Life, Death & Cats


Life & Death & Cats

We have dreams for our lives. Goals, bucket lists, agendas and plans. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they change, the nimble among us always seem to come through with ease, adjusting where necessary, re-evaluating if necessary.

I’m old enough to know how delicate everything is, and still young enough to be surprised and delighted in the turnings.

Life is good, death on the other hand is not as good. At least the moment just before, and maybe the moment of…

Been thinking of my own mortality lately. I notice that as I get older I’m thinking about it more. Probably as I get even closer I’ll think of it less.

For most of my life I’ve had the certain knowledge that I would die at the talons and teeth of a large cat. It may have started when very early on I read a report on an anthropological find. A skull had been found in an excavated rocky crevass. The skull had two remarkably constant perfectly circular holes in the eye sockets. Perhaps some ceremony after death that would allow the spirit to be able to see out of the skull. Sounds like a reasonable idea, except it has not been documented in any other culture, so we are left with a mystery. Two perfect holes.

Sometime later a biologist was studying the hunting habits of lions, leopards, etc. and it was noted that when the cat killed a large animal that it would get a strong purchase on the body in order to drag it to a favorite eating perch.

Dragging by any other body part usually causes entanglement and too much delay. Much like political philosophy today, grab their heads and their bodies will follow. Indeed, the biologists noted that some of the cats had approached the kill from behind the head, sunk their upper incisors into the eye sockets and the lower fangs into the soft tissue of the neck. And then off they would trot, dragging the rest of the body between their legs.

This astounding news reached the anthropologists and they began measuring the holes distance and size to the known large cats of the time. A perfect match was found. This human had been seized by the cat and dragged for some distance and eaten at leisure.

Now, it is possible that the cat did not cause the death, but I doubt it. Cats are generally not scavengers. So the conclusion is that a rather horrible scenario had taken place.

I recall the story of two hunters, out of ammo, trying to outrun a lion. One says that he doubts the they can actually outrun the lion. The other responds he doesn’t have to, “I just have to outrun you”.

So, sometimes you hear something, or pickup a tool, or have a new experience, and you just know that you done this before or that you have an immediate comfort with the situation.

Somehow, death at the talons of a large cat, is very comfortable with me. Now that sounds just wrong, but it is what I have felt and continue to feel. The reality of diabetes, heart attacks, cancer, traffic accidents are far more likely, but it does nothing to remove the feeling.

So naturally I’m very careful around large cats. I don’t own a lion or pet tiger, and don’t visit friends that do own them (none so far). I’m on ultra alert when visiting zoos or animal parks. I very aware of the Oakland Zoo sky ride that takes the cable ride directly over the tiger cages. It is a testimony of the love for my children that I have taken that ride as often as I have.

“So what?” you might say. I don’t live in a Bengali jungle, the African savannah is pretty far away. The likelihood of a large cat suddenly appearing in my life is quite small. Or is it?

While one of my children was attending the local elementary school a sign was posted that a mountain lion was seen prowling the baseball field. Since that time there has been at least a dozen sightings in and around the open areas. My own house has at least a hundred acres of woods on the other side of my back fence. And then there is the deer population, I have several deer a day walking through my yard down to the creek. I’m overwhelmed with large catfood.

I regularly ride a paved railroad right-of-way that goes at least seven miles in either direction from my house. My accessibility to tooth and claw is suddenly a great deal larger than I first thought.

Then I think about all my time in the Sierra Nevada. Certainly I was seen, and probably stalked, but I’ve never seen them. Proving that they are sneaky and very good.

All I can do is to stay alert, answer the door with careful notice of tooth and claw, and to wear a mask on the back of my head while walking in the woods. (Cats like to sneak up on you when you are not looking. Fortunately they are stupid enough to be fooled by masks. )

The only other thing is to watch how much I feed my house cats. You might laugh, but if you are diligent you can catch a certain look that all cats have. They will generally see you as food givers, winding their ways between your legs with purring excitement. But might they also be trying to trip you, causing a head injury, and then you will realize they are looking at you as food! How often have you heard pet cats dragging owners from burning buildings?

I love my cats but I have no illusions, size matters.

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