She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once
as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.
~Ranier Maria Rilke from “Black Cat”
Pangur Bán and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
His whole instinct is to hunt,
Mine to free the meaning pent.
All the while, his round bright eye
Fixes on the wall, while I
Focus my less piercing gaze
On the challenge of the page.
With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
When the longed-for, difficult
Answers come, I too exult.
So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
Taking pleasure, taking pains,
Kindred spirits, veterans.
Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
Day and night, my own hard work
Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.
~Anonymous Irish monk from “Pangur Bán”, translated by Seamus Heaney
Cally, our first adopted calico cat, was quite elderly and fading fast. Winter is always a tough time for barn cats, even with snug shelter, plentiful food and water. We had lost our 16+ year old tuxedo kitty just a couple months previously, and now Cally, not much younger, was not going to last much longer. She still got up to eat and potty, and still licked her front paws clean, but couldn’t manage much else. Her frame was thin and frail, her coat dull and matted in places, she had been deaf for some time and her eyes were rheumy. She spent her days and nights in a nest of hay on the floor of our horse barn, watching the comings and goings of horse hooves and people rolling by with wheelbarrows full of manure. One evening she allowed me to bring her a little rug to give her a bit more cushion and protection from drafts, as I wouldn’t be surprised to find her permanently curled up there the next morning. Her time was soon to come.
Cally was one of a litter raised in the mid-90’s by good friends, the VanderHaaks, on their acreage a few miles from here. When they had to make a move to a city on the east coast, their Cally and an orange colored kitty were in need of a new home. On arrival, the orange cat immediately ran into the woods, only rarely to be spotted at a distance for a few months and then completely disappeared, possibly a victim of the local coyote pack. Cally strolled onto our farm and decreed it satisfactory. She moved right in, immediately at home with the cows, horses, chickens, our aging dog Tango (who loved cats) and our other cats. In no time, she became the undisputed leader, with great nobility and elegance. There was no one who would dare to question her authority.
We knew Cally was unusual from the start. Tango initially approached her somewhat warily, given the reaction Tango elicited from our other cats (typically a hair raising hiss, scratch and spit). Instead, Cally marched right up, rubbed noses with Tango, and they became fast friends, cuddling together on our front porch whenever it was time to take a nap. They were best pals. Tango surely loved anyone who would snuggle up to her belly and keep her warm and Cally was the perfect belly warmer (as Garrison Keillor says, “a heater cat”).
Our free range rooster seriously questioned this dog/cat relationship. He was a bit indignant about a front porch communal naptime and would strut up the sidewalk, walk up and down the porch and perch on the railing, muttering to himself about how improper it was, and at times getting quite loud and insistent about it. They completely ignored him, which obviously bugged him, proud and haughty bird that he was.
One fall morning, as I opened the front door to go down the driveway to get the newspaper in the pre-dawn mist, I was astonished to see not just a cat and dog snuggled together on the porch mat, but the rooster as well, tucked up next to Tango’s tail. As usual, Tango and Cally didn’t move a muscle when I appeared, as was their habit–I always had to step over them to get to where I needed to go. The rooster, however, was very startled to see me, almost embarrassed. He stood up quickly, flapped his wings a few times, and swaggered off crowing, just to prove he hadn’t compromised his cock-sure raison d’etre.
No, I didn’t have my camera with me and I never found them all together ever again. The reader will have to just take it on faith.
After Tango died, Cally rebounded by taking on the training of our new corgi pup and making sure he understood her regal authority in all things, and demanding, in her silent way, his respect and servitude. He would happily chase other cats, but never Cally. They would touch noses, she would rub against his fur, and tickle his chin with her tail and all he could think to do was smile and wag at her.
So I figure a dog, a cat and a rooster sleeping together was our little farm’s version of the lion and lamb lying down together. We can learn something from the peaceable kingdom right outside our front door, a harbinger of what is possible for the rest of us. Despite claws, sharp teeth, and talons and too many inflexible opinions, it is possible to snuggle together in harmony and mutual need for warmth and comfort.
Our special Cally made it happen here on earth. Up in heaven, I suspect she has met up with Tango, and one rooster with attitude, for a nice nap on the other side.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the goat; and the calf and the young lion and the yearling together; and a little child shall lead them.
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4 thoughts on “A Peaceable Kingdom”
Sent from my iPhone
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This was a sweet, touching story–even made me a little teary.
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They very often put us humans to shame.
Wonder what they know (or have learned) that we have not yet figured out?
Lovely stories, Emily.
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Oh Cally Kitty – I will miss your bossy barn cat. The lessons our animals teach us are always so full of love. I love thinking of your furry and feathered friends.
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