This piece was originally posted at Daggawalla Seeds & Herbs, 1/7/13.
On December 27, 2012, Fugz the Farmcat was hit by a car and died. From the appearance of his injuries, it seems that cause of death was head-trauma, so he likely died very quickly, if not instantly. He was slightly over two and a half years old and was initially survived by at least 12 progeny. However, his son, Oscar de la Rentoes, followed his father in death the very next day, 20+ miles away, in Portland.
Nikki & I were both devastated, and felt very very sad. Fugz was a dear companion to both of us and had been with us at our new home for only six days when this happened. This was the first time we were able to live in the same place with him for a year. During that whole time, for most of 2012, we were focused on finding a place to settle and farm where we could live with him again. In a society as alienating and lonely as ours, there are few humans who can be as true in their loving as a cat, and Fugz was an especially loving cat. When we took him to the vet this summer, the doctor asked if we had bottle-weaned him — we didn’t — because his demeanor was so mellow.
Fugz first came into our life in July 2010. He wandered into one of our gardens with a sibling, both of them tiny kittens who would fit in the palm of your hand. Some neighbor children took them in, and let us know we could have one after they made their choice. A couple days later we picked him up. It was during the 2010 heat-wave and we brought him to the Hawthorne Urban Farmers Market with us, where we were scheduled to peddle produce that day. It was nearly 100 degrees and he explored the shady spots around the edge of the parking lot.
We named him “Fugly” because of an old story I had heard, possibly apocryphal, about a family that had a litter of kittens to give away. They put an ad in the classifieds saying, “Free Kittens. 5 cute ones, 1 ugly one.” Each person who came to pick up a kitten wanted the “ugly” one, and so this designation was reassigned with each adopter until the kittens were gone. Of course there really is no such thing as an “ugly” kitten, so that was the joke. “Fugly” quickly got shortened to “Fugz”, although we held that officially his name was “Fuggles ‘Fugly’ Fugglestone the First (whom we call ‘Fugz’)”.
For the rest of the summer he rode around with us in Nikki’s Volvo, splitting his time between the Firepit Garden and Riverhouse Garden, and accompanying us to other gardens around the city. We marveled at the world he got to live in, where the city was made up only of gardens and loving people.
He was catnapped once by a neighbor who only reluctantly gave him back up. She took him to the vet and for awhile he was frightened of riding in the car.
When we took off for our land-search in the late Fall of 2010, we left him at the Firepit with a few cans of food. At this time he was getting his cute self fed from at least three porches in the neighborhood, and had even insinuated himself into the house of the Russian woman across the house, who once kicked her own cat out onto the porch to make Fugz feel more comfortable. When we returned after two months, he was a little aloof around us for a couple days, but quickly moved back in.
That land search had turned up absolutely no options but one: some land near Monmouth, Oregon, where we signed a two-year lease for 2011-2012. The story of that experience does not belong here, but let it suffice to say that it was disastrous, agriculturally, and miserable, personally, due to the conditions of the land (toxic) and character of the landowner (malicious). During those difficult days, Fugz provided a reciprocating channel of love and devotion that helped us keep our hearts open, despite the frustrations and injuries we were experiencing.
Like all cats, Fugz spent much of his time napping, but he often chose spots close to where we were working, so we had multiple opportunities on most days to pause and enjoy affection with him. Even in sleep, he would roll over on his back to get his tummy rubbed. When awake, he would often follow us around the fields, frequently settling into the shady spot made by one of our kneeling, weeding figures, or taking an empty harvest basket for his own comfort. If we hadn’t seen him in several hours, he would alert us to his arrival with plaintive mewing in a constant stream from several hundred feet away, not stopping until he got to us. Our meowing calls-and-responses with him delighted us, and seemed to delight him, too.
Fugz often slept on or in the bed with us. As we shifted or turned in our sleep, he would “surf” the covers on top of us with no complaint. In the mornings he would often crawl under the covers and snuggle with Nikki. We have many photographs of these incredibly cute sessions.
Fugz was also an avid hunter. Voles and mice were his most frequent takings, but he also brought us moles, rabbits, birds and, once, a ferret. He would usually leave the corpses in the paths for us, but sometimes he would bring one right up to us when we were digging holes for transplanting. On one occasion, he got up on my shoulders and watched attentively while I laid two rabbit bodies into a hole and then planted Moonflower transplants on top of them. Those Moonflowers got huge! For farmers saving and storing seeds, a good mouser is essential, and Fugz seemed fully cognizant of his essential role.
We spent much of 2012 on the road, searching for land. Our perennials had been given homes at different plots around Portland, as well as our biennial vegetables that would be seeding that year. It’s amazing how much we were able to harvest with no real center to our operations. Of course, while traveling we also had the chance to wildcraft many herbs and sees. By November, the weather was getting wetter and colder, and our lease at the Monmouth land was due to finish, leaving Fugz nowhere to be. A couple there, with whom we were friends, and who had been feeding Fugz, were also moving along. So we took the only available option, on some land outside Portland belonging to a friend-of-a-friend, where we could live cheaply — and most importantly — with Fugz, while we tried to figure out what to do.
Moving him to the new land, Fugz was not happy about entering the pet carrier, and both Nikki and I had wounds from that experience for weeks afterwards. Once we were driving, though, he settled down after just a few minutes, and even slept for part of the journey. Deva remarked that part of the reason we appreciated Fugz was because of his feral nature; not wanting to get into a cage was part of his charm. If only people offered more resistance to their own confinements — and ceased their efforts to confine their neighbors — our society would be much more free. Another lesson from cats.
Our first night in the trailer he did not leave. He spent the whole night surfing the covers on top of us, just like he had done on the bus. In the morning, he found the cat door we had made for him, which had an attached covered porch outside of it, with shower-curtain plastic walls, so he could check out the space before venturing into it, and a ramp going down to the ground. He knew right away that all this was for him, and took to using it right away. This way he could come and go as he pleased, without anyone needing to open a door for him. We had always given him this freedom, and he had always appreciated it.
The next five days were blissful for us. At last, we were all three together again, after almost a whole year. He spent about 20 out of every 24 hours on the bed. There was much snuggling and kissing and squeezing. Fugz drank it all in. So did we, and we felt a relief and satisfaction that had been missing for so long. Best of all, if I can make such a ranking, were the eye-gazings that we enjoyed with him. He looked directly into our eyes from eyes that were deep wells of love. It was a love rare to experience with humans: unconditional, trusting, and wholly intimate. Skeptics might say this is not “real” love; that “animals” (as if we are not animals) do not experience love. I would say it is the skeptics who have not experienced love, but that is not surprising. We humans in this society live ever in our egos, in our mind-models, in our expectations, holding everything up for judgment against impossible standards. No love can be found in that state of being. Cats are blessedly free of these barriers, and Fugz especially so. In Fugz’s gaze, we were able to open ourselves to loving, and see it reflected back at us. I have experienced such gazes with humans, but usually not for long. Someone gets scared and trust retreats.
Those were our days with Fugz. At night Fugz he would go out of his cat door and return a couple-three hours later for cover-surfing, as in the past. Cats are often nocturnal hunters and the moon was getting bigger and fuller; perfect for exploring and rodent-catching.
Perhaps it was that brightening moon which led him further afield on the night of the 26th. He left a little earlier than on previous nights, but this was not unusual as compared to the past. Nikki felt nervous and did not sleep well. In the morning he had not returned and we were worried. I had pictures in my head of him lying by the side of the road. Nikki prepared for a planned trip into town to pick up some supplies. We called for him and checked about nearby, but saw no signs of him. The pictures kept coming into my head. Nikki left in the truck, and I planned to take a longer walk in a few minutes, to call for him some more, and to check other roads.
Nikki had only been gone for two minutes before I heard her screaming outside the trailer. “Kollibri! Kollibri! I found him! He’s dead!” and then a wail of pure anguish. I rushed to get on my shoes and join her. We walked together up the side road to the main road, holding hands. She was sobbing heavily. She had left the truck parked on the side of the road to protect his body, and there it was, stretched out, mostly off of the pavement.
His front legs were curled up and the back ones stretched out, as if frozen in mid-run. His head was twisted around, his jaw crushed on one side, his skull dented on the other. His collar was ten feet away, the metal tag scratched, the plastic clasp chipped. His body showed only one other injury — a bit of road rash on one back leg. Clearly, he had been hit in the head by something big traveling at a high speed. We felt a modicum of comfort in seeing that death was probably instant, or nearly so.
I stepped out into the road, and held back traffic with one hand, so that he wouldn’t get run over again while he was lying there, and picked up the body. He was just starting to feel stiff. He was not cold, but he certainly had no warmth of life to him at all. His tongue was hanging out of his mouth. I tried to close the one eye that remained open, but to no avail. We wrapped him in a blanket and brought him back to the trailer. There we both wailed and cried for a time that I did not measure.
Having seen what happens to dead animals over the course of time, we knew that he needed to be buried that day. The swelling and putrescence that starts after more than 12-16 hours is unpleasant, and not the way you want to remember your friend. We clipped off some snips of his fur to keep, and then made a bundle to go with him. In red cloth we wrapped cat-food, catnip, a piece of protective obsidian, and locks of our own hair — an invitation to join us again in some other form, if that’s how things work.
Within an hour or two we were in the truck going to town, to bury him in a friend’s herb garden that we had planted up in the Spring with refugees from the farm. The owner is a cat lover, and a fellow lover of Fugz, so it was an appropriate place. We picked up Deva on the way, since we knew he would want to be there. We did not have a “ceremony”, but the process was ceremonially attentive, coming as it did from our own loving bonds with each other and with Fugz. Deva did most of the digging, which was appreciated, since Nikki and I could do little more than sit by the body crying and stroking it. His one open eye no longer showed any life.
We wrapped the body in a jute coffee bag and placed him in the bottom of the hole. By now his body had become entirely stiff. I turned back the corner for one more stroke of his soft chin and then just lay on the ground bawling. Eventually, that fit was spent, and we put the dirt back in the hole on top of him, packing it down every few inches. We sprinkled catnip seed on the surface, and placed a smooth, elegantly-twisted piece of driftwood in the ground as a marker, to which we tied his collar. Calendula and feverfew still blooming in this so-far mild winter graced the spot. We sat with sage burning on the mound for uncounted minutes until the light started to fail and we began to get cold.
His death by car was our worst nightmare. In the countryside, we always knew he could get taken out by a coyote, of which there were many at the old farm. But we somehow felt that going that way would be different, maybe even almost noble. A coyote, after all, kills another animal to eat. Not for sport, and certainly never unknowingly. We knew such an event would make us sad. But death by car is so… brutal. So on top of our sadness, we both felt anger. Why does everyone have to be in such a hurry? Why can’t people watch more closely? I know that some people might say, “It was just an accident”, or “Maybe they didn’t even know”, or “You should have kept him inside,” but these excuses ring hollowly.
Here in our culture we are constantly making excuses, as if nothing at all is in our control. Over 40,000 people are killed in car-related “accidents” every year. Should all those people have been “kept inside for their own safety”? No one would suggest that. The 40,000 car deaths are merely the cost-of-doing-business, but this attitude is a brutal one. The last thing we want to look at is that brutality, which means looking at ourselves, and our own participation in our culture’s brutality on a daily basis, which mainly takes the form of silencing all the voices of sensitivity we encounter, starting with our own.
So I have this to say: The driver did not need to be in such a hurry (even though we are always rushing each other). The driver could have been paying more attention (even though we are constantly trying to keep each other in states of distraction). The driver could have been using more sensitivity (even though we do our best to beat it out of ourselves and everyone around us). I can have compassion for someone who does such a thing and then feels badly for it, because I myself have of course caused “accidents”. But compassion does not excuse or approve. The way Fugz went out was a brutal death by a brutal car by a brutal driver. This is the brutal society we live in. I expect it to go on like this until something snuffs us out, in what seems to me would be an act of planetary sensitivity.
Here again cats can be our teachers. Cats are naturally entirely sensitive, and cannot be anything but. They live entirely with and from their senses at all times. Anyone knows this who has ever waved an odiferous treat under a sleeping cat’s nose and seen it jump up to full attention with a mew, or who has witnessed a casually self-bathing feline suddenly turn and pounce at prey. Even when killing, cats are wholly sensitive and never brutal. Can the act be bloody? Yes. But brutal? No. Brutality is a uniquely human trait, honed to a highly polished and ferociously ritualized practice here in the U.S. by nearly all of us.
Fugz’s death caused deep grief for Nikki and me. The initial shock of pain wore off after a few weeks, but we still miss him to this day, and it still seems like a story that ended just the wrong way.