August is my favorite month of the year: lush, steamy, poignant. It’s also my favorite chapter — because it’s the chapter where I let my Cat Lady self have free range. In Pawsylvania, as it turns out.
(For those of you reading along , turn to page 124 in When Wanderers Cease to Roam; but if you’re like me and can’t be bothered to put down your cup of tea to go dig up some book you forgot about a long time ago, don’t worry. There won’t be a quiz at the end of this post.)
When people say that my book has a lot of cats in it I have to laugh. Believe me, I held back on the cats big time; in my opinion, I show great restraint in the cat department: I went through every chapter and edited out pages of cat stuff. What’s left is the bare bones of my cat-centric pea brain…except for the August chapter. In August, I decided to fess up about the micro-nation that I inhabited, in the alley behind my apartment house, with my cats Woody and Louie.
Micro-nations are actual political units, inventions (usually crack pot in nature) of sovereignty defined by the United Nations as:
small, self-declared state-like entities existing in real or imagined space which do not meet any international criteria for statehood.
I fell in love with the idea of micro-nations because I believe that we all, each of us, live in micro-nations of our own creating, whether it’s made from a family, a church group, a cause, a secret longing, an especially intense inner life, a sport, a hobby, a crush, a joyous desire to carve a personal niche in the vast indifference of time. My particular micro-nation happens to have existed one memorable Summer, and then it was gone.
It was August 1995, and me and my 15-year old cat Woody had been joined the previous Fall and Winter by a stray cat I called Louie. Of course I’d had him neutered and vaccinated, but I could not turn Louie into a house cat: I had to let him out every night and dayor else he’d tear up my apartment and howl as if I were skinning him alive. That’s how I got into the habit of taking my first cup of tea of the day outside into the back alley — I was out there to check up on Louie. And then Woody started coming along to keep me company.
So we’d by out there, in the alley, every morning at dawn (my favorite time of the August day), in the dim light and shadows and bright freshness, before the village woke up and before the heat of the day. It was tranquil, noiseless, cool, private, and safe. I was reading MFK Fisher for the first time, so as I’d sit in the alley sipping my tea (sweet, black, with a drop of vanilla extract) I’d also be lost in Ms. Fisher’s world (France, between the wars; tangerines and doomed love). No wonder I can never re-read her books with anything close to the same sensory thrill; I miss the scent of asphalt and dew, the landscape of silence and mystery from being in the alley at sunrise with my cats.
That was my Pawsylvania, that back alley. Or, more exactly, Pawsylvania was a time (not a place) when there was no one else in my world except me and two doofus cats (each nosing around on their own adventures — usually in the inexplicable patch of corn that someone grew at the end of the alley that one Summer — but never straying too far from my company) and my own thoughts (some borrowed from MFK Fisher, some made up of my own dread and hopes. Nothing I dreaded was as bad as I thought it would be, and everything I hoped for turned out much better than I’d imagined. The usual story, in other words.).
For fun, and page count, I elaborated (in my book) on my idea of Pawslyvania; made a passport, issued stamps and visas like any other self-respecting micro-nation. But I hope that didn’t obscure my point. That there’s a Pawsylvania in everyone’s back alley, a realm of time to which only you hold the citizenship, passport, and reality.
For comparison, here’s Pawsylvania in Winter (that’s Woody in the lower left corner):
August: it’s its own micro-nation. Catch it while you can.
(This post is dedicated to August. You know who you are.)