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.
Similar territories had previously prevailed downstairs, in the living room / kitchen dining area, up until about a month ago. That was when outside temperatures began climbing into the 90's (Fahrenheit), and our household went through the annual summertime ritual of replacing the air filter in the refrigerated air conditioner, a window unit, and firing up said A.C. Simba and Rikki, littermates, are shorthairs; the intense cool produced by the window unit seems to be a bit too much for them. Every year the two little old lady cats (this is their tenth summer) head upstairs to warmer climes when the A.C. comes to life. They each pick their spots, and settle in.

Sasha and Treasure, though, are big bushy beasts, and love the cool air from the window unit. Treasure will even stand on it and cry in the mornings, begging for it to be turned on. It seems she gets uncomfortable a little quicker than I do. Sasha and Treasure at first, will continue to try and get the Grey Girls (Rikki and Simba) to come back downstairs. Sasha will stand on the stairs and meow. Treasure will run upstairs, yowl a bit, and run back down. Eventually, though, the Fuzzy Beasts will join the Grey Girls upstairs. Everybody selects a personal spot. Even though they are more uncomfortable with the warmer temperatures upstairs, Sasha and Treasure want to be with Rikki and Simba. The companionship of the clan seems to be important to them.

I notice similar dynamics at play with the Colony Cats. There are eight cats in the colony, and four distinct groups / alliances. Raven, a large black male, with the two females Nala and Fuzzy make up one group. This trio travels together, eats together out of the same bowl, and seems to house themselves mostly at the house next door, only coming into my yard to socialize and eat. Miss Kitty and Little Bit form a group; Calico and Skitter another. Handsome is a bit of a loner; there were times when I was afraid the Colony would reject him. These days, though, he seems to be accepted as the Grand Old Man of the clan, and everyone loves up on him. My young, preschool neighbor across the alley refers to him as "The Papa Cat." I think that's very appropriate.

Each of these four groups in the Colony have their own territory, and individuals also have their own personal territories. Calico and Skitter live under the deck, and Calico has her own special lounging spot under the blackberry bushes. Raven has a lair under a rose bush; Little Bit is queen of the purple mulberry bush. And so on and so forth. Yet there are communal, public areas as well. The deck, where the food bowls and water bowls stay, is public territory. Each member comes and goes there at will. My porch swing also seems to be a communal resource, though I do get first dibs on it when I'm in the yard. The big open, shady area under the elm tree is like a park. The males seem to congregate there. In the heat of the day, I can look out my upstairs window to see Handsome, Skitter, Raven and Miss Kitty (who is actually a male, but must now live with his name, like "The Boy Named Sue") all gathered in the grass  under the tree, stretched out, facing each other, enjoying the afternoon. It looks for all the world like old men gathered around the domino table in the coffee shop of my small town youth. I can't help but wonder what catly topics are discussed.

So cats have private spaces, fiercely defended places of their own, but they seek out each others' company as well. They spend time together. I confess I find this instructive.

I've written before about depression, and about the terrible, life draining effects it can have on lives. One of the things depressed people often do (we share this behavior with addicts) is to isolate, to cut ourselves off from human contact. I don't know why we do it; why this particular symptom surfaces. For me, it's most often the energy issue. When the energy is low, when the days are dark (literally or metaphorically), it just takes so much effort to connect. My therapist would often ask me, "Other than myself, the Spousal Unit, and the Cats, have you gotten any face time this week?" On weeks when my answer was "no", I knew things were bad, and that I needed to act. I needed to connect. I needed to make connecting a real priority.

As a natural introvert (INTP or INTJ, depending on the day, on the Myer's Briggs personality inventory), I don't always think about that need to connect, that very real need to get face time. Yet it is as real as the need to eat, to sleep, to exercise.

I recently had face time with three lovely friends, all with hectic lives and busy schedules, at Ranoush Middle Eastern Restaurant. (If you live in the St. Louis area,or are ever here to visit, go, go, go, and eat there. You will not regret it. You will beg for their recipes. You will waddle out like a happy and overstuffed weeble. You'll dream of the next time you can eat there. It's that good.) Getting all the logistics worked out, all the schedules arranged, was a bit of a challenge, but we stuck with it. During the process, one of the women sent us all a link to a blog post by TheIdaho8. The name of the post was "Never Underestimate the Power of Girlfriend Time"

"Spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym." This is the message relayed by a college prof, head of psychiatry at Stanford (according to the article). Connection, as important as exercise. That's a whopping big statement. But there's more.

"Failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking!"

I read this and I consider, cats don't smoke, but cats do connect. I think about the beautiful Colony Cats, hanging out on a summer afternoon together, on the cool grass in the shade of the elm tree. Each of them has a highly defended private territory. Yet they still seek each other out, still come together for face time. Cats connect.

I'm grateful for face time this morning, with two good friends over coffee at Shameless Grounds Cafe / Coffee House. I'm grateful we were able to make the time, to meet up, to share and to laugh. To Connect. It set the tone for my day. The serotonin is still coursing through my neural nets.

The cats are wise. The cats know many things.

The cats connect.


 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!


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