In absence of a tree to climb, my trunk is a suitable stand-in for the five kittens I am raising collaboratively with a feral queen. I bear the marks of a feral cat network hazing ritual on my body, and as I type my hands ache from their fierce yet intimate bites and scratches.
Every day, it’s homeschool. By dropping any pretense of foreknowledge over the past 18 weeks, I have unlearned what I thought I knew about cats and interspecies communication. I recently returned to the story of Mary Howe Lovatt, a naturalist who participated in a 1964 NASA-funded research project on dolphin intelligence. She proposed and carried out living with a dolphin named Peter in a hybrid salt water office environment for a period of ten weeks during which time she attempted to teach the dolphin to understand and speak human language. Her inspiration for the experiment was a story about a cat that communicated with humans.
This week, as Jupiter and Saturn came into alignment for the first time in nearly twenty years, closer to home an inevitable dilemma comes into focus: what to do with the kittens. In all fairness they need more space that I can provide for them without building infrastructure. I’d like to reintroduce them to the feral community after their surgeries but I resolve to say that the ecosystem in my neighborhood is heavily lopsided toward humans and cats. Releasing these stealth kittens back into the yard will increase the vulnerability of birds and Austin is situated along a flythrough that at its peak brings over a billion birds through the city. Ferals are also a nuisance species for some. This week Animal Control is thought to have scooped up my next door neighbor’s indoor/outdoor eight month old kittens.
Let’s say you want to create a story about an ecosystem. How do you tell a story without a protagonist? Andy and I circle back to this in our meetings. While I have been mining hyperlocal ecosystems and experts for inspiration, Andy has been diving into global biodiversity datasets for a deeper and wider view that has been fruitful for finding perplexing stories about human intervention and unexpected attitudes toward invasives. We’ve settled on a framework for our collaboration, we’re setting out to do some research over the next two weeks, and soon we’ll be finding and the next step will be finding its form.
Sketches for podcast idea to generate new stories about ecosystems
Like all species, we are bound by a unique set of sensory, motor and cognitive systems that shape our perception of the world. We experience the world from where we stand but we lack the ability to see how ecological events are connected, especially across great distances. Equally, we cannot see our own impact on the world. Andy and I have settled on a framework for our collaboration. We have a research goal for the next two weeks, and then we’ll decide on our project’s form.