The Mandarin of the Closed Road

orange cat

The county closed this road a few years ago. I used to travel it often, for it shaved some minutes off my drive. It was potholed and roughshod and hardly the thing that someone driving a little sedan should venture on, but I drove it often. I knew where the big holes were anyway, and I got only one flat tire on all my years of driving it.

It took me through a bit of wasteground where the trees grew up thick and tall, and on night time trips, I’d often run into raccoons and deer. Their eyes would flash in my headlights and run quickly into the brush. They were my taste of country existence in this graduate school city:  rough rough, thick woods, and the wild.

This evening, I’ve decided to walk along the edge of this road, for there is a trail that cuts off the right and takes me into a nice little park.  The darkness falls hard upon trees, casting shadows along the pockmarked road up the the bright red gate that says “Road Closed.”

I approach the gate in deep nostalgia. I remember driving this road so many times, but now it’s closed to me.  A universe is walled off to me, and it makes me ache a little.  I wish I could traverse the road again, and I feel violated at the redness of the gate.

As I make my approach, I catch movement to my left.  It is a feral cat, a big tom.  He orange and puffed up like some kind of pumpkin beast set loose upon the countryside.

He bolts from me but stops short of the red gate. He stares up at me with his demonic cat eyes, as if he is accusing me for daring to disturb his peace and tread upon his domain.

We look hard at each other. I am not a cat man, and he’s not impressed with me either. We have nothing but contempt for each other.

We look into each other’s eyes for thirty seconds then a minute.

It is the orange tom who breaks the stare and slips under the red gate as if he never noticed me. He slips through as mandarin on his way back to his palace, which might be hidden somewhere in the deep timber.

But I will never set my eyes upon it. My human feet and my car tires are banned from the road beyond the gate.

But the cat is allowed. Indeed, no one knows he even crossed under the gate.  And no one cares.

I feel heartbroken at this development. My little wild road is closed off, and it has been left to the big tom to rule as his own.

Mankind is all about the rules. We regulate ourselves pretty well.

But when it comes to old cats that no one wants or cares about, we don’t have much in the way of rules at all.

We wall of the places to ourselves, but they become the domains of the cats. They rule according to the customs and instincts of cats.

Every walled off place becomes a fortress for a tomcat mandarin, and we mere mortals can only quake in their presence.

Or stare at them with contempt, as I do.

Or maybe it’s not contempt at all, but simple jealousy.

Yes, jealous of a darned old cat.


Natural History

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