Winter Cathoppers

By Bill Hall

Sometimes it's tough to tell a cat from a grasshopper.

Once again, our three cats head into the winter with no preparation at all, except perhaps the slight thickening of their coats as the nights grow chilly and a little more practice for their winter sleeping.

Once again, they are counting on somebody to feed them through the winter. And guess who's elected? George or Bill will be elected commander-in-chief come November. But Sharon and Bill have already been elected the supply sergeants of the winter cat cupboard. And I didn't even know I was running.

But I should have learned by now. Cats (and horses and dogs and other drones in and out of politics) are the grasshoppers from the fable of the grasshopper and the ants. The industrious ants (like Ant Sharon and me) spend the whole summer planting and weeding and harvesting, laying in a store of life's fuel to see us through the months when the earth is cold and hard and not its usual generous self.

In fact, Ant Sharon demonstrates each year about this time that she comes from a long line of ants, just as Ant Bill demonstrates each spring that he comes from a long line of farmers. I get twitchy each spring to go out and till and plant. And Ant Sharon gets twitchy each fall to buy huge stores of macaroni and potatoes and beans and rice and chocolate coated peanuts all the basic foodstuffs.

By this time of year, Ant Sharon and Ant Bill are filling the freezer and pantry with enough food to survive a six-month siege by the Serbian army.

And what are the other occupants of the house Sterling, Sydney and Lyle doing? Zip. Nada. El goose eggo.

Sterling, Sydney and Lyle are sleeping, that's what they are doing. Sterling, Sydney and Lyle are lying around licking their coats (which is every bit as disgusting as it sounds). Sterling, Sydney and Lyle are eating. Most of all they are eating.

They are neither hunting nor gathering. When it comes to farming, their idea of a tough day is falling over on a catnip plant to make it release its intoxicating vapors.

And to them, storing food is eating twice as much as you need to stay alive.

But man does not live by catnip alone. And neither does Ant Sharon. We all have to eat. And it's not that the cats just assume we will provide for them each winter. They are like the grasshopper in the fable in that they don't dwell on such matters at all. They loaf and play all summer. And come winter, they just go on eating, without wondering how the food got there or who had to work his buns off providing it.

Cats and grasshoppers are like teen-agers. They require huge quantities of food. And they think it grows in the refrigerator.

In fact, teen-agers are unaware that a refrigerator is a food-chilling device. They think it is a magic food duplicating machine like the ones in the science fiction cartoons. They believe "refrigerator" is a Lithuanian word meaning "device that creates pizza out of thin air."

They think it is an electric cow that gives milk and pop and juice.

They think it is a mechanical tree producing chilled apples.

Cats don't think at all. They just eat. They have the mind of a grasshopper. Brains are irrelevant. To them the only organ that matters is the mouth. I'm sure there was once a time in the wild when cats and teen-agers used to hunt and harvest and store. But permissive parents like Ant Sharon and Ant Bill have ruined them.

Like the ants in the fable, we swear each year that we will will never do it again. We walk past the dancing cathoppers, our shoulders loaded with food, glaring at them as we head into the storehouse preparing for winter, doing all the work.

But by December, when the last of the wild food is gone and a cat comes knocking at your lap looking for somebody to sit on, you prove once again what a pushover you are. You go to the storehouse and find the food you hadn't really meant to provide but bought just in case you weakened.

And you feed your stupid yowling grasshoppers a bowl of winter catfood.

But this is absolutely the last time. And this year I really mean it.



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