(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, April 1, 2017)
MUKONO, UGANDA ✦ One day Adam woke up and looked around and the place was his.
He saw the animals. “Lion,” he said, in a manner of speaking. Then “lamb.” And so forth. They all had good relationships. They were at peace, lying around together. It was Eden. My cat was telling me about it. He’s big on relationship.
You have to know this family cat. He’s the sort of cat who’d sharpen his claws on your chest, leave bloodied paw prints on your kitchen floor, then call them rose petals. That’s his idea of relationship.
Even so, when the cat talks, I try to listen and remind myself that there are worse things to imagine.
“The dog’s been in the paper,” is how the cat usually greets me. “Why can’t I be in the paper?”
“Wait your turn,” I always say.
“I’ve never had a photo in the paper. The dog’s had a photo. You like the dog better.”
But on this day the cat skipped his usual lamentations and simply shared his heart.
The cat’s name is Tiblets, or Tibs. Along with sharp claws, Tibs has sharp fangs. With our other pets, he’ll stay in Africa when my family returns to Canada. With open space, they all have a fine life in Africa. Even so, our impending departure may be making Tibs particularly talkative.
“You know,” he said, “we can do better for the world’s animals.”
Now, Tibs knows this world. He knows the world is red in tooth and claw. He knows about, say, those Hamilton-area pigs being watered by some sensitive spirit while being led like lambs (well, pigs) to bloody slaughter. He reads the papers.
So, emphatically and poetically, he outlined his case for a new holiday where everyone would stop and listen to what the planet’s animals have to say, and, for starters, stop eating them. “We’d call it World Day for Talking Animals,” he said.
“So will animals stop eating people too?” I asked. “What about you animals eating each other?”
“World Day for Talking Animals,” Tibs repeated. He looked at me. “Because, you know, it’s all about relationship.”
I wondered if humans couldn’t fix relationships with each other before moving to animals.
That’s when the cat spoke of Eden, and the great everything, and how it all went askew. “Someday we’ll return to it, a new earth,” he said. “But to be a creature on the earth now is to be beaten within an inch of your life.”
He talked of a World Wildlife Fund report he’d just read. Populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have plunged about 60 per cent since 1970 because of human activity. “Animals everywhere are disappearing.” I listened.
I recalled the day when, years ago, my newspaper of employ made an elephant disappear. It was Jumbo. Well, it was Jumbo’s statue. In St. Thomas. This mammoth cement Jumbo was photoshopped into thin air before the grand disappearance was published on front page. Police were investigating. It was April 1st.
This got Tibs going on about elephants and circuses and the recent demise of the Ringling Brothers circus. After 148 years. “Can you imagine, all those years of that?”
“At least people and animals were relating,” I said.
“April 1st,” Tibs continued, “is a fine choice for Talking Animal Day.”
“Because it’s for fools?” I said.
“Because fools see what others don’t,” he said.
Some days it’s easy to believe we’re all animals: blood and nerves and instincts and not much more. I told the cat.
So he shared some crazy, ancient Hebrew story from the Torah of some talking donkey. A fierce angelic presence blocked the donkey from a mountain pass. The donkey’s owner – his name was Balaam – unaware of the angel, beat the donkey. Repeatedly. Finally, the donkey spoke up. With words. Angry words.
“I see,” I said.
“So if God can speak through some ass, I don’t see why he can’t speak through me,” said the cat. He laid down and looked away.
I thought about it. The blood of death. The blood of life. Talking animals. A new holiday for them. I mean, really?
On the other hand, it wouldn’t make the world any more dangerous or strange than it is now.