“I have lived with several Zen masters”, wrote master and mystic Eckhart Tolle, and went on to say they were all cats. Well, I have lived with one zen master, a small black witchy cat who entered my life with purpose. Black cats are notoriously hard to adopt from rescue centres because so many people associate them with the myths of witches, having absorbed the ancient male propaganda about women and healers (but that’s another story).
I’ve always thought I was a dog person, having nurtured seventeen rescued dogs (three at a time, but that’s also another story), yet when I look back on my chequered past, I see there are just as many cats as dogs who have entered my life – some at a distance.
All those cats who did, had those mysterious feline qualities of dignity and free spiritedness. Two strays were the first, Black Kitty and Wild Kitty – a beautifully marked tabby – both unnamed, a subtle way of not alarming my parents into thinking I wanted to keep them, and also I couldn’t bear to give them names and then have to relinquish them. But after a few weeks my parents softened, and expertly using the thin end of the wedge, I managed a balancing act between the kittens and the puppy I had also acquired over my parents’ dead bodies.
I was eighteen and I wonder now how I could never have looked into the future and realised that I wouldn’t be around to care for these fragile little creatures. We moved house a couple of months after acquiring them, and I was immensely relieved to find that my parents were including my animals among items to come with us. The journey in the back seat of the car with an excitable puppy, two terrified kittens on the loose with long claws, and my loudly protesting eight-year-old brother was an ordeal never to be repeated.
At the new house, Black Kitty was run over, but Wild Kitty established a comfortable possie behind the warm boiler in the kitchen. I left to join the army a few months later. When I returned months later for a weekend leave, the parents had moved to another house the other side of the town, and Wild Kitty was missing – apparently she had left home when I did. The family moved back to an army quarter a year later, half a mile away from the house I’d left, and miraculously Wild Kitty turned up when I came home for the weekend.
From then on Wild Kitty appeared when I came home on leave and then pushed off when I left. The last time she was seen was when she walked across the grass to show us her line of tiny kittens straggling behind her.
Decades later in this country, I received the usual Christmas presents from irresponsible townies who dumped two tiny tortoiseshell kittens at our gate. Tins of cat-food for a year until they were caught. Another pair again another year, and then a cat and her kitten when we moved to a new house, a gentle stray in Norfolk Island who nestled on our bed, and waited for us every day while we were on holiday, more tins of cat food, followed by starving kittens in Fiji outside a restaurant…only scraps for them…
Some years later, back in town to be near new grand- children, we lived in a house on the side of Mt Eden, an extinct volcano. Our garden stretched steeply up the slope and ended in overgrown shrubs and trees and wilderness. One day I noticed a stray cat in the garden. Feeling sorry for it, I put out some food the next day. In a few days there were five cats, so carefully keeping the doors shut so no cat-chasing King Charles spaniels could do their worst, I put another dish or two out.
By the end of three weeks I had fifteen stray/ wild/dumped cats waiting neatly and patiently on the steps leading up the hillside. I put out five bowls night and morning, and they shared with perfect good manners, and then quietly left with dignity. They always knew the time I would put the food out, and would be lined up expectantly and hungrily for about twenty minutes before, and there was never any squabbling or pushing in when the food arrived .
When we downsized to a little town house, and I had to leave them, I used a possum trap to catch them one by one, and take them to the vet, as I couldn’t bear to think of them starving on the hillside. I caught them all except three tom cats who were too clever to get themselves trapped.
Then, not enjoying living in town, we moved back to the country. We’d only been there a week when we went out into the garden, and there on a log in the sun was a tiny black cat. She got up, stretched, and came over and nuzzled us endlessly, followed us inside the house, and all but said: ‘I’ve been waiting for you’.
She refused to go back home, which was on the next-door acre of land. For weeks I resisted, refraining from feeding her, and yet every time I opened the door, there she was on the front door mat. Eventually I put a deep linen basket with a soft cushion in the bottom for her by the front door, and finally, when I heard a fight in the middle of the night, with the big marmalade tom cat who had come- it seemed- to fetch her back home, I opened the door to her. She ran straight in and settled down on the bed, and for the next ten years ran my life. She was a small oasis of calm and character, whose endless antics amused and entertained; while her wilfulness and intelligent curiosity and mysterious inner life fascinated me.
Whenever her previous owner saw us out walking the dogs with Cara, the cat, skipping along with us, he’d wind down his car window and shout “traitor! “at her. The end of Cara’s story is in the first blog I ever wrote, called ‘Goodbye Cat.’
My last encounter with a cat was more like sitting in that boat with a tiger in ‘The Life of Pi.’ A panther-like black cat had terrorised both cats and owners in our small village for many years, and my friend who had a small gentle cat who was being monstered, decided something had to be done to save her cat. I arrived at my friend’s house just as her Altzheimers husband was putting a blanket over the possum trap and cat, which they had arranged according to my instructions!!!
Feeling responsible, I volunteered to drive friend and captured cat to the vet. We carefully put the trap on the back seat, which was covered in a rug to protect the seat. Chatting happily, I suddenly felt sharp claws dig viciously into my back and shoulders, and a black body hurtled past my ear to land on the dash board. A panting black creature with blood literally dripping from its fangs from where it had forced the door of the cage up, using the crack from the seat rug to lever it, and with fierce yellow eyes glaring at me, crouched there – ready to spring.
It did, back into the back seat, shaving my ear the other side as it hurtled past. Driving was impossible … I pulled unsteadily into a farm drive, not having the faintest idea what to do, and my friend, who was bulky enough for the angry desperate creature not to tackle her side of the car, cringed in horror. The cat continued to leap back and forward past my ears in a frenzy, raking my shoulders and back with its claws each time. Luckily a car was coming down the drive… I flashed the hazard lights, tooted and did everything to show I needed help.
We dared not lower the windows to talk in case the frantic, mangy, bleeding animal escaped to terrorise a fresh territory. The farmer shouted through the glass, telling us to go to the vet – impossible – which he soon realised as the cat continued to launch itself to and fro past my head. The end of the dreadful story came when we quickly eased ourselves out of the car doors, and while we cowered in a farm shed, the helpful farmer opened the car, and shot the poor creature as it made a dash for freedom.
I took my expensive blood-stained cream cardigan straight to the dry cleaners, and had a stiff cup of coffee- I really needed a stiff glass of something stronger. Back home, I washed the blood off all the windows and the dashboard and rubbed antiseptic cream into all my weals and wounds. The next morning, I went out to go shopping, and found to my dismay that there was still blood everywhere. As I washed them off, I counted twenty-eight blood-stains on the inside roof of the car alone. Alas, the blood never came off my cardigan.
Cats – here? No, no danger of strays or bullies here. We live in a covenanted forest with an agreement that we have neither cats nor dogs in order to preserve the native birds, most of whom don’t fly. So no more temptation, no more catching or herding cats, or even black panthers. Sadly, all these encounters with cats have mostly been the result of man’s inhumanity, or irresponsibility.
Unlike the dogs we rescued, I was usually unable to do anything to better their lot, and also unlike the wonderful people all over our city who visit colonies of strays every night to feed them. Sometimes these cat-lovers manage to catch them and get them de-sexed or healed of their illnesses, but I still feel sad that they don’t have homes, which once-domesticated animals long for.
Robert Heinlein, science fiction writer who some feel was also a seer, once wrote that: “How we behave toward cats here below determines our status in heaven.” He may well be right – if there is a heaven – so maybe I’ll see you there! And maybe those dignified, elegant creatures we have encountered in this life will be there too in all their mysterious beauty to love us still, in their own idiosyncratic way.
Food for threadbare gourmets
I had some chicken nibbles in the fridge bought to use for a chicken risotto, but when it came to it, boiling them up for stock etc didn’t appeal, so instead I marinaded them in half a cup of honey, nearly the same of soy sauce, a good glug of sesame oil, lemon juice from a juicy lemon, a generous teaspoonful of minced ginger and the same of garlic. After a couple of hours resting in this mixture, thirty-five minutes in a hot oven, and eaten with sour dough bread, they made a quick tasty lunch.
Food for thought
I don’t believe there was ever anybody who loved being happy as much as I did. What I mean is that I was so acutely conscious of being happy, so appreciative of it; that I wasn’t ever bored, and was always and continuously grateful for the whole delicious loveliness of the world.”
Elizabeth von Arnim. Author of Elizabeth and her German Garden
19 responses to “The magic and mystery of cats”
My heart belongs to cats. I do what I can for them, but it’s never even a drop of sand–even with all the others helping cats in this world–against the flood of irresponsibility and cruelty on the part of humans toward cats (and other animals). I feel so badly for the poor cat the farmer shot. He must have been so terrified and was doing his feral tom cat thing. Sometimes there is no right choice in dealing with animals because of the impossible situations that humans have created.
How is the little wild one you rescued and is now being cared for, going on? ‘
I agree with everything you say. I was heart broken about the cat the farmer had to shoot, I had hoped he would have had a peaceful end, after his miserable life – he had obviously been dumped…but in order to survive he had had to become a fierce predator…
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Yes, I see that it had to be done to protect others, but so sad that because that cat did well at taking care of himself he had to die. Life so harsh that it’s almost unbearable sometimes. But there are many good stories, too, and I try to store those up for sustenance. You ask about the “little wild one” hahaha. I posted an update about him today! We are in a phase of “keeping our fingers crossed” for poor Perry! https://writersite.org/2017/03/20/what-happened-to-the-cat-who-came-to-visit/
I tend to be more of a dog person, as was our younger daughter until she rescued a cat from the streets of Philadelphia, a black cat with yellow-green eyes. The partnership is working wonderfully and for a young woman working as much as our daughter, it’s perfect, as a cat doesn’t need to be walked. 🙂
I know what you mean about being a dog person – I always thought I was too. But cats kept presenting themselves, and like your daughter, I found that you do what you can for life forms that need help…
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And the other cat mystery is why a cat will head straight for the non-cat person (me) in the room! Have you had a chance to see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Street_Cat_Named_Bob_(film) ? Radio NZ gave it a very good review. Actually I am only a non cat person because I am allergic to them. I love them from a distance and I love stories about them, and their mysterious ways.
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Hello Amanda, good to see you..
Yes, I know what you mean about the non-cat person syndrome – have seen it time and again !
Yes, I’ve read the reviews about the film you mention, haven’t seen it yet, but intend to, it sounds like a good one…
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I’m so glad that you weren’t more seriously injured, but sorry your cardigan didn’t fair quite so well.
Our last cat, meant to be a comfort to our youngest while his father was off serving in the Navy, had to be put down a few years back. Shyler was 18 years old and spent her last days either on my lap or behind me in my desk chair.
They say that you dogs have owners and cats have staff. Having had both pets at various time, I think that’s true.
Currently we have no furry pets which is fine since my latent cat allergies have resurfaced over the past four or five years.
I always enjoy your stories. This was no exception.
BTW, it’s neither here nor there, but Mr. Heinlein came from my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri.
Thank you fort your lovely comment… cats lve a long time dot they, and so even harder to say goodbye to…
As you say, such a difference between cats and dogs.. In my first blog, I wrote that I always wondered why I was so grateful for my cat’s love, compared with the way my dogs loved me !
You are always so generous about my writing – thank you…and I will pass on your information to the resident Heinlein fan in case you haven’t already !!!!
I love cats! And dogs! and Horse! and Cows! Well, you understand.
So do I – and tigers and elephants and lions and donkeys … this reminds me of my grandchildren… every Christmas we had a party just for them at my place, and we’d get out their notebooks in which every year they’d record their height, hair colour etc, etc, including their favourite food, favourite book, and above all, favourite animal , and that would take ages as their lists grew longer and longer… oh – and hedgehogs… and oh and badgers… mm, oh moles… what about squirrels… and wolves…giraffes…you get the picture…!!!
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I do! The love of all creatures great and small.
I love cats too and always had at least one, sometimes 5 or 6 as I was growing up but since our children left home we haven’t replaced the last loved feline.
I do love your stories, your food for thought and your delicious meal suggestions. Tomorrow is International Day of Happiness so I plan on using that brilliant quotation from Elizabeth von Arnim. Thank you!
Sally – lovely to hear from you, and thank you so much for your generous appreciation… it’s lovely to know from a friend whose blogs I so enjoy…
Am fascinated that you’re using the Elizabeth von Arnim quote… some lovely synchronicity going on here… I found that quote – when I was actually looking for the first sentence of her autobiography which I remembered began with a wonderful remark about dogs to use in my blog,but I couldn’t find it. Then that night we watched an old film called Enchanted April, and when I googled it afterwards, found the story had been written by E.von Arnim… now you too. !!
Have a happy day of happiness – it’s really rather perfect, isn’t it !!!
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“Whenever her previous owner saw us out walking the dogs with Cara, the cat, skipping along with us, he’d wind down his car window and shout “traitor! “at her. The end of Cara’s story is in the first blog I ever wrote, called ‘Goodbye Cat.’”
Hah. Good old Cara.
Pretty much an unspoken rule on our road in the Sounds not to have cats because of the bird life (wekas, etc, don’t stand a chance against cats), although there’s the very odd one. I like all animals, but am looking after the birds. It’s taken me a long time but I’ve slowly convinced our Daisy Dog not to chase the birds.
I totally understand about cats and wild life… it’s hard not to agree with Gareth Morgan, and yet isn’t fair on cats, who didn’t ask to be born, any more than possums…They are the problem here… though not as much as stoats – a neighbour told us how they got to a tui’s nest by their deck just too late… a stoat had raced up the trunk and bitten each of the nestlings just for the hell of killing…
Nature red in tooth and claw indeed…
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All creatures big and small warm my heart for their gift of being able to take the edge off the worst of bad days. We’re all in the same boat, aren’t we? Love your photograph of the gorgeous black cat with the fabulous green eyes. Wonderful!
How lovely to hear from you Elisa… I so agree with you about all creatures ( see my reply to Linda above !!!)
Life without them would be bleak indeed…
The pic is my darling Cara… my witchy black cat !!! IT took me ages to get over our parting…hope she’s waiting for me – you know where!!!
I always love when you write: “but that’s another story.” That means there will be other wonderful posts, just like the one I read this morning. I’m sitting in Starbucks across from “Petsmart” – a delightful boutique catering to our four-legged and winged friends. I enjoy the interactions that occur around this store. We owe a great deal of gratitude fellow creatures that walk our world. They offer loyalty, friendship and a link to a world that continues to be a mystery.