Who is this imperious little beast who sits on my sofa, drowning it in hairs? “He clashes with it,” a friend commented, which may be the reason why the cheerful scarlet fabric is covered with a fine tweed of pale orange hair. But the motto of every apartment I have ever had is it all belongs to Mulrooney, and he knows it.
He couldn’t wait for me to wake up this morning and now that I am, he’s sprawled in full arrogance on the red that he’s claimed, eyes slitted open far enough only to detect motion on his street. He surveys and assesses passersby, glazes his eyes with indifference, and relapses into a hunter’s doze, waiting for his patch of sunlight to appear.
I’m grateful that there is none, and am hoping for the rain that has been promised. Although I love the heat, the smoke that has accompanied it settled in my chest and apparently has made Seattle’s air worse than Los Angeles’s or Beijng’s during this same time period.
Of course it is close to September and Beijing’s air was almost crystalline when I spent an autumn there, with the sky a vibrant, cloudless dome that sharpened the beauty of the turning leaves. The SCMP recently wrote that Hong Kong detests trees. Beijing venerates them. The city is at its most beautiful when a pale green veil settles on the border of its streets and fills the parks, later flaring into orange and gold radiance just before the relentless grey settles in with its steely cold anchored by its array of arboreal skeletons.
Only a snowfall can bring beauty to the trees in those stern months, softening the bare branches with a pure white frosting traced with black. Beijing slows and quiets when the snow hits. People move through neighborhood lanes carrying bright umbrellas as barriers against drifting flakes that are as benign and languid as a flurry of cherry blossoms.
This of course can be instantly transformed into something dangerous with a wind coming out of the desert. Flakes could become vicious, sharpened projectiles, laced heavily with sand, and the air could take on the apocalyptic yellow of a dust storm that freezes on exposed skin and glazes objects with hardened dirt that would become mud as it thawed.
A sandstorm is an eerie phenomenon by itself, and one that can find its way from the Gobi Desert to Japan. The closest equivalent that I found here is forest fire smoke when it turns the air to the unearthly yellow of a fading Kodachrome negative. While smoke attacks only the lungs, gale-force sand cuts with tiny lacerations that sting and burn and could probably destroy corneas when given the chance. Beijingers buy goggles that look as though they should be accompanied by a gas mask; women wear bee-keepers’ hats with thick veils that they tie into place like mainsails in a hurricane. And when it’s over at last, dirt has settled on everything, blown into cracks of locked windows and underneath doorframes. But as it blows, it feels like the beginning of the end of the world.
In the imperial glory of Beihei Park lives a massive colony of feral cats who are a destination for local visitors bearing gifts of food. People come with sacks of kitchen scraps, bags of dry cat food, and even small expensive cans of food marketed to far more pampered felines. The cats graciously receive all offerings, with some even suffering physical attentions from the foolhardy. They sprawl on rocks in the sun, well fed and independent and honored. During sand storms, where do they go?
The artfully placed rocks that form Beihei’s landscape have crevices and tree roots provide small caves, with the trees themselves making a buffer against the wind. Park buildings give shelter. Even the magnificent nine dragon screen could be a windbreak if the gale was blowing in the right direction. And these are Beijing cats. Dust storms are to them what thunderstorms signify to lesser felines in other parts of the world. Like huskies in an Arctic blizzard, they probably curl into the smallest ball that they can manage, tail over their eyes, paw protecting their nostrils.
When the sun is at its strongest, Mulrooney mimics them, becoming a fur doorstop who is immovable and inviolate, locked in a sleep that is almost a coma. Suddenly the pampered, demanding creature who imposes his will on every facet of my life becomes a survivor who doesn’t need me at all and will outlive me in whatever man or nature can bring to bear against us.
This is reassuring and horrifying in its absolute truth. Cats and cockroaches will inherit whatever earth the madmen of the world will leave to them. Even Mulrooney will manage to make it through with that inheritance.