This is the second post about Fidel, a non-human person who is the third in my series about Meetings With Remarkable People.
Fidel is now over 18 years old — about 100, in human years. Most people think of cats his age as dodderers, but Fidel has all his teeth, hunts, and plays like a kitten; he spends most of his time outside even in winter, thanks to an unusual coat that is as coarse as a black bear’s, with an impenetrable layer of fine down beneath it.
I recently searched our albums for images of Fidel, film or digital, and found to my surprise that we have almost none. Here, a black shape in the distance, disappearing into the woods; there, a black mound mostly obscured by a pillow.
In any case, cats are hard to capture in two-dimensional media — even Albrecht Durer, otherwise a master draftsman, couldn’t draw their grace and elusive fluidity. So none of our photos capture Fidel’s regal beauty or his charisma. They don’t show the depth of his blackness, the way his body contours are defined only by the glisten of light upon that unique coat; none show his golden eyes with the fleck of brown in one that give his face a slight asymmetry.
Of course, cats are beautiful creatures. The issue at hand is what makes Fidel a remarkable, if non-human, person? I think, more than anything else, it is his balance.
That is, he balances the disparate parts of his nature. Fidel is able to be both a wild being and a civilized one. He is regal, but can be absurdly comical. He is deeply peaceable but can be a formidable warrior in protection of his loved ones and on behalf of his code of community. He can withdraw from conflict with grace and serenity, and he can forgive. He sees others as equals and he treats them with respect. He also insists on being seen, himself, as an equal to be treated with respect.
As the notches in his ears prove, he was and still can be an intimidating warrior. He’s a good bit bigger than most cats and is splendidly endowed with a cat’s weaponry. According to my daughter — as a senior keeper at Big Cat Rescue, in Tampa, Florida, one who knows truly large-scale cats such as tigers and lions — his canines and claws are the size of a bobcat’s.
But tough as he is, he has never been particularly territorial. He imposes authority only to assert a code of conduct, not ownership of turf. In fact, he is in some ways a cowardly lion — he avoids conflict. His wildness preserves the vigilance (or paranoia) that has allowed him to survive long enough to achieve the wisdom of old age. When he asserts his size and presence it is to keep peace and care for others.
An example: About ten years ago, we lived in a house well out on a back road in Middlesex, in heavy forest country inhabited by moose and bears and fisher-cats. Our curving driveway, about three hundred yards long, led to the unpaved town road; the nearest neighbors were well down the road.
One day Fidel and our other cat Pogo were lounging in the driveway when a big Labrador-retriever mix came up from the road. A good strong country dog, it trotted assertively up the hill and approached the cats. Fidel scuttled to the shelter of the garage, but Pogo stayed in the middle of the driveway, drawing himself up into the classic stance of rialto shape and puffed tail.
The dog hesitated, momentarily uncertain, as Fidel and I watched from the garage door, then lunged at Pogo.
In an instant, Fidel became black lightning. He covered thirty feet of ground in a finger snap and hit the dog like a chainsaw. The dog turned and ran, with Fidel tearing its hindquarters to pieces, leaving tufts of fur all the way down to the town road and, for all I know, all the way back to its house.
This was not a territorial issue. Fidel rather likes dogs. This was about courtesy and loyalty: If you come to our house, behave yourself. Also: Don’t mess with our family, or you’ll account to me.