Zeke

Zeke ate a mouse the other day. Bit the head right off. Zeke is the name of our neighbor’s 7-year-old son, but fortunately, he does not come into this story. Zeke also happens to be the name of a very fluffy black cat that has adopted us.

I am not a cat person. I hear the old joke about the difference between cats and dogs* and think, why would anyone want to own a cat? But Zeke is a very dog-like cat in many respects, and he has charmed our family. Every morning, he waits on the windowsill to greet us. When we open the door, he flops on his back to have his tummy scratched. He follows us when we go for walks. He watches us eat dinner. It’s not that he’s hungry or neglected, quite the opposite, he just likes us.

The kids have gone bananas for this green-eyed cat. Having never been around felines much, they are amazed and delighted at everything he does. Patrick, almost 8, has been the most enamored. Until the mouse.

We had heard that Zeke likes to entertain guests up here with his feats of strength, catching small rodents and tossing them into the air, leaping up and snatching them with his paws. He’s auditioning for America’s Got Talent, I think. But the actual stalking and maiming of the little mouse was too much for our little guy, who was completely horrified. “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”

It reminds me of Annie Dillard’s cat story in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Her cat, free to come and go from the window, I guess, would wake her every morning, returning from nighttime adventures and pouncing onto her bed. One day, pawed and pounced on by the cat, Dillard looked in the mirror and saw bloody pawprints all over her shirt. (Please forgive if I’ve mixed up the details; I don’t have my copy of the book up here at the cabin to consult.)

They say housecats are the most — what? efficient? vicious? — predators in North America, expertly, ruthlessly stalking and killing anything small and available. They haven’t lost their hunting instincts. They are carnivores. (Patrick, after the mouse incident, insisted that he would no longer be a carnivore, and pulled the turkey out of his sandwich at lunch.) Though the kids know this academically, the reality of messy death, victim and victor, was a jolt. Living in the city, we are out of touch with the wildness of nature and the heartlessness of the food chain. We are not farmers, have never slaughtered a chicken, don’t see where our food comes from, other than the Krispy Kreme conveyor belt of sticky goodness. Life is sanitized, safe.

I have been reading a biography of C.S. Lewis by Alister McGrath, and came across his famous description of Aslan this week: “The most characteristic feature of Lewis’s Aslan is that he evokes awe and wonder. Lewis develops this theme with relation to Aslan by emphasising the fact that he is wild — an awe-inspiring, magnificent creature, which has not been tamed through domestication or had his claws pulled out to ensure he is powerless. As the Beaver whispers to the children,’He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.'”

There is something about this wild place of woods and mountains, who-knows-what creatures (another kind of lion, perhaps) living in the vast expanse of untamed wilderness, that evokes to me a sense of God’s own wildness. The Bible stories that we so often declaw for children hint at a God beyond our Sunday school pictures, a God who invented carnivores.

The world is wilder than we remember, fiercer, untamed. On one hand, we participate in dark things without even pausing to consider, and on the other, we forfeit the experience of the wonder and awe all around. What if God is bigger and more unpredictable than we allow? What if there is mystery outside your window?

What if the Easter story unfolding again this week, was unfamiliar, new, permitted to shock and astound and dismay and poke us in some tender place? The White Witch has got hold of Aslan and howls in her triumph; we are Lucy and Susan crouching in terror at a distance to watch the Deep Magic work. Are we moved? Are we undone?

Who knew? Life lessons from Zeke, the terrifying cat. I miss my goofy dog.

Zeke the Cat
Zeke the Cat

*There once was a man named Bob, the proud owner of a cat and a dog. Every day, Bob took care of Rover. He fed him, scratched his tummy, brushed him, tossed a ball for him, and picked up his poop. Rover thought, “Bob is my master and I love him. He must be God.” Every day, Bob took care of Tom. He fed him, scratched his ears, groomed him, tossed his yarn ball, and picked up his poop. Tom thought, “Guess I’m God!”

Late late late

late late late
late late late

It started on Sunday. There we were, eating cinnamon buns, when a neighbor knocked on the door. “It occurred to me you probably don’t realize today is the time change,” she said. Daylight Savings? Uh-oh. We are a little unplugged up here on the mountain — no internet that doesn’t require a hike, no phones, no tv — and so, no, we didn’t realize. And now we were late. There was instant scurry, things flung every which way, a mad scramble for the bathroom, a dash out to the car, skidding laughing down the mountain on an icy road. I am not a fan of Daylight Savings Time. And now that we have sprung forward, I have a persistent feeling that I am lagging behind, missing something important. Even up here, cut off from civilization, the clock doesn’t agree with my internal time table. Is it seven or eight? I feel like Alice’s rabbit, late late late for a very important date. All around us, life is springing forward in disconcerting ways. There is a sledding hill across the street from our cabin, a long and twisting driveway. The hike up it is asthma-inducing; to stand at the top and look back you feel it’s quite impossible you made it up at all. Then there is the moment you sit on the devil-may-care device and feel the world beneath you begin to slip — and you’re off. Once you’re going, there’s no stopping (short of a crash); none of your shrieking makes a difference. Our kids are like that — teetering on the edge of a thrills-and-spills ride from innocent childhood into their own great adventures. I see the world beneath them start to slide, the sled is moving, none of my shrieking can stop it. They say busyness is the great enemy of marriages: hurry, worry, distraction from what really matters. The simple things, intentionality and care, are too hard to cultivate when you’re running 100 miles an hour. It’s not just marriage, it’s anything slow and painstaking — the spiritual life, the writing life, your very heart. Feed it rush and scramble, watch it wither. We are under the illusion that we control our calendar and own our possessions. Ha! We’re like Voldemort, divvying up our soul into precious pieces and thinking, spread out, there is more of me to go around. Be careful where you stash your life. But the clock cannot tell me how to live my minutes. I choose. And today I choose to savor, even as the world is whipping by. I won’t be rushed, won’t give in to worry, hurry-scurry. Today is a gift, and though tomorrow everything may change, today I have children I don’t have to nag, battles I can pick, a husband I can lavish with love, a view I can stop to see. All of my fears won’t add a minute to my life, so I show them the door. You go ahead and spring forward. I think today I’ll fall back.