A scary cat litter

Written by Sylvia, a regular contributor.
Sad to relate, not every parent has what it takes to brandish a scoop and poke around in the litter box.

‘Based on years of s**t shoveling….’ [Michael’s words on doing the cat litter]

S**t, be it known, isn’t a reprehensible word. It’s vulgar, which doesn’t mean it’s unseemly. Although it’s a shape-shifter, vulgar meant and still means ‘common.’ Which most everything is – the sun, moon and stars, etc. Thanks to Bill, commoners are undeservedly scorned as low-lifes by Hyacinth Buckets – as in Boo-kay – who curl their pinky over a teacup, take care to pronounce the ‘t’ in ‘often’ (or is that mainly Americans?), and give a wide berth to what they suspect is the sleeveless-undershirt-Onslow-uncouthness of the objective pronoun ‘me,’ replacing it with the more delicate ‘I’ (‘they invited Herbert and I to the opera….’).

Before moving on, f**k is a horticultural word that devolved into an expletive tirelessly mouthed by folks afflicted with two-fisted verve combined with a sluggish grasp of the language. Newly minted, the word meant ‘to plant.’ The farmer ‘f***ed his fields in the spring.’ Nothing alarming was going on. He was just trudging behind his plow.

Yet asterisks on a family website spare our feelings, proof of the pudding that William the Conqueror’s Smear Campaign is still going strong nearly a thousand years after he had it bruited about that the Brits were beetle-browed, woad-bedaubed louts, that their monosyllabics were low and lewd, and Latin polysyllabics were high-toned.

As suggested above, not all of us scoop and flush. Until a few years ago, however, garbage dumps (‘landfills’) prohibited pet litter. What to do? Haul it away on moonless nights and fling it in the woods? Pile it up in the yard, if we had one?

Some brands of commercial litter may be better than others. Yet some or many don’t biodegrade. For all the drawbacks, living in logging towns has one advantage: free sawdust. It’s best to scoop or empty a litter box every day, but the dumping – depending on how many cats – can wait for a couple of days if a thick layer of fresh sawdust is added each morning. The lower levels turn rank in three days, and the box needs to be emptied and washed. But it’s scary to dump it in the yard, especially when there are vegetables 20 or 30 feet from the area. Though years can elapse with no repercussions, there’s still a risk. Toxoplasmosis is said to survive in cat litter for more than a year, and some sources claim that earthworms are a vector in spreading it throughout the yard. The pile should be covered with chicken wire to keep birds away while it’s still bare. For three and more years it’s undecomposed: there’s nothing earthy either in its looks or its texture. Although the reek disappears in days, the pile is nothing but urine-soaked sawdust – an eyesore and dead zone.

For all their sweet incense, can roses and lilacs hold a candle to citrus blossoms, freesias (the source of Chanel No. 5), plumerias, gardenias, daphnes, viburnums, heliotropes, hoyas, orchids and Parma violets? The latter are never for sale in nurseries, which stock ‘Newfoundland violets’ ($5.00 apiece) a pretty little plant with flowers as scentless as African violets.

Parma violets are hardy as weeds and live for decades – possibly for a century or longer. Grown in poor soil, they’ll still bloom in late winter or early spring, pumping out a few stunted flowers with, however, a matchless perfume. If you look at them closely, you’ll see that the plants make dozens of babies small as grains of rice. These sprouts will grow if you tease them loose from the parents with tweezers and plant them in a flat which will hold, because they’re so tiny, hundreds of seedlings. If you set them out in good quality soil when they’re half an inch tall, they’ll thank you with purple drifts of flowers the following spring that perfume the air a hundred feet in every direction, a glorious sight under pink dogwoods, the violets mingled with blue and orange pansies.

Will cat litter kill violet seedlings? Heck, it would kill an acre of nettles. Right? Think again. Against all expectation these seedlings transform a foot-thick layer of sludge into a dazzling carpet of violets, amethyst blue, with a ravishing fragrance.

An enlightened use of what most people want to get rid of? A pile of cat litter isn’t for women of child-bearing age or families with youngsters. It could be chancy for anyone, though veterinarians have said that the risk of litter-borne disease is overblown, that animal droppings are everywhere when we step out our door, that boots and gloves protect us from germs, and that fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be eaten straight from the garden without thorough washing, especially when they’re served uncooked.

Can rubbish – even sewage – become a work of art? An entrepreneur is turning elephant dung into elegant notepaper. Beachcombers sculpt and polish unpromising clumps of driftwood into lustrous, swirling abstractions displayed on a verdigris base or hung on a wall. They fashion them into stunningly beautiful glass-topped dining room tables and headboards that sell at craft fairs for hundreds – and no, it isn’t unheard of – thousands of dollars.

Nor is it less of a miracle how cat poo and tinkle can morph into a vision of heaven.

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