Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Art of Cats and Beanie Feels

Back in Colorado, my parents (and previously, me) have two cats and a dog, each of which has its own distinct personality and habits. 

One of the cats, though, also has a very, very strange pastime. It's bizarre. Almost...surreal. 

"Meowrp, Salvador Dali speaks to me in my cat-dreams."  

At night, she takes Beanie Babies (remember those?) from a massive basket where my old collection of them is kept, and she spreads them around the house in ornate designs. 

No, seriously. She does. This eight-pound cat spends every night making countless trips from the beanie basket to every corner of the house, carrying bean-filled animals in her mouth and carefully posing them in precise patterns and displays. 

Don't believe me? 

This is where they start. 
"We are bears, but could potentially double as weight-bearing pillars. Because bears. Bearing. Get it?"
"The annual G8 Beanie Summit is hereby called to order."
We thought, at first, that she was only pulling out animals she recognized from real life, like cats, dogs, and snakes. But then...

"Dude, did you hear about Kenny? His wife put flame retardant in his coffee." "No!"
#beingstoicandmagic #hellsyea
"Why are we on land? Our weight will kill us here." 

She has definitely not encountered dragons in real life, unless she has way more exciting days than I do. You'll probably also notice that she places beanies in piles of similar kinds, like shape, species, or color. This is pretty consistently true of what we've come to call her "art," though sometimes she opts for more complicated patterns instead. These usually involve the stairs. 

High art is all black and white these days. 
"Is it Christmas yet?"
"But Avalon," you might say, as you waggle your finger disparagingly at the computer screen, because I know the type of people who read my blog, "This is utter nonsense. There is no way that cat does that. This is a hoax. Cease your idle shenanigans, woman!"

And yet, it's all true. Her record in one night is a whopping 67 beanies, which, when you consider she's wandering around carrying in her mouth something that weighs probably a statistically not insignificant portion of her body weight, is pretty remarkable. I don't think I could do that. I wonder what the human equivalent would be. Maybe me wandering around my house carrying various bean bag chairs in my mouth, placing them in patterns according to color? How wild would that be? 

More remarkable, though, are the displays she creates which clearly, undeniably, represent other things. In the house, there are three pets: a gray cat (the artiste), a multicolored tortoiseshell cat, and a brown-and-white Australian shepherd. This is the most common combination of beanies she creates: 

In case you're super bad at paying attention, those are clearly beanie forms of a gray cat, a brown cat, and a brown-and-white dog. I don't really know how anyone could argue that, but just in case you were rearin' to, I bring my cats to visit CO twice a year or so. When I do, Charade's art changes a bit. 

See those leopard twins? They always show up when I bring my cats to CO (or, really, just whenever I visit, with or without my kitties). 

Now, you may have registered that those beanies seem to be in something like a circle. Charade, it seems, has a pretty great understanding of geometry. She also tends to, for whatever reason, associate my presence in the house with three specific beanie babies: an owl in a graduation cap, which I find flattering, and twin cuckoos, which she moves closer and closer to me each night, even though we put the beanies away each morning. 

Outside my door. 
Inside my door. 
In my friggin' shoes.

But the owl beanie clearly, somehow, in her magnificent artistic cat world, is me. Every time I come home, this greets me the morning after my arrival: 

It's a grand circle of beanie celebration! Educated-Owl-Person has returned!
And, sometimes, the owl gets real up close and personal overnight: 

Charade is truly an incredible specimen, with, as we like to say, a "rich inner life," much like Walter Mitty. Her experiementation with beanie art started slowly – so slowly we barely registered it. We thought we had just failed to put stuff away well, or that the dog was moving them around at night. But they started to become more in number and in the complication of their positioning, until we began to try to figure out what was going on. One night, we set up a motion-activated camera in the living room to try to catch her in the act, but her movements were so slight and close to the ground that the camera never picked them up. 

Eventually, after many confused, beanie-strewn mornings, we caught her in the act, late one night, as she carried a beanie across the house in her teeth. She had been talking at it, like a mother cat might to a kitten, yowling through her clenched jaw into its beanie hide. Then she saw us watching her, and she froze. Fear and horror fled across her eyes as she realized she'd been found out, and she set the beanie down and ran. 

The presence of the beanies suggests a lot of things about a house cat's capacity to think, process, understand, and categorize. Clearly, she can differentiate between colors – and even shades of the same color. Obviously, she is self-aware enough to know what she looks like, and has a memory clear enough to tie now to before now, because sometimes little black dog beanies appear in her displays, and our last dog was black. She apparently connects abstract ideas, too, because the last time I checked, I was neither a cuckoo nor an owl in a mortarboard. Patterns and shapes seem to be things she can conceptualize of, as well, what with the bear-stairs and orca-piles. And in case you were wondering, all of the above photos were not hoarded and collected across a matter of months; I took them all over a span of four days while I was home for spring break. 

The beanie activity is heightened dramatically during periods of stress or joy in her cat-life. I'm home to visit? BEANIES OF JOY. I depart? BEANIES OF SADNESS. 

Pictured: Beanies of sadness. 
Anymore, the beanies come out almost every night, and she still doesn't like to be observed in the creation of her art. She does, though, deeply desire for her art to be recognized and appreciated. In the morning, when we get up, she always rushes to her beanie displays and sits daintily next to them, and then just stares at us until we begin to snap pictures, fawn over her, and discuss what each new piece might mean

And sometimes, if we don't get up early enough for her liking, she goes into my parents' bedroom, stands on my mom's shoulders, and begins to poke her face until she wakes up. Because art waits for no man – or cat. 


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