Annals of Pard: An Unfinished Education

This blog post is included in:

No Time to Spare
Thinking About What Matters

by Ursula K. Le Guin
Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler

December 5, 2017
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischAnnals of Pard: An Unfinished Education
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Last Thursday night, Pard woke me up about 3 a.m. by bringing his real, live mouse toy onto the bed so I could play with it too.

This was the third time he’s done it, always about 3 in the morning. For the third time (having had some practice) I flung both cat and mouse off the bed with a giant convulsion of bedclothes. Both cat and mouse went right on running briskly about the room, scrabble scrabble silence scutter scamper silence scrabble . . . . This time, I didn’t stick it out at all. I fled down the hall to another bedroom and shut the door.

In the morning Pard was walking up and down the hall all bright and innocent and wondering why I was in that bedroom?

No sign of mouse.

Last time, there never was any sign of what became of mouse. I assumed it escaped, that time, and this time.

But Friday night Pard woke me about 3 a.m. by rummaging persistently at the base of the standing lamp in my bedroom, making annoying noises, and worrying me that he’d knock the lamp over, even though the base is a big, heavy brass disk. No way to go back to sleep with that going on. I picked him up and shut him out of the room.

There’s no use trying to shut out both Pard and a mouse, because the door is so high off the floor that the mouse can run back in, leaving Pard out, and then Pard will rattle the door persistently and cry.

But this time, when I shut him out, Pard just went down the hall to sleep in the other bedroom. This told me, indirectly, something about the mouse.

Pard is an excellent hunter, but as I said in an earlier blog, he doesn’t know that he should kill the prey, nor, evidently, does he know how to. His instincts and skills are impeccably feline, but his education was incomplete.

Saturday morning, once I was up, dressed, and more or less competent, I lifted the heavy lamp base and looked under it. Sure enough, the poor little dead mouse was there. In its last refuge.

Injury, terror, exhaustion. All can be mortal.

I wrote a poem for the mouse. I am not sure it’s finished yet, I keep moving lines and changing bits of it; but here it is in its current form.

Words for the dead

Mouse my cat killed
grey scrap in a dustpan
carried to the trash

To your soul I say:

With none to hide from
run now, dance
inside the walls
of the great house

And to your body:

Inside the body
of the great earth
in unbounded being
be still

— UKL
21 July 2014

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Annals of Pard: An Unfinished Education — 12 Comments

  1. “On mice and cats”… 😉

    Several days ago I saw in Polish countryside a cat mournig over a mouse just behind my window. The mouse was dead (or very good at pretending) and did not want to play any longer, no matter how hard the cat tried to tease it. Gentle touching with a paw did not animate it and delicate carrying the corpse in cat’s mouth was no better. Loud, sorrowful mieowing went on for many minutes before the cat decided that I will be of no help in his trouble and carried the deceased mouse away. I wonder how much of the above description is a mistaken interpretation on my side (I have little experience with cats) but the incident did impress me.

  2. Our Zach is such a mouser; we’ve had many such nights. I comfort myself with the thought that cats and mice have been dancing this for millenia. The poem is splendid.

  3. When I was living in St. John’s, Peahi would catch mice out on the grassy slope down to the Willamette. She would prance proudly through the cat door with the injured thing clamped in her teeth and seemed to present it to me with the thought “let’s kill this together!” She thus managed to do exactly the opposite of what I would want a cat to do with mice and she derived great satisfaction from it, I do believe.

  4. Lovely poem , and the words preceding it: “Sure enough, the poor little dead mouse was there. In its last refuge. Injury, terror, exhaustion. All can be mortal.”

  5. Your poem made me cry, Ursula. And I’m no softie, either. I slaughter my own chickens and turkeys for the table. It’s not death that touches me so, but the kind benison in your secular-sounding and distinctive voice.

  6. That poem is very beautiful, Ursula.

    And its thoughts, as so much you have been giving us over the years.

    Thank you.

    Clive

  7. Even on a planet where so many have evolved eating each other, and our cats continue, through instinct, what once had a rightful place, when this type of death involves me in its aspects of waste and dread, I feel pity, compassion, a sense of responsibility. The mouse in its last refuge under the lamp; the incompletely killed snake on the doormat. Thank you for the mouse prayer. It helped me say something for the snake.

    Paula Till

  8. Thank you for your cat, mouse, and anger posts. Anger truly is a deep and complex subject both biologic and environmental, and involved either actively or latently in everything. I’m grappling (sometimes angrily) with mine lately, learning to watch for an equally powerful yet gentle flow instead. Anger can be replaced or substituted for over time through diligence and practice, while kept available for a time when it could be self-defensively useful. Does a mouse have anger or rage to suppress at being toyed with and otherwise tortured? Is it learning some unnecessary lesson? My wife and I have each begun trying to rescue the mice our cats catch, if and when we can. They catch them outdoors. They usually bring them indoors if they can pass them through our lax ‘security’, when our backs are turned or we are distracted. We’re told this is to get the mice into a controlled environment, the better to ‘play’ with them. Some end up being released whole and alive outdoors. Some die or are already dead when brought in. Whatever the situation, the cats survive to hunt and ‘play’ another day. The dead mice are buried in the ground. The cats eventually are also, from natural causes or illness, though one with cancer was caught, killed, and gleaned by a coyote first. We were lucky to find her, three days after she died, like the written Jesus, though she was more like a soft beautiful pelt by that time, with her eyes still focused but just beyond our gazes. Putting her in the ground ourselves, with a sincere made-up ceremony honoring her devotion to us and her free spirit (and freed spirit) was surprising balm when none was thought possible. The live mice we sometimes suspect we meet yet again thanks to our current cats’ amazing hunting skills, and because of the catch-and-release policy. One time our cats caught one mouse three times in one evening, each time to be rescued. It looked mighty beleaguered, and we brought the cats in after the third time. What a night for all concerned! We haven’t seen that one again. Who knows? It still could be out there with its cautionary tail. I’ve written about one of my cats and his obsession with visiting possums and about another telling of his keen ranger’s senses and practices.

  9. I am a new-comer to this web page, and indeed Ursula and her works, so it is a wonderful serendipity that finds me now reading such a relevant and emotionally challenging topic – our need for owning cats.
    Here in Australia they are the major predator of native animals and therefore a major contributor to our disgraceful No.1 world rating for the country with the highest rate of native mammal extinctions. I live on a farm and so every year in Summer, like so many others who live close to the land, I face the oh-so-predictable rat and mice plagues. How to handle these for health and hygiene issues? Bluntly put, how to get rid of the little creatures so we and our animals don’t get sick?
    Well, because of the huge numbers involved, and some seasons are much worse than the average, I have had to resort to poisoning. I hate it!! However, I decided on this course because it made ME totally responsible for the suffering and killing of those little creatures. I didn’t involve a third party to do it for me, and especially one that would consequently be involved in the killing of so many other beings, namely birds, reptiles and mammals that quite frankly are at crisis point in our country.
    It may well be a very different scenario in other countries but here in Australia, unless you are prepared to house your cat in a specially fenced-in area, and there are thousands of responsible and loving cat owners who do just that, we really cannot afford on ecological grounds to indulge ourselves with cat ownership.
    So, here we are back to the age-old question that I would propose has never been more relevant and urgent than in today’s world – when is enough, enough. Do we have to have everything? When is “enough stuff?” Can we afford the luxury of a household cat nowadays?
    Like so many others I too have a ritual or rather a meeting of souls with the deceased little creatures, an intimate sharing as we do, unique to ourselves I find increasing from speaking to others. However, I carry the total responsibility for inflicting that suffering and killing, there is no third party cat. Yes, it’s really hard and you feel every natural emotion from sorrow to pity, blame and regret to even the big question regards the whole wretched harshness of these material bodies.
    But then I also find there is a clear consolation that flows from within these events and that is the connectedness to that which is greater than ourselves, the great mystery of It All, so to speak. The sadness and pity is a pathway of personal responsibility that really has you focused on you and the other being that has suffered and died at your hands. Plus it has been quicker than the drawn out death process that many cats inflict on their prey!
    The personal responsibility aspect really emphasizes the sacred connectedness one feels and, in turn, comes gratitude for being put in that circumstance, that place in time in which everything else seems so unimportant and superficial.
    By taking full responsibility for the really tough decisions we humans often need to make whilst aiming to live in true Oneness on this earth I have come to the realization that for myself this is the best way I can hope to do the least harm and the greatest good.
    It’s all heavy stuff; but as wisdom from the past has taught – it’s up to us what yoke we chose to guide us and how we perceive our burden. Wonderful stuff after all!
    Thanks so much for this very unexpected opportunity for growth and sharing and, I hope, a meeting between many like and open minds!

    With respect to all,
    Susan

  10. Our gray cat Bella, had brought us three dead birds so far; and we still don’t know how to tell her not to do that any more.
    She never brings us any mouse but we have found two dead mouse bodies on the lawn outside. Not sure if it was Bella’s work but our other cat Stella had only ever brought us leaves… dozens at a time.

    Still searching for ways to communicate with them. Please tell us when you find a way.

  11. You’re one of the best literature practitioners ever to delight my mind, Ursula. You don’t waste words in pursuit of beauty for the sake of it, yet your wit still flows out colored with beauty. Often when you settle on a subject, be it simple or complex a subject, nothing of whatever that subject might be carrying of spots and patterns eludes your adventurous eye. You art is truly within the great frame reserved for the portraits geniuses.