Tusitala's Dancing Dreams
How Cat Become a Lion
in Laudem Sanctum Amici
The Queen's Taste
Writing Myself Back Into Life
I make Tusitala’s Dancing Dreams one book at a time. Each is hand-sewn, hand-bound, signed, and numbered. It takes me a couple of weeks. Send a note and we’ll discuss me making one for you. Thanks ever so much for the consideration.
First appearing as an 8th grade English assignment, How Cat Became A Lion languished in some unused memory cul-de-sac for twenty-five years. Once released this wee tale wove a crooked path through big reimagined purposes: A fairy tale, a coming-of-age lesson, a cute nothing, and an edgy adult reminder. It’s simply a sweet story. Here. Bite a corner of this little morsel. Savor it.
Long, long ago, so far back in time that only two old wise-women remember precisely where this story took place, a young spotted cat with sapphire eyes lived in an adobe casita the same color as the surrounding salmon-hued sandstone escarpment. Each day Cat frolicked in her yard — ‘round and ‘round magenta hollyhocks, up and down her favorite Montmorency cherry tree, tunneling through trumpet vine vibrating with bees.
Sometimes chittering yips wafted over the high garden walls; occasionally tangy, tart, furry smells drifted through the turquoise gate. Each time a hint of untamed crossed her nose, Cat raced to the gate and stared at that shiny ruby bluff, graced with juniper and piñon, protecting the base of a dark green, soaring world. She tried to envision who she smelled and what sort of creature spoke in those mysterious languages carried in the wind cooling her face. One day she spied, only a few skips away, a crooked trail leading through the cliffside up into the mountain.
Summer heat intensified and Cat spent more time thinking, listening and wondering. One sun-blinding August morning, her curiosity grew intense and she wiggled under the gate, trotting toward that red and pink cliff.
As Cat began climbing the trail; her fur rippled with nervousness. Her whiskers quivered. She hunched low and crept slowly around stones, freezing at shadowy movements or whispery sounds. Ears twitched in every direction and her slightly frizzed tail twirled. After the heavenly aroma of sun-heated piñon resin, Cat recognized nothing, no tree, no bird, no smell, nothing. Ouch! Sharp, summer-hot rocks burned her tender paws.
Her path softened, littered now with leaves, moss and pine needles; she walked mountain terrain now, among the Douglas fir and Lodgepole pines. A gentle breeze shimmered an Aspen copse and wafted murmurs, clicks, sighs, chirps, and low barks. Jumbled sedimentary boulders formed small caves tempting Cat into quick explorations. A twig snapped and leaves rustled to her left, just out of her sight. What was it? A Western Painted turtle, with her winter-sunset- red belly stripes, waddled near Gambel oak. Cat sighed and then chuckled at her edginess.
A delicious water hint floated past, focusing her curiosity on relieving thirst and cooling down. A few long leaps brought her to the top of the trail. Below stretched a sheltered mountain meadow and a silver-blue dancing brook.
Soothed, Cat marveled at this peaceful place. From a crevice in the rocks a tiny red-brown bird trilled cascades of delicately fluid notes. Abundant yellow sweetclover, fiery red penstemon, blazing paintbrush, and soft orange umbrellas of globe mallow mingled with tiny mountain daisies, lupine and columbine. Great Spangled fritillaries skipped blossom to blossom, while cherry-faced Meadowhawks whizzed overhead.
Trees and sunlight danced around Cat, creating a hopscotch of warm and cool spots and she jumped from shadow to light, shadow to light, until suddenly she saw two huge ears and a pointed nose hiding among the glistening leaves of a New Mexico locust. A jolt of electricity raced through her and she froze, every muscle tense, her whiskers tingling, her tail bushed.
“Who are you?” squeaked a small voice. “Where do you come from?”
“I’m Cat. I live way down there. Who are you?”
A wild dog nearly three times the size of Cat shimmied down the tree trunk. “They call me Gray Fox.”
Cat and Gray Fox looked at each other, carefully circled around, and then looked some more. Finally, Cat smiled: “You amaze me. Dogs climb trees? And your tail! I’m jealous. My elegant tail appears paltry next to yours.”
Gray Fox grinned and shrugged. “I smell my friend and neighbor, Mrs. Western Spotted Skunk, near coyote willows. She might play with us; let’s go see.” Off they ran.
Gray Fox yipped softly letting Skunk know guests approached; she sprays an obnoxious scent when startled. Skunk, sleek, lazy and sleepy from her morning dust bath, preferred to sit on a hot flat rock, laughing at the silliness of Cat and Gray Fox, instead of playing with them. First they sped up an old Western boxelder pretending to care who climbed the highest, then they chased each other through chokecherries, down small gullies, around Winterfat, tumbling and giggling, scampering and rolling.
As Cat was hiding in a serviceberry thicket, a short, chubby, dark gray bird with stark white eyebrows flew directly out of the stream, almost colliding with her. Cat skidded to a stop and stared at the crazy bird chortling and bobbing on a skinny willow branch a few feet away.
“Hey! I’m Ouzel. Catch me if you can!”
It wasn’t long before Skunk tumbled from her rock perch, shaking in laughter at the antics of the dog running after the cat who was leaping to catch the giggling bird. Finally exhausted, everyone plopped down around Skunk, panting, happy. The sun glinted in the west and golden-haloed shadows stretched long; the afternoon was over.
Cat yawned: “I’m hungry and thirsty. I better mosey on home.”
“Oh, Cat, don’t go. Stay here with us,” chirped Ouzel.
“Yes, please stay. We’ll feed you and make certain you’re safe tonight. Honest! Then we can play first thing in the morning,” promised Gray Fox.
Cat’s contented heart loved the idea and she agreed. Clever Gray Fox used her grand tail to sweep together piles of excellent berries for everyone’s dinner — tiny sweet strawberries, tart buffaloberries, tongue-pleasing raspberries, delicious red mulberries. When everyone’s stomach thumped bass drum notes, Skunk escorted them to her favorite pool in the stream, a clear water place protected and quiet. They drank their fill of delectable water and washed all the purple berry juice from their whiskers.
As Ouzel led the way to a small cave hidden behind the waterfall, she whispered of holy women sometimes sleeping here during full moon and the green leafy Firefly Music they created. Heaps of cattail fluff lined the little alcove floor making a perfect snug bed for the tired kitty. Drifting toward sleep, Cat noticed shimmering hand prints, spirals, bison, antelope, horses, and Mystical Beings painted everywhere on the cave’s walls.
Her dream swam amidst those ancient subtly moving images. Merging and withdrawing Ouzel, Gray Fox, Skunk joined others in a circle, singing, humming, and drumming. Cat herself swirled around a fire which showered the heavens with star sparks. Back and forth, round and round she pranced, matching movement to drum cadence. Soon the circle grew smaller and Cat easily leaped over the flames. Dancer-graceful and euphoric, she reveled as her tail undulated before her mesmerizing as a hissing Prairie Gopher snake. Cat reached and stretched to lap Moon’s milk. Singing with the universe, Cat’s song soared to the Pleiades. Her glimmering claws, sharp as scimitars, carved a new arroyo just west of the fire. Bright winking lights far up-cañon revealed Great Horned Owl’s focused attention on Cat and her fire-dance. Kangaroo Rat’s cheerful scurrying chatter sounded soft in Cat’s ears.
Glinting copper and chartreuse, Rufous hummingbirds, bathing buzzing chittering just outside the cave, alerted Cat to day’s beginning. She stretched her back, scraping it against the ceiling. Then she flexed each paw, limbering her lithe body for adventure. She yawned as she gazed outside, the tip of her tail slapping with eagerness. Exploration beckoned and she wanted to tell her friends all about her extraordinary dream. She leapt down the rocks.
Cat spied two jackrabbits she played with yesterday and strolled towards them. Quickly her long, dark shadow loomed over them, blocking the sun; her whipping tail nearly knocked them on their heads. They yelped in fright and, breathing rapid fear breaths, hurriedly zigzagged away.
Puzzled, Cat wandered to the river where Skunk contemplated river sparkles and her splendiferous black and white spotted stripes. Cat forgot Skunk’s timorous nature and bounded close to her friend, laughing aloud, eager to relate that incredible dream still clear in her mind. Instantly Skunk jumped on her front feet and spread her glorious black-streaked mop of a tail, ready to defensively engulf Cat in that most obnoxiously aromatic mist of scent.
Cat backed away, sat down, and quietly said: “Skunk, it’s me, Cat. You know me.”
As Cat remained still, Skunk relaxed, thinking this exceedingly large four-legged individual carried that smoky, dusty, hot smell of Cat and didn’t seem eager to harm her.
"Did you call yourself Cat? Though you smell like Cat you certainly don’t look like her."
"I am Cat. We were friends yesterday."
"What happened to you? I’ve never seen an outline of anyone as big as you. Never ever ever. You make me nervous. Plus, your voice is so loud you roar."
"I don’t roar. How could I be bigger? I’ve only been here one day."
“Yes, you are huge, and, yes, you roar."
They got cranky trying to understand each other. A very frustrated Skunk huffed: "Jeezo peezo you infuriate me. I can’t stand liars. Go away!" She curled herself into a tight ball and said nothing more.
Shoulders down, tail low, Cat slumped away. Near a clump of sage, she crossed her arms and settled to cogitate a bit. Her whiskers spun round; her ears jittered. Fur along her shoulders shivered. The last four inches of her tail slapped the ground hard, up and down, left to right. She was edgy, frustrated, and confused. Skunk made no sense. How could Cat be different? She decided some friends woke up with hard hearts this morning and she ambled away to find Gray Fox.
Gray Fox was chasing her exceptional tail, circling her enormous, beloved Cottonwood, yipping and laughing. Cat crouched and crept ever so slowly towards her splendid dog friend. Perhaps Gray Fox wouldn't be frightened if Cat moved cautiously. She didn't realize how far her legs reached. Today a short step for her was really a giant leap and she startled Gray Fox just as she had the jackrabbits and Skunk.
As Gray Fox sped up the tree, Cat yelled, "Gray Fox! Wait! This is me, Cat, your friend. Wait!"
Gray Fox stared down at the creature who called herself Cat. Gray Fox’s superior nose detected that sharp and spicy felion perfume her friend always wore and this immense beast looked a bit like Cat; Gray Fox decided to listen for a moment.
"Why do you call yourself Cat?"
"Because I am Cat. Don’t you remember me?"
"I can sense something of Cat in you but you neither look like her nor sound like her," replied Gray Fox, warily.
"But I am Cat. Honest."
"You liar. There’s too much of you. You can’t be Cat!" barked Gray Fox angrily as she climbed until her amazing camouflage hid her high among the leaves .
Cat’s heart hurt. As far as she could tell everything was still the same. She believed she looked the same and she was positive she sounded the same, but two of her new best friends insisted she changed. They called her a liar, too. ‘Why is everyone mean? What’s going on? Perhaps Ouzel could explain.’ Cat trotted off to find her small feathered friend.
Chattering birds splashed all along the sparkling water, diving, laughing, and singing as they played. Cat spied her friend Ouzel flitting in and out of an eddy and bounded towards her, delighted and hopeful. Ouzel and all the other birds squawked in fear and flew away. Ouzel settled high on a boulder and peered down.
Cat whispered her friend’s name a couple of times and Ouzel came a little closer. She was curious about this enormous being calling her name.
“Who are you? Why do you pretend to be Cat?”
"I’m not pretending. I AM Cat.”
"But," said Ouzel, "you cannot be Cat. She's an itty bitty thing, not even as big as Gray Fox. You are ten times as big as my good wild dog friend. Cat has spots, you don’t. Look at your feet! Your aspen-sized tail! AND your eyes gleam as round and yellow as a Cold Wind full moon. Cat’s eyes are the color of Autumn’s sky. I simply don’t believe you are Cat.”
"Oh Ouzel, I don't understand anything any more. Last night I dreamed about a strange creature whose voice caused small rock slides and whose long legs could leap from boulder to boulder. You and Gray Fox and Skunk were in my dream and drummed while this animal danced. An extravagant dream I wanted to talk to you all about. Today each friend I meet fears me and runs away. They say I’m gigantesque and crazy loud. And, they call me a liar. Please, Ouzel, I need your help. I am all mixed up."
Ouzel studied Cat for a moment, then she hopped closer. Gently, Ouzel said, "When I look with my heart I see you really are Cat. Something truly remarkable took place last night because you are indeed very different today. This is important and magical. Give me a moment to think about all of this, please.”
While Ouzel fluttered from bush to shrub, thinking, Cat yawned, stretched, and lay down.
Suddenly, Ouzel landed, exclaiming: “Your dream! It told you all of this. Come, my love, let’s go to Skunk’s calm pool. You must see something.”
When they reached the slow water, Cat bent to take a drink. Immediately, she fell back on her haunches, dropped her head, bared her teeth, and growled, deep and fierce.
“Cat, hear me. Who you are now reflects from the pool. Look again. Look deeply at yourself.”
Cat reluctantly returned to the waterline, hesitated, then looked down. She yawned; the reflection yawned. ‘Look at those teeth and those whiskers!’ she gasped. She twitched her ears. The being in the water wiggled her ears. ‘That’s me!’ Then, with her head hanging and tears puddling in her eyes, she turned to her friend. “Ouzel, what’s happened? Who am I?”
“Cat, sorrow does not belong on your face. Look more closely at yourself.”
Cat unsheathed her claws; they flashed like knives in the sunlight. She groomed one endless leg, then flicked her three-foot-long tail. She flexed her shoulders and arched her back. Her sleek, supple body, with its marvelous golden fur astonished her. A warm wave of pride surged through her; tears evaporated with the heat of happiness; worry and hurt disappeared as comprehension grew—she was beautiful, a unique and magnificent creature of the cañon.
“Ah, that’s better,” Ouzel murmured. Then she spoke clearly: “Cat, you stand before me now as a beauteous, powerful, never-before-seen being. You have earned the right to be renamed. Because everyone accuses you of lying and insists that you lie on and on and on, we’ll call you Lion. And, to honor that part of you which is regal yet gentle, the secret part of your name shall be Mountain. What do you think about becoming known as Lion?"
Cat pondered a few moments. She repeated her new name several times, getting a little louder each time, finally roaring with joy. With each echo off the orange-red bluff, Cat’s heart expanded, until finally she ecstatically chased her wondrous tail four times around Ouzel, rolled three times in brilliantly hot sand, leapt twice across the glittering brook, and sharpened her great claws once on the nearest Cottonwood.
Within minutes every imaginable critter gathered around Ouzel and Cat, wondering why this huge felion sang with such enthusiasm. Ouzel related a bit of the story, then announced Cat’s new name. Each one present agreed the name rang perfectly true. Soon the royal purr of Lion droned louder than all the cheering and clapping.
To this day, the little cat who grew ten times bigger overnight is acclaimed as Lion wherever she travels. She knows she is still a cat, but she’s proud of her impressive name. Lion.