Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Difference of Opinion

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you're enjoying some nice fall weather, just like the ducks and I are here in Whoville. A curious thing happened the other day, and I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to tell you about it. I guess the best way is just to jump right in, so here goes.

I was talking with fiance John recently, teasing him about one of his idiosyncracies. I can't recall which one because he has too many to keep track of! It probably had to do with his propensity for really bad puns. I keep telling him that they're not all meant to come out of his mouth, but that never stops him! Anyway, the subject was endearing quirks, and I made the mistake of asking what he thought mine were. Between you and me, I didn't realize I had any quirks - or at least any that John was aware of! Turns out he had a list of them, and at the top of the list was this: that I talk to my cats, and believe that they talk back.

Considering that John has five indoor cats that he dearly loves, this comment came as quite a surprise. Given that John and I both have high IQ's, I just assumed that we were on the same animal-communication wavelength. I mean, of COURSE they talk: they meow, hiss, growl, and purr, just to name a few. I pointed this out to John, but it didn't seem to register.

"Well," I said, "other cats understand what they're saying, right?"

"Yeah...," he answered cautiously.

"So the cats ARE talking, right?"

"Yeah...," he still wasn't convinced.

"Just because YOU don't understand them doesn't mean they're not talking, does it?"

At which point he gave me that indulgent look that I really hate getting from people. It's the same look you give your child when they do something dumb but funny.

I suppose that now is as good a time as any to explain about the critters talking. My cats talk the most (more so, say, than the ducks). That's natural: I live with them, we interact all day long, and they have things on their minds that they want me to know about. Junebug is the most talkative, and her thoughts usually center around asking me to refresh her bowl of kibble, or give her snack treats. We don't spend all day talking to one another; it's simply a matter of Junebug trying to make a point, and me translating that point into my own language of human English.

One of my favorite things that Junebug says is this: when I give her a catnip toy, she'll lie on the floor and lick the thing soggy. And she'll say, "I'll lick all the smell off, Kelly!" Which is, of course, exactly what she's doing when she licks the thing soggy. Makes sense to Junebug. Makes sense to me.

My six-year old orange tabby, Spanky, who is so emotionally stunted that he thinks he's still a small kitten, often walks around the house wailing unhappily. What I hear him saying is, "Me!," though I have no idea what, exactly, he's talking about. I just know that he's unhappy and he wants me to know about it.

The problem with this whole subject of animals talking is that I worry about being mistaken for one of those eccentric cat ladies whose animals all speak in flowery prose, which is not the case at all! I've never once claimed that any animal spoke the English language to me, nor do their mouths move to form words. The easiest way to describe what I experience is that it's like standing in the middle of a stream and letting the critter-waters flow around me. I get the essence of communication, not an actual thought or word.

My thinking is that if you spend enough time interacting with your pets, you're bound to become a pet whisperer to some degree, if for no other reason than you love your pet and enjoy your bond with it. That's basically how it is for me: I spend such a large amount of time with my cats and ducks that I seem to have an inside track on what they're thinking about.

Meanwhile, I've learned the hard way that my high IQ fiance is a lot more narrow-minded than I realized. How disappointing! And as a fellow Trekkie, he should know better!

The subject of animal communication put me in mind of some really priceless movie dialog, and in the interest of accurate reporting, I sat down this afternoon and popped the video in the VCR so that I could get the phrasing just right. The things I do for the sake of my blog! In any case, it goes like this:

The crew of the Enterprise (Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home) become aware of a powerful space probe that's rendering star ships inoperable. No one knows where the probe came from or how to communicate with it. Dr. McCoy makes a sarcastic remark about the probe's intention of saying "'hi, there,' to the people of the earth." Mr. Spock gives him a pained look and says, "There are other forms of intelligence on earth, Doctor. Only human arrogance would assume the message MUST be meant for man."

Let me repeat that in all caps for the benefit of my myopic fiance:


There's no doubt that animals do, in fact, communicate - and make themselves clearly understood - with each other. Even John doesn't dispute that. Why he disputes the idea of one specie trying to connect with another, though, is unclear to me. Maybe he's got scary things going on in his head that he doesn't want anyone else knowing about. Maybe he's worried that his cats would rat him out! Who can say?

As for all of you critter-lovers out there, I know that you understand exactly what I'm talking about: there are all kinds of different species living among each other on this planet - birds and mammals, fins and feathers, and tail-less homo sapiens, and it's only natural that we're going to try to talk to each other. I'm starting to see, though, that talking might not really be the issue after all; perhaps LISTENING is.

Do you ever get the feeling that we're not doing enough of it?

Here's a challenge for you: the next time you're at your local park, walk around with your ears open and really listen to the natural world. Can you hear the birds? The ducks? The chipmunks? I dare you to take a walk around your neighborhood and leave your ear buds at home! I dare you to say hi to the people that you pass. I double-dare you to smile at them! Lie down on the floor with your dog or cat and relate to them on their level. Brake for squirrels! You never know - in the next life, you might BE a squirrel!

That's all for now, folks. Until next time, I'm going to be working on expanding John's mind. As always, please be kind to all the critters!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Too Close For Comfort

Hi Folks!

Welcome back! I sure hope it's not raining where you are because that's all we've been getting lately here in Whoville! It's so dismal and dreary out there that boyfriend John coined his own word: "drismal," which perfectly describes the weather outside and the feeling inside! I'll sure be glad when the sun comes out again!

I had a thing happen the other day that really threw me off kilter. I was out at the pond feeding my guys as usual, when I noticed that new favorite duck Ethel was nowhere to be found. Neither was Big Boyfriend Duck. I called and called, and stuck around longer than usual, but never saw hide nor hair of them. Heck, every wild mallard within a ten-mile radius showed up, but not Ethel. This was very unusual: as I've said before, Ethel is one greedy duck! She stays at the feeds the longest, and eats the most, and her presence is such a given that on the rare occasion that she doesn't make an appearance, it's all the more noticeable.

She hadn't shown up for the previous feed, either. Now I was worried. My concern was compounded by the sudden discovery of a duck carcass. The poor corpse had been picked over so well that there was literally nothing left but bones and feathers. The head was gone - rendering identification impossible because the way I tell Ethel apart from other Rouen females is by the black stripes across her face - and so was just about everything else. No innards, no skin, no nothing. I found one lone webbed foot lying a few feet away. There wasn't even enough duck left to be grossed out about.

Having no idea whose corpse it was, I was forced to conclude from the missing Ethel that the body must be hers. Now I was really bummed. So bummed that I went right from concerned to numb. This was just too much: first Pretty Boy and his sister, Pretty Lady, then Peepers, and never mind the human losses John and I have incurred this year, or the death of his beloved cat, Picasso. This has been the suckiest year on record for sheer number of loved ones lost. I just couldn't handle the idea of losing Ethel, too.

So I tried not to think about it. I did make a return trip to the pond the very next day to recover what was left of that poor duck. John and I will give the remains a proper burial sometime soon. I talked to Pat Mitchell - who suffered her own loss recently with the untimely death of Ducky's companion, Chicken. Between you and I, it's no great loss - he was one mean bird! Even so, Pat was deeply upset about it, and was no less so when I told her about Ethel. She tried to convince me that she'd seen Ethel earlier that day, but I remained skeptical, mainly because I don't think she has a clear idea of what Ethel looks like.

The few times I let myself think about things, what I thought about most was that I don't have a close relationship with any of the remaining domestics at the pond. I entertained the idea of quitting - giving up feeding the rest and letting someone else take over the job. Hell, I put in sixty miles a week, driving to and from the pond; I could surely save a little wear and tear on the old Honda by not making the drive anymore. And I could surely save a little gas in the tank, as well. But my sense of obligation to those abandoned creatures was stronger than my brief desire to quit, so back to the pond I went yesterday for our regularly scheduled feed.

You can imagine the surprise and joy I felt, then, when good old Ethel - trailed, as usual, by Big Boyfriend Duck - crested the hill and joined the crowed. "Ethel!" I called out delightedly, "where ya been, you silly girl?!" She made no reply, but simply tucked into the corn as usual. Life was good again!

I was so relieved that I actually tried to send a text message to John as I drove away. This was, of course, courting disaster, and I strongly recommend that every person on the planet put away their cell phone/blackberry/whatever once they take a seat behind the wheel. As for me, I pulled off the road and then let John know that all was well at the pond.

While I'm glad to have things back to normal, this experience has served as yet another painful reminder of the fragility of life. I've been spoiled for so many years by a false sense of security at the pond: the longer those ducks live, the longer I expect them to live. Losing so much as one of them really throws off my plans for duck immortality. Pretty Boy was never supposed to die, nor Peeps, or any of the others. We were all simply going to live on indefinitely. Naive, I know, but cheating death does that to you, it makes you think you can go on doing it forever. But then one day, reality smacks you in the face and the loss is that much harder to live with.

So yet again, I urge you all to spend extra quality time with your loved ones - humans and otherwise. You just never know when you'll run out of time, and once they're gone, they're gone forever. That's all for now, folks. Thanks again for stopping by. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!