Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cat's Cradle

or Making Peace

Sir Marley, Hurler of Fur-balls
I don't actually dislike cats; I'm just not a cat person.   Without seeing the need to have a cat of my own, I often enjoy being around other people's.   But there are limits, and when I have cleaned up enough of my neighbor's cat's fur-balls—and other unsavory things—I tend to get a little irritated.

The most famed hurler of fur-balls in the neighborhood is one Sir Marley.   I first made his acquaintance shortly after I'd planted my garden.   I had come across the signs of his passing, shall we say, but never met him in person until one June day after the plants had begun to settle in but before the pests took hold, when the garden was really looking rather fine.   I had been prepared to set Luther after him if I ever saw him (don't worry—Luther was 12 at the time, incredibly sweet, and not much of a threat).   Instead, I found this irritating cat sitting in the middle of the path, looking around at the new trees, slowly blinking his eyes—and purring loudly and happily.   He was purring at the garden I had made.

My heart melted.

Sir Marley, Melter of Hearts

Well, I thought, if he was going to approve of my garden so much, that was worth a fur-ball or two.   And perhaps discovering the occasional half-eaten cricket in my favorite chair.   And having the bird bath tipped over every now and then.   And finding a terra cotta pot or so broken.   And sometimes having to clean up a bunch of bloody pigeon feathers.   Mind you, I didn't particularly like Sir Marley.   He was always dirty, and even though he always sought out my attention, he didn't actually seem to know how to be petted;  I've long since gotten fed up with the "come hither/stay back" types.   Even so, I was more than willing to make houseroom for a fellow garden lover.

It was only when Sir Marley began to kill my ground cover by napping on it that I began to get peeved again.   When he started harassing Mr. Jackson (who expressed his ire by sitting and blinking) I began tossing pebbles at him.   (A couple of points:   1) I have never yet in my life hit anything that I aimed at and so consider throwing things to be a non-violent form of protest;   and 2) I was as much concerned for Sir Marley as for Mr. Jackson, since even a tiny taste of toad can make cats dangerously ill.)   (And a third point by the way:   my garden is really not as formal as the last point makes it sound—most of us are on a first-name basis.)   But when I discovered that my trees were being used as scratching posts and the beds torn up as litter boxes, it was all out war.   I got out the heavy artillery in the form of little plastic doodads filled with garlic oil that was strong enough to pretty well deter me, too.   (The organic gardener's idea of playing hardball.)

Sir Marley, Harasser of Toads
I wasn't reacting only to the damage to my plants but also to a sense of betrayal.   When I thought that Sir Marley enjoyed my garden, that he valued it, maybe even loved it in his own feline way, I was more than willing to live and let live.   But if you love something, you do not set out to destroy it.   Ignorant or accidental destruction is one thing, but to willfully befoul a place of beauty—I had thought that was only a human trait.   To discover it was also feline tarnished my soul a little and made me that much more determined to make Sir Marley unwelcome.

This would perhaps be a good time to mention that another neighbor of mine has three cats, which moved in when he married a year ago.   (That is, his wife moved in and brought three cats with her.)   I've only seen one of them outside before—Pinto, a large white cat with large black spots.   He perches on top of the cinder block walls between our houses, and sags impressively to either side.   I have never actually known him to move;  he just sits and looks regal.   (Well, his face looks regal.)   My neighbors spend quite a bit of time in Mexico, and they take their cats with them when they go.   One day it occurred to me that the problems with tree scratching and litter boxing had arrived, oh gosh, at the same time that Pinto had and—go figure—seemed to fade when he went traveling.   It dawned on me:   just because Pinto does not move in my presence does not mean that he never moves at all...

Ah.   A little miscarriage of justice, it appears.  Sir Marley may have been guilty of birdbath tipping, terra cotta pot breaking, pigeon feather strewing, and the not quite eating of crickets, but he had never purposefully desecrated my garden.   Of course, it didn't make any practical difference—they do not yet make repellants specific to one cat in any case.   But it's the principle of the thing.

Sir Marley, Enjoyer of Gardens
The other day I almost literally stumbled across Sir Marley lying on the garden path.   (Note to self:   Trim oregano.)   He was hidden on the side I can't quite see from the patio, and when I found him he looked relaxed and happy.   He must have sensed a change in my attitude, because after months of warily avoiding me, he came to say hello.

Since then I've decided not to replace the garlic oil repellant.   I've put water out where Sir Marley can get to it, and he hasn't been tipping over my bird bath.   I've put the empty terra cotta pots away, and it's amazing how they don't get broken any more.   Sir Marley still doesn't quite know how to be petted.   The crickets—well, it's best just not to look too closely.   The pigeon feathers aren't appealing, but really, who cares about a pigeon or two?

Sir Marley, Forgiver of Wrongs

Sir Marley enjoys my garden, and we are at peace.


  1. You have utterly melted MY heart. This was a touching and sweet essay, and it made me want to go home and appreciate my own enjoyers of couches and newspaper.

  2. Thanks, Becky! Erm, just what do they do with the newspaper? (The couches are self-explanatory.)