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You know the cliché that working with pagans is like herding cats? Don’t you believe it. Cats are smart. They learn things pretty fast. Herding them merely requires patience and food. Well … yeah, this is true of pagans, too. Lots of patience. And free food.
It's said that the sultans of the Ottoman Empire bred angora cats (the earlier name of Ankara was Angora) and gave them to the kings of Europe. The royal court of France thus received several valuable cats. It's further said that Marie Antoinette planned to escape the Revolution with her angoras. Whereas the cats got on the ship, however, the queen did not. The ship reached Maine, the story goes on, and the cats went ashore and mated with raccoons. This is highly unlikely. Maine coons share physical characteristics with angoras (long coats, furry ears), but I've never heard of one with the famous ringed eyes and tail of the raccoon. It's more likely that the angoras mated with other long-haired cats. A variant of the origin myth is that one Captain Coon brought the long-haired cats to the state of Maine.
Whatever their origin, Maine coon cats are large, furry, intelligent, and amiable. According to a program I recently saw on Animal Planet, they're the second most popular breed (after Persians) in the U.S. The breed was developed in Maine in the 19th century and Maine coons started winning ribbons in cat shows as early as the 1890s. Maine coons often advertise themselves by wearing an M on their heads.
I live with two rescued Maine coon cats. Notice that I say “live with.” We may pet our furry friends, but we do not own the furry, feathered, or finned beings that live with us. They’re not our property. Nor, I might add, can we own chunks of Mother Earth. We can use the land and build our houses on it, but Mother Earth will outlast any long-term lease we can have.
But I digress. I live with two rescued Maine coon cats. I’ve lived with cats since I was in college. My first cat was an Abyssinian-tabby mix named Fred who came to live with my husband and me during my senior year at Southeast Missouri State University. A year later, when I was teaching high school English, speech, and French, in a small town up the highway from Cape Girardeau, I'd almost always find Fred sitting on the front porch of our house when I got home. He'd greet me with a purr I’m sure they could hear down the street. I also remember how he used to lie on the living room rug and flap his tail up and down to give the kittens attacking practice. Fred moved with me several times and helped me earn my M.A. (Cats are always helpful.) I still have a photo of him with my son, about nine months old at the time and nibbling on Fred's ear. The cat did not object. But he had to be euthanized, alas, at about age 13 when he developed a massive infection. But for months afterward, I saw him walking down the hall or sitting in his favorite window, and to this day I sometimes feel a cat walking around on my bed when I know for sure that there’s no one but me in the room.
My first Schroedinger (not a Maine coon but a calico) came to me in 1984 after I’d had to euthanize a rescued cat named Puff. Some Marines had found Puff up in a tree and given her to the woman I was buying yarn from. The yarn woman gave Puff to me, and we lived happily together for several years until she became too ill to go on. When I took her to the vet that final time, I told my son to clean away all the cat supplies.
But a couple weeks later, my friend Rebecca phoned and said, "If you got a new cat, what would you name it?" Since I was reading Fritjof Capra and Itzhak Bentov at the time, I had a ready answer. A few days later, Rebecca knocked on my door. She had a tiny calico kitten in her hands. "I just went to the kitten cage at the animal shelter," she said, "and I called 'Schroedinger! Come here.' This is the kitten that looked up and came to me." Schroedinger lived with me for more than 20 years. She's the cat that Madame Blavatsky in Secret Lives looks like. But my Schroedinger did not talk like she came from New Jersey, nor did she do magic or read kidlit. She was a sweet, beautiful cat, and she died in my arms.
My first Heisenberg, whom I adopted in 1987 when the people next door abandoned him, was an intelligent and curious silver cream Maine coon. No matter what I was doing—bleaching my hair, making the bed, watering plants, or typing—he'd soon stroll into the room, his tail as flamboyant as Cyrano's white plume. He'd observe, comment, and help me do it better. Everyone who ever met him admired him. He even helped me teach the "practicing the presence of the Goddess" classes that met in my living room.
I moved twice with these two cats. They put up with everything, including a roommate’s noisy cocker spaniel. Once when Heisenberg got out, I called a psychic I knew. She tuned in, found him and sent him home. He came leaping over the fence and bounded into my arms.
But in 2001, Heisenberg was attacked by a tumor so invasive that euthanasia was my only choice. It was awful! On Heisenberg’s last night on the planet, I crawled under my bed with him and read Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince to him. Born on Asteroid B-612, the Little Prince comes to earth and learns that we see best with our hearts and that "the essential is invisible to our eyes." I have Heisenberg's ashes, which are (cross my heart) golden, in a little wooden box that one of my uncles brought back from World War II. It's on my "home altar," between a golden Bast and a heart-shaped rock.
I've always said that I wanted to come back in my next life as Heisenberg with me as his mommy.
Toward the end of her life, Schroedinger was fat and cranky and something of a solitary. (Did I just hear someone suggesting that cats and their people come to be alike?) She was Queen of the World and I was her lady-in-waiting. By the summer of 2004, however, after she'd passed her twentieth birthday, she was becoming very feeble. It broke my heart to do so, but I couldn't let her live a life of such discomfort, dehydrated, unable to walk well, and eating so little. On her last night on the planet, I held her on my lap and read a fairy tale about a brave princess to her. My friend Darcelle drove me to the Long Beach Animal Hospital both times, and both times cast a sacred circle for my cats to die in. They both died in my arms. Now I have the ashes of both cats (plus a little cat jingle toy) in that little box on my altar.
Do you know the sixties folksong, “The Cat Came Back”? It’s true. I knew I couldn't live without cat vibes in my house, so within a couple months I went to Petfinder.com and found Maine Coon Rescue. A couple of weeks later, I adopted my current Heisenberg, who is part tabby. (But notice the M on his forehead.) When I took him to our vet and said, “This is the same Heisenberg, but he’s in a different body now,” Dr. Ridgeway looked him in the eye and said, “You’re right. It’s Heisenberg all over again.”
He looks kind of like the Kliban Cat. Like his predecessor, this Heisenberg is everybody's friend. He's Mr. Puppy Cat. No matter what I'm doing, he comes to help. This includes sitting on my lap while I’m working. Have you ever tried to type when you have reach across a purring eighteen-pound cat? I can’t stay on the home row. “Heisenberg,” I say, “you need another hobby.” Or he goes into rug mode right under my chair and acts surprised when I accidentally roll on his fuzzy tail. But how can you be angry at someone who drapes himself across your lap and purrs at you while you're reading or watching TV?
My new Schroedinger came to me from Maine Coon Adoptions in 2005. She was found on the streets of Sacramento by a lawyer who is a rescuer and her photo was posted on Petfinder.com. After I made the arrangements to adopt her, they put her in a cat carrier and sent her to me. (The rescue agencies have volunteers who drive all over the state.) Schroedinger visited San Francisco and Paso Robles, then arrived in Pasadena, where I was attending a ritual and she was delivered to me. I brought her home. That’s two days and 500 miles in a box, and when I opened the box, she just strolled out. Of course she was also curious about where she'd landed. A friend who had never successfully petted a cat was with me that night; after half an hour, she was talking baby-talk to the new cat and tickling her under her chin. Schroedinger looks like a very large chinchilla with a tail bigger around than my arm. She’s Miss Glamour Cat. Because of her coloring (fog and honey) and the fact that, unlike her brother, she seldom talks, she makes me think of Sandburg's fog that "comes on little cat feet." She pussyfoots across the room, and I don't know she's here to be petted unless I happen to look down and see her staring up at me.
Within an hour of Schroedinger’s arrival, she and Heisenberg were peering at each other around the toilet. Now they entertain me with Kitty Olympics. You know … broad jump, high jump, sprinting, wrestling…. Any time I sit down, I’m likely to have two Maine coon camels within arm’s reach. “Pet me.” Or I'll go into the bathroom and suddenly see one cat sitting on the side of the tub, the other sitting on the toilet seat. "Did I call a meeting?" I ask, and they both seem to nod.
I once read in a novel that because cats have nine lives, they can (with permission, I suspect) jump into the bodies of other cats. Or maybe when a cat comes into a home where earlier cats were adored, it absorbs the vibes of the earlier cats. Whatever happens, it’s happened in my home. These two cats are like their predecessors in nearly every way but coloring. And we all know that there's nothing as good as a purring cat.