The sun, low in the sky, shows the Grove at its best and most gentle this afternoon.
The rural habit of spotting a seasonal,natural occurrence early in the season is summed up, you suppose, by those letters to the London Times in the old days claiming to have heard the first cuckoo of Spring. The habit, I think to myself, can now safely transfer from rural and natural, to urban and commercial phenomena, as I spot, on Sunday 26 October, the first Christmas tree of 2008. Is this a record?
The similarity between the big cats shown on countless tv nature programmes and the domestic cat is never more noticeable as when the domestic animal is after a bird or other local creature. Today, I watch a long bodied, ginger cat stalking a squirrel. The squirrel is engaged in eating a nut, which it has just collected from the grass. Sitting upright, it rotates the nut between its little paws. It is concentrating on the job, and may be a little less alert than usual. The cat, its tail extended for balance, moves forward in a slow, straight line, its muscles rippling. It stops, quivering imperceptibly as it waits for the moment to leap. I think that the cat cannot fail to catch the squirrel. But the squirrel runs and, as the cat skids in its tracks on the leaves under a tree, up which the squirrel scampers, is it my imagination that the cat, almost in possession of its prey, lets it go, as though the prospect of dealing with its remains, is not worth the effort. Spoilt is it? I wonder. Has a daily tin of cat food, robbed the domestic cat, of its instinct to kill.
Two important points about cats. Before domestication the chase was necessary to survival. Now the two things are separate: Kite Kat ensures survival and the chase (followed by torturing and then boredom) is a leisuretime activity.
Did the cat deliberately fail to catch the squirrel? Only if we ascribe failure to a sentient decision. Cats have a remarkably short attention span. Chased up a tree by a dog a cat - once out of danger - may then lick itself, once only, on its haunch after which a yonderly expression enters its eyes. A cat, apparently running purposefully across a road, may well stop as if it has forgotten why it was running.
Owners often attach mystical qualities to their cats but I'm more inclined to the anecdote in which a Yorkshireman's reputation for profound reflection was laid waste. Asked by an irritated South-Easterner just exactly what he was thinking about during these periods of silence the artisan philosopher said: "Maistly nowt."
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