The Animal Companion Book Circle
for the discussion of the works of Art Rosch
There are three cats in the Animal Companion Book Circle. Our oldest cat is a big tabby named Obsidian. Sometimes we call him The Ambassador because he likes to amble through the campground visiting and welcoming neighbors. When he sees an RV with an open door or window and assures himself that no other animals are inside, Obsidian enters and makes himself at home. People return from the showers or the laundry to discover a tomcat sitting on their furniture. It's amazing that he's never been trapped in an RV and driven to Alaska or Maine.
Obsidian is indifferent to hostile dogs, and willing to make territorial accommodations to neighborhood cats. He doesn't want any trouble. He just wants to hang out. He wants to be part of things.
His taste in literature runs to mysteries and historical novels. He likes the sardonic style of Elmore Leonard. This makes him a great asset in our Book Circle because some of my work falls into a sardonic mode. Obsidian is capable of knowing when I'm mixing irony and comedy.
Eight years ago we bought our first RV, a 1979 Fleetwood Flair. The front door's windows had parchment colored shades. These are the type that roll up onto a spring-loaded dowel. Pull the shade down and it stays in place. To raise the shade, pull a bit outward to disengage the spring and hold the wooden pull-bar until it reaches the desired height.
The RV was parked in our driveway. Obsidian quickly took to exploring this gigantic new playhouse. He was lying on the driver's side arm-rest, with the shade pulled all the way down. The sun shone brightly over the roof of the house as it sank in the west. The shade kept the RV's interior from becoming a furnace. Obsidian was on his back and was flipping at the shade, watching it move. He batted with his paws.
I was sitting in the passenger's seat idly watching this play. Fox was on the outside of the window, hosing off the tires. The cat was using his hind feet to kick at the balsa wood bar at the bottom of the sash.
Suddenly Obsidian kicked a little too hard. The claws on each of his feet were fully engaged with the shade's canvas. The spring unlocked and pulled the shade all the way up. The cat was attached to the shade, upside down. He rocketed towards the top, and hung there like a spitted game carcass. He looked at me with an expression of such bewildered surprise that I burst out laughing. Obsidian hung upside down from the shade for five or six seconds before getting his claws free and making a clumsy drop onto the driver's seat. He bounced off my lap and flew out the passenger side window. We didn't see him again for twelve hours. He was thoroughly embarrassed.
Fox and I laughed till our ribs ached. We couldn't help it.
We believe that animals experience complex emotions such as vanity and humiliation. They care about their looks. They may be less verbal, but the intensity of their feelings is not mediated by the constant chatter of the mind. They aren't planning for the future, regretting the past, plotting to acquire things, angry about a careless comment. They are alive to sun, wind, clouds, shadows and they can hear the whispers made by invisible spirits.