Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Short Short: Bath Day

Thursdays = Bath Day at The House of the Thirteen Cats. The managed feral colony is exempt, for practical reasons, but indoor kitties get a good soaping during the summer months, to assist with flea control. All four have been bathed today; the bather is fairly unwounded. However, there's nothing quite like the ire of a pissed off cat, and I'm spending the afternoon with four of them. Perhaps Tuna will appease Their Royal Wetnesses....

Friday, July 22, 2011

I Wonder (A Poem)

copyright 2009 by M. Dawn Blaloch

I wonder if the grave is cool and quiet
Endless aeons drowsing in the dark.
Wrapped finally in peaceful dreamless sleep
repose at last for arm and brain and heart.

Wrapped finally in peaceful dreamless sleep,
despairs all ground to dust, and hopes dissolved;
A chance to still the restless, beating heart,
all loves forgotten and all fears resolved.
A chance to still the restless beating heart
Disperse, at last, the mind's be-fevered riot.
To slip, at last, the bond that bound life to us;
I wonder if the grave is cool and quiet.

 stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of short stories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjects: felines , philosophy, and folklore. You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cats Connect

In which we ponder further the wisdom of cats.

Cats Connect

We often think of cats as being solitary creatures. Yet my experience, with both the house cats and the Colony Cats, says t'ain't necessarily so. It seems to be true that each cat does indeed have a well defined personal space, a physical territory. I've seen this with both the house cats and the Colony Cats. For example, in our house right now, Treasure's spot is the clothes drying rack; Simba relaxes on the steam trunk; Rikki has claimed the top of the ice chest. Sasha's spot is an empty bookshelf. These locations are rigid, and fiercely defended. No body sits in anybody else's spot.

And yet, each of these micro-territories exist in the same room: the upstairs sun room / yoga - tai chi room.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Another One Like Me

In which we set out on a small journey, encounter a sage, and receive a gift.

I have never known a cat, or a toddler, who would not greet one of their own. The greeting may not always be friendly, but always there is acknowledgment. A fellow cat, a fellow toddler, is never ignored.

Watch two toddlers encounter each other in a room of adults. Each child may be oblivious to the other adults, save their own caregivers. Or not. Some children seem quite gregarious, greeting and interacting with everyone in sight, true sanguines. But even the shyer, more reserved toddlers will seek out other toddlers, will want to play, to interact. It's as if there's some deep recognition: another one like me.

In my decade of feral cat watching, I've noticed the same phenomenon amongst my feline neighbors. Let two cats pass one another in  yard or alley. They will acknowledge one another.  The greeting may be friendly: tails held vertical, at right angles to the body, happy sniffings and rubbings. It may be grisly: backs arched, yowlings and growlings and hissings, a display of force, a statement of territory. Or it may be something in between: an ear twitch, a rump wiggle, a tail flick. There are many gradations, and the language of cats is subtle.

Only humans know to shun their neighbors.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What Does Depression Feel Like?

  • Everyone, will at some time in their life be affected by depression -- their own or someone else's, according to Australian Government statistics. (Depression statistics in Australia are comparable to those of the US and UK.)

When I was in my mid twenties, I read a novel called "Smart Women" by author Judy Blume. I don't remember, now, much of the plot. Something about three divorced women who became friends, the adventures and misadventures that resulted. Here's what I do remember: one of the characters, one of the women, had a complete and total nervous breakdown (as they called them then. Today, the preferred term seems to be "major depressive episode.")

At the time, I was divorced, living in a small town with three small children, juggling dating and parenting and career. I had a bright, shiny new bachelor's degree, and was working as a junior accountant in a public accounting firm, pursuing the CPA designation for all I was worth. From within that context, I read about this character's breakdown.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Morning of the Lynx

In which we consider a secret which some would keep from us.

Thursday's Child

You know, Gentle Readers, that I am not "a morning person." I may have mentioned that a time or two before. And yet mornings are often so full of wonderful surprises. I really should do morning more often.

This morning, I had no choice but to do whatever had to be done to get the carcass upright and rebooted and at least partially functioning by the really scandalous hour of seven a.m. At the latest. For things to work out optimally, I really, REALLY needed to be out the front door by six. A.M. Ante-meridian. Before noon. Morning. Oh my god.

How do people DO this? I used to do it, back in the day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

To Bear With Unbearable Sorrow

Don Quixote by Gustav Dore
"I come in a world of iron to make a world of gold." ~~Don Quixote de la Mancha

It's cold today; cold and gray. It feels more like November than March. I look out of my second story window, out across the street. Bare and bony tree limbs still reach towards a winter sky. Today that sky is devoid of color; thick clouds conceal a sickly sun. Where is the sun? Where is spring?

I know this feeling of chill today has more to do with my mood than with the season. It's forty-two degrees Fahrenheit today, not balmy by any means but certainly not bitter. Only a few weeks ago we were rejoicing when temperatures rose into the forties. Today that same degree marker seems cold, uninviting, unfriendly.

Spring is on the way. My perception of today as a cold winter's day is an illusion. My perspective from the second story window is flawed. Downstairs, outside, out in the garden and in the yard, signs of life, signs of spring are everywhere. The forsythia is covered with buds, about to explode into bloom. The lilac is likewise bursting with buds. Two timid purple crocus in a sunny spot have already lifted their brave faces to the southern sun. Daffodils and hyacinth have pushed green leaves up through the mulch. Even the mystery potted plant which lives in my upstairs south window has put out a little red, five petaled flower, the first after winter. Life is rich and wriggling down in the garden. It's only up here, facing north, facing the darkness, where things seem so dead and cold.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Saving Sasha

In which we read of fearful giants, the courage of a cat, and kindness richly rewarded.

Sasha in bed
He was starved. I have never seen a cat so thin, nor so afraid. Today as I write, he sleeps in a basket, on a cushion, long gray fur fluffed out, and a contented smile gracing his elegant face. His beautiful tail, a truly glorious tail, long and fluffy and fat, drapes across dark gray paw pads. He is a vision of catly contentment, and I smile, seeing him so. The sight is like healing oil on a parched and cracked heart.

Two years ago things were very different. It was late October, perhaps early November, when I first noticed him. It was feeding time for the feral colony, and there he was, in the biting autumn wind, hanging around at the edge of the group, crying. He was clearly terrified. Only his hunger drove him to us.

That tail, which now is so magnificent in its fat, furry glory, was like no tail I had ever seen. The fur was almost gone; it looked more like a possum's tail than the tail of a cat. Worst of all, it was ridged and lumpy. What I mean is there was so little flesh over the bones of the tail that you could see and count the vertebrae. He was starving. In his desperation, somehow he found us.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cats are Minimalists

In which we consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the contentment of cats, and the price of that which is truly important.

It feels, today, as if spring might actually be on the way. After months of ice and snow, weeks of temps in the zero to ten degree range, nights plagued by tornadoes and days of gray skies, today, today it's sunshine, blue skies, and fifty-three degrees Fahrenheit. The upstairs windows are thrown open. There are tiny buds on the forsythia bush; brave green shoots are giving it a go in the bulb garden. I cross my fingers; I allow myself to give way to hope.

Looking out the back window, I see the Colony Cats are soaking in the rays, as well. Handsome is stretched out in all his elderly golden glory along the deck railing, basking in the southern sunlight. The four house cats have claimed perches by the open windows. They loaf, pictures of contentment. Not a worry in the world wrinkles their furry brows. I envy them. I pause and ponder, wondering what I might learn from their ways.

As I write, it's the first of the month, and so a part of today was spent in the onerous task of paying bills -- mortgage, utilities, communication, transportation, credit cards -- while trying to be sure enough is set aside to cover food, cat kibbles, cat liter, vet bills, prescriptions. This necessary task always puts me in a bad mood. I have to make time, afterward, for gratitude. Time to think over the abundance in my life, to shift the focus away from what I don't have to the many joys I do. As my great-grandmother would have said, to "count my blessings."

I contemplate the cats in their contentment; I observe how they enter fully and wholeheartedly into the joy of this sunshiny day. They pay no bills; they owe nothing and own nothing. I stop and consider if this is part of their secret, for who would deny that cats are enlightened beings?

"Behold the birds of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say to you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

Would life be simpler if we had less stuff?

I hate to clean house; it seems always to me to be a terrible waste of time. I clean, I cook, I wash dishes, I do laundry, taking precious minutes and hours out of my schedule, time I so desperately want to spend on other activities. Within days it's all to do over again. And again. And again. It's a horrible frustration. And yet, I despise living in chaos, in clutter. When my surroundings are cluttered, which they most often are, it's hard to focus. It's like the physical clutter and chaos spills over into mental and emotional chaos and clutter. Sometimes, I leave the house to escape it. Out I go to the organized, clean space of coffee house or library to get some relief.

Sometimes, I think the answer would be to have a housekeeper.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Small Candles

In which we take up the topics of sisters, dogs, dirty politics, and hope.

She joined our family before I have conscious memory. She died when I was eighteen. In every way, other than biological, she was my sister.

We slept in the same bed. She was terrified of storms. When I was eight and she was five, a terrible tornado struck and devastated Lubbock, Texas. The Panhandle town was leveled. The apartment where our family lived was in the direct path of the monstrous storm; if I close my eyes, I can still today conjure up the sound of shrieking winds. It sounds nothing like a freight train; the low lone whistle of a freight train is a sad and strangely comforting sound. A tornado howls like a demon.

Over the years, I've learned to deal with my relationship with stormy weather. I happily head to the basement when necessary; when the "all clear" sounds, I'll spend the next hour foraging for carbohydrates, but I cope. She never did. The sound of hail striking windows and roof would send her into a panic attack, trembling and shivering. Even in her teens, she had a prescription for tranquilizers, used only during storms.

She wasn't fond of cats, though we once had a small Siamese named "Tejas" (pronounced as in the Spanish, "TAY - haas") with whom she became fast friends. There was also a dog named "Sugar-Plum," a big mutt of a thing, who lived for a time with us. She loved him, loved him dearly. I can still see them rambling the neighborhood together. When he died she grieved for months, inconsolable.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Into the Darkness and Out Again

In which the Cat and the Woman travel through Darkness, a Light is born, and a Door is discovered.
Be advised, Gentle Reader, that the post you are about to read is Part Five in a serialized tale. You might want to read Part One: The Coming of the Cait Sidhe and Part Two: The Lands Beyond the Lands We Know  and  Part Three: The Cat Speaks  and Part Four: A Closed Door  if you have not already.

She stood at the top of the stairs, facing into darkness. She began to feel her way down, one hand along the rough stone wall of the foundation for balance; the other clinging tight to the basket her grandmother had woven so many years ago. The air was cold and damp feeling; she could see nothing. The woman feared cobwebs, and spiders, for she came down here but seldom, and never without a light. None brushed her face or ran across her arm, however; she acknowledged her gratitude. With bare feet she felt her way to the bottom of the stairs.

The wooden stairs came to an end; the soles of her feet felt cool flagstone. She stood on the floor of the basement, walls of stone and earth rising 'round her. For all she could tell, her eyes could have been closed, so dark, so lightless was the place. One hand still resting lightly on the stone wall, she glanced back over her shoulder, but the door had swung closed; not a drop of light followed her down. She inhaled the earthy scent of soil and stone; her left hand touched the roughness of stone walls, the soles of her feet rested on the smoothness of stone flags. She listened and listened for the Black Cat, but cats are quiet creatures when they choose to be. What she heard was the beating of her heart, the pulse of blood washing in her ears.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How Raven Got His Name

In which a twin is well named, and other tributes are offered as well.

Feral Raven , refusing to look at the camera
"So," he asked me, eyes alight with a gentle twinkle. "How many black cats DO you have now?"

"I don't HAVE any black cats," I explained with patience. "No one HAS a cat." I gave a good natured smile. It was a matter of semantics.

"Well, how many live here?" he asked, grinning. I grinned back.

"Hmmm." I pondered for a minute, whether to continue the semantical debate or give in and answer his question. I opted for compromise.

"I feed four," I said at last. "They're all in the colony." This was in the days before Hades had become a house cat. 

"Hmmm," he responded in his turn. "Four black cats. Gotta wonder about that." We laughed together there in the yard, warm and happy in the summer sunlight, the spousal unit and our friend and I.

I shooed them inside, the two men, with the authority of a woman who needs to get dinner on the table before it burns. We retreated to the air conditioned interior of my cozy house in the City, and, as I remember, we had a wonderful dinner. Afterwards, I abandoned the two men to their conversation, retreating to my upstairs study to mull on the mystery of black cats.

I have never understood why black cats are such a tormented brood, perhaps because of my early infatuation with Bagheera in Disney's "The Jungle Book." He was an elegant, sophisticated, powerful being,

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why Compassion?

 In which we consider whether we are alone in the universe, and how we might go about curing a cosmic cancer.

Rikki Contemplates Compassion
 Several times I've been asked: Why compassion? Why is the subtitle of  your blog: Cultivating Compassion:  Seeking Wisdom in the Company of Cats?  I had to ponder that a while. The connections made by the artistic subconscious don't always crack open easily to the probing light of analysis. Still, I thought I would give it a shot, analysis. After all, why compassion? It's a fair question.

Com-passion. With passion. With feeling. Feeling with. Empathy. But then, why empathy? Why would we want to feel with someone? Feel their joy maybe, yay for us. A free hit of easy ecstasy. But their pain? Why would we want to feel someone's pain?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cats are Communal

In which we consider communities and cats, poets, balancing acts and acts of grace, towering trees and dancing joyously.

Cats are awfully communal creatures, domestic cats, anyway. I've read somewhere that tigers are solitary beings, only coming together in order to mate. Perhaps that's true. But Felis catus, the domestic cat, is without question a communal being. I see this in the dynamics of the ThirteenCats feral colony, as well as in the behavior of my own four house cats. And I think this bent towards community has something to teach us, if we can but grasp the lesson.

The feral cat colony is definitely a colony, a community of individuals. It is definitely not a herd, nor a flock. It is not an authoritarian state. The cats don't seem to have one leader they follow, indeed, who ever knew any cat to follow anyone or anything?

Monday, February 21, 2011

La Tristesse Durera Toujours

In which we meet a lonely cat and a lonely artist, and are confronted with the power of things we can not know.

Daubigny's Garden by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

His name was "Vincent." Rather, that was what we called him, for what human truly knows the true name of any cat? To be completely truthful, we don't even know for sure he was a he. Fluffy fur trousers hid the pertinent area of anatomy from casual view, and he was shy, terrified of humans. Terrified not only of humans, but of dogs, of traffic. It was only his need, his hunger, which drove him to our back porch. We were never able to touch him, to stroke and to comfort him. So we never learned his gender.

We called him "Vincent" after Vincent van Gogh, because one of his ears

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Closed Door

In which the first day of summer arrives, and the Cat instructs the woman on how she must proceed. A threshold is crossed.
Be advised, Gentle Reader, that the post you are about to read is Part Four in a serialized tale. You might want to read Part One: The Coming of the Cait Sidhe and Part Two: The Lands Beyond the Lands We Know  and  Part Three: The Cat Speaks   if you have not already.

"Soon it will be the first day of Summer," the Cat noted, smiling at the sun which shone in at the window. "I can only stay until the elderberry harvest, so you see the time is short. Nevertheless, it may be time enough to do what we must."

The woman nodded gravely. Gazing with great trust into the eyes of the Cat, she said at last,

"What is it then, that we must do?"

The Cat looked thoughtful, but said no more, only purred upon the woman's lap in the morning sunshine. At length he wriggled, letting her know he wished to be let down, so she loosened her hug. More elegant than the finest gazelle, the Cat leapt from the woman's lap to go  prowling about the cozy if somewhat chaotic kitchen. He sniffed into corners;  he examined the close places under the furniture, and swatted with his paws at motes dancing raucously in the sunbeams.  The woman watched him for a time, holding the warm mug of her morning tea in her hands, smiling. She got up and tidied the kitchen, then went upstairs to bathe and dress herself for the day. When she returned, the Black Cat had made himself into a perfect circle, and was sleeping the contented sleep of cats in a bright patch of sunshine.

For several weeks the Cat stayed with the woman, though he never spoke again. If she found this strange, she made no comment,

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Power of the Paw

A man was walking along the beach. He saw that it was covered with starfish that had been washed up in the tide. A little boy was walking along, picking them up one by one and throwing them back into the water. "What are you doing son?" the man asked. "You see how many starfish there are? You'll never make a difference." 

The boy paused thoughtfully and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean.  “It sure made a difference to that one,” he said. ~~source unknown
I am an American, and so it goes without saying that I like Happy Endings. They are among my Favorite Things. I demand them, even. It's not that I don't like tragedy, because I do. The difference is, Gentle Reader, that I like my tragedies epic and ancient. Think of Beowulf, The Illiad, King Lear, Oedipus. Tales from before the dawn of time that make me weep over the courage and tragedy of people who are long dead and crumbled to dust, if indeed they ever lived. For day to day stories, in my own life and in the lives of people I connect with, Happy Endings are de rigueur.

It was a quiet Sunday evening. The spousal unit was off to a potluck with friends, leaving the cats and I to a blissfully decadent evening of doing nothing. I was at the computer, playing a little solitaire, watching a little YouTube, cruising on Facebook and Twitter, when these three re-tweets came across my screen:

"Mum and Dad are heartbroken. They need to find someone good and kind to take me in, because they have to move somewhere they can't keep me."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breakfast at a Fashionable Coffee House

In which we are reminded that not all critters in need of compassion and respect go on four feet.

Skitter in the sunshine
This morning, I woke up and flung open each one of the upstairs windows that wasn't stuck. As I write, it's a balmy 66 degrees Fahrenheit. A breeze rustles the dry branches of the maple outside my window, still sapless and sleeping her long winter nap.  For the first time in weeks of sub 20 degree weather, I begin to believe again in the arrival of spring. Who can stay indoors on such a day?

Still limping a little from my adventures on the ice, I gather up reading and writing materials, pack up my satchel, and head off to one of the coffee shops I haunt. I am almost delerious with joy. Birds are singing; the earth  smells like spring, as does the air. I'm too gimpy to dance just yet, but I hobble happily along to my destination.

My favorite baristas are manning the counter.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Lens of Gratitude

In which we consider trees and Dutchmen, and allow the cats to teach us somewhat regarding the focus of our personal lenses.

Handsome on his house

The routine of the feral cat colony has been disrupted somewhat over the past few days. Cats are creatures of routine, and, as per the recommendations of Alley Cat Allies, we feed on a consistent schedule. I feed daily at around noon; other neighbors and caregivers feed at different times. This provides some structure for the cats. They know when food will be on the back deck, and usually they're waiting for me.

Our schedule has been, as I said, disrupted over the past few days. If you've ever read the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, you'll have heard of the hearty Alianthus tree, also known as the Tree of Heaven. And if you've ever met the breed personally, you'll remember. You'll know exactly what I mean when I say the tree is essentially impossible to kill. Hack it down, it grows back. Poison it by painting something like Ortho or RoundUp on the bark or leaves, and it will indeed die down, but it's back in the spring. "Hardy" doesn't even begin to describe the tenacity of this tree.

Not that I'm a tree killer, mind you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Unexpected Treasure

"Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before. Say "please" before you open the latch, go through, walk down the path. A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted front door, as a knocker, do not touch it; it will bite your fingers. Walk through the house.  Take nothing. Eat nothing. However, if any creature tells you that it hungers, feed it. If it tells you that it is dirty, clean it. If it cries to you that it hurts, if you can, ease its pain."   ~~~From "Instructions" by Neil Gaiman in his book Fragile Things

I was sleeping; the sun was not even thinking about being up. It was one of those rare days when I didn't have to be anywhere before ten, and I was deep in dreamland, warm and comfortable when the spousal unit shook me awake.

"There's a cat outside," he said.

With reluctance, I cracked one eye part way open. "What?"

He repeated himself patiently. "There's a cat outside."

"A cat?" I rolled over, opened the eye a bit further, not relinquishing the blankets. He stood over me, and nodded.

"A kitten."

"Ok." This was in the days before the feral colony had all been through the Trap-Neuter-Return program. It was August. Of course there were kittens.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Cat Speaks

In which the Cat and the woman take council together, wounds are bound and alliances formed.

Be advised, Gentle Reader, that the post you are about to read is Part Three in a serialized tale. You might want to read Part One: The Coming of the Cait Sidhe and Part Two: The Lands Beyond the Lands We Know if you have not already.


There on the steps sat the handsome black cat, the rising sun a glory at his back.

"Madame," he said in the courteous way of cats, "forgive my early intrusion, but please do invite me in, for  we have little time and much to discuss."

If the woman was startled to hear a cat speak, she gave no sign, but offered instead a little polite curtsy and a welcoming smile, and invited her guest to join her for breakfast. To this the Black Cat acceeded graciously. However, when he went to climb the steps that led from the street to the door, the woman saw that he held up his left front paw, and could put no weight upon it. Looking closer, she perceived a deep gash, all covered in matted blood, and her heart ached within her.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Doing What We Can

In which we share another of our Favorite Things, a Thing which helps us do Good by doing what we already do.

So many people in these tight times struggle to make ends meet. Some more than others, it's true. But I haven't talked to anyone in a long time who says, "Hey! I'm rollin' in the dough these days. It's easy street for me and mine."

Don't get me wrong. The spousal unit and the ThirteenCats and I have all we need, thank God. We are warm and dry and have enough to eat. We are healthy and surrounded by people we care about and who care about us. Perhaps we don't have everything we want (a second e-reader, a netbook, a new fence). We are indeed well, but things are tight.

So I find myself annoyed at the continuing and often guilt inducing demands for money from organizations which are hurting as well. I understand times are tight for them also. Everyone is feeling the squeeze. Shelves in food banks become emptier and emptier. Schools struggle to collect lunch fees, in arrears to the tune of thousands of dollars, and face classroom budget cuts if they can't. Writers I respect opine on the terrible divide growing between the "haves" and the "have-nots." These same economic woes have sent a great people into the streets of Egypt to topple a government. Still I receive mail from my church demanding a tithe for their coffers. I toss the helpfully provided envelopes into the recycle bin in disgust.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Just Ask

In which consider the virtues of asking for what we need, giving what we can, and saying "thank you" at all times.

Simba in the morning
"Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want." ~~ Joseph Wood Krutch via

The ThirteenCats are indeed masters and mistresses at asking for what they want. Sometimes, on a payday evening, the spousal unit will bring in a serving of Lee's Fried Chicken. It's a huge treat, and one of the few times I fall off the vegan wagon with a big fat "kersplat!" The housecats --Rikki, Simba, Sasha and Treasure--may have been soundly sleeping the sleep of the comatose, upstairs and in the back office, but just let the scent of fried chicken enter the house. They are very present and very hungry and very insistent. I hesitate to say they beg, for cats do not stoop to beg. They are, though, very clear in asking for just what they want....little torn up bits of chicken from our plates. And you know what, Gentle Reader? They ususally get it.

Likewise, the Colony Cats never hesitate to ask for what they want. In the long ago when they were very young kittens, Miss Kitty who is tall and black and sleek as obsidion, would lead her siblings around to the front of the house, whenever the front door opened. The brightness of her eyes, the quiver of her whiskers, her every mannerism said with perfect clarity "We are hungry. Would you feed us, please?" Feed them we do, five years later, to our great joy.

When Hades, the real life model for the Great Black Cat in "The Coming of the Cait Sidhe" , joined our lives, the colony refused to accept him. I can only guess it was because he was an unknown male, but for whatever reason, Skitter and Raven would not let him eat with the colony. And so he took to waiting patiently while I fed the colony, then speaking quite loudly and clearly to me, asking for his dinner in terms that were undeniably clear. Thus it was he came to take his daily meals under the maple tree, as you've read in that story. When he was wounded, caught by some dog or racoon or possum or human, when his foreleg was shredded and bloody, he came to the door crying, asking for help. And we helped him. How not?

Yet, thinking over these stories and many others akin, a question presents itself for mindful pondering:  Why are we so slow to ask for what we want, and so quick to condemn those who do?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Mindfulness of Cats

In which we learn a lesson from the cats, consider our minds and our fears, and resolve on a small step to make ourselves and our world a more wholesome place, or, how the scientists begin to figure out what cats have known forever.

Sasha in a basket
As my deadline approached and interruptions mounted, I began to feel a tight cramped pain in the small of my back. It got my attention, because, well, because it hurt, for one thing. The other thing was this: I've come to recognize that tight little back pain for what it is; my body's escalating cry for help when the first several pleas have gone unheeded.

Sure enough, as I took my fingers off the keyboard, gave my mind over to the body's complaints, I began to feel the other flares my flesh had sent out but that I had ignored. My shoulders were up around my ears. My breathing was so shallow as to be barely happening. There was a tic, tiny little muscle spasms, under my right shoulder blade. My jaw was clenched; I was gritting my teeth. I was also irritable. If anyone had found the temerity to walk into the room at just that moment, my southern social conditioning might have kept me from biting their head off, but it would have been a near thing.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Carl the Cranky and Tabby Tom: Part Three

In which we receive a call for aid from one once thought an enemy, and read how the neighborhood rallies to help .

Part One and Part Two can be read first, if you like.

Life and the Universe are strange things. Sometimes they suprise you. I'm inclined to believe this is a good thing.

It was a summer weekend; Friday perhaps, or Saturday, about twilight. The spousal unit was out of town, so I was alone in the house with the cats. Although I do love the man and his company, I also look forward to these weekends when I have the house to myself. I look forward to pizza and old Dr. Who episodes, the small self indulgences from which I abstain most of the time. There would be one of those long, chocolate and wine baths at some point. Everyone needs a weekend away with themself now and again.

I was downstairs in the kitchen, happily chatting away via text with my oldest daughter, about this and that, when "BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!" came a demanding knock on the door, loud enough to make me jump out of my seat, knocking over my glass of iced tea in the process.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Lands Beyond the Lands We Know

 In which we travel by way of dreams into strange lands, are strangely attacked, and receive a strange offer of assistance.
The Riders of the Sidhe, by John Duncan 1911
Be advised, Gentle Reader, this reading which you embark upon is Part Two of a tale which began with The Coming of the Cait Sidhe.

At length the woman came back to herself, looked at the cat and said,

"Well, Sir Cat, what next?"

The great black beast, stretched out at her side, sat up politely. He placed his two front paws neatly together and, drawing his tail in an elegant arc to cover those silken hands, regarded the woman through the glowing green lanterns of his eyes. His ears pricked forward, giving her his gentlemanly attention.

She woke later, as the day was dying, sitting up from the cool comfort made by the young violets beneath the silver maple. Sir Cat was nowhere to be seen. A few of her feline neighbors, though, from the ramshackle tumbledown house next door, lounged in the garden, and on the wall which separated the gardens of the two houses, keeping watch. The woman gathered herself, bid her neighbors a goodnight, and went inside. That night she dreamed.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Allies and Friends

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." ~~attributed to Margaret Mead

 When I pause to think about products and people that make life better for the Thirteen Cats, the very first thought that pops up is "Alley Cat Allies." 

There was a time when municipalities across the country would indiscriminately issue what are called "catch and kill" orders. A city would declare war, in essence, on some of the most vulnerable members of society, its feral and stray cats. They would be trapped by whatever means were allowed. Terrified, the cats were removed from their neighborhoods and homes, and executed with no quarter and no mercy. The goal was to erradicate a population. It never works.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Compassion and Cruelty

In which we sit in the dark and watch the snow fall, consider the fate of sled dogs in Canada, and contemplate a cure for cruelty.

Rikki and Treasure
What causes cruelty?

Last night, I couldn't sleep. It was the thought of two, possibly three, feet of snow, arriving while I slept. This kept me up, watching out the window, watching the snow fall down in thousands and thousands and thousands of flakes. Sometimes it drifted slowly, performing a hypnotic dance in the light of the street lamps. At other times the fall was furious, as if the sky were spitting snow, hurling the tiny crystals of ice down in an angry bombardment.

I've never seen three feet of snow before. I was  frightened, and fascinated.

While I kept watch by my upstairs window, I kept the computer open;  the waves that wash the aether brought me a story about the brutal execution of a hundred unwanted sled dogs in British Columbia. It's not easy reading. It turns the stomach, sickens the soul.

I am concerned with the care of feral cats; I am involved in a very small way with animal rescue. You may conclude from that, and you would be right, that I'm an animal lover. I want to help. I yearn for a world where children and women and dogs and cats and men can live happy, safe, healthy lives together. I yearn for the Peaceable Kingdom.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


In which we consider the Ire of the Frost Giants and take hope from the Compelling Composure of Cats

It's about twelve thirty in the afternoon, time to be out feeding the feral cat colony. The four indoor cats have been well taken care of today; a can of cat food split four ways to start things off while I had my morning coffee, then their bowls filled with their favorite dry cat food for snacking at their leisure. Litter boxes all serviced and fresh. At the moment, they are all four lounging in favorite spots in the office, grooming and dozing, contributing as they always do to the writing of this column. I certainly couldn't do it without them.

We are a cozy kaboodle.

 The situation is completely different right outside my window. A sound like dry autumn leaves which rattle together in the wind is constant and loud, but it's not leaves in the wind. It's ice pellets, rattling down from the sky. Our screen door was frozen shut this morning; the spousal unit had to take an ice pick and butter knife to work it free, before he could venture out for the morning commute.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Carl the Cranky and Tabby Tom: Part Two

Wherein we read of un-looked-for collaboration, suffer a shocking assault, and give chase to a pair of  scoundrels.

Sasha in Shadow

(Be advised, Dear and Gentle Reader, that this post is the second part of a tale, the telling of  which began last Monday with Carl the Cranky and Tabby Tom: Part One. )

Summer waned and gave place to the brilliance of Fall, who waned in her turn, stepping aside for the arrival of Winter. I, no less than the colony of cats, took a deep breath of appreciation when at last Spring, vigorous and green and full of bright life, waved a flowery handkerchief at old Winter and bid her be gone. It had been a cold and an uncomfortable three months. We welcomed the return of warm days and sunshine.

There is nothing more relaxing, nothing better for the unknotting of tensions that sneak in and settle about the head and shoulders, than to sit quietly and gaze at a cat who is sleeping in sunshine. This is a deep medecine. I suspect it is an ncient one, too,  for people have been watching cats for millenia. This particular spring I was happy enough to sit on the back deck, whenever I could, quiet and still. The cats would come, after a time, hunting their favorite patches of sunshine.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Coming of the Cait Sidhe

In which a strange but welcome visitor makes a first appearance.

In a realm close but far, visited seldom by citizens of our own country, a king sat brooding.

He sat, looking out the open window of a tall tower, his golden eyes gazing into the far distance, or into nothingness, his long, elegant fingers folded, the forefingers extended upward, pointing to the sky, as he rested a handsome chin on folded fists.

The king sighed a deep sigh, a sigh with the weariness of a hundred worlds on its back.

"I am troubled, Cat," said the king. A handsome black cat, who might or might not have been there just a moment ago, turned luminous eyes on his sovereign. He was a huge beast, blacker than a starless night, blacker than the deepest cave. A shining patch of white fur blazed on his dark chest.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Joys of Hot and Cold

In which we venture into obscure realms in search of water, and discover much more than what we sought.

The backyard in snow
It gets cold in the City. The winters, by my standards are bitter, though I understand folks from Chicago-land, or, from even further afield, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, they mock my wimpishness. Well, let them mock, so long as they keep their winters to themselves. St. Louis is as far north as I go. I grew up in more temperate climes, and this is as much as I can take. One morning last week it was three degrees.

That's right, gentle readers. It was three degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. Not thirty degrees, which is two degrees below freezing and plenty cold enough. Three. Uno, dos, tres. Three. In whatever language, that is too damn cold.

Nevertheless, at six in the morning, I stuffed my feet into tennis shoes, wrapped a wool scarf around my head, put on a coat, and ventured outside. The handy desktop weather widget said it was three (three!) degrees. What, you may ask, was the inspiration for this madness? Why armor up and sally forth, when hot chocolate and warm blankets beckoned from a heated house? What madness indeed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dirty Socks and Purple Stars

In which we read somewhat concerning the languages of love, the fierceness and generosity of cats, and the kindness of children.

How does one say "I love you?"

I've been thinking about that lately, about the ways each of us says, "I love you." I've been thinking, too, about how and when we receive that message. A cat doesn't say "I love you" in the same language a dog does. Mandarin and Swahili don't use the same sounds to deliver the same message.

Do we always hear the message when it comes our way? Do our own messages of "I love you" always get through?

It's an amazing and humbling thing when your children grow up and start recommending literature - books and movies - to you. When they are young, we expend so much effort on funneling to them the best messages we have to offer.

"Children ought to be provided with property and resources of a kind that could swim with them even out of a shipwreck." ~~Vitruvius, "Architecture.

How diligently we try to provide them with those resources. We peddle ideas, books and music and art. We try to provide a civilizing influence. We try to teach, by word and our own actions, compassion and respect, hope, perhaps faith. How often and how badly we bungle our efforts. But we try. At least, a good many of us do. We try to gather up the best  we have,the best that we are, and put it into the hands that will craft the future.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Advice From Our Friends

In which we discover an interesting suggestion regarding the care of our feline friends, and have a good, healthy belly laugh to boot.

As I continue my decade long liaison with the neighborhood alley cats, I am constantly in search of  any and all information that could potentially be of benefit to them. To this end, I read several lists and websites devoted to catly topics.

Some of the information I find is useful, some inspiring, some funny, some cathartic. As with all information gathererd by whatever means, I have to sift through it, picking out the good bits and discarding the bad. You shouldn't check your brain, after all, when you open your browser.

The other day, I was reading  feral_cats, a yahoo group to which I subscribe. It is devoted to helping feral and stray cats (they're not the same), and to providing support and information on Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). One post I ran across soon had me laughing hysterically. The minute the spousal unit arrived home, I grabbed him.

"Listen to this," I said,

Monday, January 24, 2011

Carl the Cranky and Tabby Tom: Part One

In which we read of alliances formed and enemies revealed.

When I'm in the bathtub, I confess I'm in another world. I hear nothing from the outside, see nothing, am aware of nothing. Bathtime is an indulgence, a break in the routine of morning showers undertaken daily for purposes of hygiene. A bath may indeed be hygienic, but it's so much more. Taking a bath merely for hygiene is like drinking a glass of Dom Perignon because you've been out working in the yard and need to re-hydrate. Baths for me usually involve candles and music, chocolate, incense, a book or two, and three, sometimes four hours of uninterrupted solitude. A bath is a cherished decadence, not to be undertaken lightly.

I'm pretty sure the building could all but fall down around me, during bathtime, and I would be none the wiser. So it was one evening that a great battle ensued on behalf of the cats, between their allies and neighbors on one hand, and a murderously angry Marine on the other. Threats were made; police were summoned. A small crowd gathered in my alley for the fray while I, deep into the pleasures of hot water and bubbles, bathed obliviously on. I had no idea a veritable riot was underway outside my back gate. It happened in this wise.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Unique Masterpiece of Extraordinary Beauty

In which we read more of the wisdom and uniqueness of cats, and are inspired somewhat to follow in their pawprints.

" As I contemplate cats, their ways of being, their ways of approaching life, as I ponder what things they may have to teach me, I am struck by not only their grace and their masterful savoir faire, but also by their absolute, unflinching self acceptance. I have never know a cat, from the most pampered housecat to the scruffiest alley tom, who in any way seemed to question the nobility of his own personhood.

"The smallest feline is a masterpiece." ~~Leonardo da Vinci, via

This year will see me attain my fiftieth birthday, supposing I live that long, as I hope to. For many women in our beauty and youth focused society, if forty was frightening, fifty is terrifying beyond belief.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Stories We Tell

In which we read of artists and Frenchwomen, cats who spin and speak, and somewhat of the values of things.

"I have often wondered how people decide if they are "dog people" or if they are "cat people." Even people who love both, who consider themselves "animal people", as I do, still, generally, will admit, if pushed, that they really actually prefer to live with this type of creature rather than that one. There are horse people and bird people, even fish and snake and turtle people.

I do confess I find myself most friendly disposed towards mammals, and stand in the least friendly relations towards reptiles.  My relationship with arachnids and most insects is one of open, armed, and mutual hostility. (I allow for some exceptions: lady bugs, praying mantis, butterflies I count among the friendly nations of bug-dom.) Perhaps, though, we don't choose whether to be cat people or dog people. Perhaps we just are, cat people or dog people or horse people. It's almost like a clan division, or a tribe.

I knew from before the time I could read I was a cat person.

Follow up to: Do All Cats Go to Heaven?

This is in the nature of a reply to comments on the previous post Do All Cats Go To Heaven

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In The Beginning

In which we read of trust and longing, of old friends and of the beginnings of things, and learn somewhat of the purpose of rivers.

It was March of 2001 when the spousal unit and I moved in together here at our little brick house in the City, all full of hopes and enthusiasms and dreams for "Ever After." His teenage daughter, for whom he was the custodial parent, was a part of our little household; I had high hopes of dramatically debunking the "Wicked Stepmother" mythos by what I knew would be my splendid step parenting skills. My biological children were all grown and married; the next generation, the generation of grandchildren, had begun to make their appearances on the world stage. I was working as a tutor in a math help lab, trying to get into graduate school. The Twin Towers still stood proud and tall over New York's harbor. Life was good. We had no intentions of getting a cat -- much less thirteen!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It Takes a Village...

In which we read of Booty the Cat and his rise to Lordly status; a terrible tragedy is narrowly averted, but happy endings ensue.

It's a joyful thing to see when friends reunite. Yesterday, as temperatures inched toward 40 degrees F, life was not so bad if you happen to be a feral cat in a particular managed colony. All souls are accounted for. In fact, if you were to peer into the back yard about feeding time, you would have seen happy cats decorating the deck and its environs, draped elegantly over the railing or loafing in any available patch of sun. The deck is dry and free from snow; the sun is shining with benign intent. The water bowl is full and unfrozen, the kitty kibbles are piled high in generous helpings. Raven, a big neutered male, black as jet or ebony or a raven's wing, hears me putting out the kibbles. He leaps to the top of the chain link fence, then saunters into my yard. He approaches the deck, tail held straight up in the air. This is the signal to all and sundry that he is a happy cat, and is happy to greet the group he approaches.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cats and Neighbors and Shoveling Snow

In which we learn something of madness, weeds, blue northers, and neighborliness.

The week of Christmas, we had a snow storm blow in. Yes, yes, that made for a White Christmas. Lovely. I don't mean to be facetious; it was indeed beautiful, especially since the spousal unit and the housecats and I could enjoy it from within the warm comfort of our cozy home, where we cuddled and cooed, drank hot chocolate, (warm milk with no chocolate for the kitties) and watched

Friday, January 14, 2011

Do All Cats Go To Heaven?

Reassurances on the afterlives of cats, and the partial tale of a cat named Bob.

Although thirteen is the number of cats currently in my life (eight in the managed feral colony with which I assist in caregiving, four family housecats, one guardian ghost), this number isn't stable. There are other cats who have come and gone, over the years. Each of them leaves indelible pawprints on my heart.  From each I learn, and with each I grow a bit, in both happiness and in sorrow. With beings such as they, whose life spans are so much terribly shorter than our human ones, the sorrow is inevitable. It's how we deal with it, and with the joys, that counts. 
One cat who lived with us for a little over two years was Bobby of the Golden Eyes, or "The Bobster" as we sometimes called him. He was elderly, and came to live with us

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Visit from Tabby Tom

Skitter's arch rival, Tabby Tom, comes for a visit, and a cat fight is narrowly avoided.

At first, the colony was nowhere to be seen this afternoon. I wiggled my way out the front door, juggling a caserole dish of canned cat food, today's empty water dish, a pitcher full of water and another of dry kibbles. I managed to not slip on the front step (the wind chill has been FAR too low to get out and do any shoveling), set everything down, locked the front door, got my gloves back on, got everything picked up and adjusted again, and went crunching through the snow around to the back deck, kitty treats in hand (or in arm, rather).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day

It was 19 deg F at feeding time yesterday. Only Little Bit and Miss Cally showed up right away, as  I swept some snow off the deck, making some dry spots for kitty paws to stand while munching. They still look fluffy and healthy; happy too. Both tails were 
straight up in the air as they greeted me. I noticed out the back window that Handsome showed up after I'd come back inside. I'm guessing everyone else is hiding out in this cold weather, probably in the Kitty Palace of Hay, or in the abandoned row houses next door. I need to be scrupulous, especially as long as this really cold, snowy weather holds, about sticking to a consistent feeding schedule, same time everyday. That's one of the recommendations of the people at Alley Cat Allies regarding caring for a feral colony. Seems cats are creatures of habit, and being fed at the same time every day is a benefit for them. They know to expect you, and the food.
Another challenge in this weather is keeping the water unfrozen and drinkable. Ours is currently frozen solid. I think I'm going to have to get another deep water dish,  so I can rotate them, bringing one inside to thaw while the other is outside being drank from. Handsome, in particular, is always looking for water; he checks the water dish before checking the food dish. I know that, as an elderly male cat, it's especially important for him to get enough fluids.

Where are the boys?

Seventeen degrees F today, with four inches of snow on the ground, but the cat colony was out in force at feeding time. Little Bit, the smallest female, solid black, but definitely the matriarch of the clan despite her size, was waiting on a cookie sheet for my arrival.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Handsome Returns!

I was so excited yesterday during the noon feeding of the colony. Handsome is back! He's still limping, but seems to be better. He was putting some weight onto the injured foot, not trying to hop about on three legs like before.  Also, he seemed more confident. He was still avoiding the larger and younger males, but

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Handsome Gone Missing!

Handsome is missing, and I'm worried about him. My desktop weather widget says it's 13 deg F, and my toes--tucked up under the green comforter as I write this-- say it's a cold Saturday morning. A hot chocolate type of morning.