I had never realized what a typical resident of this region Nellie is until I saw her teaching the young ones to hunt. Nellie is our grown cat. Like so many people around here, she is an avid hunter. And though most will deny it, the hunters I know almost all love the hunting a lot more than the meat. With good reason. Most of what hunters "harvest," as they like to call it, is food of borderline quality -- venison, pheasants, muddy ducks, an occasional farm dog, a few small tractors now and then. It's not something most people would routinely eat if they could have chicken instead.
But even though these harvesters, these hunters, these mammal murderers don't generally enjoy eating wild, bullet-riddled meat any more than I do, they are nonetheless decent and therefore guilt-ridden people. They were brought up by survivors of the Great Depression who believe it is wasteful, if not also murderous, to kill anything just for fun.
So the rules are rather plain in these parts: You kill it, you eat it -- or at least find some fool relative to eat it for you. Thus harvesters will tell you what they have made themselves believe at a surface level -- they hunt for the meat.
They are lying, most of all to themselves. If you have tasted venison, you know that hunting deer for the meat is the equivalent of cutting down sage brush for the vegetables.
Nellie is no different in that respect from the rest of the hunters around here. In truth, she loves the hunt most of all, the kill second best and the eating least of all. I know that because I am one of her fool relatives, in a matter of speaking, and she keeps trying to pawn her harvests off on me.
Or on anyone else she can find. She catches a ton of mice on our lower hillside. But she hardly ever eats them. After all, she has all the tasty, scientifically balanced cat food she can eat. And commercial cat food is to raw mice what chicken is to venison. No cat in her right mind would eat a raw mouse.
But like most of the residents of this region, she truly enjoys hunting. She gets a kick out of stalking her prey, pouncing on it and then harvesting the heck out of it until it stops breathing.
In short, she enjoys outsmarting and overpowering a creature with an even weaker brain than hers -- just like a human hunter.
Whether practiced by human or cat, hunting is a version of doing what we used to be scolded not to do -- playing with our food.
Nonetheless, Nellie apparently feels some guilt over the potential waste involved in merely killing the mice without eating them, even though she was not brought up by survivors of the Great Depression. Consequently, each time she harvests a mouse, she brings it inside to me or to the shrieking woman I married (who shall remain nameless to spare her unwarranted embarrassment).
This is the equivalent of having your brother-in-law stop by and proudly hand you 20 pounds of stinking venison, allegedly as a favor, but actually to get rid of it because he has chicken in the refrigerator and that's what he's going to eat.
But the obsession with justifying hunting goes beyond making sure the meat is actually eaten by somebody. People try to prove that hunting is more wholesome than murder is generally regarded in the world at large. And they do that by involving their children in the ritual at the earliest opportunity. They would have you believe that there are some things you teach children as early as possible -- honesty, thrift and murdering other animals.
So I was not surprised when Nellie, our hunter, brought a mouse to the new kittens, Alfred and Penelope. She agrees with the prevailing local opinion that you can never get started too early on teaching the children to kill.
They were delighted, of course, and immediately began tossing the body in the air and bounding after it. There's nothing like a dead body to make the young ones playful.
But what impressed me most of all was the size of the mouse. It was small, little more than a baby itself. Nellie had brought the kittens a mouse corpse their size, something beginners could handle while they were learning the sport -- kind of like one of those half-size footballs you give a 6-year-old because his hands are so small.
I don't think Nellie thought of it as a small mouse. I think she thought of it as a starter kit.
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