Tag Archives: creatures

Cats and Comfort

Cats have always been a tremendous source of comfort to me. My experience of cats flags up many of the things I find problematic in my dealings with people.

Most cats are really uncomplicated. If you treat them with care and affection, they will reward you with care and affection. And sometimes leave mice in your shoes. Cats have never been bothered about my face, or my body shape, or how I dress. They just want to snuggle, or play, or eat my toast. When I have been sad, the cats in my life have generally been inclined to comfort me. They bring their warmth and their purrs. When I have been ill, they have sat with me. When I’ve been unable to sleep, they have kept me company.

Cats just respond one body to another, one living being to another. There’s a beautiful simplicity to it. In that gentle acceptance, I find peace, and I get to feel a bit better about myself. Cats generally find me ok. They find me adequate and tolerable and reasonable. I know many people have similar experiences with dogs, and horses and other creatures.

I wish humans were better at being creatures together. I wish we were more straightforward about needs, and the need for comfort. I wish we cared less about appearance and more about closeness and what we can share. You won’t impress a cat with a fast car – rather the opposite. So long as there is food and shelter, a cat really doesn’t care about your bank balance. It is not that difficult to be a good enough person for a cat to like, or love.

Animals generally aren’t interested in the kind of posturing humans go in for to try and impress other humans. They’re much more accepting of our diversity than we are. They are entirely willing to find us good enough, regardless of age or wrinkles, or how well we conform to human notions of beauty. They aren’t afraid to be excited when they are pleased to see us. They ask for food, and walks and affection and so forth with the confidence of beings who know these are needs that should be met and that asking is fine. And we don’t mind them asking, where we might feel put-upon or otherwise uncomfortable if a person asked us so bluntly for things they needed.

Creatures we live with are quick to forgive us our shortcomings and mistakes. They don’t bear grudges very often. They don’t save up grievances to air at some future date. What they want from us is simple, and they express it as clearly as they can. There’s so much they generously do not care about that we take such issue over when dealing with other humans.

If I was a cat, I would not need to ask for your attention or affection. I could just climb into your lap, and the odds are you would be pleased, in a really uncomplicated way. You would feel warmed and affirmed by my presence, not uneasy, compromised or threatened.  I wouldn’t seem difficult, even if I wanted a lot of affection and attention.  We don’t second guess cats. We don’t worry about their motives, or what they might expect from us.

If only we better knew how to be creatures for each other, how to accept each other and take joy in those small interactions.


Talking to the wild things

Here’s a typical scenario. We are walking, and there are deer in a nearby field. We stop to look at them and the deer become aware of the scrutiny and look round. The deer see us. If there’s something about our location or direction that bothers them, they may just leave, but often they don’t. Often they give it a little while and check us out. At this point one of us will normally speak to them, saying in a calm and clear voice that we mean them no harm, and we aren’t coming into their field. Usually at this point, the deer go back to whatever they were doing.

A squirrel who has stopped beyond arm’s reach doesn’t always run away when spoken to. The same with foxes. Sometimes also small birds. Without a doubt, some of it is about not making sudden and dramatic moves, and not doing anything else that suggests being a predator. However, I’ve talked to wild things many, many times and it is so often at the point after I’ve spoken that they go back to what they were doing, that I don’t think this is a coincidence.

The conventional wisdom (at least here in the UK where there are no bears!) is to be quiet to avoid startling wild creatures. When dealing with urban and semi-urban wildlife, it’s clear they are all well used to our noise. As long as we are engaged in human stuff and not heading their way, creatures are unfussed by us. I have noticed when walking that many people show no signs of seeing the wildlife around them, and that the wild things seem aware that they are effectively invisible. It’s when you notice them that they become alert and cautious.

I don’t imagine that the words matter, but the tone and intention does. Recognition that everyone has seen everyone else and that no one is trying to hide is probably part of this. Based on how they respond, I think the deer are a bit surprised by people who can see them. I think also over time they come to recognise us, and become less bothered by us seeing them.

When we ‘watch nature’ by being silent and observing, we’re casting ourselves as outsiders. When we talk to the wild things, we cast ourselves as part of their world, too. We stop imagining that we are different from them, and I think that’s better for everyone.


The validation of creatures

Often what I do when stressed or distressed is walk. The rhythm of it helps resettle my body, and the activity can help get the stress toxins out of my system. Green spaces are known to be good for mental health, and beyond that, there’s the powerful business of encountering.

I walked last night, with my husband and son, because I needed to try and clear my head and straighten my thoughts. We saw rabbits, deer, herons, a kingfisher, numerous small birds, fish, moths, bats… We got close to several of the herons, who opted to stay put and tolerate us moving through their territory. The deer watched us back. The bats flew close to our faces.

Wild things make their judgements in very different ways to humans. They judge our speed and direction, how loud or quiet we are, what kind of attention we pay to them. If they tolerate us it is because we are interesting and unthreatening. As far as I can tell, they do not care one jot about our body shapes, faces, bank balances, or social status.

To be in a space with creatures, to be in your creature body and in sympathy with wild things is a powerful kind of magic. It is one of the most affirming and healing things I know of. I have a lot of issues around how I deal with people, and whether I’m good enough. Last night reminded me that I am good enough for herons. Little grebes have no problem with me. Deer find me curious.

Domesticated creatures can be incredibly affirming too. The dog who rushes towards you, delighted by the mere fact of your presence, the cat who decides you are worth bothering with. The horse who comes over for a scratch. If a creature has the space to choose, and they choose to engage, it feels like a blessing, to me.

We humans make up a lot of stories and complications over who and what we are to each other and what it means, and what might be important. It’s exhausting, disorientating, and when you’re on the wrong end of it, painful. Sometimes it’s good to just go and hang out with a heron for a while.


Consenting Creatures

Last year I read a book called Becoming Nature and reviewed it for Spiral Nature (you can read the proper review here spiralnature.com/reviews/becoming-nature-tamarack-song/). Part of the reason I was interested was that it suggested a person could get to the point of being able to touch a wild animal. I’ve handled mice and birds when rescuing them, and hedgehogs for that matter, but I imagined being able to reach out a hand to a deer, and knowing how to do that seemed really appealing.

The author’s method turned out to be all about creeping up an animal, predator-style, and making contact before they know you are there. At this point I realised that I don’t want to sneak up and touch a creature. If I’m going to touch a wild thing outside of a rescue context, I want the wild thing to have consented.

Most usually what I end up touching – or being touched by – is insects. For them, I’m just terrain, and they land on me, or walk onto my hand if I need to move them. I’ve got some very friendly robins around the flat.  I’ve managed to get within a few feet of them on several occasions. I suspect if I had mealworms, they would come to me. I’ve been within feet of wild deer on a few occasions as well, with their full knowledge.

The idea in Becoming Nature is to be a predator, and to avoid being noticed by your prey. In that system you have to avoid paying too much attention, because the creatures will feel you looking at them and move away. I’m not a predator. So in some ways I’m moving through the landscape more like a herbivore, and I’m paying attention. Frequently, what alerts me to the presence of a deer is the feeling of being watched, and it will turn out that one has been eyeing me up. I often find that regardless of who spotted who first, we can hold that mutual interest for some time as long as I don’t make any threatening moves. I suspect that the deer round here see me often enough to be somewhat used to me anyway.

I would love to touch a wild deer. That’s only going to happen if for some reason, the deer approaches me. I don’t want to steal contact as an ego trip. I have nothing to prove. The odds are it’s never going to happen, and I’m fine with that. I am not entitled to touch anything I want to touch, and for me, consent is an important consideration with any sentient being I engage with in any context.


A most Hopeless diet

When I’m dealing with fantastical settings, I like to know how the practical details work. I think it’s getting the little, mundane things right that is key to making big, strange, magical things feel plausible. I experience this as a reader as well as when writing. I want to know where you go to take a shit, what people are wearing in terms of materials, how they keep warm, or cool, and what they eat.

Hopeless Maine is a lost island. It used to be more connected, and resources used to head its way, but these days, new materials either come from natural resources or wash in from shipwrecks. Recycling is a must. The Hopeless Maine diet is not for the squeamish. Food is in short supply, and you have to be willing to eat anything passably edible that comes along. This is why ‘bottom of the garden stew’ is the main dish, where the key feature is to cut everything up really small so that it isn’t too obvious what it was.

For the release of The Gathering, Tom and I sent a host of creatures out into the ether, to give a flavour of Hopeless Maine. And, as I was in the mood to take that sense of ‘flavour’ a step further, all the creatures come with cooking instructions.

Thank you everyone who took part. If you would like some denizen of Hopeless to visit your blog, let us know in the comments, we’re very happy to keep doing this. In the meantime, do visit the escapees.

A dead dog hosted by Kyle Cassidy

Spoonwalker, hosted by Fire Springs Folk Tales

Deep Sea Life hosted by Anthony Nanson at Deep Time.

Gnii hosted by Graeme K Talboys

Owl Demon, hosted by Craig Hallam

Mermaid, hosted by Lou Pulford

Agents of Change hosted by R Thomas Allwin

Various small things, some in bottles, hosted by Matlock the Hare (Phil and Jacqui Lovesey) at Niff Soup.


All the creatures

It’s been a creature-laden weekend. A long train ride to do a book signing in Northampton (Waterstones!) led to several deer sightings and some wonderful fox moments. The fox on the way out was curled at the foot of a tree, catching the sun. The second, on the way back, was stood in a field staring at the train.

Then on Sunday, we went up to the Birmingham Sa Life centre. Lots of interesting creatures there, including rays. I’m very fond of them, I love the way they move, the grace and how curious they are. The centre also has a giant sea turtle, a beautiful, slow moving creature, totally inspiring to be near too. The sense of peace in watching such a being, is inspiring. The creatures at this centre are either bred in captivity, or, like the sea turtle had to be rescued after injury or similar problem, and then could not be returned to the wild again.

Today there were tame deer, peacocks and other birds. Including some comedy chickens with feathers in improbable places. Last week I was feeding rooks. We had moored under a rookery, and they were coming down for bread, and getting right outside the windows.

It’s not the exotica particularly that inspires me, but the closeness, and the sense of connection – however fleeting. Really fires my imagination. The point where a creature makes eye contact, or accepts your presence, or just stays for a few seconds. Those are amazing, even when the creature is semi-tame, and predisposed to put up with you. I had a moment at the Wild Fowl Trust where a robin came down and took grain from my hand. It was a wild bird, in a bird friendly place, but even so…

The people comparisons are interesting. I’ve seen a lot of people this weekend. Most of them did not make eye contact with me. Most were so focused on whatever they were doing, that they weren’t going to notice anyone else. Didn’t want to. There were a handful of really good human interactions with people we didn’t know. But overall, meaningful moments with creatures this weekend were more numerous than meaningful interactions with people we didn’t know. It seems to me that the creatures are less wary or me, less fearful than the majority of humans, and that’s pretty scary.


Natural Habitat

Natural Habitat

Any conversation about preserving wild creatures or plants inevitably includes thoughts about habitat. Nothing exists in isolation, and if the ecosystem, the landscape and the relationships are not preserved, the ‘special’ creature of interest will not thrive. Nothing thrives.

Somehow in the midst of this, we’ve taken to thinking of habitat as something other. Somewhere else. Where the birds and creatures live. We forget that we too are creatures. We are not separate from the ecosystems.

We’ve been creating our own habitats for so long, that the idea of a natural habitat for humans, at first glance, seems weird, if not irrelevant. By our very natures, we do not have natural habitats, right? Wrong. All the things that harm creatures, harm us because we are creatures too. Pollution, excess of noise, too much light at night, loss of green spaces, loss of freedom. We do not thrive in depressing, grimy, polluted places. Mental and physical health are improved by time outside, time with trees.

We’re so used to our nests and caves that we don’t think enough about the habitat we need for human wellbeing. It has open water in it. So many people love streams, rivers, canals and the sea. We gravitate towards lakes. We need water that we can walk or sit beside. We need grass to sit upon and trees to sit under. We depend on the land for food, even if most of us don’t see that on a daily basis.

If we created our urban spaces with an eye not for immediate profit and commercial intent, but to make good habitats for humans, life would be so different. I’ve seen spaces that made me feel it could be done – the beautiful, vibrant space that is The Custard Factory in Birmingham, or the area there around Gas Street Basin. Public spaces, people, trees, buildings, no two things identical.

We shouldn’t be talking about preserving the habitats of this or that creature, as though we are doing them a favour. This is our habitat too. Even if we can’t find the empathy to care about anything else, we ought to care enough about ourselves to maintain spaces we can thrive in, rather than places that engender depression, starve our souls, and make our bodies ill.