I woke up feeling rested today, optimistic, and my mood was matched by the sunlight beaming into the bedroom. Sunlight, which is different than foglight because it includes warmth and throws shadows, filled all the corners of the room. I thought of the summer mornings when I was small, how the sunlight looked in the cool of the morning before the heat rose, sunny heat that flattened our cats into torpid mats of warm fur, slowly breathing as they dreamed.
We had a few raggedy cats that were fed Friskies Cat Food from cans and caught gophers on our property. Buzzy was a big gray and white male who strolled his territory like a Mafia don. He had some rakish scars on his nose and a few nicks in his ears and a surprisingly high weak voice. He was burly and handsome and roamed far from our house into the neighborhood. It became evident that our neighbors were taking better care of him then we were. He'd come back to our yard brushed and fluffed, grateful for pleasantries and snacks when we provided them. He was a scrapper and ran off other cats, demanded respect from them. "Buzzy's in a fight!" we'd yell and run to witness a sound thumping by our hero tomcat. Dust would fly and a few clumps of fur lifted on the breeze when he was done. It was a simple thing to us; we didn't know any better than to just watch and see what would happen. He lived a long time, to his credit and not ours.
Tinkerbell was the female we had the longest. (I shudder to think how little we knew about taking proper care of pets back then.) She had litters of kittens that were raised in flattened tunnels of golden grasses that grew on our property, a rural and semi-wild area in the early years of my childhood. Tinkerbell was attentive to her kittens. I spent hours watching their interplay, listening to her little sounds as she responded to their squeals and cries, tiny mews. She licked them clean and nursed them to their hearts' content and looked immensely pleased with herself as they suckled. Those were sweet quiet hours to witness and experience feline instincts and behavior, and I was fascinated. The kittens looked so small and weak as they pawed and groped for a nipple with tiny pink paws and mouths, and then nursed quietly with their eyes tight shut, ears back and forth with the motion of drinking. They smelled of dusty fur, half damp from the licking, and staggered under the force of her busy tongue when she raked it across their flanks and heads. I'd stick my finger into the path of a tongue stroke and feel the coarse surface clean it indiscriminately. She kept her eyes closed as she did the cleaning and didn't care if she had washed a finger or a kitten.
I imitated the way Tinkerbell would grasp a kitten by the nape of its neck and lift it up so it hung down, a kitten ball, patiently waiting to be deposited somewhere else. I saw its instinctive curl-up with tail tucked between its legs passively. I mimicked her voice that called kittens to her, and the kittens came to me. I pretended I was one of the little ones, calling her as if I were lost and needed help, and she came to me anxiously. It was like magic, and the cats trusted me; I knew this was an honor and very special.
I most loved to watch the gang of kittens playing wildly on the small back lawn under the willow tree and liquid maple where they scooted around in the leaves and clumps of grass. There's nothing funnier and more entertaining than the antics of kittens at play. They were chasing, tackling, dancing on their hind legs in surprise when a sister or brother attacks from behind a small clump or twig. They worried and chewed each other's bellies and legs, raising squeals of protest and then all would run pell-mell to another area or a few feet up a tree trunk, dropping down on the chaser and squashing them momentarily.
Then, exhausted by all the mania and false terror, they'd call Tinkerbell who had been resting idly in the shade, unconcerned by the feints and attacks of kittens gamboling and tumbling in the yard. She'd rouse herself and call them to her with a peculiar purring mrrowwww, and they'd trot lightly over to her. With their fur combed backwards by her rough tongue again and sleep lowering their eyelids, they'd flop down in the shade and flake out flat, unconscious in a twitching sleep very soon after.
The warm sun, like this morning's sun, in the midafternoon hours, burned hot and wrapped the summer days in lazy splendor, a time of perfection and ease.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way