friendly fauna from last week’s travels, I will clarify for you that I’m attracted to all sorts of critters, not just household dogs and cats. Like you’re surprised by that. Anyway, seems like a good time to share some of the other photos I took on the trip so you can all enjoy them too. Because I know, of course, that if you’re spending time hanging around here it just proves you also have excellent taste, so you’re bound to like my little borrowed menagerie of friends too. Just remember not to feed the wildlife.
Fish-eyes ogles us, just to say
in that slippery longing way of his,
that sidelong gaping staring way,
‘I envy the cat that milady is.’
We ponder his liquid love, his fins,
and the way each turn makes him squirm and sink
in the tank (predicament for his sins?),
and we sit and groom ourself and think . . .
Can’t help but pity and love the poor
fish-eyes in turn; think biology,
its cycles, return of what’s been before,
carbon reclamation, and all that we,
with wizard knowledge, learned to admire
and along the way, to recognize
as an opportunity to acquire
matter remade thus if one only tries . . .
what we think is this: that a little fish
could become a cat, graceful, sleek and slim,
by means of becoming a dinner dish–
and on thinking that, we devour him.
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!