Kage Baker professed to loathe cats. More than she professed to loathe most other animals, that is. But tonight, I want to talk about the cats I live with – because, though Kage would probably have disliked them, I love them dearly.
I know that, despite firm avowals of undying hatred, Kage had good social relationships with at least a few cats. Mitz was an extremely beautiful black cat from Kage’s early childhood. He had a perfect profile and only 1 front leg, giving him a high-shouldered hunchbacked look. Kage always lamented she had met him in her pre-Shakespeare days, as otherwise she would have named him Richard III. He was dignified and kingly; also short-haired, which may have been why she liked him.
She also was fond of my cat Thesta, a little grey and white lady who was an excellent mouser. Kage appreciated a cat that was good at a traditional cattish vocation. Thesta, too, was short-haired. On the other hand, Kage truly did dislike my favourite cat, T’Pring, who was enormous, insanely long-haired, and had huge tufted paws and ears – I now suspect she was a Maine Coon mix. Kage only put up with her immensity and fuzziness as a concession to me.
But now, living with Kimberly, I have returned to living with cats. Although my heart belongs to Harry the parrot, I do love cats – as long as they can learn that Harry is not prey; so far, they all seem willing to be parrot-minions instead of mighty hunters. And it is here that my family and I have discovered the wonderful world of Maine Coon cats. We now have two – our lovely lady Ashby, who is orange; and Edward – who is still a baby (technically) and black.
Ashby is a rescue – the Pasadena ASPCA had her down as a 4-month old kitten, rescued with her mother and brother from a dreadful infancy on the street. (She is still frightened of street sweeping machines, even though she is a 100% an indoor cat.) When we brought her home, we were amazed at how actually tiny and dependent she was: but also at the size and fuzziness of her paws, her coat like a cloud of silk, her huge tufted ears, her extraordinarily long and fluffy tail … what we have determined since is that Ashby is a Maine Coon, but was erroneously described as older than she was because she was so large. For a Maine Coon, she is a dainty lady indeed; but she is twice the size of any of our previous, more ordinary cats. She is a golden sunset cloud, with her magnificent tail following her like a princess’ veil. And she is totally my nephew Michael’s cat, adoring him with a proprietary love that sometimes impedes his ability to breathe – 12 pounds is a lot of cat.
When Kimberly’s little black cat used up her last life, we were bereft. We decided that what we needed was another black kitty – for Halloween purposes, of course – and another Maine Coon, because of the beauty and sweetness of Ashby. And after a search and a wait of some months on his pregnant mother, we found him!
Edward was, for a Maine Coon, tiny when he came home to us. He is black, black, black – so totally black that when he closes his eyes, his little face vanishes. He is as soft as velvet, and quite the most affectionate cat I’ve ever known – he likes to give kisses, and purrs like a tank. He thinks Kimberly is absolutely Momma and he likes to lie on her breast and stare lovingly into her eyes. He rarely mews, but he meeps and makes tribble noises and chirps in a tiny voice. He chases sticks and ping pong balls and is learning to fetch. He has paws with thumbs and can open cupboards and turn doorknobs; he likes to hug you with them, and he likes to have his tummy rubbed. Most cats are supposed to hate that, but not Maine Coons – both Edward and Ashby just adore it.
Edward is as insatiably curious as the Elephant’s Child, and absolutely must assist with whatever his humans are doing; one of his favourite napping places is on Kimberly’s desk, lying between her computer screen and keyboard. He now eclipses most of the screen when he does that, but he really likes to assist Momma with her games of solitaire … he has no idea he is not transparent.
I have no pictures of him yet – he has spent the day in or under things, of course, just when I wanted to get a current photo. But from his arrival as a (relatively) teenie kitten, he has grown extravagantly. We did measure him this afternoon – from his ebony nose to his really fuzzy behind, Edward is now 22 inches – count in his 14-inch opera cloak tail, and he is 36 inches long. And he is only 6 months old, and due to keep growing until he is least 3 years old.
So. There are my fuzzy roommates. I will get pictures tomorrow, and share with with you, Dear Readers. Those of you who have cats, and especially Maine Coons, will be appreciative. Even those of you who, like Kage, think you loathe them might like them. Because, you see, one thing I have learned since Kage died is – lean as hard as you can into what you love. Hold it tight. Rub its tummy.
It’s a small, soft thing, and in no way permanent.
And here is my favourite cat poem, written by an Irish monk …
*I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
translated by Robin Flowers