Catching up with Pard

Catching up with Pard (Annals of Pard: III)
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Not that I ever will… But it’s getting on to a year since we went to the Humane Society and came home with seven pounds of cat. My two blogs about Pard made him some friends on the Net. For them, here is an early anniversary report.

His tuxedo is still impeccable, and his tail continues straight up in the air. But he is now The Ten-Pound Pard, though still on the half-cup a day total recommended by the vet. Friskies or Meow Mix in the morning, Trader Joe’s Chicken Kibbles in the evening. Pard’s idea of a varied, gourmet diet.

But alas, T–Joe changed brands. The new bag of chicken kibbles has lovely pictures of fruits and vegetables on the bag, and much talk about healthy diet, but the contents defy even the Greed of Pard. After gamely chewing at the hard little greeny-brown pellets, he gets discouraged and gives up, something I never thought I’d see him do. Cats are not vegans. They are predators, carnivores, needing about as much vegetable food as they’d get from what’s in a mouse’s stomach. Any effort to persuade a cat that kale and apples are food disrespects the nature of the animal in favor of human moral sensibilities, theories, or fads. Of course all commercial catfood is aimed at the buyer, not the consumer — Meow Mix is all cute little different colored fish, as if a cat gave a hoot in hell about the shapes and colors — but Pard and I both think Trader Joe has gone too far. Fruit catfood? Come on, T-Joe. Get real.

He still gets a little catfood soup daily to increase his water intake. And when his breakfast has vanished and he goes Please, sir, I want some more, he gets his Foody Ball. This is a cute trick: plastic, about 2″ diameter, with a hole in which to insert a few kibbles or cat treats, and a kind of screw inside to impede their movement. You put the ball on the floor and the cat bats it around, and every now and then a Foody Fish falls out of the hole, just often enough to keep him interested. At least it keeps Pard interested. My daughter Elisabeth’s cats sit quietly gazing at her, waiting for her to shake the Foody Ball till a Foody Fish falls out of it. She is aware that this defeats the purpose of the Foody Ball, but she hasn’t been able to convince her cats of that. They just gaze at her, and wait. They know.

What matters to cats: 1. Food. 2. Sleep. — Pard sleeps on the bed at night, all night, usually forming a central nucleus or core around which I conform myself as required, it being a known fact that a cat sleeping on a bed causes a wrinkle in gravity that increases the weight of the cat by a factor of ten or more. Often he bounces and pounces for a while, but soon he curls up and sleeps. If disturbed, he purrs a little, recurls, and sleeps. He still sometimes gets up on my pillow, forming a sort of warm nightcap with paws, and sleeps. A paw may come to rest softly on my ear in a comfortable, companionable way. And he continues his custom of starting a good, loud purr just about the time I’m beginning to wake up. A very good way to begin a day.

In the daytime, he sleeps anywhere, so long as it’s near one of us. If I’m working at my computer, he’s often on top of the printer, about 18″ to my right. This is very nice until he wakes up and is bored. There are certain areas on and above my desk where paws are strictly, permanently forbidden to go. The owner of the paws knows this perfectly well, but is never, ever going to leave authority unquestioned.

He is still the good cat with the bad paws.

The one time I ever left my computer open and unattended for five minutes, the paws deftly removed the Left-Bracket and Return keys. They can open almost every cabinet we have, and some heavy drawers. Pard feels strongly that what can opened should be opened and what can be gotten into should be gotten into. He practices at it every day. He’s quite reckless about it, and may yet get into real trouble, leaping and diving blindly into every opening in the world. The washing machine was not one of his successful ventures.

The paws are also terrific at bug-catching and cat-toy games, and carry him in mad lightspeed scurries up and down stairs and all over the house at all levels. When he is not asleep, he is utterly awake, and usually in motion. He is the most fully three-dimensional cat I have ever had. Well, no; Lorenzo Bean used to appear thirty feet up in the redwood, swaying sweetly on a tiny branch, while Pard had some difficulty in his single venture up the apple tree. But can he leap! His vertical dimension includes all surfaces of furniture and all tops of things, no matter how high the thing is or what else is on the top of it. We still have hardly a week without a shriek Get OFF THAT! PARD! — followed by a crash, and the scurry of departing paws.

He is an indoor cat by choice. When the weather got good last summer and we began living in the garden and on the second-story decks, we soon let Pard out of his little red halter, free to wander — because he didn’t wander. His garden exploration, even with Charles nearby, was rarely farther than ten feet from the bottom of the back stairs. He would go down, eat some particularly savage, saw-edged decorative grass from a clump of it near the stairs, sit a while looking warily at everything, then go back indoors and throw up the grass on the Afghan rug, where all our cats have always thrown up. He might come back out and birdwatch from the deck for a while, making that little k-k-k-k noise (which scientific observers tell us is not an expression of frustration, but a sound that interests birds). But he was always clearly relieved to go back inside when we did. Now it’s too cold to sit out, he seems perfectly content to be in. He watches a lot of Cat TV through various windows.

I can only think that since his first year of life was spent in a small house crowded with children, our big house with two ancients quietly doddering around in it appears quite enough world to him. And it’s good not to have to worry about the dangers cats face on a street like ours. Yet it’s kind of sad. With those paws, those alert, attentive eyes, that lightning response-time, he’d be a great hunter, if he hunted. But, though no vegan, he is a strict kibbler. And there are no wild kibbles in the garden.

He did bring in a bird once. He left it in the telephone hall, where all our cats always leave their birds. When I had almost stepped on it and shrieked and got over that, I studied the poor tiny body. It was not a new bird. It was distinctly a used bird. It had probably brained itself on a window, or one of the neighbor cats left it in our garden. Pard found it and did the right thing: bring it in and go away, leaving it for the Bandar-Log to dispose of. I did the right thing too.

He still doesn’t believe in laps or being held; only on the bed will he snuggle up close. He doesn’t head-butt our legs, and though he likes to be petted and jowl-scritched, his only affectionate advance is a curiously touching, questioning gaze at close quarters, maybe the slightest nose-kiss. Yet he’s close by us almost constantly. And he’s totally good about having his claws cut: he sits in the crook of Charles’s arm, endures the operation with one or two quiet moans, snarfs his cat-treat rewards, and trots off cheerfully, tail up, looking for something to get his paws into.

I said “believe in laps” facetiously. Actually, I think one of the great things about animals is that they don’t believe in anything. They don’t have to. They know. People like to say that their pet “thinks he’s people,” or “dogs believe their master is God,” and so on, but that’s just talk. An animal knows what it knows, and does not know what it does not know. Between their knowledge and their ignorance there is no vague area for the vast and trackless human jungle of theories, notions, imagination, and beliefs. Your dog knows who he is and who you are and what you are to him. He may well know it better than you do, because his knowledge is unclouded by ideas. And, if also unwarped by fear or bad training, animal knowledge is factual, solid. It doesn’t go as far as imagination goes, it only goes as far as the truth. You can be perfectly sure that your cat is never going to write a treatise on phlogiston, become a Nazi, or start a holy war.

Knowledge, of course, may be sent astray by incomplete or specious evidence. Last spring, Pard knew there were beetles in my Time Machine, because he could hear them. But he kept watching, patiently, with a mind not controlled by the wilfulness of theory or belief. And over time, as no beetles ever emerged from the Time Machine, and there was never a scent or sign of beetlitude except the occasional faint buzzing, he grew skeptical, as you might say; or better, he learned the truth – acquired the knowledge that there are no beetles in the Time Machine. And he stopped trying to get it open.

Then the other day he was suddenly back at it, poking and prying so earnestly that I got curious. I lifted the small, heavy, closely sealed machine up a little bit. A box-elder beetle ran out from underneath it. The paw flashed, the beetle was gone. (There are wild kibbles!)

Since then Pard has paid no more attention to the Time Machine.

Compared to the vast phantasmagoria of imagination and belief, the world of known facts, actuality, reality, may seem small and dull. But it is restful. It offers peace of mind. We can’t live there, but we can visit; and the animals, letting us visit it with them, let us see that it is, in fact, infinite, infinitely rich.

When one of us is about to go away, Pard knows it. He does not know for how long. He does know a suitcase means Longer, and seeing one, grows disturbed and agitated and flies about, causing disturbance and agitation. When Charles is gone, he knows it, accepts the fact, never goes up to Charles’s study. When we come back he knows the instant of it and is there at the front door: the small white-and-black face, the bright gold-and-green eyes. A cheerful scurrying about, a tail straight up in the air. A joyful welcome. Hello, little Pard!


12 November 2012



Catching up with Pard — 6 Comments

  1. Thank you for your notes about Pard. I lost my own cat companion this last August. He was a 22 pound sleak muscular hunter, everyone including the vet told me he was a Mancoon cat. I obtained him and his sister in a cardboard box outside of the local grocery store in my small home town 17years ago. He was in personality both similar and different from Pard, just as he should have been, he was a fierce hunter mostly of mice, and rabits, and had little interest in toys. He ate his catch and left only the tails of the mice and the ears of the rabbits on the rug by my bed. My son called them his “gun notches” so that we would know that he had been fulfilling his perceived duty, or probably just his personal pleasure. His sister was the mostly indoor cat and loved pets and attention, along with a bit of primping. She was a silvery gray which was her downfall. Like Pard she only captured bugs dragonflies being her personal favorite. she almost never left the closeness of the yard but one fourth of July she decided to visit the vast fields, and unfortunately the Great Horned Owl who loved to spend time perched on the horse barn roof at times chose that night to be out waiting. I miss them terribly. So again I thank you for your lovely notes of understanding, and being a person who allows her furred friends to be respected as themselves. Not as some living play doll, or pretend human-in-furred-form.

  2. ” The washing machine was not one of his successful ventures.”

    Laughed right out loud, reading that. Visualizations ….

    Love, C.

  3. I am delighted to discover your blog. You have been my favourite fiction writer (fantastic, thoughtful and tender) ever since I read the Earthsea Trilogy as a boy about 40 years ago. Luckily I was born in 1964 to a family of bookworms. I am allergic and can’t keep cats, but enjoyed meeting Pard and his world free of ideas. Be well. Always, Van in Guelph, Ontario.

  4. Delicious. I, too, am allergic to cats. How wonderful to be able to enjoy one w/o a single wheeze or itch. And, then, the added joy, you mentioned Bandar Log! I had forgotten those. Definitely time for a romp in the tall trees of the Jungle Books.

  5. Dear Ursula,

    I missed you at the Los Angeles Public library so I did the next best thing and read about Pard!

    I have my own sweet Sparky, the Sideways-Walking Cat. He’s a an orange and white 50/50 cat, milky white, with orange-striped spots, eye mask and and orange-dipped muzzle. His hind legs sometimes go faster than the front. I think he has another driver back there like the ones on the hook and ladder firetrucks.

    Sparky’s second name was Renfield because he liked bugs and mice so much. Every day we’d find him chomping on some poor field mouse in the back yard. Or bringing down a fly or moth. Every day. He was the cutest little orange and white muzzle cat; but he was a killer cat.

    We moved from that house to where we are now, and that’s when Sparky met and fell in love with Canyon. He didn’t like her much at first. She was a tiny grey tortie with motley fur and worms. Now she has fur like a mink and looks like an Egyptian princess with black kohl around her golden eyes.

    Mr. Furpants is his third name. He and his wife, Canyon (It is a common-law affair, but since we live in California where Common law is not legal, they might not actually be married.) have a little cat entrance under the fence, paved with river pebbles and flanked by sweet grass. Someday soon, I’ll put a little sign there that reads, Mr. and Mrs. Furpants (even though they may not be married).

    I could go on and on about Sparky and Canyon. How Canyon is also Kato-Kat because she lies in wait from all manner of hiding places to ambush Sparky when he least expects it. Her favorite is getting him when he just exits the door and pounces on him from behind. He hates that and sometimes refuses to go out because Kato-Kat might be lurking nearby. Or, how looks can be deceiving because even though Sparky looks like the sweetest, docile, all-American cat, he is really the Ottoman Emperor, Top Cat and the Don’t-Make-Me-Wait Cat. He dominates the house, hisses if you don’t open the front door fast enough and purrs just before he bites you.

    I had to watch episodes of “My Cat From Hell,” to remind myself (and my husband) that you can’t treat a cat like a human. Very bad for all involved! So, after intense therapy and reading the Book of Changes where everything works best under heaven when all things are in their proper places, Sparky is still Top Cat but doesn’t hiss or bite so much. My husband has learned not to jerk his hand in Sparky’s field of vision or attack range if he doesn’t want Sparky to think his is prey.

    So, now, all is well, which brings me to why I really wanted to write you: Thank you for all your books and stories. I haven’t read them all, but whenever I needed some guidance it seems synchronicity put you there to help clarify a concept or offer some comfort. Whether it was The Wizard of Earthsea when I was facing my shadow, Tehanu when facing where I come from, or a foreword by you in the Northern California Handbook when I wanted to get lost: “To make a new world you start with an old one, certainly. To find a world, maybe you have to have lost one. Maybe you have to be lost. The dance of renewal, the dance that made the world, was always dance here at the edge of things, on the brink, on the foggy coast.”

    As I write these words, I wonder if you aren’t here again when I need you! Maybe it’s time to read some more of my favorite writer!
    Thank you.

    Best to you and Pard and your family on this wonderful time of thanks giving,

    Elizabeth Foley

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