Snow had been falling throughout the night. Mercifully, the wind was gentle, barely discernible. It seemed the birds, who had scant pickings in this white wilderness, were not troubled at all by the persistent snowfall. Perhaps the absence of gales encouraged their adventurous spirit. Perhaps it wasn't desperation that drove them from the treetops and onto the cats' feeding dishes.
In good weather, I would often watch the nimble feathered creatures as they stole from the cats. It seemed always the birds were one step away from calamity. Every now and then a mangled mass of feathers and bone on the ground would testify to a gamble lost.
Today the cats were absent. Clever, those outdoor cats. They would wait until the worst of the storm was over and then amble to their dishes, which always reliably brimmed with food.
And so the birds ate with impunity, or so I thought. Then Orange Cat--I named them all by color because they were easier to identify that way--slunk out of its lair.
The birds, desperate for food, did not move. They pecked at the cat's dinner as though danger would never touch them. The cat stopped just feet from its dish.
I watched, almost breathless. The drama continued for at least ten minutes. Then the birds rose in unison and resumed their perches on icy tree limbs.
For all those ten minutes the cat was motionless, as though he had been invited to a show. I wonder sometimes if boredom does not set in when the cats huddle in their refuges during these storms. Perhaps the cat was more bored than hungry. Perhaps---can I think this without appearing to be naive?--the cat appreciated the wonder of nature, of survival as he endured the birds' theft of his dinner.
This is a mystery I will never solve. But that afternoon, all the ugliness of the winter day, all the suffering imposed by cold and power outages evaporated for me. In the cat, silent, tolerant witness I saw the other side of nature. Not brutality. Not cruelty, but a thing of wonder. A thing that for a least a few hours could fill me with a sense of loveliness.
Written in response to the Ink Well weekly challenge #3.