Mick and Keef were nearly identical feral cats. It was impossible to tell them apart physically. But I could tell them apart by their different personalities. Keef was more confident and even-tempered. And Keef was always first in the pecking-order, with Mick following one step behind her.
Mick and Keef were inseparable for the first year of their lives. They were constantly play-fighting — romping around, rolling around, throwing play-jabs at eachother with their claws, biting eachother, sneak-attacking eachother. And they always slept together, nestling along side eachother.
They also spent a lot of time grooming eachother. Licking eachother. Often they licked eachother right in the face. Over and over. And it gave the impression they were kissing. And maybe they were. You wonder about cat’s capacity to experience “love.” They seem to have the same general range of emotions as people. Anger, affection, jealousy, pettiness, delight, fear, joy, etc.
Mick and Keef loved climbing trees together when they were kittens. And for a year you could see them practicing their skills. Each week they’d climb a little higher. You could tell they knew the Key to the Kingdom was up in those trees. All that food. Birds, eggs, squirrels. Mick and Keef used to like to double-team the squirrels. Mick on one end and Keef on the other end of this long branch, with the squirrel in the middle. And then they’d close in on the squirrel. But the squirrel always just jumped over them and escaped to another branch. The cats were no match for the squirrel’s tree-climbing skills. Squirrels were in their element. And the cats were like a fish out of water. They couldnt really slash at the squirrel with their claws without falling out of the tree. And plus, the cats were all well-fed, so they were merely hunting for sport. Whereas the squirrels were running for their lives.
But after about a year or so, after they grew from the kitten stage to full grown cats, Mick and Keef grew apart. They no longer played or hung out together. There was a wariness and even an occassional hostility towards each other. I guess its just the realization that its every cat for themselves. And that they were in direct competition for survival in a very harsh and unforgiving world. And they mostly stopped playing and tree-climbing and exploring the world. As they aged they became more basic and simple in their cat behavior. Sitting, sleeping, grooming, more sitting. (I’m reminded of something my friend Mary said: “I want an old cat. One that’s just like a piece of furniture. They just sit there.”)
But every now and then — I dont know what gets into them but — they’d start scampering around and playing again, like they were kittens again. Even 6 year old mother cat Blondie would get into the act. She’d do that “stalking” thing that cats do, where they stand there all tensed up and staring at their prey, with their back legs revving up. Then they’d suddenly explode like a rocket and sprint across the grass and pounce on the other cat. Then they’d all be racing back and forth like bats out of hell, dive-bombing each other. Crazy cats.
I never had a pet in my life. Never intended to have a pet. It was purely an accident how I hooked up with them feral cats. And I never considered them “my pets.” We were just fellow travelers who happened to be living alongside each other in the woods. I was as much their feral human as they were my feral cats. But I always got a weird feeling that the ones I raised since they were kittens saw me as kind of a mother figure. Because they went straight from being weaned from Mom to being fed by me. Which is weird, because, frankly, I never saw myself as a mother figure. But I did kind of feel like those cats were my little kids . Its probably as close as I’ll come to having children.
When I had to move out of Berkeley and leave those cats behind after 6 years it was tough. I kept telling myself over and over. “Those cats were not my responsibility.” And: “There were four feral cats living in the woods when I got there, and there were four feral cats when I left.”
But I could never quite convince myself. I still dream about those cats all the time. Usually they’re streaming around me and I’m feeding them. But every now and then I’ll dream that they’re in some kind of distress. And I’ll wake up feeling sad. Wondering if they were sending me psychic cat signals in my dreams, trying to let me know that they needed my help and hoped that I’d come back and save them. Some people believe cats have psychic powers. And I tend to believe them.