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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Country Seat

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: 


I 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.

An 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."

"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."

I 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."

"No 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.

"What's seven?"

"A mathematical term for the amount of letters in the 'Opposite of nocturnal.'"

"Mathematics, 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."

He 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!

32 comments:

  1. "Cats don't think, we arrive at accurate estimates instinctively."

    I didn't think about cats when I read that. I thought about what an appropriate description it was of myself. Except for the fact that not all of my estimates are accurate......

    This is brilliantly written, Geo, and I can identify with it on many levels - - especially since I reside with three incredible felines. I've learned much more from them than they have from me.

    By the way, I wouldn't have gotten "diurnal" in a million years.

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    1. Thanks, Jon. Yes cats teach us a surprising amount about life even though their brains contain only a few recursive algorithms, all of which end in snoozing.

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  2. Wisdom, flexibility and fur. Not to mention beauty. Nature favours the feline.

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    1. Let's not forget swiftness. When a cat is spooked it can escape with speed just short of teleportation.

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  3. I'm convinced that cats are running everything and that's why the world is as it is. They hate humans and our freedom.
    :)
    x

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    1. I too believe cats influence society, if only by example --which may account for new rock stars who seem to be licking themselves.

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  4. An informative essay and that last brilliant insight about academics and the TSA is spot on. Thanks for the smiles

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    1. Things are improving gradually. At least we're being spared those red, yellow, green, etc. "terror alert levels" of the Bush years. Made me jumpy!

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  5. Invite a cat to live with you and you'll find that they are indeed much smarter than we are. You don't see any cats cleaning out litter boxes do you?

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    1. You have a good point there, Delores. Although, when left outdoors, cats practice a degree of hygiene other animals seem incapable of. I've always admired that.

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  6. What a wise cat. I am certain he knew that though.

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    1. Cats seem to be untroubled by afterthoughts, which is probably wise.

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  7. Clever and wise they are as well. Experiential facilitators with few, if any real, peers.
    Oh and to move with their grace too! I will tell Lana she should turn to our non-stray Hemingway for help with her daily crossword battles.

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    1. You have to trick them into crossword help, but as for their gracefulness I have long suspected cats of being fur-bearing liquids.

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  8. Well, this could explain the relative lack of knowledge of any kind where I live.....dogs tend to run free here, which besides being a nuisance in its self, keeps the population of free-range cats down.
    I did have a steer (I'm not making this up) come trotting up the middle of the street at 8am the other morning, but he was too busy trying to stay in front of the police car to stop and dispense wisdom.

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    1. Mike, this sort of infestation has been spreading since we first moved out into the sticks and had to chase cattle out of our yard here. Could be worse --I'm reminded of Eugène Ionesco's play "Rhinoceros". Over 30 years, our little country road has become a 4-lane highway under constant vehicular stampede. Upside is my hearing has declined and I can concentrate on crosswords and cats seeking sanctuary.

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  9. Pretty smart cat, and reasonably polite, too - he didn't say a word about the lack of cream in his milk. Unlike some felines. Who shall remain nameless in case I need an answer to the crossword some day.

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    1. Jenny, I agree cats are reasonably polite creatures, in the daytime, but at night I hear them growling, hissing and calling each other perfectly awful names. My only theory is their courtesy is solar-powered and runs down after dark.

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  10. My cats haven't been so chatty today. I think it's because the fleece blankets are in the wash.

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    1. Yes, cats maintaining a polite silence. They'll give vent to their true thoughts tonight. Tomorrow they'll deny everything.

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    2. Tomorrow (today), unfortunately, brings a much greater offense. They're going to the vet for shots.

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  11. Ah, the life of a cat. It definitely has it's advantages, though I don't think I'd want to switch.

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    1. Same here. They feel no regret or guilt, live purely in the present and they are free --still, I like having two ears, intact, and some recourse to treatment when I get distemper or worms.

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  12. I have long known that cats consider us to be inferior species. One look at the eyes and profile, and one knows that. Yet, they use our laps jealously, with a sense of ownership.

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    1. When I compare the construction of a cat to my own, I too have trouble placing myself higher up on the evolutionary ladder. Have always wished I could see in the dark and have adjustable radar-ears.

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  13. Dude. This is one of your best essays ever. Not that all of your essays aren't well-written and clever, but this one really hits all the right notes with me. Hmmm, might have something to do with the two cats sitting in close proximity to me, watching me. I think they may have certain mind control abilities...

    Oh, and now, thanks to you, I have a perfect description for my favorite form of exercise: "vigorously absorbing vitamin D." Brilliant. Right up there with doing diddly-squats, and jumping to conclusions.

    Happy weekend!

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    1. Thanks, Susan! Glad to have furnished an aerobic-sounding label to sitting outdoors. Used to combine vitamin D absorption with conclusion jumps and diddly-squats but I can't show off like that any more. Dudes try not to over-exert themselves.

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  14. I have a fondness for the word 'diurnal' thanks to an early poetic encounter- were I able to ask a cat perhaps I could be prompted to remember which poem. Wordsworth or Shakespeare are my best guesses for the poet. Both of which are good names for cats.

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    1. The word does appear in "All's Well That Ends Well". One of Helena's 2nd act lines:
      "Ere twice the horses of the sun shall bring
      Their fiery torcher his diurnal ring..."
      Apparently the sun was horse-drawn back then (a cat told me that).

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  15. Dear Geo., when my DiL and I visited New York this year, and then a wonderful (till then only known to me through her blog) blogger, working in NY but living at the Hudson River, we were surprised by her talkative cat - the cat really miowed answers! When I read your lovely cat-conversation, I think to be able to forget seems very wise - I might try to train for that. (Or nature will take over anyway :-)

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    1. Dear Brigitta, cats are only loosely connected to consciousness but have a profound and solid coherence to the whole universe. We could do worse than let nature take over by and by --but hopefully not for a long while yet.

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