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Chasing My Tail

April 24, 2011

Sally Chasing Her TailMy 15-year-old tabby cat, Sally, has a rather peculiar obsession with her tail.  Not all the time, mind you, but when it’s flailing about, seemingly of its own accord, it pisses her off.  She’ll be sitting, or lying down, resting, as cats are wont to do most of the time, when she’ll suddenly catch movement out of the corner of her eye.  Immediately, she’s on alert – ears pricked, eyes focussed, spine straightened.  And then the fun begins.

When she was younger, Sally’s tail-chasing primarily took place atop her (five foot high) cat stand.  I suspect this was because it was the location from which she could observe birds and squirrels in the yard, and the more activity there was outside, the more her tail would flail about.  The boys and I would watch (and laugh) as she’d go around in circles, hang upside down, and perform intricate somersaults while trying to catch the unruly object (all the while defying gravity by not falling off her perch).  Of course, the more agitated she got by her inability to secure the thrashing entity, the faster it would twitch and switch and wave in the air.  As entertainment goes, it was pretty high on our scale!

On the rare occasion when she managed to (finally) catch the uncooperative appendage, she would secure it with one or both of her front paws and then tentatively release it to see if it would try to get away (this is the same method she uses with moths and the odd fly she manages to snatch out of the air, and the same ‘catch and release’ technique used by most felines when hunting prey).  If she’s lucky, and tired enough from the ‘catch’ part of the process, the object of her obsession remains fairly docile and she can take satisfaction from the ‘kill’, and end the game.  If, however, it’s still moving – and about to escape her grasp – she has been known to sink her teeth into it.  You can imagine how surprised she is when that results in a quick jolt of pain (can we say ‘self inflicted injury’?); I’m pretty sure she thinks the damn thing bit her back!

The Chase Is OverNow that she’s older, Sally takes a more leisurely approach to tail chasing – usually from a prone position on the bed, the floor, or a chair. The tail flaps up and down or side to side, she takes a few swipes at it, contorts her body this way and that, and eventually either secures it under a paw, or tires of the chase and simply walks away (some prey presumably isn’t worth the effort when you get to a certain age).  The ultimate irony of the whole thing, of course, is that if she ever actually managed to ‘kill’ her tail, she’d have nothing left to chase on those boring afternoons when a catnip mouse or a pipe cleaner just don’t provide enough stimulation!

Chasing one’s tail seems a rather pointless exercise. So why do cats (and dogs) do it?  The obvious answer to this is the one used to explain so many ‘unexplainable’ things in the world, I imagine – “Because it’s there.”

Humans are not unlike the cats and dogs who try so hard to catch that tricky something that’s right behind them, just out of reach. Maybe it’s a bigger (cleaner) house, a better job, more money in the bank, a trip to Europe, a thinner waistline, a more productive brain, success, power, fame …  around and around and around we go, trying to catch it – just as if we’re trying to grab hold of our own tails. 

Yesterday was an absolutely glorious spring day.  After a brief rainfall in the morning, the sun came out, the temperature rose to +23C (75F) and there was just the slightest south-easterly breeze blowing.  For two hours, I dug and hauled over a dozen wheelbarrow loads of dirt back and forth from driveway to garden, topping them up and levelling them out.  When my back had had enough of that, I came indoors and started thinking of all the other things waiting to get done:  windows needed cleaning, last week’s laundry hadn’t been put away, there were crumbs all over the kitchen floor, the dishwasher had to be emptied, my novella was awaiting revisions …

Sally With Tail TwitchingAnd then I caught sight of Sally on the arm of the chair in the living room, eyeing her waving tail and taking the odd swing at it with her paw.  And I realized I was doing exactly the same thing.  Instead of appreciating the joy of a beautiful day, I was chasing my tail – trying to accomplish things that, quite simply, could wait. They weren’t really important, and they weren’t going anywhere – whereas the sun would go down, the temperature would cool, and the rain – which they’re predicting for the next five days – will fall.  I should have been enjoying the day – but instead of seeing what was right there in front of me, I was busy chasing my tail.

Turkey Vulture Soaring OverheadSo I stopped, poured myself a cold drink, and went out on the deck.  For the next two hours I sat and watched the squirrels scampering about, the birds flitting from tree to tree, a pair of turkey vultures soaring overhead (I think they were a bit off-course, but my God they’re huge and magnificent – if terribly ugly – birds), and my hawks working on their nest (they are redecorating the one they used last year – in the pine tree in direct line of sight from my chaise).  Instead of going crazy trying to get things done, I took time to relax and enjoy the bounty of nature.  What more can anyone ask for?

Life is short (trust me!).  We all have things to do, goals to reach, objectives to meet and we spend most of our time chasing them.  But occasionally it’s a good idea to just leave them be, or let them go.   

I hope this spring you will ‘stop and smell the roses’ (or daffodils, or lilacs, or magnolia) when you get the chance.  Slow down, sit quietly, relax and forget about all the things that need to be done – at least for a little while.  Trust me – your ‘tail’ will still be there when you get moving again!   I know – I’m still (occasionally) chasing mine around and around … the other side of 55.
Stop and Smell the Magnolias

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4 Comments
  1. Betsy Cushman permalink
    April 25, 2011 8:12 pm

    You captured the essence of tail-chasing perfectly, in all our feline and not-so-feline forms. What a gift!

  2. Sharon permalink
    April 25, 2011 3:09 am

    I’ve been chasing my tail way too long. Time to at least try to slow down.
    Maybe that’s why Sally takes off down the hall so fast sometimes-trying to get away from it.
    That’s what we do sometimes–run away and it just follows.
    So might as well stop running, relax and ignore the dang thing.

    • April 26, 2011 9:55 pm

      Where’s the fun in that? I do agree that sometimes you have to just ‘let it go’, though.

      Margo

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