For Cats Who Love Christmas

Laugh at the antlers if you must, but laugh at your peril. That business-like look in the eyes of my beautiful calico is very real. Dixie Rose (short for Dixie-Rose-Center-of-the-Universe-and-Queen-of-all-She-Surveys) loves Christmas, and she intends to be ready when it arrives. I don’t advise standing in her way.

Dixie arrived on my doorstep fourteen years ago: an unloved, four-month-old stray who became my first pet. I did receive a small, painted turtle as a child, but it met an unfortunate end. A well-meant birthday puppy lasted only a few hours.  Tiny but exceedingly enthusiastic, the black Cocker Spaniel terrified me, and soon was sent packing by disconsolate adults.

Later, I raised a fox squirrel, and laughed my way through four years with a prairie dog, but my relationship to Dixie Rose is of a different order entirely. I believe her to be the most beautiful creature on four paws. Whether she’s the most spoiled remains up for debate, but she’s working at it — diligently.

On our first Christmas together, it became obvious that old routines would have to change. Tree trimming and gift wrapping were more than she could bear: a swath of shredded ribbon, broken ornaments, and pulled-down swags marked her passage through the house.

After she tipped the tree a second time and then a third, I surrendered.  We celebrated with a bare tree that had been weighted at its base with several feet of galvanized chain wrapped around the trunk. No candles burned. No poinsettias glowed. Presents piled up in the closet until time for humans to unwrap them, and all things sparkly were banned due to my furry darling’s obsessive appetite for tinsel, glitter, and gold.

As Christmas Day approached, Dixie and I began to disagree more sharply on the nature of true celebration. Things weren’t always good that year, and the phrase “This hurts me more than it does you” became as common as “Merry Christmas.” Things were so bad I began to amuse myself by creating the first of what I’d later call Cat Carols. You know the tune, and can add the “Fa-la-las” as needed.

Wreck the Halls

Wreck the halls all decked with holly,
Fa-la-la-la-la, la la-la-la.
Sheer destruction is so jolly,
Fa-la…
Tip the tree with all its treasures,
Fa-la…
Shred the presents for good measure!
Fa-la…
Fast away the fur-ball passes,
Fa-la…
To wreak havoc on the masses,
Fa-la…
Swinging through the punch and cookies,
Fa-la…
Snarling at the reindeer rookies,
Fa-la…

It was the start of something wonderfully fun. When I included the lyrics in Dixie’s Christmas card to her vet, he suggested she keep writing. So, she did.

Stalking in a Winter Wonderland

Collars ring, are you listening?
In the lane, eyes are glistening…
The moon is so bright, we’re happy tonight,
Stalking in a winter wonderland.
Gone away are the bluebirds,
Here to stay are the new birds.
They sing their sweet songs as we skulk along,
Stalking in a winter wonderland.
In the meadow we can build a snow mouse,
And pretend that he is fat and brown.
He’ll say “Are you hungry?” We’ll say, “No, mouse”,
“but we’ll have you for dinner on the town.”
Later on, we’ll retire
For a snooze by the fire,
And dream of the prey we’ll catch the next day,
Stalking in a winter wonderland.

Of course, not everyone loves the kitty-cats, and there’s a song for them, too. While I don’t advocate shooting cats (or dogs or people for that matter), I certainly understand how pure frustration might lead to a Christmas song like this:

Jingle Bells, Shotgun Shells

Jingle bells, shotgun shells, there’s that danged old cat!
Get my gun, let’s have some fun, I know just where he’s at!
Jingle bells, oh, Hell’s bells, now he’s on the run!
If I find my glasses, that cat’s hunting days are done.
A day or two ago, I thought I’d feed the birds,
I grabbed a bag of seed, a second and a third.
But halfway ‘cross the yard, I saw the bushes shake,
It was my neighbor’s scroungy cat, a big orange tom named Jake.
Oh, jingle bells, shotgun shells, (repeat chorus)…..
I love to feed the birds, it makes me feel so glad.
But Jake, that danged old cat, he makes me so darned mad!
He’s not content to eat a lizard or a mouse,
He wants to eat my pretty birds: that cat’s a stinking louse!
Oh, jingle bells, shotgun shells (repeat chorus)

Finally, there is this cautionary tale. Like children, cats (and probably dogs) need to be reminded that the magical night is not far off.

Santa Cat is Coming to Town

Oh, you’d better not hiss, you’d better not bite,
You’d better not tempt the dog to a fight;
Santa Cat is coming to town!
He’s making a list, checking it twice,
Gonna find out who chased all those mice,
Santa Cat is coming to town!
He knows when you’ve been scratching,
He knows who you’ve outfoxed,
He knows if you’ve been in a snit
And refused your litter box!
With potted cat grass and catnip-filled balls,
Snuggly warm beds and mice from the malls,
Santa Cat is coming to town.

Eventually Dixie’s online friends joined the fun, sending along their own contribution to the songfest.  Housecats themselves, Mister Man and Miss Moo know how to have a good time despite not being allowed to stalk in the Great Outdoors.

Hark! The Housebound Felines Sing

Hark! the housebound felines sing,
Glory to the milk-jug ring!
Mice on earth and squirrels reviled
Even indoors we are wild!
Warily our tails do twitch
As we down the halls do rip,
With triumphant meows proclaim,
Cats do have superior brains!
Hark, the housebound felines sing,
Glory to the milk jug ring!

Dixie and I haven’t begun working seriously on this year’s song, but phrases are bubbling away in our lyrical stewpot and “O, Christmas Bush” seems a likely candidate. It’s pure silliness of course, just another bit of holiday excess. On the other hand, excess isn’t necessarily bad, and even silly excess can become a path to truth.

Looking at Dixie, singing her little songs to her, I can’t help remembering another carol.  “Joy to World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king.” Remarkably, we don’t sing, “Joy to human beings. joy to those who walk upright, drive cars, open too many credit card accounts, and are nasty to their neighbors.” We don’t sing, “Joy to the church-goers, the faithful, the few.”

The joy we sing is meant for the whole world: for stars and dirt, mountains and seas, trees, rocks, valleys and hills, and every creature who inhabits them all.

While human hearts prepare, heaven and nature are singing out this truth: the gifts of the season are meant for all. The coming of truth and grace is meant for the world as a whole. We who inhabit that world, who trace a path upon its soil and gaze upon its stars are called to sing its praises, too, including it in our celebrations.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or whether you don’t, whether you take the promises of the season seriously or simply enjoy the traditions and the festivity, accept these bits of silliness as a gift from Dixie Rose. Feel free to laugh at them, sing them to yourself, or pass them on to friends. Believe me – an entire room filled with pet-lovers singing these songs can be hilarious, and they’ve been known to bring a smile even to the face of the most anti-feline Scrooge.

As for Dixie, she continues on her best behavior. She’s learned she can avoid kitty-jail by avoiding kitty-misbehavior, and we trim our tree in peace. I hang ornaments even on the lowest branches with confidence, and display cookies and gifts without fear.

While I prepare our celebration, she spends quiet afternoons sleeping in the low, slanting light. I like to imagine visions of catnip-plums dancing in her head as she waits in perfect peace and joy for whatever gifts come next.

In this season of Advent, this season of waiting and anticipation, may we all be blessed with such peace and joy.

Something of a tradition at The Task at Hand, this post last was published in 2012. If you’re inclined to share the post or the songs with someone, please do. Songs of the season are meant to be shared.
Special greetings go to Max, Lizzie Cosette, Gus, RC, Jasper, Sammy, T-Bob, Emmaline, Wimsey,  George, and the White, Black and Gray trio (you know who you are.) Like Gypsy, and Blue, Bill and Cherie’s Dixie Belle is with us only in memory this year, but we’ve been joined by Charlie, and by seven year old Kitty, who’s learning to live with a new pal named Muffin up on the Tallgrass Prairie.  Merry Christmas to them all!
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Published in: on December 13, 2014 at 9:09 pm  Comments (85)  
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The Warmth of the Frio

The Rio Frio came by its name honestly. Spring-fed, shallow and clear, it’s a cold river: perhaps the coldest in Texas.  It can slow to a trickle in summer heat, and, when in flood, puts roadways underwater in a flash.  But if the Frio is flowing well, singing steadily over the rocks, its coursing is pure pleasure.

Other Texas rivers — particularly the Guadalupe, the Comal, and the San Marcos — are famed as venues for kayaking and tubing, but they flow through urban centers. When the season ends and river rats dry off for a final time, there still are dance halls and concerts, festivals, antique shops, and galleries to entertain the crowds.

Along the Frio, things are different.  As the weather turns and school begins, provisioning companies shutter their doors until spring.  Families continue to gather at Garner State Park for weekends of camping and fishing, and birders flock into the valley to track the autumn migration. Hunters fan out into ranchlands in pursuit of whitetail, while autumn bikers test themselves against the famous hairpin turns and steep grades of the “Twisted Sisters.”  Still, the pace of life begins to slow. As it does, the Frio and her people show a different face to the world: a face filled with unexpected beauty and warmth.
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Published in: on December 7, 2014 at 4:58 pm  Comments (97)  
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Day Unto Day

 West of the Pass
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
                                                                               ~  Mary Oliver

Idle and blessed I am, having decamped to A Far Place.

Absent internet connections, football, Black Friday, and reliable phone service, there’s nothing left but to roam the countryside and search out curiosities, grateful for that silence which is no silence at all, but the murmuring and trilling of a hospitable land. (more…)

Life in the Land of Reasonable and Proper

U.S. Highway 34 in South Central Iowa – Curbs, But Little Enthusiasm

When our Kansas City kin traveled north for a visit, at least half of their trip involved Iowa roads. Inevitably, the experience tempted my sanguine uncle toward grumpiness. We knew what to expect within an hour of his arrival, and the question rarely varied. “So,” he’d say. “You think there’s a chance they might decide to give you something besides those concrete cow paths you call roads?”

Driving south from Minnesota, crossing the border into Iowa to do some clothes shopping or purchase the margarine that was illegal in their state, a friend’s father always asked a similar question. “Whatsa matter with these Iowa farmers? Can’t they build a road?” (more…)

Published in: on November 16, 2014 at 3:53 pm  Comments (69)  
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Intruders in the Dust


Unbidden, unwished-for, they appear: blossoms and tendrils alike awash in sunlight and rain — growing, grasping, greedily seeking to establish themselves in territory reserved for another.
Intruder, thy name is Weed.

As the eldest son of Swedish immigrant parents who met and married in this country, my father surely didn’t teach me the verse. It’s even less likely that my grandparents introduced me to it.  Perhaps I heard the bit of faux-history-in-a-ditty on a playground, or from one of the Norwegians in town who wasn’t averse to a bit of ethnic humor.

But, in truth? I probably learned it from my mother. She never criticized my grandmother — her mother-in-law — openly. Still, a certain tension flared between them occasionally, obvious enough in retrospect to make me believe that a slightly peeved daughter-in-law just might have introduced her own daughter to this bit of oblique commentary on Swedish national character.
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