My family has always had cats, but never on purpose. Our first cat was left behind by our neighbours when they moved. We made the mistake of naming him, and after that, he was one of us. When he died, there was a respectful pause of a few months, as if the local feline community knew how much we’d loved him.
Then another cat started hanging around. She moved in, and after a while, we accepted the fact. She was terribly afraid of fires, and that made us wonder what her past held. When she started wobbling as she walked, and then had a stroke, it took even less time for another cat to turn up on our doorstep. This one was smaller, with patches of grey and white fur. It looked up at us imploringly, as if to say: “I’m here to apply for the cat vacancy.”
We don’t know where these cats came from. Our new cat doesn’t have other owners, we’re sure of it. It sleeps 23 hours a day in the basket of clean laundry, and runs pointlessly back and forth across the lawn. Somewhere in Auckland’s suburbs, it seems, there’s an inexhaustible supply of unloved cats.
A house is different with a cat in it. You’re never alone. Slowly, you learn each other’s idiosyncrasies. If you live alongside one another for long enough, you may even convince yourself the cat has a sixth sense for human emotion. From its muteness you will infer that it understands either everything or nothing.
Animals, and cats in particular, are a small piece of the wild embedded in our homes: inscrutable, unfathomable, nonsensical.
Most importantly, they don’t judge humans in the same way that humans judge each other. Being required by an animal is a meaningful experience, more important to us than it sounds.
It’s hard to reconcile wanting a house with a cat in it with wanting a forest resplendent with birds, but as Hayden Donnell points out, those things aren’t mutually exclusive. We can love our cats and give them rules, too.
New Zealand’s most famous feline embodies the difficulty of cat management. Every day, an enormous ginger cat called Mittens wanders central Wellington. He slopes into offices, rides elevators, leaps into cars, inspects shops. He is fearless and indiscriminate with his affection, and as a result he is much loved by the internet. His roaming is the very thing that cat-control advocates are trying to prevent.
But I think Mittens’ popularity also speaks to the desire for something wild in the middle of a city, something untameable. This issue investigates a few other aspects of the urban wild.
Christchurch has a massive park-in-waiting, one so large it’s hard to wrap your head around its scale. The Red Zone is almost twice the size of Manhattan’s Central Park, its razed suburbs a space for all.
And in all our cities can be found a network of rebel plants, growing despite attempts to manage them. As I discovered this spring, many of them are delicious.
The wild is here, alongside us. We just need to know how to see it.