My previous post was all about how I couldn't think of anything to write and Amy Saia helpfully suggested I post something with a cat in it. This got me thinking about personal advancements in my life that involved cats, beginning with early childhood. When a boy pets a cat the wrong direction or picks one up by the wrong appendage, he learns things he can learn in no other way. This is education. But it does not stop in childhood. Cats still teach me things I did not know. Nowhere is this principle more evident than in an essay I wrote five winters ago, when I was a boy of 60:
have been communing with nature. Never one to neglect exercise I went
outside an hour ago to sit on a bench and vigorously absorb vitamin D. I
also took my New York Times crossword puzzle and meditated upon the "Opposite of nocturnal".
Yes, well, Twain said we are not quite sane at night, but it was daytime
and the mind races from whatever night did to it. Then nature arrived.
orange and white tomcat slunk under the gate. I didn't know him. He didn't know
me. He looked freaked, wide-eyed and wary. He cowered, then sat. He was
showing himself, trying to make friends. It is, after all, suddenly
November and even California gets chilly at night. This cat was a
creature of nature saying he'd decided against nightlife. Opposite of
nocturnal. We shared a quest.
"Hello kitty," I said. "You seem troubled. Perhaps I can help."
He replied,"What can you know about it? You're human, a silly bag of
thoughts enslaved by the products of its own reasoning!"
"Well, that's quite an accusation. Is that what nature really thinks?"
"Cat's don't think, we arrive at accurate estimates instinctively. But yes, it reflects natural consensus."
"Nature hates us?"
"Nature is indifferent, but we cats hate you like anything..."
"I'm getting a beer. Would you like some cream?"
"Cats love you."
went in to the kitchen and returned with a bottle of stout and bowl of milk. The cat was asleep on the bench but woke at my approach.
"Humans are noisy." He said.
"I know. And you hate and love us."
"Really? Why would I do that?"
"You don't remember our conversation before the cream."
need. Understand, you humans live incredibly long needy lives that are
full of consequences. For us cats, life is short and full of hairballs.
We may have had memory once but we're well now."
"You prefer amnesia? That's insane!"
"I'm not the one talking with a cat."
He had me there. I decided to return to the crossword.
"Seven letters." I said.
"A mathematical term for the amount of letters in the 'Opposite of nocturnal.'"
like memories, are unnecessary. Can mathematics tell you how to jump over
something twenty times your height and land uninjured?"
"No, but it informs our vocabulary by allowing us to calculate what time it is. That's how we identify nocturnal animals."
"Some are nocturnal," he said. "Some are not. Scientifically speaking, it depends on when they get up."
finished his cream in silence, and I my beer. I had hoped nature would
communicate some more useful truths than those contained in this cat, so
I waited. When he rose, I spoke.
"I've enjoyed our drink together, and our conversation. Did you?"
"I forget," said the cat as he slunk toward the gate. "But, just for winter, I've decided to become diurnal."
"Diurnal?" I cried, "Seven letters...That's it! Damned ugly word though."
"Now you're catching on, silly thoughtbag," he said, and was gone.
As we approach August, California's cruelest month, it has been refreshing to recall that November. It is also therapeutic to think about the many cats who have slunk onto this property since the above interaction to continue my education in exchange for hunting rights. I believe the amount of learning, the percentage of total human knowledge, provided by stray cats is grossly undereported by the academic community --which, like TSA, has long since become a bureaucracy dedicated to its own perpetuation over any good it does. Then again, that's precisely the sort of scheme a cat would come up with. Clever creatures!