Winter Cats

Cats die, that much is known. That they do not die easily is suspect. Nine lives the standard appropriation to cats.

Christianity and Islam both advertize immortal life, my suspicion is the attempt is to out-do or at least out-bid cats. A bidding war to out-live cats with nine lives, same thing that happens at a farm auction. Particularly rainy-day auctions when two clod-hoppers get sole possession into their heads simultaneously. Nothing more gladdens the heart of an auctioneer when the bids arise spontaneously without aid of any hog calling. Cats and Christianity got into this grudge match on the Jericho Road in the shade of John the Baptist’s head. The cats quit at nine, Christianity went on to out-bid stars and galaxies, black holes and white dwarfs, as is a blame long time, but still not so long as immortality.

As a country man I am not convinced cats have nine lives, as much as a novel agility when it comes to death. A cat plainly is hard to kill, being cute helps. Some animals have the bad habit of being born ugly, alligators come to mind. There is nothing much cute about fish or lizards either. Cats arrive cute same as puppies. They might score no better on the SAT than alligators and snakes but nobody has to learn to love cats.

Eventually people, some who love cats, learn to be democratic about this and discount ugly as justifiable homicide, by which point you’re an ecologist. Problem is education is required, until you appreciate swamps, snakes and mosquitoes thick as tire smoke there is no inclination to greet a snapping turtle as Prince Charming. Same goes for dragonflies, or a coyote eating the heart out of a day-old fawn. The way I see it cute counts as three or four lives outright, add the kind of fur a kitten has, and add another two lives.

If it weren’t for the built-in spare lives of not being born ugly in the first place, cats would suffer death rate at the dinner plate the same as every other critter. This the reason we eat lobster and clams and venture cold oceans to our own peril when cats are at hand. The extra lives a cat has by starting out cute. A little more plain-Jane ugliness and there’d be cat ranches instead of angus, and use up a lot less space doing it. Instead of beef cows we’d have meat cats, about three-foot wide at the shoulder, artificially bred to enhance the food supply. An improvement over the cow, when every household could have a little sideline going in the back room, raising mice and a little herd of beef cats.

It is also my belief that cats are pound for pound the smartest animal on the planet. This came to me the day when I had just spent eight hours plowing snow, when I came in the house wet, cold and dang tired, the cat was sitting on the window sill watching the bird feeder. Another was curled up on the sofa, where it had spent most of the day.

The Bible suggests mankind was made in the image of God, my guess is it’s the cat who is the image. So I am jealous of cats, they have it figured out, we pay the taxes, split the wood, buy the litter. They spend the snowy day on an heirloom quilt. No other animal including ourselves is so capable at the art of living, one moment in the penthouse high above Central Park, at the next instant living off the fauna of Central Park. I have friends who mourn the old days when a man could kill supper off his front porch, cats still do that. The perfect combination of house-broken and the Last of the Mohicans.

It is my guess when we calculate all the data points, quantify the graph lines, the supreme species on this planet isn’t us. The pigeon is close, the mouse approximate, the cockroach nearly so, the ant, any of several beetles, but the most sapiens of us all is the cat. I am the one who is serving bondage to three cats, not the other way around. Technically I own the house but they get first dibs on the blankets and chairs. I cut the wood, sweep the floor, stoke the furnace, they all this while take a nap. None of this is accidental. They aren’t the pets, we are.