Monday, August 29, 2005

Looking in a Mirror

I swore when I started this blog that I would try to avoid writing about my cats. Because once I start, I don't know if I'll be able to stop. But there's no way to avoid it now. This is the story of the week.

My cats sit in the bedroom windowsill night and day. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, they see something that makes them growl and snarl and make a noise that I can't even describe. It's sort of a bubbling wail of menace. I never got to see what was causing this.

Then, on Saturday morning, they started making the noise again. I thought, "Aha! Now that it's broad daylight, I can see what's out there." I looked out in the yard and didn't see anything. Then I looked at my cats, to see where they were looking.

My cats are black, with yellow or green eyes. One of them has a white spot on his chest. And when I looked at them, I saw a black cat with yellow eyes and a white spot on his chest - on the other side of the window.

"How did he get out there?" I asked myself. Then slowly I realized that it was not one of my cats. This foreign cat was sitting on the narrow ledge outside the window, and my cats were going nuts. He was quite calm, only snarling a little.

Ten minutes later I looked out the window again. The interloper was now lounging on the ground, about two feet away from the window, ostentatiously not looking in our direction. Every line of his posture proclaimed: "I am perfectly comfortable here, and I'm going to be staying a while." But I think he left about five minutes later.

This morning I heard cries of distress coming from the windowsill. The other cat was out there, rolling on the ground directly under the window - showing off again.

What a cute story.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Why I Became a Vegetarian

This blog was intended to be about "city nature" stories - interactions with nature (usually animals) in an urban area. The story of how I became a vegetarian has nothing to do with the city. Or maybe it does. You the reader can decide.

I grew up in the country, on a small farm. We kept various sorts of livestock, and provided ourselves with most of our own food. Every spring my parents bought a piglet, and every fall, when it had grown up into a pig, they killed it, chopped it up, and put it in the freezer. Then we spent the rest of the year eating it.

It was my job to feed the pig. How old was I when I started? Five, maybe. I understood that we were providing food for these animals, so that they in turn would provide food for us. Without ever putting it into words, I respected those pigs. They were giving their lives for us. I don't know of any way to repay a debt like that.

So I fed the pigs, both their regular food and treats from the garden. I frequently visited the pigs and scratched their backs. Pigs love that. They will leeeeann against your scratching hand until they're like to fall over. And when the time came for them to die, I never watched, but I wasn't really unhappy about it. That is what they were there for.

(We killed and ate chickens too, but it's hard to feel genuine respect for a chicken. I did enjoy looking at their multicolored insides, though.)

Time passed, and my family's circumstances changed. By the time I went away to college, we no longer kept any animals for food (although my mother bought sides of beef and pork from a local farmer, and had them butchered at a local slaughterhouse.)

College was where I first encountered vegetarian propaganda, which consists of two main points: 1) it is possible to be healthy without eating any meat (which contradicted what I had always been told); and 2) animals in factory farms are raised and killed under appalling conditions.

College was also the first place where everything I ate had come from "unknown" sources. I realized that I was uncomfortable eating meat when I had no idea where it came from - when I had never been introduced to the animal, as it were. It wasn't the first time I had eaten store-bought meat, by any means, but a steady diet of it began to disturb me. (Also, sometimes it did not taste entirely fresh.)

Gradually, over the course of a couple years, I stopped eating meat altogether. At this point I can't see myself ever eating meat again. I'm not prepared to kill my own food, although I wouldn't object to other people who do.

Now, what does all of this have to do with living in the city?

Note: See also Those who Died for Us, which I wrote about a year later.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Overheard (cows)

"My daughter told me she was thinking of becoming a vegetarian. I just about fell out of my chair.

"I'm like, 'Do you know what that means?'

"She says, 'Yeah, it means I don't eat cows.'"

Monday, August 08, 2005

Cat Hit by Car

I did not see the cat get run over. I turned around and there it was, lying in the middle of the road, kicking one hind leg. Then it lay still.

One of the people waiting at the bus stop with me walked out to take a look at it, and the person who ran it over actually stopped his car and came back to attend to it. But I am pretty sure it was dead. The young man carried it carefully to the side of the road. A small, thick bloodstain remained behind. Then the bus came and we had to leave.

Was it the same cat I have seen there before? It was orange and white, with a long fluffy tail. I think the other cat that lives around there is yellow. Well, one cat's luck ran out, all the same.

Death comes like that, suddenly, on a bright summer morning. So of course I had to dash off and write about it on my blog.

One of my cats got hit by a car once. He was not badly injured (comparatively), but it was still awful. His leg was broken, and he managed to get himself home. (I'm still not absolutely sure he was hit by a car. How could it have caused so little damage? But that's what the vet said.) Of course I felt guilty for letting him go outside, although I'm sure he enjoyed it, until the encounter with the car.

What really upset me, though, and haunted me, was the thought of his tiny body and all these big, hard, dangerous machines that move so fast and kill so easily. I don't blame the drivers. But looking at a road from a cat's point of view is truly terrifying.

There doesn't seem to be anything else to say.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

"That Looks Like a Good Place!"

One of the strangest things I ever saw appeared in my window last fall. It was an apple.

There is an apple tree in front of my apartment building, and some oak trees out back. Perhaps because of this, there are always a large number of squirrels around. (We get gray squirrels around here. Occasionally I see a black squirrel -- Mirkwood-style.)

One cool autumn morning, I was wandering around the bedroom in my usual daze. I opened the window, and then left the room briefly. When I returned, there was something in the window.

These are the kind of windows that open vertically, with a crank (not the horizontal kind you push up). And while my back was turned, some squirrel or person unknown had placed an apple inside the window, right down in the corner.

I am not accustomed to things suddenly appearing out of nowhere, especially first thing in the morning. First there was no apple. Then there was an apple. I was amazed. Out of nothingness, something had been created.

I didn't really think it was a person. I had not noticed anyone walking by. It would be a pretty unusual thing for a person to do (I thought.) It would also be a pretty unusual thing for a squirrel to do. And yet.

I left the apple where it was for at least one day - maybe two, I can't remember now. Then I inspected it and saw many tiny toothmarks. Probability of squirrel upgraded to 99%. I finally had to move the apple. I put it on the windowsill for another couple days, but I'm afraid the squirrel didn't want it anymore.

That apple is long gone now. But it remains in my memory.