I feel crummy tonight. I felt crummy most of the day, and most of yesterday. I’ve no idea why, and I know it’ll pass, but in the meantime, it’s sapped me of all my energy and joie de vivre. All I long for at the moment is to sleep in peace. Maybe when I get to dreamland, I’ll reunite with my inner tiger and regain my zing.
I’m a little ambivalent about certain acts or behaviors. While I would hate to be bumped off before my actuarially predicted time, having all sorts of thoughts about things it’d be nice to do before I croak, if it happened that I got knocked off some precipice in a windstorm and smashed into smithereens, it would be only fair for a bunch of buzzards to come and pick over my guts for the tastiest tidbits, even if I weren’t quite wholly dead yet, because… well, because that’s what buzzards are made for. It’s what comes naturally to them. They can’t be blamed for taking my squishy repose as an all-you-can-eat buffet sign.
On the other hand, you can’t take this as carte blanche and go shoving me off any handy cliff. As a person, you are expected to wait patiently for the wind to come up sufficiently for the aforementioned to take place and not be trying to hustle me off this mortal coil. It may come naturally to some humans to be quite treacherous, too, but there’s this little thing called ethics, if not sheer good manners, that ought to stand in the way of such things. So you’ll forgive me if I keep up the occasional glance over my shoulder at you but expect in general that you’ll keep your paws to yourself and let nature take its course, howsoever much you might wish to speed things up and all. I’m not that awful, am I?
If you remember anything about primary school (and I do, if little) you hopefully have a few memories of one or more of the fantastic sort of teachers who were the virtual equivalent of extra aunties and uncles and grandparents, but neatly spun into the form of educators whose wise teaching made you learn things without even knowing you’d worked at it, and want to learn things you hadn’t even known you wanted to know just because they were such fine pedagogues that they made it seem possible, if not easy.
You undoubtedly also have a memory or two of teachers who were quite the opposite. My personal least-fave was the third grade teacher who had no compunction about excoriating and humiliating a student in front of the rest of the class regardless of the infraction or any of their previous achievements or behavior, even cracking a yardstick onto desktops to make a point when she was het up, regardless of whether there might be some small knuckles in the way of the stick. At the very same time, she apparently thought it perfectly logical and beneficial to ‘level the playing field‘ and make all students feel they could accomplish something in her class, lest the PTA or school board think her not supportive and informative enough, and this she would do by sitting and doing the weakest students’ homework for them.
I knew nothing of this until one time when I was the unlucky receptacle for her ire, having failed a penmanship test in the first weeks of school because that school required students to learn cursive writing in the end of the second grade and the one in another state where I had spent my second grade did not. Had she asked us all to sing a song in Spanish, I might have been the star of the class, because my second grade teacher Mrs. Mosqueta let us learn a little elementary Spanish from one Señor Ybarra, who taught by the ultra-newfangled medium of televised classes, and I don’t think my new classmates in Illinois had yet had access to such magicks themselves. But there I was, little miss Goody Two-Shoes, who had never gotten anything but perfect scores because I was too prim and much too afraid to not do my homework to the nth degree—if I had any actual training or homework to prepare in the event—flunking my attempt to make Pretend Cursive when that mean lady in her sausage-casing dress didn’t even ask whether I’d ever been trained to write that way. If you think I still sound remarkably bitter about such a small thing from so long ago, well, I probably ought to let it go but I tend to enjoy my little revenge fantasies more than is entirely good for me.This is all in jest, of course. I wouldn’t be so cruel as to want to give any poor innocent tigers indigestion.
Isn’t it charming, cute and quaint
That a butterfly made up in bright orange paint
Can masquerade thus as a garden saint
And be seen as a ray of the dancing sun
And a light, fleeting dash of enticing fun,
When its finely-veined system in truth is run
On a fuel of venom cold with spite—
It would far rather sink a great poisonous bite
In your pulsing carotid some murderous night—
How pretty, how dainty, how full of cheer
The butterfly’s presence makes it here,
At least behind all that orange veneer
A scurrilous, scandalous sinner
Invited him one night for dinner;
He learned that her wish
Was, he’d be the main dish,
Though before he knew that,
He was in her.
The Ballad of Professor Montague
Professor Montague, a moth (specifically, Cecropia),
was glamorously smooth and frothy, ruling that Utopia,
his professorship at Flares, where tender butterflies and moths,
with innocent and awestruck stares, had visions wild as Visigoths,
fixed on him, rapt, their compound eyes, absorbing, drinking deeply
(through curled probosces and their brains) this wisdom daily, weekly–
they soaked it up–he’d flit about, and with his brilliance all were thrilled,
until one day he was attracted to the classroom lamp . . . and killed.
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!