A few years ago, I put a bird feeder in the back yard. I had landscaped everything to verdant idyll, making it a perfect sanctuary for my avian pals, save for the cats. But one was a scaredy-cat who had no backbone for hunting, and one was so fat from her eating disorder that she posed no threat as she and her impressive girth thundered across the yard. The birds could see her coming a mile away.

I had all sorts of birds come through: bush tits (I know. What can I do?) and northern flickers, black-capped chickadees and an amazing flock of cedar waxwings who denuded our dogwood tree of berries in one short afternoon. I loved the birds, and I loved how many different ones deigned to visit our little patch of heaven in the urban jungle.

And we had one varied thrush. I’m not sure if it was male or female, but we named her “Lucky.” I loved Lucky and she found a sort of peace in our yard after an injury hobbled her. She was there all the time, hopping around on her bum foot, picking up the seeds that the other birds dropped. She hung around for a couple weeks.

And I missed her when she got better and flew away. “I haven’t seen Lucky in a while,” I said to my husband.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” said my husband.

About a year after Lucky left, our cat came down a touch of mortal illness. It was my first real foray into matters of life and death, and though I would like to say that I dealt with it was a fair amount of maturity and grace, it didn’t feel like I did. Maybe it’s not possible to feel grown-up enough for death in any capacity.

But when the time came, we had to put our little fat cat to sleep; she had faded away, all her enormous girth shrinking to nothingness before our eyes, and after we took certain measures to ease her back to health, it became clear that no amount of IV fluids was going to pull her through. Her kidneys were shot and she was miserable.

Our friend, who is also a vet, came over to our house to help us. Lying with her on the deck one sunny February afternoon, our friend gave our kitty the shot that would stop her heart. She closed her eyes and was gone. No struggle, no fear. She was tired and she was ready.

My husband and I were overcome. She was so many things to us: our first pet together, our funny little impish menace who took great delight in tormenting the other cat. She was a big ol’ fat girl who would nap with me in the sun; she was a total hedonist, a cat of leisure.

We poured a couple of stiff glasses of wine and drank them, recounting stories about her. You know, a wake of sorts. A little kitty memorial.

“She got Lucky,” said my husband, looking slightly guilty.

I realized immediately that he didn’t mean she became an inamorata in the alley at night. I started to laugh.

I mean, you know. Of course she did. She’s a cat.

“I was her accomplice,” I said. “I reeled them in with lunch while she picked them off.”

It was pretty sad. I don’t put out the bird feeder anymore.

I took some laundry to the basement the other day. At the base of the stairs was a chunk of feathers next to the mop sink, and a few single downy puffs rolling through the piles of donations we still haven’t taken to Good Will. A starling perhaps, or a robin.

But it reminded me of the bloodthirstiness of those we call “pets.” Our two new girls, both shelter adoptees, are terribly sweet cats. But they have a real taste for adventure, and it is not hard to envision their return to feral living. They are house cats only until we see them shoot up our dogwood tree in three leaps, unsuccessfully grasping for squirrels and birds and bugs and whatever else moves. Then back in the house for a nap to rest up for the next round.

But the feathers in the basement were a reminder that if they try hard enough, eventually one of them will be successful. And that put me in mind of the book The World Without Us in which the author Alan Weisman envisions how the earth will fill the vacuum if Homo Sapiens Sapiens just blips out one day.

We will leave our mark most obviously in the plastics that we leave behind, which are always breaking apart into smaller pieces, but never biodegrading. Plastics have disintegrated into such small chunks that they are at the very base of the food chain now; there is nothing on earth that has not ingested plastic at this point.

Much of the book is existentially reassuring. Most of the earth goes back to being wild. Manhattan will become swampy marsh again, as water, with no humans to hold it back anymore, washes away the vestiges of civilization. I’m reassured by this sort of future obsolescence; if one takes a more geologic view than a historical one, given enough time the obvious scars we’ve carved upon the earth will disappear. Whatever, or whoever, is left will hopefully not know we were ever here.

But there are certain things time can’t eradicate, no matter what. One is the introduction of species we have blithely moved from one area to another. In many cases the invasive species like kudzu and English ivy will simply change the face of the environment in which they are now thriving.

Like my cats, for instance.

Weisman writes:

Wisconsin wildlife biologists Stanley Temple and John Coleman never needed to leave their home state to draw global conclusions from their field research during the early 1990s. Their subject was an open secret–a topic hushed because few will admit that about one-third of all households, nearly everywhere, harbor one of more serial killers. The villain is the purring mascot that lolled regally in Egyptian temples and does the same on our furniture, accepting our affection only when it pleases, exuding inscrutable calm whether awake or asleep…beguiling us to see to its care and feeding.

It turns out that my cat is genetically identical to the Felis silvestris, or the small wild cats of Europe and Africa. The only real difference is their willingness to tolerate me and get a free meal out of the deal.

So when the house cat was introduced to North America, it was introduced to a population of wild birds that had never met its like. They literally never knew what hit them. And as our population has grown, so has both the population of house cats (which don’t hunt enthusiastically because as our pampered pals they get a feast at home) and feral cats (who might as well take back their Latin wild cat designation, such mighty hunters are they).

Feral cats hunt to such extremes that they are responsible for billions of bird deaths a year.

In a world without us, the cats do quite well. But the birds, they’re going to have to sharpen their instincts if they are to survive the mighty Felis silvestris catus.

I’ve been reading a lot of apocalyptic books these days. Maybe it’s in the air. All the talk of climate change and earthquakes and BPA in food packaging, radiation and techno pollution in Asia and Africa, bestsellers like The Road and Far North combining into one giant miasma of apocalyptic vision. It’s not difficult after seeing the images from Katrina and the latest earthquake craze to picture a life after society; it wouldn’t take long to dissolve into primitive tribal warfare if you took people’s access to their basic needs away.

It is far harder to picture a world without the hand of humanity strangling it, but it’s that one which gives me more peace. We’ve laid a hard burden upon the earth, what with our murderous pets and our lovely-but-invasive plants, our dedication to plastic packaging and our complete unwillingness to part with our fossil fuels. It’s too heart-breaking to see the epic unkindnesses perpetrated upon each other broadcast 24 hours a day on networks that make human suffering part of a ploy for advertising and market shares or purely political smallness.

Even though we are culpable in introducing the cats to the birds in North America, which will leave a scar long after we’re gone, the birds can adapt.

We, apparently, can barely adapt to each other, much less the world around us.

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QUENBY MOONE used to be a graphic designer who wrote once in a while. After her father came down with a touch of Stage IV prostate cancer, she became a writer who did graphic design once in a while.

She's written a book called Living in Twilight (no relation to vampires - unless dying of cancer is a part of Edward's story) in which her design skills came in handy, and includes some of her stories featured on The Nervous Breakdown.

42 responses to “Being and Oneness with 
the Apocalypse”

  1. Becky Palapala says:

    Hey! It must be domestic creatures day on TNB.

    There was a whole miniseries on the National Geographic Channel about this. “Life after People,” I think it was called. Something like that.

    One thing that bugged the hell out of me about it–just as a matter of rational consistency–was that it seemed to accept that in this hypothetical human-less world, whatever had utterly obliterated the human race had no effect whatsoever on climate or weather or the appearance of Manhattan or other species or anything.

    I’m pretty sure the only that could do that is rapture.

    George Carlin has a great routine about it all. How people who talk about fearing for the earth’s future or survival are really talking about fear for their own future and survival. The earth will be fine. The earth will outlast us all. Earth will adopt a new paradigm: Earth plus plastic minus humans.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I like to think of the humanity-free option as a species-specific disease that wipes out everyone. Otherwise, yeah, the rationale just doesn’t hold water.

      On the other hand, who doesn’t love to fantasize what it’s like without us mucking about? Sure, the Pacific Garbage Patch will still be there, but by that time it will have completely developed it’s own ecosystem, one which I imagine will be much like the floating seaweed island in theLife of Pi.

      But since I won’t be around to note such a progression, I guess it won’t matter, right?

      Yes, critter day on the homestead! I love critter stories.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I brought that possibility up to my husband, but he pointed out that even in event of disease, not everyone would die instantly, cleanly, all at once. There would be looting, chaos, general destruction and havoc as civilization crumbled, and even that would leave a mark.

        Willing suspension of disbelief is a problem for us sometimes. I don’t like to watch detective shows with him.

  2. Art Edwards says:

    Did you read Freedom? This cat v. bird thing plays big therein. Before listening to it (19 unabridged CDs), I had no idea cats were such a scourge to the North American bird population. This is a problem, I guess. We are a problem, I guess.

    Then, there’s Shakespeare.

    Lovely, provocative read, Q.


    • Quenby Moone says:

      Thanks, Art! No, I haven’t read Freedom… but Shakespeare: that guy did a lot to screw up native bird populations. Or the stupid guy who decided to import them all. I wish I could go back in time and wash his ship back to shore with all the freaking starlings in it. Before they reached the mid-Atlantic, of course. I mean, I don’t want to kill anybody.

      Poetic or not, people are just are a problem.

  3. Alison Aucoin says:

    My three year-old daughter is obsessed with the birds & mice that the cats at her daycare kill. Is it odd that I consider these discussions to be a significant selling point of her hippy-dippy home daycare over an institutional one?

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Nope. I think it’s perhaps not “hippy-dippy” as much as firmly rooted in reality. I think the true natures of animals, even the ones who live with under under our roofs, is often sanitized. It’s refreshing to know that your daughter is beginning to understand the food drive (or not, in the case of my cats) that motivates animals.

      On the other hand, the dead rat one of my girls pulled in the house, chased around, tortured and then ripped apart? Yeah, we hid that from our boy.

  4. Zara Potts says:

    Nice piece, Q.
    Bloody cats. I have a particularly nasty strain of feline. She looks so cute and sleek and pretty but she is a killer wrapped in fur. She is a black cat, born on Friday the 13th, which may go some way to explain her mean streak.
    For some reason, my cats always turn out mean. I have never had the experience of a cuddly, purring cat. I think this is somehow my fault. My dogs always turn out good and friendly and wonderful but my cats barely tolerate my existance.
    I am always slightly worried about the cat’s propensity to cruelty. My cat has killed and maimed her fair share of birds and small creatures, which I understand -they’re hunters after all – but it’s the joy and glee they seem to take in catching and tormenting their prey that bothers me. I have rescued so many little birds and lizards from my cat’s jaws – I just wish she would catch spiders or something gross rather than cute things.
    But despite their inherent cruelty, I do love them. I am a sucker for animals and birds. Any kind.
    And I’m sorry about your kitty. Having to put a pet to sleep is such an awful, sad thing.

    • All I can say for my awful kitties is that they’ve never managed to kill a bird before. Eddie shredded two hamsters but they’re indoors cats. They couldn’t cut it outside, and not just because I live in a part of the world where they’d likely be eaten. Berry is too fat and lazy and lacks any killer instinct, while Eddie is just Special Ed. She can’t figure anything out, the poor little moron.

      • Quenby Moone says:

        I knew another cat named Special Eddie! I love that. So funny!

        I’ve never had an indoor cat, though I’ve had cats that I had to keep indoors for certain periods (apartment living, allergic roommates). I think my house growing up had an open door policy on all the strays who happened by, but they don’t really take to becoming lap cats once they’ve just meandered in off the streets.

        I’ve thought about it though. What would it take to make me make our girls stay inside? One, get rid of the dog. Two…crap. Seriously, I can’t think of what it would take. They would sit at the back door, mewling and meowing and bitching from morning until night. Which maybe is just, but I’m too selfish I guess.

        Which could be humanity’s slogan: “Just too selfish, I guess.”

    • Quenby Moone says:

      The kitties left us a while ago, so I’ve moved on…to two new cats! The almost-feral one is the less malicious of the two, strangely. She is also black, and sleek, and looks like the Death Star, feline version. She’s lovely.

      The other one is a really adorable, slightly plump tortoiseshell, so friendly that we call her the Neighborhood Goodwill Ambassador, as she lolls on the pavement in front of our house and wraps herself around the ankles of anyone who walks by.

      I used to think the Death Star was dragging in all the birds; turns out it’s the Goodwill Ambassador. Cat in Sheep’s clothing, I guess! Now I’ve got my eye on her, I can see the menace peek through at moments. And then, just like that, back to being our Goodwill Ambassador/Sociopath.

      Tricky beasts! I love them too.

  5. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    It is housepet day here around here, isn’t it? It’s time for you to look into owning a tamed fox.

    I tend to think a lot about things coming to a complete end, too, but not necessarily in a nightmarish way, more like in a we’ve-had-a-good-run way which I suppose means I’m not taking the apocalypse as seriously as I should. I enjoyed The World Without Us for instance, especially the description of animals finding creative, tool-like uses for the gadgets we leave behind. All those iPads will make excellent beaver dam building material.

    The thing about plastic having disintegrated to form the bottom of the food chain is nightmarish however.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      We own a dog who looks like a fox, adopted from the Humane Society with the name “Fox.” Because my husband’s last name is Fox, we changed his name: Fox Fox was a little much. Now he’s Moxie Fox.

      I loved The World Without Us, because as I said, much of it was existentially reassuring. Just because we disappear, something will fill the vacuum.

      And then I watch things like Nova, and learn that what fills the vacuum is often things like jellyfish, who absorb the only remaining oxygen in an already oxygen-depleted ocean, choking out whatever is left.

      So, there’s that.

      I think about the iPad’s and the plastic doobobs all the time. I almost posted a different essay called “The Road to Hell is Paved with Petrochemicals,” but it was even more of a downer than this one. Maybe I’ll make it “Quenby’s Existential Crisis” month on TNB and post all the essays I’ve written about my struggles with being a human in the web of nature. WON’T THAT BE FUN!

  6. dwoz says:

    How incredibly interesting, the work of Temple and Coleman!!!!

    Although, those of us who are in the lost generation between the boomers and the X’ers have known about this since we’ve been very very small, because we’ve been thoroughly read into the problem through the collected chronicles of Sylvester and Tweety.

    The name Tweety is obvious…but not until this day, this exact moment, did I know why they chose the name Sylvester!

    • Quenby Moone says:


      The problem was in fact Tweety being much more clever than your average finch: Sylvester was persistent but too obvious in his quest, and Tweety, with too much time on his hands in that cage of his, had plenty of time to witness the shenanigans as they were unfolding.

      My songbirds, though. Too damned busy making nests and finding food, mating and raising their young! If they just became nice and suburban Middle Class birds like Tweety, they’d stand a better chance…

      I’m very curious about the studies they conducted. Just reading the section in The World Without Us was breathtaking.

      I’m sure the birds would agree.

  7. Irene Zion says:


    It’s not so bad.
    Everything will be okay.
    Deep breath.
    Get a good night’s sleep.
    Stop reading catastrophe books by people who are clinically depressed.
    Watch a Doris Day movie or something.

    • Quenby Moone says:


      It’s not like I sit around trying to bum myself out! I think everything is fine–from a certain point of view. From other points of view, it takes a different sheen, though, doesn’t it?

      I’m not going to watch Doris Day, but I don’t wallow in the mire, either. Some happy medium between the apocalyptic vision which runs 24-7 on the news, and the giddy ostrich-in-the-sand silliness of the rest of Hollyweird.

      I’m pretty sure that’s called “reality.”

      And not the reality of reality tv. That’s about as far from it as one can get.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Okay then.
        I was just worried that you were depressed.
        I don’t watch the news, but I read it.
        That way you can put it down for a while if it’s too much.
        Doris Day always cheers me up,
        but I know she’s not reality.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          I’m definitely not depressed. I’m really inarticulate when I’m depressed. On the other hand, if one watches the news, it’s hard to not get depressed which is why, like you, I read it.

          On the other other hand, while I don’t watch Doris Day, I love Singing in the Rain.

          I said I found the end of Man as somewhat reassuring. Not like I want to be rubbed out or anything; evolutionarily speaking, I want my DNA to go forth into an unseen future just like every other critter. But the rational mind takes solace in the fact that even if it’s not us that’s here, something will be. We just won’t be here to take in their wonder.

  8. jmblaine says:

    I had a fever
    dream once
    dogs in Heaven.

    They came running
    to greet me from
    every direction
    yips & barks
    & happy dogs

    It was glorious.
    Pets, they
    break my heart.

  9. Joe Daly says:


    So many talking points. The passing of your cat was particularly touching, and as I look into the whitened face of my golden retriever, I understand that my turn will someday come. It helps to read how others pass through these experiences.

    The part about cats being serial killers is dead on. I live at the top of a canyon, where several house cats roam during the daytime (between the coyote hunting parties at dawn and dusk). I’m always seeing them carting off rats, birds, and lizards that they’ve recently felled. Creepy!

    Then again, one of my dogs is part coyote, and when I lived closer to the beach, she notoriously killed and delivered to me the rats that would foolishly descend from the palm trees (they’re just big rat’s nests, you know) during her watch. As much as it grossed me out, while the two golden retrievers were sitting in the front window, Lola was at least paying her rent.

    I love those Apocalyptic shows where the world goes on after us. The part that always gets me about the “Life After People” is when they remind us that after we’re gone (not just dead- physically gone), the animals will all starve to death, kill each other, or go feral.

    So there’s that.

    Nice piece, tho, Q-M.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      It was really kind of my vet/friend to come to our house to put our kitty-girl to sleep. I don’t know if it’s common, but you can always ask ahead of time.

      In an awful symmetry, our second cat Max, who HATED the first cat, died five weeks later of the same thing. Unbelievable; we all scratched our heads when the vet came BACK to our house to put him to sleep. Max hated her, but perhaps, like a bad marriage, couldn’t live without her.

      Our son did not fare well with news of cat number 2. He just sort of shut down.

      Anyway, yes, they’re remarkable. The dog who pays her rent is just doing her job; the other ones are definitely going the way of the dodo if we all blip out tomorrow. My dog, small, fast as a greyhound, might make it by ranginess alone. Although I don’t know what he’d do for food. I don’t know what he does now–he’s the pickiest eater I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Maybe a rat would suit him after all!

      An interesting side note; if we all blip out, the rats do too. They’re so wedded to human waste and society that they won’t make it either.

      So there’s that, too.

      Thanks, Joe. I’m just trying to live up to the “Money” side of my name.

  10. Greg Olear says:

    We’ve lost four cats in our ten years together — three to natural causes, and one to some sort of vehicle whose driver didn’t bother to stop. I call to make the appointment and the vet looks at me like I’m Ted Bundy. We’re down to one cat, Leo, but we don’t let him outside anymore after the Flea Incident. But back in the day, he could hunt like a mofo. I once watched him eat a squirrel. The whole damned thing, except for part of the tail. Was unreal.

    Have you seen that George Carlin clip where he talks about plastic? His point is, the earth has been here for a gazillion years, survived all kinds of cosmic shit, and humans get all worked up thinking the little plastic gizmo that holds the soda cans together will destroy the planet. “For all we know,” he says, “our purpose here on earth was to INVENT plastic.” Not sure I agree, but it’s a funny-ass clip.

    Anyway, great post, QB, as per usual. Lots of fodder for the mental bird-feeder.

  11. dwoz says:

    I’ve had to look them in the eye and say good bye while they got their final shot,

    …and I’ve had to clean them off the middle of the road with shovels, plastic bags, and water hoses.

    I far prefer the former, if I had the opportunity to choose.

    In my experience, they don’t seem to judge you for it. It just is.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      It’s true. They’re ready when they’re ready, it seems. We struggle much more than they.

      The worst clean-up I ever did was when my husband was out of town and I was two months pregnant, reeling with morning sickness. I stepped out of my car one morning, right upon a rat, dead at my feet.

      It was an unfortunate set of circumstances.

  12. Quenby Moone says:

    George Carlin: no, I haven’t seen it, but it sounds perfect. Because if you can’t cry, you laugh instead…

    I was commenting up above somewhere that I almost put up a piece about my struggles with petro-pellets, but it was even more of a downer than this one. It’s still in the queue though; maybe I’ll subject everyone to it anyway!

    Cats come, cats go. They seems to be more naturally transient than dogs, who seem to stay with us for a beginning, a middle and an end. Cats sort of drift with the tides; maybe it comes down to their less domesticated status. They are, after all, genetically identical to the wild cat. They show up among us, come in for some love and kibble, and then do something stupid like run out in the street after a squirrel.

    Eh, my dog does that too.

    I don’t know. Cats just seem like drifters, even in their mortality. I wouldn’t take your loss of several cats too personally, Ted.

    I love your cat scarfing down a fucking squirrel, though! Jesus! Gross, but impressive!

  13. My younger daughter gets very upset whens she even considers there might be a time when one of our three dogs might not be around for, well, ever. The oldest doggie is twelve, with creaky hips and a full white beard on his black face and though he has always been “the lone wolf” of the pack, he occasionally butts his head up against a human insisting on some love. For whatever reason out of the blue the other day my daughter said that she was sure we all came back in one form or another, and that she would know he was okay if another dog came up to her and did this same thing. Being a smart ass I asked her if she thought the dog would come back as a canine. For instance, what if some boy was butting his head up against her for some attention? Would she think it was the dog? Or just a boy? Since she is fifteen all I got was an eye roll, which is probably what I deserved.

    I so rambled off your intended topic on this one, didn’t I? Thanks for a most thought provoking post.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      No, this is perfect! When our cats died (Two, back to back–the second one five weeks after this one in the piece) Milo was really curious about death with Cat #1, keeping me up late each night asking about what happened, where she was, why was she gone?

      When we had to tell him, much to our own grief and sadness, that Cat #2 had passed as well, he just looked at me and said, “No he didn’t” and walked away.

      But a few weeks later he came back with a story about the worms in our back yards. He had taken the names of our cats, morphed them, and concluded that they still lived in our lives, just out back where we couldn’t see them. It was a remarkable coping mechanism!

      Your daughter should have rolled her eyes, but on the other hand, a boy head-butting her is no less likely that our pet worms living out back!

  14. Once when I was about six or so, my sister and I were standing outside, waiting for Dad to pull the car out of the garage, when we noticed a family of squirrels walking in a line through the grass and up a tree near us. There was a mom squirrel and maybe 6 babies. They were so tiny and fluffy and cute. I’d never seen a baby squirrel before. We were oohing and aahing and out of nowhere our big gray cat zipped over and tore several of the babies apart. Much crying. Very traumatic. Still haven’t really recovered. Am now allergic to cats, which may indeed be psychosomatic.

    That cat would also regularly catch rodents, eating all of them except the spine and the gall bladder, some other offal, leaving those parts laid out schematically, like a science exhibit, right outside the porch door. I don’t know how many times, bleary-eyed on the way to school, I stepped right into the center of the killing field.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      No wonder you’re writing noir! Good grief. Your morning just went all David Lynch and I too would be allergic to cats if I had witness the slaughter of the cutest little nuggets of joy every to wander into view!

      As to the science experiments on your doorstep, your cat sounds more sociopathic than my simple beasts. They just chase them, catch them and then leave the carcass, sometimes for us to find hidden in some dark corner of the basement months after the crime.

      Yours, though. Wow. On the top-ten Wanted list in rodent post offices the world over!

  15. Erika Rae says:

    Oh man, that’s hard. A dear friend of mine put her dog down just tonight and I think she all but snapped. It’s hard. I do love that L covered for her, though. That’s love.

    Yeah, apocalypse on the brain for us.

    (bush tit)

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Bush tit. THEY ARE SO CUTE! http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bushtit/id

      (I just found out that there’s no space between bush and tit. Do you think they employed the lack of a word break to trick the eye into thinking their name wasn’t as funny as it is? ‘Cause it ain’t agonna work, ornithologists!)

      I googled this very carefully so my eyes wouldn’t bleed with copious bush or tit. But this! This is a tonic in a tired world, and they hop through our yard in flocks of thirty or so, all peeping delightfully.

      And then my cat sneaks into a crouch, and it’s game on.

      Ah, well. What the hell.

  16. Simon Smithson says:

    It was in Jurassic Park where Ian Malcolm says that it’s hubris to assume we need to save the planet. The planet will be here long after us; arrogance to believe we can affect it in any kind of lasting manner. However, he says, it may just be possible to save ourselves.

    And also: heh. Bush tits.

    Heh heh heh.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I fear that it’s the cute critters, the pandas and the black-footed ferrets, the blue-footed boobies (heh), who will go down with us. Those creatures who, for whatever reason, have been relatively balanced until we tipped the scales with overpopulation.

      Not that the cockroaches and jellyfish have any less right to a planet than we do–evolution works the way it works and some creatures are more efficient survivors than others–it’s just maybe my own discomfort with thinking that the next paleo-anthropologists will have six legs and a hive-like mind which makes me want to save us.

      Dr. Cucaracha gives me the heebies.

  17. D.R. Haney says:

    Are you familiar with this passage, QB?

    “Cats are prowlers, uncanny creatures of the night. Cruelty and play are one for them. They live by and for fear, practicing being scared or spooking humans by sudden rushings and ambushes. Cats dwell in the occult, that is the ‘hidden.’ In the Middle Ages, they were hunted and killed for their association with witches. Unfair? But the cat really is in league with chthonian nature, Christianity’s mortal enemy. The black cat of Halloween is the lingering shadow of archaic night. Sleeping up to twenty of every twenty-four hours, cats reconstruct and inhabit the primitive night-world. The cat is telepathic — or at least thinks that it is. Many people are unnerved by its cool stare. Compared to dogs, slavishly eager to please, cats are autocrats of naked self-interest. They are both amoral and immoral, consciously breaking rules. Their ‘evil’ look at such times is no human projection: the cat may be the only animal who savors the perverse or reflects upon it. […] The cat values invisibility, comically imagining itself undetectable as it slouches across a lawn. But it also fashionably loves to see and be seen; it is a spectator of life’s drama, amused, condescending. It is a narcissist, always adjusting its appearance. When it is disheveled, its spirits fall. Cats have a sense of pictorial composition; they station themselves symmetrically on chairs, rugs, even a sheet of paper on the floor. […] Cats are poseurs. They have a sense of persona — and become visibly embarrassed when reality punctures their dignity. […] The cat’s sophisticated personae are masks of an advanced theatricality. Priest and god of its own cult, the cat follows a code of ritual purity, cleaning itself religiously. It makes pagan sacrifices to itself and may share its ceremonies with the elect. The day of a cat-owner often begins with the discovery of a neat pile of mole guts or mashed mouse limbs on the porch — Darwinian mementos. The cat is the least Christian inhabitant of the average home. […] Cats have secret thoughts, a divided consciousness. No other animal is capable of ambivalence, those ambiguous cross-currents of feeling, as when a purring cat simultaneously buries its teeth warningly in one’s arm. The inner drama of a lounging cat is telegraphed by its ears, which serve round toward a distant rustle as its eyes rest with false adoration on ours, and secondly by its tail, which flicks menacingly even while the cat dozes. Sometimes the cat pretends to have no relation to its own tail, which it schizophrenically attacks. […] The cat’s ambivalent duality is dramatized in erratic mood-swings, abrupt leaps from torpor to mania, by which it checks our presumption: ‘Come no closer. I can never be known.'”

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I don’t know it, but I love it.

      I do know this one, though, which I can almost recite by heart:

      The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
      If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
      If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
      If you put him in a flat then he’d rather have a house.
      If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat,
      If you set him on a rat then he’d rather chase a mouse.
      Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
      And there isn’t any call for me to shout it:
      For he will do
      As he do do
      And there’s no doing anything about it!

      The Rum Tum Tugger is a terrible bore:
      When you let him in, then he wants to be out;
      He’s always on the wrong side of every door,
      And as soon as he’s at home, then he’d like to get about.
      He likes to lie in the bureau drawer,
      But he makes such a fuss if he can’t get out.

      Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
      And there isn’t any use for you to doubt it:
      For he will do
      As he do do
      And there’s no doing anything about it!

      The Rum Tum Tugger is a curious beast:
      His disobliging ways are a matter of habit.
      If you offer him fish then he always wants a feast;
      When there isn’t any fish then he won’t eat rabbit.
      If you offer him cream then he sniffs and sneers,
      For he only likes what he finds for himself;

      So you’ll catch him in it right up to the ears,
      If you put it away on the larder shelf.
      The Rum Tum Tugger is artful and knowing,
      The Rum Tum Tugger doesn’t care for a cuddle;
      But he’ll leap on your lap in the middle of your sewing,
      For there’s nothing he enjoys like a horrible muddle.
      Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
      And there isn’t any need for me to spout it:
      For he will do
      As he do do
      And theres no doing anything about it!

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Of course, the cat to which I refer in the first part, the one who “got Lucky,” was absolutely the least dignified cat we even had. Which was a part of her charm. When we first liberated her from the grasp of a horrible speed freak neighbor, she was stuck out in the rain waiting for a possum to finish eating her food which was soaked in the rain, too. Needless to say, she was hungry.

      Once she didn’t have to fight a possum for her meals any longer, she ate and ate and ate and ate and ate and ate. The first time we fed her, she ate so fast she yucked it back up. From then on, she was Ms. Glutton of the Universe and even though the vet often mentioned that she “needed to go on a diet,” what were we gonna do? Force her to relive her days waiting in the rain to fight it out with a marsupial? We just let her eat.

      She would sit upright with her front legs tucked behind her enormous belly while she cleaned it so that she looked like an old fat guy in front of the television scratching her gut. She would lay on her back, totally exposed like a dog, just lettin’ it all hang out. She was a real gem. She broke our hearts.

      She also, apparently, broke our birds. But then, you knew that.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I’ll reveal the source of my quote if you reveal yours.

        Your description of your cat reminds me a little of a newspaper account I read about a wild raccoon who was fed ice cream by an animal lover, eventually moving into the animal lover’s house and becoming obese and learning to work the remote. The raccoon particularly liked to watch animal programs, his landlady said; however, he’d change the channel if the program featured sea life. He only liked to watch shows about mammals.

        I never did comment on how thought-provoking I found your piece. Alas, I love art about as much as I love nature, if not more, so the idea of all art disappearing, though inevitably it will happen (if it hasn’t already — ha!), saddens me.

  18. Matt says:

    It’s not just their hunting habits that make pet cats a scourge; their waste, especially that left by “outdoor” cats, is a turning out to be a major yet infrequently discussed ecological hazard and pollutant, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Sea otters off the coast of California are suffering from toxoplasmosis thanks entirely to cat waste that’s entered the water table.

    The things we do just to have an adorable little ball of fur around the house.

    I am, however, sorry to hear about your having to put your cats down. It’s never an easy thing to say goodbye to a beloved pet, even if it is a rapacious killer.

    Oh, and I just remembered reading this odd bit in a science magazine a while back: if you die with a dog in the house, the dog will wait until it has hit the point of near starvation before it begins eating your corpse. A cat, on the other hand, will do so almost right away, even in cases where there is still cat food present. Dogs who’ve hit this point usually have to be put down, (as they’ve effectively gone psychotic) while cats have no problems being rehabilitated. Strange world.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Well, now. That’s uplifting!

      I will write more later when I’m not running around like the proverbial headless chicken. Just to continue with the bird-death metaphors.

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