The night Homer took me hunting, he taught me three things and granted me a favour. He taught me what cats want with their looking looking looking. You may have noticed this yourself, that whenever you happen to glance at a cat, chances are good you'll find the cat looking back. Homer gave me my first lesson on why they watch us, why all cats watch we humans, never ceasing. And then he taught me the most important thing of all, which is what Catness means. Feeling a bit sorry for myself
But perhaps I had better explain a bit about how it is between the cats and I. The Catkin Willow Fund for Stray Cats was started about 20-plus years ago by our first cat, Murphy, although neither she, my wife Kathy nor I, realized it at the time. We have known hundreds of cats since then, some of them just passing through and some of them with us still. And we've learned from each of them far more than they have ever learned from us. We became The Catkin Willow Fund for Stray Cats when financial demands became such that we could no longer finance it all ourselves.
And the most important thing we've learned over those years is that cats are perfect. This is not just a tongue-in-cheek remark, either. This is important. Cats are perfect because they are innocent. Cats are determinate, meaning they were born knowing they are cats. Cats do what cats do. Cats are cats. Cats epitomize their own best selves, their Catness. We humans do not always epitomize our own best selves, our Humanness. Which is one reason we need cats. If you have before you one perfect example of how to live, then it only makes sense to pay attention.
Cats will change your life. And that's where a cat named Homer comes in. He changed my life when he gave me my first real glimpse of life through a cat's eye. Homer, who looks like a big gray and white tabby, is in reality according to Kathy that rarest of breeds, Felis infantus, The Baby Cat. She points to his magnificent whiskers and proud plume of a tail, naming these as definitive characteristics of the breed. Kathy has been known to embellish things. Suddenly, I know why he looks
On this occasion, he found me at well past midnight. I was lying on a chaise longue in our garden, my mood as dark as the night. I believe I was feeling sorry for myself, wanting to stop feeling sorry, but on the other hand not quite willing to give it up. The sky is whirling above me, the stars beginning to disappear into clouds.
I think I must have dozed off, for suddenly my eyes fly open as something bursts through the bushes and lands on my chest. Homer, back from his wanderings, is home from the hunt. He stands four square on my chest. His claws are doing their needlework through my shirt. His tail is held proudly as always, and he greets me joyfully.
"Oh, Homer," I say. "I am so glad to see you." And I am, heart suddenly full of it, bursting at the sight of his bright cat pride shining in the darkness, vying with the moonglow. He bunts me in greeting, yeowing, marking me with his lips and chin, marking my chin, my head, my face, licking my nose, kissing. He draws back, head cocked to one side the way he does, fancy meeting you here, what's up, let's play let's run let's hunt.
I love him in that moment, love his free spirit, his fierce wild certainty, his gallant heart. How I wish I could run with you, I think, hunt with you, go where you go, do what you do, be a cat. Then, although I know I cannot be a cat, cannot hunt, cannot run, cannot go, I am driven by an imperative too strong to be stopped by an impossibility.
I get onto my hands and knees, trying to imitate the feline hunting stance of a cat. And then, wonderfully, for a few brief moments, I am in spite of everything as near to being a cat as I can get at that time. And together we crouch, together we hunt.
He cocks his head at me again as if to say; okay, let's do it. Then he pounces, on what I cannot see. He moves again, tail up, paws certain, gathering something in, bringing it to me. I can see, in what is left of the moon, a Junebug, or what I think is a Junebug. It lies before me where he has placed it. I pounce, trying to do as he has done. I pick up the Junebug, let it rest in my hands.
"Yeow," says Homer, his customary expression of approval. Unsure what to do next, I simply do nothing while Homer waits, looking at me sidelong, expectantly. Why do you look at me, what do you want? And suddenly I know why he looks and what he wants, what all cats want.
Cats want their Catness. They want their truth, their central being. They wan t all they can be, which is Cat. By being this and nothing else, they are everything. Cats look at us, look at the world around them, in order to protect their Catness. They look at the world, what dangers are there. They look at the trees and grass, what pleasures. They watch the butterfly float and the wind blow. They know the footsteps of a mouse.
But they look most intently at us, the species whose lives touch them more closely than any other. That closeness brings advantages for cats, but it also brings danger. These humans might try to rob them of their Catness, and many times we try. But the cats are watchful. They will not have it, such robbery, will not allow it, and so cats look at us.
This knowledge came, elegantly obvious, and then something else. I knew, crouching in the darkness with Homer beside me, what a privilege was in the knowing. I can never fully be a cat, can never know the feel of sun warm on my fur, pursue the fierce cat pleasures, shine with bright cat pride. But maybe I can be as a cat is, guarding its Catness, nurturing it, on the lookout for whatever threatens. I know in this instant that we all possess something very like Catness and sometimes we lose it. And sometimes we can get it back again.