Four Things About Animals

cats-2Cats: We’ve had Ladyjane the Busy Bumblebee Cat for about a month now, and she and Rosie are settling into a new two-cat dynamic that’s a bit different from the prior Lyla-Rosie axis. The younger Ladyjane has still got the big kitten factor in effect, and plays hard with toys, us and Rosie. We’ve all gotten used to walking around the house and suddenly having her leap out from behind a plant to bounce off our legs and then go roaring around the house on her giant polydactyl feet as if she’s pleased and satisfied about having put us in our proper places. Rosie is fascinated with her, and while they’ve not quite yet the chums that the prior pair of cats were, they do seem to keep themselves amused and entertained together.

Chipmunks: We have a chipmunk burrow right underneath our back deck. Whenever I go out to fill the bird feeders, I always pour a little seed right into the mouth of the burrow, and then check back a few hours later, and it’s always been grabbed and moved into the nest. It makes me wonder what the chipmunks think of this seemingly divine bonanza that appears at their doorstep every so often, and what they might be doing with the increase in leisure time that my benevolence has provided them. Have they crafted a new chipmunk religion to explain why manna seems to rain upon them without rhyme or reason? And when the manna doesn’t arrive on schedule, do they fall prey to heresy, building little Golden Voles to worship in lieu of their rightful, deserving deity? Or are they secular chipmunks, using their free time to build little telescopes or dissect other chipmunks to explore the mysteries of their vascular systems? I keep looking at the deck to see if any smokestacks start popping up around its edges, indicating that the Chipmunk Industrial Revolution has begun, now that the little mammals have been freed from their serf-like dedication to gathering seeds and grains. I’ll let you know when they rise up to shake off their bourgeois shackles and embrace the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Crows: A week ago, I was out for a walk and saw a group of about half a dozen crows on the ground in the middle of a big field. Being a big fan of corvids, I headed toward them as I always do when I see them. As I drew closer, all but one of them took to the air, awwking and graaking at me as they did so. But one crow remained where it was, hunkering down a bit into the grass to make itself less conspicuous. I got to within a few feet of it when it stood and clumsily walked away from me, with a noticeable limp in its gait. The other crows went berzerk when it began walking, and began swooping between trees to draw my attention away from their wounded comrade. I couldn’t tell whether the injured bird had fallen from the nest before it was ready to fly, or whether it was in a particularly serious moult (it’s tail feathers seemed to be mostly missing), or whether another animal had grabbed it and shaken it. Eventually, it got airborne, but didn’t get more than a foot or so off the ground as it glided to the other side of the field, followed by the other crows, cursing at me as the flew away. I’ve returned to the field every day since (taking Katelin with me one day), and everyday I’ve seen the same thing: a group of healthy, adult crows sticking close by and running interference for the weakest member of their murder. The last time I saw them, the littlest crow was able to get about five or six feet into the air, and actually managed to land in the lower branches of a tree, the first time I’d seen it off the ground. Had there been but two adult crows tending to the injured bird, one could assume some instinctual parental prerogative was in play. But when a whole community of birds is caring together for one weak member, there’s clearly some higher form of intelligence and society at play, which fascinates and pleases me to no end. We do a great injustice to creatures we share this good earth with when we assume we are the only animals that are able to feel compassion and empathy.

Human: I’ve spent the weekend laying out a proposed course of study for my PhD, starting this fall, and finishing in May 2013, four full school years later. It’s ambitious, but doesn’t require any more class time in any semester than I took during my Masters program, when I was spending two and a half hours a day on the road from Latham to Great Barrington on top of my studies. I have to meet with my advisor to get it approved, but it feels good to have a plan.

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