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.