It was a lovely spring day here in the always moist and verdant Willamette Valley of Western Oregon, where gardening year-round is possible, if not mandatory, for someone with compost in her soul. I was out in the garden, noticing the abundance of weeds that were coming up in all of my lovingly tended raised beds, an event both annoying and appreciated, because a lot of those weeds grace my early spring salads: the always-persistent chickweed, which grows everywhere, the new tender and delicate dandelion leaves, the sticky and clingy cleaver vines—all the wonderful spring tonics that invigorate the body, stimulate the mind, and wipe away the foggy remnants of a long winter’s rest. But I digress…
There I was, tickling the garlic shoots I had set out last fall, checking to see if the peas and radishes I planted a week ago were up yet, and reverently pulling those weeds that I didn’t really want to eat, just minding my own business (for the moment—hint). The sky was blue with fluffy wisps of clouds, the birds were chirping and singing, a gentle breeze was rustling the dried tops of last year’s garlic chives, a few early bees were buzzing lazily around. All in all, quite the magical day.
As I slowly cruised on my knees at the foot of our tall wooden fence, gently tilling the soil with my fingers, I glanced slightly to my left. There in the catnip patch lay Sid, my long-haired black cat. He was sprawled on his back with his head upside-down and his feet to the four directions, lips flapping open, exposed fangs glinting in the sunlight, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth with a piece of catnip leaf stuck to it. Sound asleep. Dead to the world. I’m sure you get the picture.
Sid had come to me several years earlier, a friendly streetwise young cat who had been milking a friend of mine’s whole neighborhood for food, attention, and places to sleep. The one thing Sid wanted, yet couldn’t seem to achieve, was for someone to invite him into their house, as it was late October and starting to get cold and wet. So with the blessings of those neighbors (I think I also heard a few sighs of relief), I brought this charming feline home to live with me. He immediately proceeded to work this new neighborhood with his tomcat ways, alternately endearing and offending one and all. It soon became clear that he considered himself to be king of his own personal urban jungle.
While in the house, Sid allowed himself the luxury of sound sleep and usually felt no need to stay alert, responding to my occasional touch with a soft mewling of recognition, then going right back to sleep. However, when napping out of doors, in a deceptively relaxed state, apparently his inner radar is always connected, ready for any emergency, the guards fully armed and in the towers, so to speak. So on this fine and magical afternoon, you’d think I’d know better than to mindlessly follow my urges. But no. In my springtime euphoria, I slowly reached out a soft hand, with the love of the Buddha in my heart and sweetness in my soul, and lightly touched him on his soft, fuzzy, exposed belly.
The explosion was immediate and, as I best recall, in fantastic slow motion. Sid shot up into the air, a twisting spiral funnel, his toenails instantly converting to tiny flashing razor blades, emitting a sound between a deflating balloon and an outboard motor. After regaining my stunned senses, I looked up and there he was, on top of the six-foot fence, looking like an electrified porcupine with all his hairs standing out, back arched, eyes bulging like neon golf balls, glaring down the fence at his mama who feeds and loves him. We held each other’s eyes for a long moment, then I said, “Uh, sorry.”
At that, he issued an explosive combination hiss-spit-yowl, shot down the length of the fence top, and sailed into the bamboo patch, leaving me wondering why my hands and arms were suddenly on fire. By the time I got back to the garden, wearing half the contents of my Band-Aid box, Sid came strolling through the celery patch, yawned, and rubbed against my legs, all forgiveness and love.
Some lessons from that lovely early-spring afternoon are obvious, others deep and obscure. I know I will never again see this beloved kitty in quite the same pastel light. But I guess if there is any real moral to this story, it would be to remember this: Never touch a stoned-out, sound-asleep cat just after you’ve finally begun to heal from ripping out the blackberry patch last month. ❖