Monday, January 28, 2008

Natural Enemies

“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.


kate said...

There's nothing quite like the sound of fighting cats. I imagine that the cats are keeping the rodent population down. Too bad they couldn't help you with the spiders.

For some reason, spiders don't bother me. I find them fascinating, although maybe that's because there are no poisonous spiders here. I might have a different attitude if such were the case.

It is amazing how that maternal instinct kicks in without any conscious decision making.

Did you get much rain these past days?

Dirty Knees said...

Feeding feral cats is a smart thing to do, I think, as I'm sure they keep the mice and rat population in check. My neighbourhood has two tame cats that, although they are well fed, still enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

Martha in Michigan said...

Do you think your fear of spiders (while now quite justified, given the poisonous ones you live amongst) is rooted in sharing a bedroom with Grandma W. in our childhood? I recall her shrieking late at night for Jack to come save us from a spider on the wall. It took full immersion among the bugs of the tropics for me to get over my ingrained fear of them.

Weeping Sore said...

We've received more rain in the past few days, but I believe we're still in a drought. Check out: to read an article about local drought posted shortly before our recent storm.

Aha! I now have an excuse. I'm perfectly aware that such girly-yucky responses are learned, I couldn't imagine learning them from our no-nonsense Mom. Now I can blame my hang-up on Grandma!

kate said...

The 'Fires & Rain' article was interesting. You are still way below the average rainfall levels. In the discussion about the fires, I was struck by the comment that the chaparral is being replaced by more flammable non-native grasses. That's worrisome.

Ah, there's where the spider phobia came from. Martha's got a good memory.

Shady Gardener said...

I was raised on a farm. We had "farm cats." Of course we'd feed them (it kept them around), but their diet was mainly the mice and rats which kept them away from the house. They did a great job and stayed healthy, and well fed besides.

I will admit to no Fear of spiders, due to the fact that we have no poison ones. And I don't Hate them... but they have the entire world outside my home to live in. Hence, if I can manage it, I'll pick them up on a piece of paper and send them outdoors. (And, happily, I've never had to touch one...)