Monday, July 14, 2014

the cat and the stag beetle

Last night, I met a cat and a stag beetle during my campus walk. The cat—which, like many feral cats in Korea, was tailless—seemed unafraid of yours truly; I met it while it was chasing another cat away from its territory. The two cats had come racing toward me out of the night; I hissed and made a threatening foot-stomping gesture toward the lead cat, who dodged out of my way and kept running into the woods.

The second cat, "my" cat, stopped at the sound of my threat but didn't exactly run away. Instead, it walked away from me, and when I threatened it further with more noise, it merely maintained its distance in front of me, just out of reach. It occurred to me that this might be a "people" cat, and sure enough, when I slowed my pace, the cat slowed its pace, too, and eventually flopped down on a handicap-access ramp to begin grooming itself.

I approached the cat at that point; it paused to look at me, but didn't run away as I talked to it in a mixture of English and Korean. I stood on the other side of the guardrail for the ramp and put my hand through the rail's vertical supports to scratch the cat between the ears. The cat seemed almost to be inviting me to scratch it; it kept on grooming itself without a single sign of skittishness. Eventually, I got my fingertips to brush the cat's tiny skull, then I scratched it in earnest. Once the cat felt the rhythm of my scratching, it stopped grooming itself, stretched out its neck, and openly offered me its head to scratch, much like a typical house cat.

I scratched and talked for a few seconds but, worried that I was losing precious time (I try to get my steps in before midnight, because at midnight my pedometer resets to zero), I broke off and began to walk away. Instead of resuming its self-grooming, the cat watched me leave. About twenty yards from the cat, I turned around and paused to stare at it in salute; it stared back. I turned away again and left. If I see that cat again tonight, we'll have already established the tentative beginnings of a friendship.

Barely fifty yards later, I paused in my tracks again as a large shadow on the asphalt resolved itself into the shape of a mighty stag beetle, perhaps three inches long, heaving its way from nowhere to somewhere. The stag's jaws were huge and threatening; I was tempted to crush the beetle underfoot, the way I do with cockroaches and the occasional cicada, but something held me back, and I simply watched the beetle's progress for a while.

After meeting my two travel companions, it was time to get back to walking. I had started early, and had done a good bit of walking earlier in the day, so by the time I finished, I had 13,400 steps under my belt for that 24-hour period. My monthly average is very close to 10,000 daily steps now. Since I'm going to Seoul for the next few days, it's unlikely I'll be able to maintain that average, which is one reason why I'm overdoing it now. I'd like to be close to 10,000 by the end of July. That would be a huge improvement over June.


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