Monday, December 08, 2008

Rhythms and Rituals

Living with pets really makes you aware of the rhythms of life. Particularly when you normally don't share a residence with them, and then find yourself settling down for the night in their bedroom.

This October Mars and I house-sat for Audrey the dog and Kit the cat.

During the daylight hours Audrey never slept -- or at least we never saw her in that particular state of unconsciousness. Her job, as documented elsewhere, was to guard the house -- a responsibility that she took very, very seriously. Although she did take occasional breaks to come inside and join us in the living room.

(Picture by Mars - click to enlarge)

When she did, Audrey usually stretched out on the carpeted floor with the sunshine from the window lighting up the lower part of body. Then she struggled -- successfully but with difficulty -- to keep the lids of hers eyes from dropping shut. Frequently she would drag herself to her feet and drop onto her daytime bed located in the adjacent hallway. Still she managed to stay awake.

Come nighttime it was a different story.

Audrey has a dog nest under a bench on the floor of the master bedroom. We were not told what her normal bedtime was but her behavior indicated that she would gladly have gone there at any time after sunset.

One evening around dusk Mars went into the bedroom and Audrey followed. When Mars returned to the couch moments later Audrey remained in the other room. About 9:15 she slowly strolled out to where we were; looked accusingly at us; lied down for a while; then went back to her sleeping nest. Other nights she hung around the living room glaring at Mars and me when we turned on the television or opened a book any time after dark.

When we finally did go to bed Audrey fell asleep quickly and deeply. And stayed totally in that state until about 6:30 a.m. when she staggered out of bed, stretched with some dog yoga poses, and performed her morning ablutions loudly with her tongue. She stayed there until the two of us walked down to get the morning paper at the end of the steeply sloped driveway. After delivering the news, and wolfing down some breakfast, she headed outside to guard the house.

The cat on the other hand napped several times during the day -- normally for a few hours at a stretch. Still she managed to spend a good portion of the daylight hours, and most evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 outside in the high desert -- stalking small animals and doing other fiendish feline things.

(Picture by Mars - click to enlarge)

When we turned in for the night she joined us in the bedroom, usually crouched under the footstool. Then at some point she crawled under the covers with us.

Her first nocturnal visit came on our second night at around four in the morning. She stayed for about an hour and left. Her subsequent visitations began earlier and lasted longer.

Neither Mars nor I have ever shared our bed with a non-human, living creature. When we had our dog Nicole and Mars was at evening college getting her I.T. certificate I would sometimes fall asleep on the floor watching television with my back up against the dog's equally asleep dorsal side. I remember the feeling of living warmth, the smell of domestic animal, and the nocturnal breathing, sputtering and body movements.

The cat experience was similar but on a smaller scale. For one thing she was the one doing the positioning. Sometimes I felt her heated presence in the small of my back -- other times on my shoulders. Instead of breathing in fits and starts there was a rhythmical purring sound that seemed to come from an artificial voice box positioned deep within her chest. The sound was pitched to a basso level -- much too low for an animal of Kit's diminutive stature to generate. Most of the time she wasn't touching me at all and it was only the warmness and the vocally generated vibrations that me aware that she was even there.

We had been forewarned that the cat would probably join us in bed and I did have some apprehensions about being walked on and scratched in the middle of the night. Only once did I feel her tiptoe along my left side as she was apparently deciding whether to visit or not on our second night there. So from a fear factor perspective Kit's cohabitations were painless. I was nonetheless aware of her presence, and as a result did limit my own movements so as not to disturb her slumber -- probably with some loss of restfulness on my part.

Sleep is annoying -- something that you involuntarily end up doing everyday because your eyes can longer focus on the words you are attempting to read -- an unwanted interruption to the business of living -- eight hours of your life that you will never get back. For Audrey and Kit it seems to be an integral part of who they are.

Being a superior being, I was of course easily able to adapt and accommodate those that are slaves to their own particular behavioral patterns. After all it was their territory.

So every night at exactly ten o'clock I circled the bed seven times in a clockwise direction, flipped my pillow over four times, cracked the knuckle of each little finger once, and released myself into the arms of Morpheus. I certainly wasn't going to lose any sleep over their silly, obsessive, little rituals.

No comments: