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?
They don't hunt in packs, as canids do, nor clump together for comfort, as do sheep and cattle. They will cooperate, though. In the coldest days, they will snuggle together in a kitty pile for warmth.  And although they do not hunt in packs, I have seen a colony member return, after a successful hunt, bringing the spoils of her labor back to share with the colony. Of course, I've received the bounty of such offerings  from the house cats myself: dead mice placed carefully next to my pillow, or smelly socks laid lovingly on the blanket.

I've written before, too, about  how the members of the colony have friends, buddies, pals. Although they are a community, there are also deeper and more personal bonds of affection. Raven and Nala are the best of buds, and it's a joy to see them when they greet one another at feeding time. Miss Cally and Miss Kitty used to be inseparable, but there was a falling out. Now, Miss Cally and Skitter are close pals. Little Bit and Miss Cally do not get along well at all. Within our own household, Treasure and Sasha are close; they'll chase each other through the house; play hide 'n seek, sit together at a window watching the squirrels. They never do this with Simba or with Rikki.

It's clear the feral cats enjoy each others' company. In the summer, they'll lounge together on the glider, or on favorite roots, in the shade of the trees. In spring and fall, they congregate on the deck, sharing favorite patches of sun.

And yet, as I say, they are not a herd, a flock. Dignity and a certain distance must be maintained.

"Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you," advised the poet, Kahil Gibran, in his poem "on Marriage. This the cats know, for though they come together and give every evidence of enjoying each others' companionship, yet they also walk alone.

I am not feeling very communal today, and yet my day is punctuated by communal activities: a scheduled phone call with a friend; a neighborhood association meeting. Part of me wants to avoid these if I can, to  retreat to the safe places of darkness and silence and isolation. Yet I know that to avoid these moments of connection is neither good nor healthy. We humans, too, are communal creatures. We are built, we are hardwired, it seems, for connection. So Dr. Bene Brown, a researcher and professor at the University of Houston is telling us. I've been reading her book The Gifts of Imperfection, and you might want to watch her TED talk video.

I think on that, on  connection, on community, and I ponder how the cats do it. "Sing and dance together and be joyous," continues the poet, "but let each one of you be alone...the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow. "

We need community, the sharing of services and each other. We also need  to walk alone in wild places. What a balancing act this is! Yet cats are also masters of balance and grace, walking without seeming effort on dainty paws, along the most precarious of paths. I think how our world might do better with a little more grace, a little less ferocity.

Grace cannot be practiced alone, in isolation, some graces, anyway. The gracefulness of a cheerful greeting is lost if there's no one upon whom to bestow it. The grace of a tolerant heart cannot bloom if  never faced with difficult people.

So I prepare to visit tonight with the community, one of many, for in this complex world of ours we all belong to many communities, whether we engage with them actively or not. I remember I, like the cats, am a communal creature. And I, like they, also walk alone.

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

1 comment:

  1. It would be so interesting to watch a community of feral cats. One could probably learn a lot from them, as you have done. Thanks for sharing your community with us.