I see something out my front window – a white cat stuck in an opening halfway up the old board fence
along my driveway. This space, where a board used to be, is about the right width for the cat to wedge there: uncomfortably, precariously, but not painfully. The cat is facing away from me, looking into the yard next door where she lives.
I look around for my cell phone; this is a rare opportunity to shoot an image in addition to the real thing. I find my binoculars instead.
The white cat sees a red squirrel begin to climb a cherry tree next to her, and remains motionless in her slot while she languidly turns her head to observe the fellow animal reach her own level. Likely she is rehearsing the possibility of leaping out and catching it (a universal cat fantasy, I believe) or even perhaps imitating it as it scurries along the branches of the half dead tree a few feet from her face. Is she truly stuck? I doubt it.
The squirrel has a walnut in its mouth, as do 89.4% of the squirrels at this time of year. They harvest them from a tree next door, but cross into my yard to bury them, or just as often to eat them, dropping shells all over the grass. A great transfer of nuts thus takes place every year between yards. So far as I can tell, nothing much comes of this.
Slowly the squirrel circles its way up the cherry tree, reappearing on a branch that hangs directly over the cat. The cat leans her head back and slowly swivels it round to follow the squirrel's path, until her face seems to come loose and lie flat on top of her neck, like a jar lid. Not many cats are curious enough to turn their heads that far. This does not fit my comfortable stereotype of this cat as stupid. Muttering, I sort through various explanations of what is happening.
Swivel – yes, that's the word I want! Across my imagination unfolds an image of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, thus connecting the whole scenario with something mythical. We have crossed temporarily into the realm of magic. Will it hold?
What I have stumbled int is not an image but a kind of cobbled-together situation – a story being conjured right in front of me, – one that flings out possibilities: face, swivel, sly, moon, with a pinch of aberration, into a static landscape of intersecting shapes.
This is not an anecdote about a cat and a squirrel, it is about the living geography of landscape as it regularly contorts itself into an occasion for art. Spontaneously, with no need for embellishment because this is what the universe does all the time, you just have to be awake while it happens. For in the nature of gifts, these spontaneous incidents don't last: all the loose ends have to be tied up simultaneously, on the spot – you can't go back later and assemble the parts you missed. Nope.