Friday, October 24, 2008

How the Tortoiseshell Got Her Markings

A creation myth for my cat. -- Proof that I've been studying way too much folklore lately -- and it's only going to get worse as I'm actually taking a lit class on folklore & children's lit next semester.

Once upon a time there was a tiny tortoiseshell cat. Now back then the tortoiseshell didn't look like she does now. Her coat didn't have a speck of grey on it, instead she was covered with blond and caramel colored fur from her pink nose to the tips of her ears, from her paws down her back and up the length of her tail.

One day the tortoiseshell came across a bird that looked good to eat. She sneaked up behind it, silent as could be. And the bird, who was busy with her own work, did not know the tortoiseshell was there until the paw came down and clipped the bird's tail feathers. The tortoiseshell had missed!

The bird flew up, squawking and cawing. Again the tortoiseshell leaped but she was too late and the bird already too high.

When the tortoiseshell landed back on the ground she saw what the bird had found so interesting. There on the ground was a tiny, battered sprite. The tortoiseshell sniffed the sprite but, as any cat knows, sprites aren't good eating and so she sat back to watch the tiny creature on the ground.

The sprite got up and dusted herself off. Grabbed a wing that was hanging awkwardly and popped it back into place. Damage repaired save for bumps and scrapes, the sprite put both fists on her hips and stared up at the tortoiseshell.

"Tortoiseshell, you've saved me from being that bird's dinner," she said. "And though I know you didn't pounce on her to save me, you didn't get your dinner and so I'd like to give you a gift. I shall grant you three wishes. Whatever you most desire you had only think of you shall get."

The tortoiseshell thought this seemed rather amiable and didn't even bat at the sprite as she fluttered off though the tortoiseshell was sorely tempted to do so.

Having no immediate wants the tortoiseshell wandered off to see what she could find and shortly came across a boulder sitting in the sun near a river.

Ever curious, the tortoiseshell scrabbled up the side of the boulder and onto its top. The view was wonderful, but better yet she discovered that the top of the boulder was indented like a basin and fluff from cattails had collected there. The tortoiseshell curled up on the fluff and slept in the sun for many hours until the sun had dipped in the sky and no longer shone on her boulder.

The tortoiseshell woke and stretched. She thought about how hungry she was and decided to use one of the wishes the sprite had given her to get some food.

O sprite, she thought, what I'd like the most is my dinner right now.

The tortoiseshell had no sooner formed the thought than the cattail fluff she had slept on was instantly transformed into kibble.

Full and happy, the tortoiseshell leaped down from the boulder. Ever curious, she decided to explore the river before her. But the closer she got to the water the more thirsty she became. She stuck her nose in the water near the edge and though she could reach the surface, the water at the edge was nasty. Filled with bugs and algae and things the tortoiseshell did not want to drink.

The tortoiseshell could see clear water rushing through the middle of the river, babbling over tiny rocks as it made its way along the current.

O sprite, she thought, if only I could drink from the fresh, clear water that moves so freely with none of the yucky stuff that clings to the edge, if only that running water was someplace where I could reach it I would have what I want.

And no sooner had she thought it than the riverbed shifted and rose forming a rocky outcropping that the water flowed over creating a tiny waterfall. The tortoiseshell quickly leaped onto a dry rock from which she could easily drink form the newly formed waterfall.

Sated and happy, the tortoiseshell continued to explore. She soon came across a tiny fire burning away in a pit. She wondered at it for she had never seen a fire before. Ever curious, the tortoiseshell sniffed the blaze.

She quickly pulled back but it was too late, a flame caught her whisker and the whole thing sparked. Soon all the tortoiseshell could see was smoke and ash. All she could feel was heat and pain. And though she tried to back away her feet just dragged through the soot of the flames that now grew and grew.

O sprite! she cried, what I need -- what I need right now! -- is to put out this fire! Make it stop!

And no sooner had she thought it but the fire was gone. The flames that had curled around her were gone. The smoke was gone, the pain was gone.

The tortoiseshell sat down and heaved a deep breath. But then she looked down at her fur and saw her paws were covered with soot. She tried to lick them clean but found it was no use, so she went back to the waterfall, and though she did not like to get wet, she doused herself with water trying to get rid of the gray that had worked its way into her coat.

The tortoiseshell looked at her reflection in the water, her whole face was gray with soot and ash, even her nose had burnt black. Her paws were covered with it, as was the tip of her tail where it had dragged in the ground. But her back was still caramel where the least of the soot had fallen.

And that is why today we call the tortoiseshell Ash.

Say hello to Ash. She's very happy to meet you.

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