Humans are escapists after the fact, using unconsciousness to sleep off hangovers and other troubles, hoping the world will look better when they awaken.
Cats are escapists before the fact. Perhaps they should be called avoidists because they use sleep to avoid damage.
Specifically, cats are champion sleepers in wet weather. They virtually hibernate during rainy days. During the warm weather before this year's monsoon, they virtually vanished. We would see them only a few minutes here and there. They were working at their cat jobs, touring the bushes, sneaking up on bugs and mice and small dogs. (Don't blame me if a cat can't tell a rat from a Chihuahua. ("Yo quiero doggy.")
If the truth be known, they were probably sleeping part of the time. There is nothing a cat enjoys more than sleeping on the cool ground in the shade of the bushes on a hot day.
But suddenly that all came to an end. It has been raining here this spring in ways that make you do doubletakes when you see carpenters building something that seems at first glance to be kind of ark shaped.
The rain penetrated the bushes, drenched the normal dry ground beneath them and lowered the temperature about 20 degrees. The cats came in out of the cold. But they did not run and play. They did not seek our companionship. They slept. And slept. And slept. Morning, noon and night, they slept. I would get up in the middle of the night and there they were in the corner or on the couch or on the spare bed, looking quite dead.
Cats sleep in positions that are identical to expired cats -- on their backs with toes up, twisted into ungainly sprawls, looking like road kill, kind of tangled up in their own limbs like a stuffed animal that accidentally went through the washer on the hot-hot cycle.
They are like children in the way nasty weather drives them inside and bores them to tears. But there is a limit on how long a kid can sleep-- 10 or 12 hours and that's it. Sooner or later a kid is going to wake up and spend the balance of the day saying, "There's nothing to do."
A cat always has something to do. It can always sleep. And it always does -- for however long the annoyance lasts. If the storm persists, so does the cat -- 12, 14, 18 hours, nearly the entire 24 hours with brief episodes of porking down food.
Cats are the ultimate escapists. When things are getting rough for them, they hide behind their eyelids and hope by the time they regain consciousness the trouble, or the rain, will go away.
People are more inclined to escape in conscious ways. They drink. They do drugs. They watch television. They read. I have known people going through a hard time who would read for most of their waking hours. That seems to be especially common among women, for some reason. Maybe it's the lack of testosterone. When men are unhappy, they tend to stand around doing brilliant things like slugging trees. If women don't like the life they're leading, they go find another one between the covers of a book. It's more informative and it's easier on the knuckles.
But whether it is a cat sleeping or a person reading, the device involves some understanding of giving time a chance to work its magic on some unpleasantness. If you have suffered a personal loss, you have to do some time before it heals. You might as well do it with the distraction of a book.
If you are a cat driven inside by the spring flood, you can control how long that flood seems to last by avoiding consciousness. It's like a person who can sleep in a car (preferably as a passenger rather than as the driver). If you fall asleep when you leave and don't wake up until you get there, the journey takes no time at all.
Cats have the gift of instant hibernation. Bears sleep away the winter, holing up and conserving the food stored in their bodies by achieving a semi-dead state. Cats can do that whenever it suits them. And it's a lot easier for them than reading. It's hard, given their stubby little hands, for cats to hold the books.
But unconscious cats do have their uses. They are better couch decorations than ordinary throw pillows. And there's nothing better than a sleeping cat for polishing a hardwood floor.
Sure, a thing like that could be awful for them, but they sleep through it.
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