Update: Pard and the Time Machine

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischPard and the Time Machine

by Ursula K. Le Guin

In an earlier blog post I described my cat’s relationship to the Time Machine that sits on my desk keeping tabs on what goes on in my computer. When both Pard and the Time Machine were younger, it often made faint clickety buzzing noises, which convinced him that it it contained beetles. A reasonable assumption, since our house swarmed with box-elder beetles that year, and they did get into everything. He enjoyed hunting them. But eating them always appeared to be more a duty than a reward. Presently he gave it up. Then he gave up beetle-hunting altogether, as a boring juvenile pastime beneath the dignity of a mature cat.

He no longer tried to pry the sleek plastic box of the Time Machine open with tooth and claw to reveal beetles; but he still worked at it from time to time — evidently because it was shut. Pard has a strong conviction that what is closed ought to be opened. A box, a bag, a cabinet door, a room door, a drawer, a chest, a steamer trunk. The mandate is clear: you get it open, you go through it, or enter into it; and then after a while you come out again, leaving it open behind you.

Enough cats obey this mandate that I think there must be some survival value in it, perhaps that of knowing the local shelters and hiding places that you can get into at need. People think of cats as predators, but of course for any larger predator they are easy prey. Just ask the neighborhood owl or coyote.

Pard’s desire to insert himself entirely into small enclosed spaces doesn’t approach the genius for it of the great Maru, star of Youtube; but it is fascinating to watch him patiently prying at a latch, or working to coax a heavy pull-drawer open, or pushing open any door left ajar with one gracefully lifted paw and then sauntering through it, as if cats and doors were coeval.

Since I have a cat and a Time Machine, people naturally ask if the cat uses the Time Machine. He does; but not to transport him to a different part of the continuum. Cats can do that by themselves. Anybody who lives with a cat knows that at one time the cat is here; at another time, he is not. The transition from there to not there is imperceptible. (This transition may in fact have been what Schroedinger was trying to investigate in his famous thought experiment involving a cat and a box; but if so, the gun was a fundamental mistake.) Feline transilience does not require machinery. Possibly it involves paws, doors, and small places, but we can’t be sure. All we know is, we call kitty, kitty, and there is no cat; we do not call kitty, kitty, and there is.

Having no use for the Time Machine for transportation, and having given up on it as a beetle container and as an openable box, Pard discovered its true function. My study, a small corner room with a wall and a half of windows, gets as cold in winter as it gets hot in summer. Pard likes to be on the desk not far from me, like the Time Machine. Its sleek white plastic box is reliably warm, day and night. Cats approve of reliable warmth. Though very small as Time Machines go (nothing compared to H.G.Wells’s), its surface can support an average-sized cat, or at least some of the cat, with some bits lopping over. The hum it still sometimes emits is less chitinous than it used to be, more like a purr.

It’s warm, and it purrs? What more can you ask?

Here is Pard using the Time Machine for its true purpose.

Pard and the Time Machine

Photograph by T.A. Downes-Le Guin




Update: Pard and the Time Machine — 9 Comments

  1. I returned home from a long and complex day to be greeted by this wonderful blog post. I often think the powers of the universe that Ms. LeGuin writes such delights and that I can read them.

  2. Ursula, Ms Le Guin, whatever you wish to be called – I love that you love Maru! My partner just showed me a clip of the superb Maru, with his usual deadpan approach, attempting to insert himself into a glass vase, and very nearly succeeding. I can’t feel guilty about wasting my life on funny Internet cats. The Internet has enriched my life in so many ways, including currently enabling me to feel as if I’m actually communicating with you. Hopefully I am. I am not given to fan mail but have been a very sincere admirer of your writing and your thinking since childhood. Best regards.

  3. Delightful. … It’s warm, and it purrs? What more can you ask? …
    My former black friend, Jetty, keenly observed how my attention was unfairly taken up by her rival, my laptop’s black keyboard, which she hijacked at any opportune moment. The spaces between keys needed regular vacuum cleaning. One day the J button got sucked up. Sorting through the bag of dust and spiders I retrieved the letter, but not Jetty’s calling. She travelled to other dimensions soon after, having been my companions for a venerable span of time.

  4. Agree that cats generally assist with writing, napping, and just sitting still. Accommodations must be made! M. Noir occupies my lap as I write this on my “lap” top — a name that implies a lap is needed, correct? And I balance my laptop on the arm of my sofa. Oh well.

  5. I like the Pard series of posts much more than the sociopolitical ones, and almost as much as many of your short stories.

    I have also followed Maru for many years, having owned a Maine Coon who loved small boxes but was not a small cat.

  6. I can see that Pard has the mask and paws of a true time machine expert, and can we really be sure that beetles aren’t working the gears?
    A cat by the name of Horus who once associated with me and lived to 22 years old (104 in cat years) found that loud yelling at doors reliably got them opened. Also an expert in his chosen field.

  7. My cat never forgave me for replacing the big cathode ray tube computer monitor – a natural place to have a warm cat nap – with a thin, unusable LED screen. Unusable for cat naps, at least. For months after the upgrade, she would climb on to my desk, check carefully to see if the old monitor was there and, when it still wasn’t, she’d sit on my keyboard and stare at me.

  8. I loved the photo and the post. How very true it is of cats – that they love small spaces. My cat, a ginger tabby called Sullivan, will do anything to insert even a portion of himself into a box – an arm, a leg, his head, his rear end – after which there is a terrible uprising and the whole box falls apart. He does not lie on the computer desk; instead he sits on the floor beside me, beating his beautiful head against my leg in an effort to make me stop, give up, retreat to his sofa with him for togetherness.