Sunday, May 16, 2010
Treecat and the 'Nola Bar
Recently cats have been howling at night. But the howl they emit is not just any howl. They let loose a long, mournful noise that seems to reverberate across the whole city. Some nights the noise makes it difficult to sleep and once I even heard a gunshot silence the moaning felines. But still they persist. I don't quite know why they carry on so- perhaps a fight, maybe some are just plain horny. But whatever it is, they seem to cry out to all humanity, singing out their mysterious plight to the whole world. Once Ophelia said that a particularly troubled Hamlet "raised a sigh so piteous and profound, as it did seem to shatter all his bulk." These animals surely shake their very souls unleashing the noise- just as Hamlet no doubt did. Walking at night with some friends our group happened upon some cats howling in this way. One girl shined a flashlight on the scene and what we saw stunned me: two motionless cats, seemingly frozen in time, their bodies were directed toward each other but their faces, inches away, were looking into the distance in the same direction as they cried into the night. I expected a tussle or humping or something. But they just stood there, their furry cheeks almost touching, singing the same sad song. My friend and I thought it so adorable that we playfully mimic them, pressing our faces together and howling sillily. I heard the cry again today leaving work. I was en route to a rendezvous with my friend, and thinking that it was my friend calling, I grinned and turned. But what I found instead was a distressed cat stuck up a tree. Important to firstly note: I've never been much of a cat person. My family always had dogs. But the kid in me always roots for the underdog and here cats are hated and feared. Slinking around the streets; cats here avoid people and for good reason. Mongolian tradition holds that cats will steal your soul, which yields a group of people who throw stones and screech at the unknowing and bewildered animals. A friend and I went to the market once and upon seeing a cat, yards away, my friend gasped and clutched my arm, using my body to shield herself from the sunbathing animal we scooted by at a football field's distance. That alone makes me rather sympathetic towards the species as a whole. And that particular cat, frantically calling out for help, edged up into the furthest reaches of the tree, pulled at my heart stings with it's distressed wailing. I stopped in my tracks and walked under the tree in which it was held captive by great height and paralyzing fear. The crows that inhabit the tree were pecking at it mercilessly. I felt the urge to cry. Silhouetted against the blue sky, the dirty animal seemed to change shape, morphing and changing until it became a mirror. I somehow saw myself in the cat- stuck in a strange place, hounded by the creatures whose home it had unwittingly invaded. I realized heartbroken I couldn't climb the tree to rescue the cat. The branches were too thin. So caught up in the moment, I clapped my hands, made kissing sounds and smacked the tree trunk, doing my best to coax it down. Amazingly it worked. The distressed animal made its way towards me, past the thinnest of branches, to a manageable spot. I am sure I looked absolutely absurd. The people who walked down the sidewalk gave the cat a wide berth and me strange looks. But inwardly I panicked a little. I realized that I have learned so many things here- how to handle everything from tires that burst mid-steppe in subzero temperatures to weeks without electricity and hot showers. I had managed, taught myself everything I needed for survival, and thrived. But somehow this helpless little cat made me feel at sea. What does one do in Mongolia for this? In America, I'm sure there's a remedy. But how to handle this lost treecat eluded me. Soon one of my students came along. An older boy with superb English, he rolled up with his friend and chuckling asked what I was doing. I checked myself and sheepishly explained my conundrum. He smiled, humoring my foreignness and seemingly disturbed mental state. We chatted and I pointedly ignored the treecat as he threw rocks at it, trying to frighten it down. After our exchanging of pleasantries, I felt silly remaining at my post near the base of the tree. So we parted ways and I walked off down the sidewalk, looking back multiple times to see how my furry friend fared. Perched on a larger branch, I resolved that treecat would be fine. When I reached my friend I animatedly explained what trauma I had just undergone. He glanced at me and shrugged unconcerned saying 'It'll come down when it's hungry enough.' I realized that he was right. Confused as to why I hadn't sorted this out before and taken aback by my behavior in hindsight, I nodded. I am still not quite sure what to make of this incident. The feeling that I was helpless to aid the creature hangs over me still and I'm sure it was more the principal of the experience than anything. In the moment the cat's mournful cries reached out and rended my very being. I think that crying had something to do with it. There are few things that make such a poignant noise. Wailing mourners being one of them. Perhaps old Scottish and Irish love songs another. I'll stew over it a bit more- though I'm not sure I'll ever reach an explanation for my frantic behavior. Maybe I just need a vacation. As am a woman literally never embarrassed, the fact I feel a twinge of regret and discomfort at the memory says volumes. I feel reproach even writing this now. My only hope is that when I walk to work tomorrow treecat will be gone, along with the granola bar I threw up the tree in hopes of luring it down. I hope that during the night treecat will summon all its feline gumption and bravery, climb down the tree and tote the granola bar off to a place it can live fat and happy, unmolested for the rest of it's days, never having to cry in the night. May it be so.