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Biography of The Cat from St.Petersburg '''The Cat from St. Petersburg'''
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Hunting for fungi with your cat'''Hunting for Fungi With Your Cat '''
  
Shoelace was probably born in a thriving feral cat colony livingin the courtyard of some old brick apartment blocks on the East side of Pilutova Street inthe farthest Southwest corner of St. Petersburg. It was the beginning of July, 1994, and Ihad just arrived in Russia. I was taking a year's leave from the University of AlaskaFairbanks, where I work as the costume designer and a professor of theatre. I landed atthe home of my friend, Milla an artist, who happened to live on theWest side of Pilutova street, at what would be (in American size blocks), about a half ablock distance from the "Courtyard of Cats".
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''This Article appeared in Mushroomingin 1996''
  
I planned on staying with Milla for a few days `till I found anapartment. I ended up renting a room from her for the whole year, and we became constantsidekicks. As we returned home one night at the end of the month, a tiny one month oldtabby cat, liberally coated with fleas, halted our entrance to the building by placing herclaws in the bottom of my jeans, yowling, and refusing to let me budge. I was never a"cat person" but one would need to be an audio-animatronic dummy at Disney to beoblivious to such a plea. On the ground around her was a shoe box, crudely made into asort of home-made doll bed out of grass and leaves, and next to it was a bowl like a catdish---also filled with grass. It was immediately obvious what had happened:
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Those who read
  
We had a sort of feral-child colony in our own building yard, abunch of 2-4 year old kids with shaved heads and torn clothes who had alcoholic parentswho ignored them all day. These kids played together with the toys they could pick up fromthe dumpster, they wandered the neighborhood throwing sticks for the stray dogs, andmucked about in the "park" next to the building making mudpies. Clearly the tinycat got separated from her mother, meowed, as cats do to give mom a sonic bearing on herlocation, and the tots intercepted her, "rescuing" a lost cat. So they tried tomake her a little bed, and to feed her (they'd obviously seen cats chewing grass), andleft her outside the building door, since the drunken parental units were unwelcoming.
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[[Travel00pagesMushroom|"Mushroom Hunting ata Russian Dacha"]] in the Winter 1995-96 issue of Mushrooming might justpossibly wonder about whatever happened to my Russian cat, Shoelace, when I returned tothe USA. As it happens, the US Government is amazingly broad-minded about cat importation.The Customs inspector only checked to see that she was a cat and alive, and so passed herwith all federal blessings. Even the USDA beagle took no exception to her immigration. So,full-grown by this time, she now resides with me in Alaska where she commutes daily to UAFwhere I work.
  
So we found her. Milla, who, being a "cat person" tookcharge, brought her up with us, cooked her an omelet, determined her sex, and then, whenthe cat had decided to sleep in the shoe-rack, named her Shoelace. Two days later the catwas sleeping in my bed, not the shoe-rack, and I was in love. Like most non-"catpeople" I had no clue how the little furry beasts manage to work their way into yourheart. So, Milla and I made her cat toys, and  
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Shoelace was originally adopted when she was about a month old,in July of 1994. She was starving, heavily limping, had around 100 fleas and an eyeinfection, and was probably part of a nearby urban feral cat colony. Russians darn nearworship cats, and routinely tolerate and feed feral colonies in their apartment blocks.Many do this despite living in poverty themselves. While most American kittens inShoelace's appalling condition would have fled from humans in fear, Russian cats know theyare a privileged species, and so Shoelace, finding me in her path late one night, stuckher claws into the cuffs of my Levi's and vociferously demanded to be fed.
  
[[Tara1pagesCatart1|designed more]],beyond our means to make, and the cat learned useful tricks like climbing the drapes,climbing me, and sitting on my head to play with the "chandelier".
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By the time of my first mushroom foray, Shoelace was anextremely healthy kitten of 3 months, with only a mild (permanent) limp and agoraphobia tomark her difficult babyhood. During the trip to the woods I tried to coax her into gettingover her phobia (cat therapy!), and I had a mild success. Shoelace would actually runaround outside, (within about 20 feet of the dacha) in any direction. Unfortunately,before I and Milla (my landlady/roommate) could get her to the woods again, Winterintervened, and we were back to square one, with a neurotic indoor cat.
  
[[File:TravelRussiaMilalamp.gif]]
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In July of 1995, with Shoelace now a year old, I returned to theUS via my parents home in California. Happily, the sunshine, security of my parent'sbackyard, and neighborhood cats, all conspired to lure the cat out into the real worldagain, and within one month she was leaping from tree to tree like Tarzan, barely beingcoaxed into the house at night with bribes of Fancy Feast. At last she had overcome theneuroses caused by her early life (cat self-actualization!). In August, in Alaska (wheremy job is) I was then faced with another problem. The only place I could rent was anapartment without a yard. I'd developed a liking for the outdoors in my cat, and thencouldn't safely provide it.
  
In August I made the cat a special hat for head climbing, and wore it down to the street, whereupon the feral-children pointed andsaid "It's our cat!" And were much amused to see that the crazy American ladywith the painted clothes had the missing cat, alive and well, on her head.  
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This was when I decided to see if I could get the cat to comemushroom hunting with me. Milla had married an American student of mine the previousJanuary and was living in the woods near Fairbanks.
  
[[File:PhotoalbumCat92917_10.jpg]]
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[[File:TravelAlaska92872_12.jpg]]
  
The cat, however, was not amused at either the outdoors or thechildren, so I cut her visit short.
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Since it was the height of the Alaskan Mushroom season, sheinvited me and the cat to come visit.
  
Shoelace's only scars from her difficult kittenhood experienceswere a slight limp and a strong agoraphobia, the latter of which we attempted to alleviatein September by a weekend visit for a
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[[File:TravelAlaska92872_15.jpg]]
  
[[Travel00pagesMushroom|Mushroom Hunt]] at afriend's dacha. Shoelace learned to step out of doors in the three days there, and wouldgo as far as 15 feet in any direction from the cabin to hunt bugs.
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I bought bright orange "hunter" fabric and madeShoelace (who is a tiny grey tabby, easily lost) a neck scarf. At Milla's we tried gettingher to follow us into the woods, but she kept trying to hide under the car or house.Eventually we grabbed her and walked about 50 yards from the house before putting her onthe ground.
  
[[File:PhotoalbumCat92917_09.jpg]] Click Image to see Shoelace's window bag of screening,which I devised so she could sit on Milla's 8th floor balcony without danger of falling.Years before, Milla had a cat that fell from the balcony and lived!
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[[File:TravelAlaska92872_18.jpg]]
  
Shoelace and I stayed in Russia for a year. She got neutered ata nice Russian clinic where she was later also immunized and given medical papers fortravel by Finnair, (and for Russian customs regulations.) Russian customs gave her a briefand friendly examination to ensure she was not an endangered species being smuggled outfor nefarious purposes then gave us a big official looking form for export with lots ofstamps and signatures, that was the delight of all the customs officials for the durationof our trip.
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This got her to happily follow us if we kept to a slow pace andperiodically "meowed" our direction at her. All went well for over two hours offoraging. Shoelace gleefully leaped from fallen log to rock to stump, sniffed fungi andberries, and generally seemed to have a good time.
  
After a night's stopover in Finland we flew to San Francisco.European airlines are much more decent than U.S. ones in their treatment of cats: Shoelacewas assigned her own seat, and got to sit in it, or in my lap, for all but takeoff andlanding. Attentive stewardi brought her milk.
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[[File:TravelAlaska92872_21.jpg]]
  
In California she was not even required to leave her carrier forimport to the U.S.; minutes after customs we were being driven by my Dad to Terra Linda inthe family Pickup truck. In California, Shoelace immediately overcame her agoraphobiainher eagerness to climb trees. For a month in Terra Linda she imitated Tarzan to my Mom'spanic and my amazement. She was so addicted to the outdoors that when we moved to anapartment in Alaska I learned how to take her on
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However, after two hours her limp reappeared, she got out ofbreath, and she'd hide under stumps and yowl her complaints. In vain did I try to bribeher with cat treats, in vain did I tell her we were heading home. Time after time she'drun and hide and refuse to budge. Finally I just caught her, stuffed her in my coat andcarried her back to the car. I never was dumb enough to take her out for longer than twohours again, even cats have hiking limits.
  
[[Tara1pagesCathunt|trips to the woods]],so she could get her thrills in while I mushroomed in the forest.
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Other mistakes I made at different times include choosing anarea to forage that was too close to a inhabited area. Noisy traffic on one side of aforested strip caused her to bolt under a fence on the other side. I spent hoursburglarizing my way into a used auto parts yard and hunting her out from under bits ofdead cars. Parking one's own car too far away from the edge of the forest, or in a noisy,near traffic area, also makes it much harder to coax the cat into the car when you aredone. Even cats who drive every day like mine don't like car-riding, and any excuse(noise, traffic, open spaces, etc.) is enough for them to avoid getting in the car whenyou want them to.
  
When the snow fell, Shoelace had to be an indoor cat again, andso she trained me to play with her in an assortment of cat aerobics: bead hockey, rubberband retrieval, fling the mousie, cat tag, spin the kitty, sunbeam chasing, etc....
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Despite these problems, I continued to forage with Shoelace tothe end of the mushroom season, because she so obviously enjoyed it. On the drive to andfrom work in September she'd look longingly out the window at the passing woods, and"meow" her desire to stop at the trees and not the buildings. Periodically,she'd escape from the car when I'd parked near trees, and lead me on a chase into theforest. These trips being unplanned, would inevitably be ill-timed and hairraisinglydangerous, but she loved them.
  
[[File:PhotoalbumCatCatincar.jpg]] Shoelace commutes (with Tara in her van)to the  
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With some degree of circumspection, however, you can take yourcat foraging with you. First, you need to mark the cat by giving her a hunter's orangescarf and safety pinning it to her collar so it won't invert, tripping her. Attach thistightly, since a loose scarf will get a paw caught in it on a leap. If she doesn't have anoisy collar tag, it also will help to bell her so you can find her in thick shrubbery.It's best if you also dress brightly and noisily, so the cat can see and hear you withoutyou having to "meow" for two hours at a stretch. Try to find areas that areremote, unpopulated, and dog-free. Wild animals, being afraid of humans, will usually keepout of your (and therefore your cat's) way, but domesticated animals don't. Other unknownhumans can also frighten or confuse your cat and keep them in hiding, leading tofrustration and wasted time.
  
[[ClassesUafcostumeshopUafcostweb|UAF costume shop]] some days.She still hates driving, but tolerates it to get to work or the woods.
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Each cat has an optimum time stretch it will walk. It's nearlyimpossible to get your cat to go back in the car till it's tired, but it will refuse to gofurther once it's tired out. Practice will let you know your cat's time limit, and youwill need to forage in a circle that leads back to your transport just as kitty conks out.A cat's pace, unlike a dog's, is perfect for foraging, neither too fast nor too slow. Thecat, being shorter, will also decide to cut uncomfortable paths through low dampshrubbery, and you will be forced to follow her. This is actually rather beneficial: Ican't count the number of times Shoelace has wandered into a thorny thicket and refused tocome out till I go in after her. I shout "When I get you I'm going to stuff you inthe basket!" then I literally crawl my way through the twigs to find her calmlysitting among a clutch of fresh boletes. I don't think she sniffs them out like a trufflepig, but cats do naturally gravitate towards the kind of low overhanging spaces boletesthrive in.
  
[[File:PhotoalbumCatCatinbox.jpg]] Shoelace's favorite hangoutat work is in the fur scrap box on a high shelf, where she often naps in the lateafternoon.
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Now that I understand her "rules", I find Shoelace ismy best foraging partner. She never snatches up the best mushrooms before I do, she neverwants to walk us into a swamp, she never tires me out, or minds if we sit and take abreak, or talks, or minds if I talk. We take turns leading, but don't get lost, within twohours (by which time I can't carry any more anyway) she wants a rest, in all, the perfectsidekick.
  
[[File:ComputerBarsCatbar.jpg]]
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Back to
  
Shoelace 1994-2005
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[[Tara1pagesCat|Shoelace; The Costume Shop Cat]]
  
Shoelace has died.Wejust yesterday got the bad news from the vet who thought at most she had a monthor two to live from a fast-growing inoperable tumor.Today she died at home in my arms, "From complications ofsurgery" as they say, about an hour after coming home.Although between tests, X-rays, and surgery, we have had a little over aweek to prepare for this awful news, the blow is still hitting just as hard asI’d always feared it would.
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==Product Links==
  
[[File:PhotoalbumCatLast_picture_of_shoelace.jpg]]The last photo of Shoelace, the night before her surgery, 3/14/05
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[[File:AmazonOtherLittermaid.jpg|link=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005OU62/thecostumersmani| LitterMaid Automatic Self-Cleaning Litter Box]]  LitterMaid Automatic Self-Cleaning Litter Box
  
Shoelace came into my life at a point where I was sorock-bottom in my emotional life I had actually decided to take a year off fromwork, go to Russia, and live like a hippie till I figured out how to not bedepressed all the time.The year inRussia did in fact pull me up and out of my funk, largely due to Shoelaceadopting me when I had been there a month.I wrote my play "Kiosk Man" two days after she adopted me, andI've had a pretty steady stream of inspiration and mental health since sheentered my life nearly 11 years ago. I am justifiably petrified that I’m aboutto be flung back into the pit, most especially since I’ve been pretty muchfighting an uphill battle for staying cheerful this last year between my owncase of cancer, another family cancer, my (possible but never able to bepinned down) heart problems, the onset of menopause, and of course, theelection.
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[[File:AmazonBooks6Ultimatestickerbookcat.jpg|link=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1564582418/thecostumersmani| Ultimate Sticker Book: Cat]]  Ultimate Sticker Book: Cat
  
Keeping a smile pasted on my face has been hard, yetShoelace has unquestionably been my shield against unhappiness taking over mylife, as she has been for over 10 years now.When I went to Russia my life was so alone and loveless I could barelycope to get through the semester preceding my trip.I tried to make a bargain with the universe and myself: Iwanted to love someone and finally have him (or even her) love me back.I told myself I wouldn’t quibble over who it was, whether he was goodlooking, financially secure, willing to be faithful, even not a he, etc. Nolimitations, just accepting it if I found it.Instead it found me one night as I walked home and consisted of about 8oz of flea ridden starving street kitten with an attitude like a spoiledprincess.I thought it ironic, asit became apparent that it was what it was, that my “true love” should turnout to be a cat, but I accepted it. However knowing her life was likely to beshorter than mine, every loving glance, every play session, every good moment,was slightly shadowed with the fear of this horrible moment when it should cometo knowing it was her end.
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[[File:AmazonBooks9Mushroombook.jpeg|link=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0789410737/thecostumersmani| Mushroom Book]]  Mushroom Book
  
And now it has come.Ifelt last night as though I wanted to grab her and run away, away from thisawful thing that would hurt and kill her.Iwished there was an afterlife so we could go there together.All night while she was recovering from her surgery at the vet I missedher physical presence the same way I’ve missed it any time I’ve had totravel away from her---yet ten times worse, knowing that soon I would never holdher again.Now, with her death, Ifeel like love has truly left my life for good.Shoelace’s expressive face, her adventurous attitude, her demandingpersonality and high intelligence all made her more human-like than cat like.It is like having a S.O. die, not a pet.I speak from experience, I’ve buried many birds, fish, rats, mice, andthe great dog I grew up with, and even he never came close to being anemotionally equal partner like this tiny (7 lbs) cat has.
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[[File:AmazonBooks9Mushroomsdemystified.jpeg|link=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0898151694/thecostumersmani| Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi]] Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi
 
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I want to tell you stories to illustrate how wonderful shewas, but they are all inadequate.Thereis the fact that she would jump through the air through a hoop in the costumeshop for the fun of showing off, or that she figured out how to escape from ouroriginal plastic-fencing enclosed cat porch by climbing it, hooking her limbsthrough the holes, like a marine climbing cargo netting, or when she saved myneck by alerting me to a kitchen fire like a feline “Lassie”, or how sheliked as a kitten to be swung gently in a pillowcase, or climb and balance onthe top of my head.But those areall parlor-tricks.The real thingis her clear-eyed stare at you from across a room that said “I love watchingyou”, and the loud purr she makes when you picked her up and cradled her onher back like a baby, staring at one with loving and intelligent eyes.Her love rescued me from the lonely sadness that plagued me a decade ago,and now I don’t know what I will do without her.
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Just two nights ago, before her surgery I coaxed her intoplaying with the “bed mouse” (my toes wiggling under the covers) and sheseemed so much her usual happy self.Peopleare always telling me how lucky Shoelace was to have found me, yet I alwaysobject when they do.I’ve alwaysknown that the luck was mostly on my side.She was love and happiness incarnate, her gaze all unconditional love,her purr the most instantly heartwarming thing I’ve ever heard.
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Please don't send condolences, I can't handle it.Just find someone you love and remember since you won't have them foreveryou need to tell them now, and every day you have them, how much you love them.I did this with Shoelace and it is the only thing making all thisbearable.
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Tara Maginnis, 3/16/05
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A letter to a friend (sent in reply to a letter of concern)one week later:
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Please don’t panic.I did, after all, write that letter the night my Shoelace died.In the world I live in (theatre people, artists, etc.) the necessity ofbeing able to share and clearly articulate matters of emotional importance is amajor part of what we do.Shoelacewas the official mascot of our theatre, and known to most of the older studentsvery well.Her passing, and anyunusual behavior on my part such as crying at odd moments (I’m considered oneof the most unflappable folks where I work) or snapping at anyone, requiresexplanation.Hence my sharing thebad news was the sort of thing that barely caused a ripple among our set.
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I routinely get verbal monologues of angst (and otheremotions) from my fellow faculty, and the students, at normal group occasionslike dept meetings, birthday parties, post mortems (post show analysismeetings), in classes, while passing in the hall, etc.This is not to say there is weeping or hysterics, rather there is clear,heartfelt, articulation of one’s feelings and ideas, and discussion andanalysis about where these feelings fit into one’s sense of self, of one’ssystem of belief, and in one’s life choices.One’s deepest most intense feelings are, after all, the raw materialfrom which we all work to make art, so taking these feelings and bringing themup for discussion, in my experience, is not only a great way to get a grip onthings and bond, but also a great way for us all to make better art.This sounds more cold-blooded than it is, but it is perfectly true thatany artist in theatre who actually is an artist will take whatever pain lifegives them and try to find a way to use it to create something moreconstructive.
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So, as a result of my sending this letter out to ourstudents, and by my being open in my classes this week about my feelings, I’vehad several good discussions with students I’ve had little emotional contactwith previously who connected with me on this matter because of also goingthrough similar feelings themselves with pets and/or people.A former student wrote to tell me he had spent his evening following myinstructions and spent hours hugging and bonding with his wife, baby son, andtwo cats, then went on to say I should write a book or play on my story withShoelace.Far from being alienatedfrom my fellow humans because of my feelings, expressing them in this mannergives me the chance to connect to others who have similar feelings.I can also, by articulating these feelings in a sincere way and sharingthem, help others who have these feelings, yet who can’t easily find words toexpress what they feel.They readit and think, “That is just how I felt when my dog died” or whatever, and itis comforting to know that there are others who understand, who have felt thesame pain, and who ultimately heal.
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I feel that I have healed a good deal in the weeksince she died (even though there is far to go yet) since today I was able toview a video I’d taken of her 2 days before she died (I needed to advance thevideo so I could tape record something without taping over that clip) not onlywithout crying, but with fondness, and even a bit of joy.It called to mind her as a living being, who was wonderful,and who I was lucky to know, rather than the image I had of her at the very endwhere she was suffering from her surgery.Icould speak of her calmly and fondly to a class of students and be left onlywith a warm feeling to be thinking of her.I not only find that I can look at pictures of her (and othercats) without pain, but that looking at these things helps lessen the pain.Soon, very soon I think, there won’t be pain at all, just rememberedhappiness at her incredibly positive effect on my life.
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I probably will end up writing a book about the year sheadopted me in Russia (I’ve always thought I would, I am just waiting for theperspective of time to make sense of it) since it was such an artistic andemotional re-birth for me with long-reaching consequences.I also kept a detailed daily diary at the time, which I have beenrereading as a method of coping.WhatI’d never noticed before in the chronology was how much her actions towards mehad a tendency to generate art.WhileKiosk Man (my play) was largely inspired by my friend Andrei, I actually wroteit 2 days after she entered my life, while she slept in my overall breast pocketover my heart.My diary entries forthe year all go like “played with the cat for an hour, then wrote a newchapter for
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[[Advice1pagesIndexm|The Manifesto]]” or“Cold today so I sat in the kitchen and wrote a Press article with the cat inmy lap”.Nearly every outputexcept for photos taken at sites away from my apt is tied to a cat “nudge”of affection.I worry a bit thatwith my furry “muse” gone that I’ll find it harder to create for a while,but ultimately I know that the change she made in me was permanent.
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I am very far from closing my heart to others overthis; on the contrary I’m hoping to keep a bit of a rein on my actions in thenext few months so I don’t either get a boyfriend or another cat “on therebound”.I am hoping I can waitfor this to happen naturally once I don’t still feel a dull pain when I comehome and she isn’t at the door or when I wake up and realize she’s not atthe foot of my bed.It would becolossally unfair to whoever follows in my life to start up a new relationshipbefore I’ve had time to mourn the loss of this old one.
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I definitely don’t believe in any excess of feeling sorryfor one’s self.It is a stupid,helpless, whiny way of dealing with the world.It is also, in this instance, wholly inappropriate.I was so flipping LUCKY to have had her as long as I did.In fact I told her every day ''“I am the most fortunate of humans tohave such a princess of kittyness who has chosen me as her handmaiden. Woodgie,woodgie, woodgie…”'' and similar nonsense sounding phrases.The thing is, I never really thought of it as nonsense.I meant every bit of it.Istill do.Every crumb of love weget in the world is a feast.Onlyidiots nitpick and want it perfect.(Ofcourse the world is filled with idiots who do exactly that).
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In my “perfect” universe I will someday find someone tolove best who will do as Shoelace did: stretch me as a person, convince meto do things I did not think possible, introduce me to new ways of feeling,thinking, etc.I honestly don’tcare if he is well off, sober, faithful or fits into some sort of mold.Indeed it is better if he is as unusual and surprising as possible, wartsand all.A fun female friend isworth loving too.And as for cats…
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There will never be another Shoelace.She was unique.But I certainly do not believe she will forever be the onlycat to make my life better.Hertremendous force of personality was an appropriate thing to pull my life intofocus at the time, at other ages and other times perhaps another cat will demandof me something similar, or different, but that will be her/his choice. InRussia they say “You do not adopt a cat, a cat adopts you”. I believe it.I’m just so glad she did adopt me, did help me through so many roughemotional times, did love me and let me love her back.And in over 10 years together we were never bored with each other.Love, in addition to being patient, kind, un-envious, un-jealous,protective, etc, is by its nature not boring.We can never grow tired of telling those who we love that we love them,and we can never grow tired of hearing it.
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Our stage director lately keeps telling us about howChekhov’s wife, actress Olga Knipper, (who because of living in a differentcity from her husband spent most of her marriage writing him each day,)continued to write him daily for two months after learning he had died.I find myself saying “I love you” to Shoelace’s photos around thehouse the way I would to her when she was alive, because it still feels good tosay it.If, as one of my friendsput it “She is hacking up hairballs in heaven” she might like it, and ifnot, it does no harm.
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Thanksby the way for writing with such concern for what may seem to be such a smallmatter as the death of a cat.I doappreciate the concern, and your sentiments, and always have.I enjoy all your letters and do in fact think we have much in common.3/24/05
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[[File:PhotoalbumCat09703_15.jpg]] Shoelace in 1996 at about 2 years old, relaxing after a "household"(non-purebred) cat show with her prizes.
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[[File:PhotoalbumCat09703_16.jpg]] Kitty's decorated box forthe show, done in the style of a star's dressing room c.1900, with mirror, bouquets,"makeup box" of cat treats, and electrified chandelier.
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[[File:PhotoalbumCat09703_17.jpg]] Gilded wall photos in the box were a subtle UAFadvertisement showing scenes from
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[[Shows100pagesDrood|The Mystery of Edwin Drood]], ourmusical playing the same weekend as the cat show.
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==Product Links==
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Revision as of 01:35, 23 January 2014

Hunting for fungi with your catHunting for Fungi With Your Cat

This Article appeared in Mushroomingin 1996

Those who read

"Mushroom Hunting ata Russian Dacha" in the Winter 1995-96 issue of Mushrooming might justpossibly wonder about whatever happened to my Russian cat, Shoelace, when I returned tothe USA. As it happens, the US Government is amazingly broad-minded about cat importation.The Customs inspector only checked to see that she was a cat and alive, and so passed herwith all federal blessings. Even the USDA beagle took no exception to her immigration. So,full-grown by this time, she now resides with me in Alaska where she commutes daily to UAFwhere I work.

Shoelace was originally adopted when she was about a month old,in July of 1994. She was starving, heavily limping, had around 100 fleas and an eyeinfection, and was probably part of a nearby urban feral cat colony. Russians darn nearworship cats, and routinely tolerate and feed feral colonies in their apartment blocks.Many do this despite living in poverty themselves. While most American kittens inShoelace's appalling condition would have fled from humans in fear, Russian cats know theyare a privileged species, and so Shoelace, finding me in her path late one night, stuckher claws into the cuffs of my Levi's and vociferously demanded to be fed.

By the time of my first mushroom foray, Shoelace was anextremely healthy kitten of 3 months, with only a mild (permanent) limp and agoraphobia tomark her difficult babyhood. During the trip to the woods I tried to coax her into gettingover her phobia (cat therapy!), and I had a mild success. Shoelace would actually runaround outside, (within about 20 feet of the dacha) in any direction. Unfortunately,before I and Milla (my landlady/roommate) could get her to the woods again, Winterintervened, and we were back to square one, with a neurotic indoor cat.

In July of 1995, with Shoelace now a year old, I returned to theUS via my parents home in California. Happily, the sunshine, security of my parent'sbackyard, and neighborhood cats, all conspired to lure the cat out into the real worldagain, and within one month she was leaping from tree to tree like Tarzan, barely beingcoaxed into the house at night with bribes of Fancy Feast. At last she had overcome theneuroses caused by her early life (cat self-actualization!). In August, in Alaska (wheremy job is) I was then faced with another problem. The only place I could rent was anapartment without a yard. I'd developed a liking for the outdoors in my cat, and thencouldn't safely provide it.

This was when I decided to see if I could get the cat to comemushroom hunting with me. Milla had married an American student of mine the previousJanuary and was living in the woods near Fairbanks.

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Since it was the height of the Alaskan Mushroom season, sheinvited me and the cat to come visit.

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I bought bright orange "hunter" fabric and madeShoelace (who is a tiny grey tabby, easily lost) a neck scarf. At Milla's we tried gettingher to follow us into the woods, but she kept trying to hide under the car or house.Eventually we grabbed her and walked about 50 yards from the house before putting her onthe ground.

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This got her to happily follow us if we kept to a slow pace andperiodically "meowed" our direction at her. All went well for over two hours offoraging. Shoelace gleefully leaped from fallen log to rock to stump, sniffed fungi andberries, and generally seemed to have a good time.

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However, after two hours her limp reappeared, she got out ofbreath, and she'd hide under stumps and yowl her complaints. In vain did I try to bribeher with cat treats, in vain did I tell her we were heading home. Time after time she'drun and hide and refuse to budge. Finally I just caught her, stuffed her in my coat andcarried her back to the car. I never was dumb enough to take her out for longer than twohours again, even cats have hiking limits.

Other mistakes I made at different times include choosing anarea to forage that was too close to a inhabited area. Noisy traffic on one side of aforested strip caused her to bolt under a fence on the other side. I spent hoursburglarizing my way into a used auto parts yard and hunting her out from under bits ofdead cars. Parking one's own car too far away from the edge of the forest, or in a noisy,near traffic area, also makes it much harder to coax the cat into the car when you aredone. Even cats who drive every day like mine don't like car-riding, and any excuse(noise, traffic, open spaces, etc.) is enough for them to avoid getting in the car whenyou want them to.

Despite these problems, I continued to forage with Shoelace tothe end of the mushroom season, because she so obviously enjoyed it. On the drive to andfrom work in September she'd look longingly out the window at the passing woods, and"meow" her desire to stop at the trees and not the buildings. Periodically,she'd escape from the car when I'd parked near trees, and lead me on a chase into theforest. These trips being unplanned, would inevitably be ill-timed and hairraisinglydangerous, but she loved them.

With some degree of circumspection, however, you can take yourcat foraging with you. First, you need to mark the cat by giving her a hunter's orangescarf and safety pinning it to her collar so it won't invert, tripping her. Attach thistightly, since a loose scarf will get a paw caught in it on a leap. If she doesn't have anoisy collar tag, it also will help to bell her so you can find her in thick shrubbery.It's best if you also dress brightly and noisily, so the cat can see and hear you withoutyou having to "meow" for two hours at a stretch. Try to find areas that areremote, unpopulated, and dog-free. Wild animals, being afraid of humans, will usually keepout of your (and therefore your cat's) way, but domesticated animals don't. Other unknownhumans can also frighten or confuse your cat and keep them in hiding, leading tofrustration and wasted time.

Each cat has an optimum time stretch it will walk. It's nearlyimpossible to get your cat to go back in the car till it's tired, but it will refuse to gofurther once it's tired out. Practice will let you know your cat's time limit, and youwill need to forage in a circle that leads back to your transport just as kitty conks out.A cat's pace, unlike a dog's, is perfect for foraging, neither too fast nor too slow. Thecat, being shorter, will also decide to cut uncomfortable paths through low dampshrubbery, and you will be forced to follow her. This is actually rather beneficial: Ican't count the number of times Shoelace has wandered into a thorny thicket and refused tocome out till I go in after her. I shout "When I get you I'm going to stuff you inthe basket!" then I literally crawl my way through the twigs to find her calmlysitting among a clutch of fresh boletes. I don't think she sniffs them out like a trufflepig, but cats do naturally gravitate towards the kind of low overhanging spaces boletesthrive in.

Now that I understand her "rules", I find Shoelace ismy best foraging partner. She never snatches up the best mushrooms before I do, she neverwants to walk us into a swamp, she never tires me out, or minds if we sit and take abreak, or talks, or minds if I talk. We take turns leading, but don't get lost, within twohours (by which time I can't carry any more anyway) she wants a rest, in all, the perfectsidekick.

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Shoelace; The Costume Shop Cat

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