Thursday, May 13, 2010

Not the pun you think...

Hops is short for Hopkins, after Gerard Manley Hopkins, who found divinity in the motley and impure.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls, finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced-- fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Our pack (brood? herd? exaltation?) has evolved on the model of "punctuated equilibrium" over the last eight years. Every time things reach a state of relative calm and predictability, we introduce a new variable into the mix. When Barley was eight months old, we knew we weren't yet ready for another dog but thought she'd enjoy a companion more constant and less baffling than her human charges. Well, I thought so. Pete's and my marriage is constructed around a mostly creative tension between my reckless optimism and his crusty "realism." That's what he calls it. As I often perceive it, I propose and he disposes. But the truth is not quite so simple.

I'd never had a cat or thought I'd want one. With a few memorable exceptions, I had always found them more irritating than engaging. (There's a reason junior high girls get labeled "catty.") But I'd been hearing from friends that dogs and cats could live together in perfect harmony, even become great friends, if they met early enough in their lives not to notice their differences. At eight months, Barley had already developed a noticeable prejudice against the proposition that cats were people too (she charged them when we encountered them on our walks), but I hoped her young mind (and my old one) remained pliant enough to accommodate a small feline's reality.

Even the county shelter folks get admirably creative around here. When Barley and I were at the nearest dog park one day, an enormous RV pulled into the parking lot, full of animals in need of homes. Where better to find a ready bunch of demonstrated suckers? If it had required any real initiative on my part, I might not have pursued my peaceable kingdom fantasy into the realm of the actual for months, if at all. Cats in the abstract still didn't appeal to me much. But here Barley and I had only to climb a couple of metal steps into a shelter that had come right to us. I walked her (on a very short leash) down a row of cages, thinking that all the hissing and cowering probably didn't bode well for her ability to make friends across the species barrier. Then up to the bars of one cage came a curious little calico, bold as you please. She chirped at Barley, who was momentarily nonplussed but in the next moment sprang up for a closer look, planting both paws on the cage before I could catch her. The kitten took only a half step back and chirped some more. She seemed fascinated. I was charmed. Barley? She had a light in her eyes that I chose to interpret as a desire to know this unaccountably confident creature, not to eat her.

As I drove back home with Barley, I began to assemble my pitch to Pete, but I quickly realized that the kitten could speak much more eloquently for herself. I only told him, "There's someone Barley and I really think you should meet." He was intrigued enough (and indulgent enough of my stubborn fancies) to get in the car and let me drive him back to the park. My work was done. Pete had lived with cats before; he didn't share Barley's and my native mistrust. (I still get freaked sometimes when staring into Hops' alien, snake-slit eyes.) So there was nothing to keep him from falling fast and hard for the patchwork little bundle of impudence who trilled at us from her cage. "Well? Whaddya think?" I asked.

"She's a sweetie," he said. "What should we call her?"

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