Extreme cold on the east coast. Extreme heat in Australia. Here in California we are seeing how bad news can come wrapped in one beautiful day after another. We drove to the wine country yesterday and saw the hills in all their parchedness. The plants are wondering whether to bloom or not to bloom. The butterflies are back or else a new group is arriving. This morning a hummingbird circled my head as if I were Snow White. Or Bugs Bunny post-punch in the face. There is confusion in the garden.
I spent the morning thinking about cats. Cats in general, cats in particular, my life as a series of cats. In chronological order, here they are, my personal cats: Whiskers, Pepper, Salt, Chimera, Max (short for Maximum Cat), and Ollie. Also many kittens, who came into my life briefly and went when they were weaned and whose names I no longer remember.
When I was a girl in Bloomington, I remember witnessing the delivery of two of Pepper’s three litters. The first time, she had two kittens, but only one of them was alive despite her desperate licking. She had three, all fit and kicking, in her second litter, five in her third, and then my parents, who could see the trend, finally had her spayed – over my protests, I imagine, but do not remember. I loved having kittens underfoot and we never had any trouble finding homes for them. Perhaps taking in a cat seemed like less of a commitment then, when they all spent most of their time outdoors, entertaining themselves in nefarious cat ways. Pepper often didn’t come home for days and she was always in fine fettle when she did return from her merry old time.
(I am a big proponent now of the spaying of cats, having watched from the front row as my friend Debbie, cat rescuer extraordinaire, all around cat hero, dealt year after year with the inexhaustible flood of kittens.)
Our house is catless at the moment, which means birds and squirrels are free to frolic at the feeder, which I like, though the neighborhood cats – one white, one black – are beginning to show up with some regularity. My vegetable beds are apparently ideal as litter boxes (why are they called litter boxes when they are not for litters?) – so we are engaged in permanent, but friendly disputation concerning them.
But the cat most on my mind this morning never lived with us. In fact, over the last several years, I’d grown attached to a cat I never met – Tunch, the guiding spirit, the enormous heart of the political blog Balloon Juice. www.balloon-juice.com
I was so deep in travel and book promotion last summer that I spent little time on the internet, which had its own rewards, all that time spent in the actual world, but caused enormous shock when I learned, long after the fact, that Tunch had died untimely. He was, as John Cole continually reminded us, a very large, very fat cat, but he cast a truly gigantic shadow, reaching all the way to me here in California. I woke up this morning and realized I was missing Tunch, which seems a very odd fact, one odd data point in the virtual world of my virtual cats.