Wild Kingdom

Island Life


Many times when I have been out on the water or out on my bike or even out in the back yard, I have had the occasion to describe events seen and noted then and there as “wild kingdom moments”. This of course refers to that teevee show from the wayback with that host guy, Marlin Perkins, and the insurance company that sponsored him, and all those animals running around out in the Nature, doing their thing. In truth, I did not watch that show all that much, mostly because some of the moments of wildness shown on there involved the Darwinian takedown- the dominant species out on the hunt, with the grand finale winding things up with the catch. As I have this thing for the underdog, it was always a disappointment to me when the thing with the rippling muscles and the sharp claws and fangs ended the chase with dramatic finality. As I was generally rooting for the non-victor in these pursuits, this climax was always upsetting, and so I just chose to not watch, and I’m sure that Mutual of Omaha did just fine without my presence in Nielson’s ratings, and at that point of my development my parents were handling all the family insurance needs.

It was also such a moment in a human contest in that Throne Games show that permanently turned me off to the action and the story line there, which of course was “everybody dies”, so I should have seen it coming. But I think what it was that really shook me in that final instance was the false hope and the cruel dashing of it that sent me permanently packing from ever watching it again. It was the episode where there was the dramatic battle, a kind of duel or joust for some sort of honor, between the character known as the Mountain, and this other guy that had been somewhat of a jerk for most of the show up till then. The sheer mismatching of this contest in the sort of David and Goliath terms had me of course cheering the smaller guy on. In that grand scriptwriting tradition of juxtaposing fighting skills, the early stages of the fight amazingly did not look good for the giant in this case because of the speed and the cunning of the smaller man. The turning point came about when all looked in small guy’s favor, and then he blew it by being just a bit too sure of himself whilst letting everyone watching know it. This was the classic case of hubris screwing up one’s reality, as displayed by playing to the crowd while turning one’s back on one’s supposedly almost defeated opponent. He had it all, and then the Mountain had his hand around small guy’s ankle and then both hands around small guy’s head which eventually exploded like a Jack o’ Lantern. That was enough for me- I stopped watching after that and didn’t really care where it all went from there.

I know that it was a fiction, but the whole show up to that point had gotten me to thinking about human nature in general. The torture and cruelty that was on exhibit in that show was brutal. But then I remembered a room at Madame Tussauds’ wax museum in Niagara Falls that we had visited a few times in my youth while visiting relatives there. I believe there was a rack for stretching victims, and one of those things I believe was called an iron maiden that was somewhat mummy shaped and made of metal with two hinged doors on the front and knife blades all around, but fixed to the inside so that when the doors were closed on the person inside…. you get the picture. But the thing that really got me was the giant hook that pierced one wax victim’s abdomen from one side to the other as he hung from the ceiling by that hook and nothing else, as if he were so much fish bait. It was this primal exhibition of human cruelty that I flashed back on while viewing earlier episodes of Thrones, and it dawned on me that a certain reality derives from a certain imagination, and it was exceedingly upsetting to see where the human imagination leads to in terms of our fellow humans, no matter how inhuman the action might seem.

And so, rather than dwell on these Boschian visions, why not instead think of kittens- I have been lately. I believe it was eleven or so years ago we had two brother kittens arrive in a cardboard box, for lack of a proper cat carrier and expediency. And so it was, too, that literally right out of the box these two gray tabby brothers did battle with each other at the drop of a hat. It became such a regular event that I made a short video of them bopping each other, and set it to some 80’s punk rock. Kittens and punk, why not? But they didn’t fight all the time, and as the years went by it wasn’t uncommon to find both of them together in the rocking chair by the woodstove on a coolish winter night. I don’t really think there was active animosity between the two- there were just those special occasions where one or the other stepped over the line and a minor cat riot ensued.

They had namesakes in the real world. Wendy came up with the names Sebastien and Sylvain- borrowed from the Chavanel brothers, now both retired from the pro-cycling circuit. It could have been that Sylvain, the kitten, got his name because he was the more aggressive one. Sylvain the cyclist is the older of the two brothers, and the more accomplished. I can think of at least one time where he received the most aggressive ride accolade for a stage in the Tour de France for his performance out on the course that day- going out with the breakaway and relentlessly attacking the other riders in the break. Sebastien was not quite as accomplished a rider- Sebastien the cat was the much more subdued of our two brothers. He didn’t like being picked up, but he would relentlessly brush up against your legs in pursuit of a petting.

There were two ways Sebastien did distinguish himself. One was as a toilet paper retriever, the other as the alert system to let us know when the water bowl upstairs was tragically empty. In the times before toilet paper scarcity, Sebastien would on occasion follow me into the bathroom and insistently rub up against my legs while I was otherwise occupied on the throne of porcelain. What would satisfy him the most was if I would ball up an unused length of toilet paper and throw it out of the bathroom. He would then run off in pursuit, pounce on it and bring it back. At a closer range, I could toss the paper balls into the air and he would snag them with one or both paws and take it to the ground like a wide receiver on a route, and then proceed to dismember the “ball” with all four paws, claws out. This would go on for a while until, like when the mouse victim that no longer moved, he would walk off satisfied and find somewhere to nap.

And then there was that strange noise the came from the top of the stairs. First there was this high pitched sound not unlike fingernails on a blackboard. If that did not get the proper attention and requisite action, one would hear the intermittent sound of ceramic bowl scraping on wood floor. As it turned out, the first sound was Sebastien scraping his claws around the inside the bone dry bowl- one paw in a kind of circular motion from which the high pitched scritching sound would emanate. The second was Sebastien dragging the bowl across the floor, disgusted that no one had shown up yet to replenish his water supply.

All of that is seemingly over now. Sebastien has not been seen for a couple of days- coyote scat has been noted close to our house, and I found some this morning that had mostly gray hair in it. We have a fence around the back yard that keeps the dogs in, but I cut little portals in random places along  the bottom of the length of it so the cats could pass freely, since they never went very far and there has never really been a regular threat from predators. If anything, from the start both cats were always hyper-alert when they were outside, regularly running for cover when an aerial threat passed overhead. We always assumed they would be careful. We also liked the fact that whenever we left for short periods, one or both cats would be waiting for us at the head of the path to the house- the greeting cats is what we called them, and all they required was a brief hello and a pat on the head and they were good till the next time. For Sebastien, though, it seems there will be no next time. My head is full of wild kingdom visions that make his return mostly unlikely. It is another teevee episode of sorts that I did not want to see even though it keeps playing in my head. Sylvain is upset and seems to be avoiding the other side of the fence. Hopefully the coyotes will find other hunting ground, but I do not wish their feast of misfortune on anyone else. Life, and death, in the wild kingdom.