“It is a human trait to hate who you harm.”
Last night, between downpours of rain, two feral cats sang an angry serenade outside our porch door where they had converged to eat the handful of dried cat food I leave on the steps every morning. I feel so sorry for the skinny scruffy guys, one of whom has visible scars and patches of missing fur. There we saw them in the light of a flashlight through the window: facing each other inches apart with their ears back and fur puffed up, talking trash so loud that at first, we thought it was a police siren racing and ambulance siren up the hill. Pictured here is my drought-deciduous ficus petiolaris about as full as it ever gets, between the same rocks I think the cats live in.
Although they left once the food was gone, we don’t know who ate it, and we don’t think the cats ever actually fought one another. Perhaps they’re related or otherwise known to each other. While there was clearly little love between them, it seemed like neither had much appetite for a fight. I interpreted their closeness in space to the fact that they knew each other and the threat they each posed to the other.
I’m leaving food out because I hate to see the effects of the “mean streets” of our neighborhood on their daily struggle to get food without becoming food.
Besides, I’m pretty sure they’re keeping rodents out of the vicinity. My faithful spouse says we can’t know whether the food disappearing nightly is taken by possum, skunk or rat. But the confrontation last night was enough proof for me to keep feeding the cats. I may hate rats – who I prefer to call ground squirrels – but when I consider the cats may find them almost as edible as the kibble, I can’t hate the rats enough to poison them any more.
Clearly, I’ll never be a naturalist comfortable with the wildlife I live amidst, patient enough to identify and observe them. I suppose the simple reason for this is that I fear creepy crawly things. Take, for example, spiders. Here’s my asparagus fern (I think “meyerii”) in a brittle old plastic pot – the most spider-ish plant in the yard.
Just thinking about spiders reminds me of one of bravest things I ever did. I once smashed a spider with my bare hands when I saw it on the tile next to the bathtub where my small daughter played innocently with her rubber duck. That was more than 30 years ago, but I still remember the thrill of confirming that my maternal instincts were so automatic as to protect my child at the risk of my own life. I touched a spider with my bear hands!
I can still feel the exact spot on the palm of my left hand where I stared in awe at the still-squirming spider guts that proved my bravery. Man, I hate spiders.