<b>The Cats of NIMH</b>

"Diversity creates harmony, and harmony creates beauty, balance, bounty and peace in nature and society, in agriculture and culture, in science and in politics." -- Vandana Shiva

I feed stray cats. This should come as no surprise to anyone. Actually, the cats I feed aren't very "stray." They used to belong to a neighbor of mine who passed away, so they're fairly well socialized, and they do a decent job of policing their territory.

At any given time, they limit their own little "pride" to about seven, more or less. Occasionally a lone "traveler" will show up, and I've noticed that they generally give it a single meal. Sometimes they let it stay overnight. But it's almost always gone within a couple of days. Their food supply is not unlimited (they share no more than 3 scoops of Kibbles 'n' Bits per day), and they have a "family first" ethic. They also seem not to breed with abandon, which is kind of unbelievable considering the nature of cats. I suspect this might be because most of them were already too old to breed by the time my neighbor passed away.

Either that or they are the Cats of NIMH, which is what I choose to believe myself. And if you don't get that reference then you had a very sad childhood, and I will pray for you.

I also feed birds (at hanging feeders, for obvious reasons), squirrels, and sometimes, unintentionally, a raccoon or opossum or two.

I have watched the cats hunt, and they don't seem interested in the birds, frankly. My own fat and coddled indoor cats are certain that if there weren't a pane of glass in the way they could take down a pileated woodpecker. The outdoor cats don't seem interested in the least, even in the small ones they could take.

There are plenty of moles and voles and similar small rodents that they prefer, and I like this about them.

I know it sounds crazy, but I am not afraid of non-venomous snakes or spiders. I generally find them interesting and fun to watch. I prefer that they not touch me, but I also know that they prefer I not touch them, so we get along fine. Plenty of people have seen me calmly shake a spider from my arm or leg or hand onto safer outdoor territory.

That said, moles and voles and field mice actually do kind of freak me out. They move too fast, for one thing, and they won't hesitate to come right at you for another. Unlike snakes and spiders, I imagine that the inside of my pants leg seems like the ideal place to hang out for a field mouse. No thank you.

As a side note, I am not concerned about being jailed for feeding the cats, like the 79-year-old Ohio woman who has made national news for that crime. The law in question in that case is a city ordinance, and it is because I know how anti-social(ist) I am that I did not buy a house inside the city limits or in anything repulsively resembling a "gated community."

I reserve the right to annoy my neighbors, and I accept that they will sometimes annoy me, and as long as none of them steal from me and they stay both literally and figuratively out of my house we get along fine. If you want to mow your yard at dawn or rent a bounce-house for your kid's screaming friends all weekend long or work on your 1976 Duster in your front yard, that's your business. Be advised that I have been known to sing along with Janis Joplin and Lady Gaga and Kacey Musgraves at inappropriate hours of the night. I am loud, and I cannot carry a tune in a bucket.

That's why God made double-pane windows and insulation — for the peace and sanity of us all.

All of this is by way of saying that I have recently noticed that I am also feeding a flock of cardinals. Not at my bird feeders, by the way. As far as I know, cardinals like black oil sunflower seed as well as the next bird (they eat it at my parents' house). They just overwhelmingly prefer Kibbles 'n' Bits.

I have absolutely no idea why the cats permit this, but they do. They will lie clearly within striking distance of the food pan and watch the cardinals eat their food. They aren't afraid of the cardinals, nor are they interested in attacking.

Once again, I personally believe this is because they are the Cats of NIMH and have a complex political structure and a long written history and an electoral process and maybe even a secret library somewhere. There is a small chance that they are stealing electricity from me so they can work on creative projects into the night.

This would explain some of my utility bills and also why I sometimes think I see them on the YouTubes.

But I'm fascinated by how this tiny relationship works, the one between the cats and the cardinals. I'm fascinated by how our little neighborhood works, too, the live and let live attitude that generally prevails not because everyone is so similar but precisely because they're so different.

In nature, this kind of cross-pollination and co-existence spurs evolution and contributes to the health of ecosystems. In the healthiest ecosystems, there are a tremendous variety of life forms, and the surest sign that an ecosystem is collapsing is the gradual diminishing of biological diversity.

It's a law of nature.

And I suspect, on all levels, that this is something we would do well to remember.

I always love to hear from readers. You can write to me care of the Times-Tribune or reach out on our website or social media. Or follow me on Twitter @ChristeeBentley or on Instagram at christee.bentley.

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