Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Playing Cat and Mouse with Perspective

When everything is reduced to the bare essentials, we are all hunter-gatherers. The http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=9087474548404099112&postID=5930091691473316177quarry may vary, but the methods of seeking what we need do not. A lot depends on perspective, the rest on cognitive comprehension. In short, to be successful, the hunter-gatherer needs to know, first of all, how to recognize what is before them, regardless of the angle from which it is presented.

A deer passing directly below a hunter in a tree stand looks nothing at all to the hunter compared to what a field mouse beneath a nearby rotting log might see. To a child who sees a bright new toy, what an unemployed parent sees is incomprehensible to that child.

A few years ago we took in a cat (she has a forever now) who, despite approaching adulthood, did not understand her most basic feline skills and duties: the hunting of mice with, as the military folk call it, 'extreme prejudice'. Instead of mice as prey, she was delighted with them as self-animated toys.

I first realized this one dark morning as I prepared our breakfast. The sun had not yet peeped over the horizon. I stood sipping from a cup of blistering strong coffee while tending the pans on the cook-stove. I heard the soft patter of the cat's feet in the quiet of the house, and just after a faint squeak, something landed on my house shoes. Looking down, I saw the adoring eyes of Lucy-Jo peering first at my face and then, repeatedly, at the staggering-terrified mouse at my toes.

"So kill the poor thing already, cat." I went on with my chores. For an hour, I suffered through what amounted to repetitious invitations to play with Lucy-Jo's new 'toy'. Sometime between waking Ronnie and our eating of the breakfast freshly prepared, the mouse escaped the cat.

For several days, I urged Lucy-Jo to catch the mouse. I had seen evidence that it still lived, and was disgusted to see where it had eaten a chunk out of an apple on the kitchen counter. I was getting tired of scrubbing and the smell of disinfectant. The mouse refused to cooperate with the humane traps we had set (out of reach of the cat); we tried plain traps with no more luck.

"What we need here is a cat!" I grumped. Ronnie agreed.

At the time, I was rising to start our day at the tender, mind-numbing hour of 4:00 a.m. The darkest hour before sunrise has never been welcoming to me. I functioned, but barely so, never quite awake. Operating by rote and ritual, I blundered through the bathroom, washed my hands, started the coffee, stoked up the woodstove and put a pan of water on the woodstove top to heat for washing dishes later. Simple chores in a rough little mountain home, plain and necessary.

There came a morning that did not fit my quiet schedule or habits.

I had just finished my bathroom needs and stood bleary-eyed, carefully washing my hands, preparing to cook. The whisper of soft paws penetrated my morning fog only in a faint way. A delicate squeaking, the same. Insulated in a blur of lingering sleep, my brain somehow missed a crucial detail until, yet again, the hapless mouse landed on my shoes. One of my eyes popped open briefly, only to immediately settle back at half-mast by biological default.

In that brief snapshot of waking clarity, I noted that Lucy-Jo was, indeed, at my feet. She peered up at me with a bright, sweet air of "Look, Mom-person! I found our wonderful toy again. Since your up, and all, come play with me? I'd really like that -- this toy is soooo much fun!"

Time froze. I struggled to bring my mind to bear on the situation.

Coffee. I needed coffee.

Unfortunately, another tiny part of my scrambled thought reminded me, there would be no coffee until I made it myself. The house was cool; the fire needed tending. Breakfast....

Where was I?

Oh yes. The cat... and mouse.

Mere inches in front of my toes sat a cat who did not understand she was a hunter with the gift and design for killing mice. And mercy! Even closer to the cat than the cat was to me stood a thoroughly fed-up, angry, shrieking field mouse. It was rearing onto its hind feet, front paws in the air, lashing and punching at the air in front of the ignorant cat's nose as it cursed the predator in what seemed to be fluent rodent speech.

The cat wanted my attention; the mouse had no intentions of even looking my way.

Obviously this cat had to learn its job and no one was there to teach it... other than me. Oh.

I assessed my options, and shortly came up with the only possible route I had to kill the mouse: not having the efficient tools of tooth and claw the cat bore so casually, I had only the option of using my feet. My feet were clad in the soft foam gardening clogs I used for house shoes.


Having limited time before the destructive little creature got loose again, yes, I stomped it. Hard. The words 'cruel mercy' circled through my befogged mind. The sensation of mouse squishing under one's scant-clad foot is not one I would rush to repeat.

As Lucy-Jo realized what I had done, she turned a saddened, tragic gray-tabby face on me. "Oh, Mom-person! I think you broke the wonderful toy. Why, oh why did you do that?"

I almost felt guilty. If I had not been a sleep-zombie, I may have sympathized. The clock had not yet turned to 4:30 a.m. yet. I had not yet so much as had a single drop of focusing coffee.

And before me, all these long seconds, was a surreal vision of a grade I could hope to never see again: the mouse, doomed by the crushing force of my comparatively large foot, was milking its final scene with all the oomph of an old B-movie star.

He staggered across the floor sideways on wobbling hind feet, tiny 'hands' clutched to a wee furry chest, gasping the last melodramatic lines in a classic old story of tragedy. "My mouse-gods! I am crushed, I am dying. I am doooooomed! I regret that I have but one life to lay down for cheese. Oh, and apples. Remember me, for I am Mouse, and I have roared my last."

When the mouse at last consented to pitch over on its side and gasp its squeaky last, kicking those final rounds of the closing frame, Lucy-Jo turned away from watching it and began again staring at me with those sad, accusing yellow eyes. She plopped down on her tailless haunches to ponder the situation.

All I wanted was a cup of coffee.

Starting to the kitchen, I hesitated and, thinking of the weirdly aggressive mouse's last moments not boding well as a potential kitty-snack, I placed a large cat little container over the tiny body until it could be returned to the forest from which it had no doubt originally come. Then, with great satisfaction, I prepared myself a big cup of my own special 'hell juice' coffee. By the time I called Ronnie to breakfast, Lucy-Jo was sound asleep in front of the fire, her paws twitching rapidly.

A couple of peaceful, mouse-free weeks later, I was relieved to find two freshly-killed mice of varying kinds (one house-mouse, one field-mouse) laid out in neat, solemn, funereal glory beside a chair I regularly used as a perch for some of my personal belongings at the end of each day. My student had graduated.

Ronnie is slowly learning his own lessons in perspective via a young dog we call "Wiggle-Britches". (I'm working on part two of this line of thought as my next blog entry.) Their adventures are nothing short of breath-taking, if in a cockeyed sort of way.

Though I grant that we seem to end up with some very strange creatures, the lessons in our lives can certainly never be called boring.

'First person' (I see you), 'second person' (she sees you), or any variation including 'god's eye view' (sees all, knows all) can put a twist on a story. Working with and as such acting as trainer (for no one interacts without the act of learning taking place) among animals of various kinds, one is forced to think outside the worn track. Dogs, horses, people: every creature has a unique way of seeing things.

I have come to believe that I can appreciate varying perspectives -- after my morning coffee, of course. Playing cat and mouse with ideas while sleep is safely tucked away is a lot kinder on everyone.

Taken during the ice storm of February 2009. (c) by RLMT