Kindred spirits

Sahara enjoys the warmth of the car bonnet.

Johan van Zyl,Gordon’s Bay

In writing this letter I hope to share one of my various cat experiences with readers who also find these creatures remarkable. My not waxing lyrical about Man’s Best Friend, does not mean I’m excluding them; I have it from reliable sources that our Editor is one of a wonderful group of canine converts. I leave it to them to sing dog’s praises!

As a retired person I have the time to analyse and try to understand the essence of catdom. One of the first things I have become convinced of, is that felinality (the cat equivalent of “personality”, is spread over a very wide spectrum.

As a case in point, when we visit our son’s place in Somerset West, their two cats each have their own way of greeting us. More often than not we are greeted by only one.

Phoebe is the inquisitive hunter and Sahara the placid house-sitter. One afternoon when we were visiting, our son had a very tall stepladder in the living room.

While we were having coffee, Sahara trooped in and after eyeing the ladder for a moment, began to scale it.

No issue there, we thought – cats love to climb. I recalled reading many reports of workers having to “rescue” cats out of trees, as it is believed they aren’t able to easily get down again on their own. In this case, we were ready to assist our plump performer to get back down to Mother Earth.

Sahara, having reached the narrow platform at the top, turned around and looked at us. She was the very picture of a trapeze artist waiting for a cheer from the audience. Then, seemingly without a care in the world, she started on her downward journey.

Now it must be understood: cats do not possess a reverse gear they can engage. Sahara assumed a bottoms-up position on the top rungs with nearly all her weight on her front paws. The precisely executed movements she made as she gingerly negotiated each rung in turn, right down to the bottom, made us gape.

No help needed here, and none requested. Bravo!

Carolyn Frost, Bolander editor, responds:

Dear Johan,

I am a great lover of canines, felines, equines, porcines (my friend Lucia has two little pot-bellied piglets), and leporids (interesting story, for another day) but I must agree with you, cats are simply the most incredible companions.

Having had my current ones for 13 and 18 years respectively, I have been privileged to witness their grace, antics, personality and prowess for many years.

My ginger cat Max (who now sports a stump instead of his original, resplendant ostrich-plume tail (having come a cropper somehow, resulting in the loss of said tail, without being able to indicate the tale behind this sad state of affairs – and now perhaps more a Manx than Max), has not lost any of his incredible climbing capacity, despite the absence of his “rudder”.

He has the grace and power of a leopard, and scales trees vertically, using the massive strength in his forearms, as he simply pulls himself up, grasping the trunk. He gazes at me intently throughout this demonstration, as if to say “Witness this, behold!”

And like Sahara, Max then turns at an impossible height, and slithers down vertically, bottom in the air, practically velcroed to the bark, as I watch with my heart firmly lodged in my throat.

He is the cat who went missing for a month one ice-cold August, from our farm cottage outside Stellenbosch (his wont was to climb into cars, and I fear he was transported some distance one day, by someone who had no idea he was an unwitting stowaway).

He reappeared one day, having lost a great deal of weight, with paws that looked as if they had covered serious terrain, and I wrote about him, my “Maximus Enigmaticus”, sweet mystery of life.

My other cat Linki, an elusive little queen of mystery, and also a foundling as a weak, mewling and practically starved scrap of a kitten, is the one who now nudges the age of 19, and is my constant companion (and beside me as I write). She, too, went walkabout between farm cottages when we moved, returning to her previous home twice, driven by some geographical compulsion, navigating her way across all manner of hazards en route.

I had cats as a student, always just appearing on my doorstep (and in one case, in a church), little runts with every intention of changing their stars. Traveling as a backpacker, and while working on a kibbutz, a kitten came to live with me (Tuli), and sat on my shoulder as I walked about, leaning comfortably against the sponge neck brace I had to wear after an unfortunate head-first dive off a bucking horse, into a telephone pole, which left me with a broken nose and two resplendent racoon-(black)eyes.

In Colorado, one winter’s evening, as the first blizzards started sweeping across the alpine valley I lived in, two little kittens, Henrietta and Juniper, walked into my cabin and settled in front of my woodstove (their feral mother lived in a barn nearby). When I returned to South Africa, I brought my adoped Main Coone (who was abandoned at the local pound), Thomas O’Malley, with me, and still sport the three scars on my arm where he sank his teeth down to my bone (causing a life-threatening infection), the result of me holding him aloft as a Boerbul attacked him (I chose to serve as a maypole, to my own detriment, perhaps the result of my feverish brain, as I was struck down with billary at the time).

These are but some of the cats who have shared my journey, and for each, I remain eternally grateful. Along the road, I learned their language, verbal and body, and it has enriched me, as do all the animal transcactions that fill my day and viewfinder.

Thank you for sharing, Johan, I am a kindred spirit.