Category: Cats


white ice

White ice, or rather snow on its way to being white ice. This is the road I live on.

The sun will rise at 10:09 this morning and set at 3:57 this afternoon, giving us 5 hours 47 minutes of “daylight.” I actually saw the sun from my window last Thursday, and we’ll be up to 6 hours of daylight by Wednesday. It’s still not what you’d call warm – temperature back and forth around 0°F – but it’s warm enough for us at this time of year. The rain a week ago we can do without!

That rain is still here, as far as the effects are concerned. Roads are covered with white ice and gray ice, though very little black ice. They’re all covered, though, and correspondingly slick. I found myself fishtailing a little going around corners, after staying home for several days. And how many places do you know where they cancel school because the temperature is above freezing? They did, a week ago. But the seed catalogs are starting to pile up! Spring should be coming sometime!

gray ice

The darker lanes are gray ice. If you look closely, you can see where bits have chipped off, giving a much darker color.

I got another batch of slides in for digitizing, including a couple of hundred I took when I took the long way around returning to Alaska (the first time I drove the Alaska Highway, back when only the first hundred miles were paved.) As I recall, I managed to hit quite a number of parks and monuments going north from the Grand Canyon to the Canadian border between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada, all the time traveling with two Siamese cats who started yowling the minute we got off the pavement and continued until we crossed the Alaska border and got back on pavement. I hope the photos aren’t too faded; I might share some of my memories of that trip.

P.S. about 2:30 pm. I just picked up the digitized slides, but haven’t looked at them yet. I did get some pictures of white and gray ice, though. (And I no doubt annoyed cars behind me by driving under the speed limit. It will be a long time before it’s safe to drive at normal speeds.)

With 550 posts as of today, I’ve started to have problems remembering what I’ve already put on here. This is particularly a problem with posting existing content such as poems, short pieces from the Summer Arts Festival, or science explanations originally written for the Alaska Science Forum. I can’t remember which books or DVDs I’ve posted reviews on. It also is starting to be a problem when I want to link to a previous post and can’t remember when it was put up or what the title was. And there are posts on this blog that have permanent information, like the series on planet building and the one on horse color genetics, or the book and DVD reviews. I want to make it easier for my readers as well as myself to find things.

I made a start some time ago by adding an index page, which can be accessed from the menu at the top of any page. Right now, the only links are to index pages on my author site. This takes you out of the site and sometimes back in, which is rather clumsy. The index list is also incomplete.

I’m going to start posting an occasional entry which is strictly an index of past posts on a particular topic. These posts will be linked from the index page, and will link forward to the individual blog posts. As it takes a while to find all the posts that belong together, this will be a slow process—probably extending over the next few months. The first in this series, on DVD reviews, is already queued for January 3. Others will follow, most on Thursdays.

I probably won’t be indexing every post. Some, like those early posts which were simply glossary entries for my books, are on the author site and really belong there. Others, like the regular Monday updates on North Pole weather starting in November 2010, can be found easily enough just by using the calendar on the site. But I hope that by the time I have finished this, older posts of interest will be easier to find.

This was a Summer Arts Festival assignment, to write a poem about writing and inspiration, using the word “swipe.” It wound up as my contribution to Feathers, hence the embellishment.I’ll probably have another post, later today, announcing a contest.

Cats: DVD review

Cats are probably the least domesticated of our domestic animals. Dogs may have chosen to live with us, but they have changed themselves to suit our needs. Cats moved into our granaries when we started storing grain and found the stored grain an outstanding hunting ground.  While they tolerate us, and at times even show great affection toward us, the domestication is on the cat’s terms, not ours.

T. S. Elliott knew this. The cats of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats belong to themselves, not to people, and Elliott actually turned down an attempt by Walt Disney to make a movie of the poems, because he did not want his cats made into cartoon cats. But when Andrew Weber approached his widow about making a musical from the book, with the cats being very much street cats, she agreed that his vision was what her husband would have wished. The result was one of the longest-running musicals on the London stage.

Cats was made into a movie 13 years ago. I watched it a couple of times on PBS, taped it, bought the official tapes from PBS (and was rather annoyed that some of the material I’d taped off-air wasn’t on the official tape) and finally bought the DVD as part of a set of Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals. It’s one of those DVD’s I have played so often I’m worried about wearing it out.

It doesn’t have much of a plot. What plot there is is centered on Grizabella, an old cat who’s had a very good, if slightly shady, life and is now shunned by the other cats. A secondary plot is the kidnapping of Old Deuteronomy by the feline outlaw, Macavity, and his rescue by the kitten prodigy, Mr. Mistoffelees. But the music and dancing are the heart of the production.

Most of the songs use lyrics straight (or almost straight) from the book, but I think my favorite is “Memories,” which along with Grizabella herself, were added. Of the characters straight from the book, I think my favorites are Rum-Tum-Tigger (a tomcat in his prime who’s a rock ‘n roll teen idol) and Mr. Mistoffelees (a kitten with powers he doesn’t quite know how to handle.)

Surprisingly the dancing, while I love it, is not nearly as cat-like as Puss in Boots and the white cat in the ballet, Sleeping Beauty (Opera de Paris.) But the whole performance is still enjoyable enough to repeat.

Last month I blogged about an article in The New Scientist based on a book due to be released soon. The book, The Animal Connection by Pat Shipman, is now available and was one of the first I bought for my iPad.

This is a book anyone interested in animals, domestication or human evolution should read. Dr. Shipman points out that hunters must observe animals and learn to anticipate them in order to hunt successfully. She links tool-making to the hunting of animals, pointing out that we are unique as predators in using tools, not teeth or claws, to hunt. The addition of meat to our diet may well have been what made us able to support increasingly large brains, as brains have a very large energy cost.

The need to get “inside the skull” of another species may also be behind much of the empathy and imagination we share.

Later, the need to share information about animals may well be one of the driving forces behind our acquisition as a species of language. Language, although one of the traits that define us as a species, does not fossilize, so arguments here tend to have more than a little arm-waving about them. The fact remains that animals, rather than plants or other people, are the main subjects of Paleolithic art.

If animals were living tools, as the author argues, they are tools whose best use must be based on mutual understanding, not on force. There is nothing really new about this; Xenophon’s tretise on horsemanship said it over two thousand years ago.

The future? To quote the author, “The post-animal world, if we choose to live in it, is a fearsome place that threatens to destroy the very best qualities of humankind.”

I tend to believe most of the arguments in this book partly because they reflect my own conclusions. I wrote a short story over ten years ago suggesting that the connection between people and dogs may have shaped both into a new symbiosis, and I am glad to see that idea now accorded some degree of scientific acceptance.

Book: The Animal Connection, by Pat Shipman. Published by W.W. Norton,
ISBN 978-0-393-07054-5

Lilian Jackson Braun for many years wrote “The Cat Who” mysteries. When she died week before last, I decided to tweet from her books, as a memorial.

“How come Jeoffrey did seven turns and you do only three?” Lilian Jackson Braun. Context? The Cat Who Saw Stars. Qwillwean to the cats, implying that they do not match Christopher Smart’s cat when they wake up.

“With a friend like you, who needs an encyclopedia?” Lilian Jackson Braun. Context? The Cat Who Robbed a Bank. No, Qwilleran is not being sarcastic to Polly; he means this as a compliment that she has recognized a quote he’s not sure of.

“Now came the hard part: relocating two opinionated cats who disliked a change of address.”  Lilian Jackson Braun. Context? The Cat Who Went Up the Creek. Qwilleran is planning a stay at the Nutcracker Inn with the cats—which requires considerable planning on his part.

“I was referred by a veterinarian.” Lilian Jackson Braun. Context? The Cat Who Saw Red. Qwilleran is explaining why he went to see the doctor who put him on a strict diet. “You see, I took KoKo and Yum Yum to have their teeth cleaned.” The upshot of which, after a wild chase trying to catch KoKo, was the vet saying that Qwilleran needed a physical more than the cats needed dental prophylaxis.

“I declare it be the mustache from the paper!” Lilian Jackson Braun. Context? The Cat Who Sang for the Birds. Mrs. Coggan recognizes Qwill at once from his mustache, the most notable feature of the photo heading his column.

“In our business, expertise can be a drawback.” Lilian Jackson Braun. Context? The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern. This was the second of “The Cat Who” mysteries: after KoKo had adopted Qwilleran and introducing Yum Yum. The speaker is the managing editor of the big-city paper Qwilleram works for at that time, and he’s responding to the old crime reporter’s doubts about an interior decorating assignment.

“I think I might even enjoy school this time.” Sue Ann Bowling. Context? Homecoming. Roi is being sent back to boarding school after his guardians have made some major changes. But he’s still worried (rightly) underneath.

I haven’t written much in Homecoming from an alien’s or an animal-eye view, and I really don’t know how one could ever document it. But this is about as close as one could come to what would be visible to a lion cub being carried by its mother.

(I do have a short-short, “The case of the Incompetent Police Dog” in Crafty Cat Crimes, and if I ever publish the trilogy there is a good deal from a dog’s eye view, not to mention Maungs and dolphins as characters.)

Cat and Man

I am Cat.
Favored of Bast,
Destroyer of rodents
Which infest your granaries.
I thank you for the granaries you build,
And for the vermin they attract.
I still think my own thoughts
As I walk alone.

I am Cat.
Self-contained,
Ruler of the darkness,
And I walk apart from you.
Why do you fear the blackness so,
And creatures that seek it?
It is good hunting time
For those who see.

I am Cat.
I deign to live
With you for food
And fingers massaging me
In the warmth of the fire in winter.
Although I walk alone,
I begin to know
What Love is.

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