Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It pains me to admit this...

but Maxie has become a hunter. No longer the sweet little kitten who lived to play with the toys Mama provided, no longer the voracious eater who snarfed down every morsel of Friskies and elbowed Loosy and Lily out of the way so he could eat theirs too, no longer the Mama's boy who needed constant petting and perched on my shoulder purring madly, Max has reverted to his barn cat heritage.

Yes, he was born in a barn. And, like any good barn cat, he has impulses and instincts to kill and eat small creatures. It appalls me, yet I am resigned to picking up and getting rid of the discarded corpses of mice and voles, the headless bodies of rabbits, the bodiless heads of rabbits, the sinuous but rigid length of a garter snake, the swatch of feathers. I am not going to try to change his behavior and it is impossible to keep him inside or on the deck without seriously limiting everybody's freedom in this household.

I guess this is the dark side of the interdependent web, that felines are predisposed to hunt, kill, and eat small prey. Our domesticating them has not changed this inherent quality. If we were living in caves, doubtless this would have its upside. Living in a house creates certain problems.

Of course, his life is in danger too and, like the chipmunk he caught this morning, he needs to be ever vigilant to avoid becoming prey himself. He has a good startle reflex---he's back on the deck in a flash if he hears a strange noise---but he persists in prancing his bright white hide across the yard, as visible as if he were dyed fluorescent pink. Every night I half-expect that he won't show up, but so far he always has, dirty and foul-breathed from whatever he's eaten, full of affection for me and flopping down to groom himself before falling limply asleep on the bed.

You're disgusted, I know. I'm disgusted myself, especially because I have become the undertaker for these mauled remains and the caretaker of the mauler. But, as one of my fellow islanders has observed, that's what cats do and the small animals which are their prey know it. Prey takes precautions and occasionally gets caught. Predators do the same; they catch and are caught.

I thought this hymn lyric was appropriate. It's #17 in the grey hymnal.

"Every night and every morn some to misery are born;
Every morn and every night some are born to sweet delight.
Joy and woe are woven fine, clothing for the soul divine;
Under every grief and pine runs a joy with silken twine.
It is right it should be so: we were made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know, safely through the world we go."
(William Blake)


ogre said...

Not disgusted. De gustibus non disputandum. Be true to thine own nature. A vegetarian cat is an absurdity--and would be suicide in action; their systems aren't designed for it. Attempts to feed them that way kill them in ways far more hideous and slow than natural predation.

Gary Snyder captured it perfectly in 1970:

Song of the Taste

Eating the living germs of grasses
Eating the ova of large birds

the fleshy sweetness packed
around the sperm of swaying trees

The muscles of the flanks and thighs of
soft-voiced cows
the bounce in the lamb’s leap
the swish in the ox’s tail

Eating roots grown swoll
inside the soil

Drawing on life of living
clustered points of light spun
out of space
hidden in the grape.

Eating each other’s seed
ah, each other.

Kissing the lover in the mouth of bread:
lip to lip.

It's part of that vast, strange mystery. Life lives on life, lives on death, lives on life. Yes, all life is suffering... and without any suffering, there may be no life.

Maxie is no more horrific than the bird eating a bug, or the rabbit devouring a living plant...

ms. kitty said...

What a wonderful, comforting comment, Ogre, thank you. And the poem is terrific!

ogre said...

Ms. kitty, I am delighted that I could offer comfort on the matter. Truly.

That is, if not my favorite poem, one of my favorites. I believe I first read it in "Deep Ecology," something on the order of 15 years ago (maybe longer). It's come back to mind frequently.

I watched our younger cat--not full grown even; he's not even old enouogh that we've been able to get him neutered--playing with a beetle tonight. He's being what he is, in a way that seems to me to be as honest and natural as a star being a star (and when Sol goes red and expands and fries the Earth like Mercury... well, that's the nature of stars).

--all of them Mystery.

(I wonder how much of our reaction to our wicked little predatory co-habitants is that it evokes some distant horror of leopards preying on us... long ago. Were they large--or we small--well.... I can't help but see them as part of an ecosystem -- one we've scrambled wildly, yes -- and remember that there's a balance of predator and prey that in the large benefits both... and the rest of the ecosystem, too. But rarely in gentle, sweet ways. Very rarely.)

ms. kitty said...

Dear Ogre,
Thanks for your thoughtful insights. Every time you comment, I am struck by your wisdom and clarity of thought. I think you are going to be one heck of a minister!

Mile High Pixie said...

"...the headless bodies of rabbits, the bodiless heads of rabbits..."

That phrase makes me laugh for its poetry! My two have been living above the ground floor for about 8 years now, so they haven't caught more than a cold, but boy howdy they used to go after a lizard when I lived in Florida. Right now they're lolling at my feet, all sweetness and light...but yesterday a bug got in the house and Maddy worried it to death. It's annoying to be reminded of the reality that our sweet li'l pets are indeed predators, but the truth is the truth, huh?

ogre said...

Aw, shucks, Ms. Kitty. (Only if I dig into this appallingly huge pile of reading I have for a class that sounded like it would be a break from the intensely academic, intellectual stuff--ha!--and make up the incomplete I took after falling down the stairs. But thank you.)

ms. kitty said...

Well, carry on, Ogre. The world needs you!