I’ve been thinking a lot about barn cats. You know, the confident, scrappy cats, usually seen at a distance, darting in the shadows, or sometimes lounging in the sun.
Their fur hangs in clumps, and many of them skedaddle when they see a human coming. Their lives are lived wild and free, slipping easily between the slats that contain the livestock and scaling fences for full outdoor access. A barn cat observes few rules, except maybe, refraining from entering the house.
They expect little from the farmer, but appreciate any water and supplemental meals they’re offered. They often claim piles of hay and horse blankets for their bedding. But they generally fend for themselves, relying on their own resources.
The farmer provides enough to keep them alive, but not so much as to allow them to become as lazy as a house cat. A certain wild must be maintained to prevent them from losing the instinctual desire to kill. Because the barn cat is most valued for its hunting.
Have you ever heard a farmer talk about their barn cats? Oh, the pride. The cats are a valuable cog in the workings of the farm, preying on uninvited rodents moving in to nibble on, and destroy, the grains meant for the livestock, or in yesteryear, the grains harvested for the household. The felines are sometimes named, and often ranked according to their viciousness.
Some barn cats will boldly approach, looking for affection, but the barn cat’s domain is not the home or the family. It is the land – half wild/half domestic, half-trusting the farmer for provisions, half-resolved to fending for itself.
These days, I see friends who have become spiritual barn cats, and I sometimes venture out there myself. The conservative churches of childhoods no longer appeal.
Instinct has taken over, and moral compasses direct away from the warmth and saucers of milk of the house, into the outdoors where infestations are destroying the bounty, threatening the well-being of the farm’s ecosystem.
Social injustices, bigotry, environmental trampling and inequalities nibble away, spoiling the precious staples meant for the world.
So like barn cats, not able to tell if the farmer is taking action, some slip out the door of the church, and stay an arm’s length away while prowling for the iniquities that they instinctively know are wrong.
I think in particular of a friend of mine. Jennifer has become quite the scrappy mouser, taking on all forms of bigotry, ready to pounce at the slightest twitch and mercilessly rip it to shreds. She’s quite skittish around the farmer, and especially his children, who she’s observed pulling tails, forgetting to tend the others, and who display favoritism and quick judgment.
But one-by-one, she’s prowling the barn, single-handedly taking care of the property, as best she can. Racism? She’ll school you. Anti-LGBTQ? She’ll take you down. Think your health is more valuable than someone else’s? She’ll cut you down to size.
Hypocrisy in your religion? Watch out, she will be waving red flags printed with scripture all over the place.
Her methods are aggressive, skilled and precise, and I’m sure some slink away from her path, knowing she won’t hesitate to sink her teeth in should they cross her. She flamboyantly flaunts her disdain for the house and its people, in all their exclusiveness and fuss.
I have to think that the farmer feels overwhelming pride when he sees her stalking, then pouncing on her prey, trying to rid the world of insidious sentiments and misrepresentations and prejudices, one by one.
And I do hope that if she happens to drop a sacrifice at the farmer’s door, she catches his smile when he finds it, and knows that when she needs him, he’ll be there for her. Because I feel certain, the farmer loves his barn cats, just as they are.
Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park and can be reached at email@example.com