I walk my cats. Feel free to laugh, because it is funny, but I’m a “hover parent.”

Most people do this with their kids; I do it with my cats. Whenever the weather is nice enough, “we” all go out for a stroll. It started so I could keep my eye on a tiny, rambunctious kitten, so she wouldn’t get lost, but… now that she’s older, I’ve kept up the habit. We started out on a leash. This worked just fine with my older kitty, Cap, because he is a gentleman who, after one bout with a leash, learned me getting out a harness meant going outside (which he loves). He sat there patiently while I put it on him, even if it took a minute or two, in anticipation of the great outdoors.

Not so, with my newer kitty, Callie. She is a scrapper descended from a line of loud alley cats. She never connected that “harness” means “outside,” so where I kept Cap on the leash for several months, Callie was done with it in a week. But it’s fine. They stick close together and follow me around, and she’s only gotten stuck in trees twice.

I’m not someone who loves routine. I get bored with it, but the act of forcing myself to go outside each day and roam around with a couple of cats has taught me a few things.

One is to slow down a bit. I tend to be an over-achiever at home with a to-do list. I like to cross off most of it before bed. I find it hard to take weekends off and just ‘do nothing,’ since that seems unproductive. (Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t.) There’s nothing to do when you are walking cats but to watch them sniff things, climb trees, chase each other around the yard, roll in the dirt, stalk another cat, and disappear in the four seconds you turn your back. Callie darts down into the old cellar through a hole and refuses to come out until she’s good and ready. She also loves to lay on the dining room table in the sun, despite being told “no.” Though because I’m a feline pushover, the “firm no,” sounds like, “Aww, precious smol cutie, remember mommy doesn’t want kitty’s butt on the table, so good little kitty can get down now!”

Yeah… so that never works.

I resist the urge to take my phone on these walks, because it’s a distraction. Nothing is happening online anyway, and I don’t need to text people while I’m outside. Being ‘present’ forces me to notice things I might otherwise miss. I’ve found countless future tire flatteners in the form of old nails, screws, pieces of wire, and the odd bobbles and bits off tractors that have long since gone to that great field in the sky. This morning I found a weird little rubber thing with shiny dots in it, which I assume fell off the electrical pole. And a rubber washer.

A couple of weeks ago, in-between cold spells, I found a vole (it’s like a mouse) sitting smack in the middle of the road, looking drunk. The cats did not see it, but I watched him totter around as if he were half frozen and confused. I took pity on him and put him into a clump of bushes out of the wind, where he just… lay there. For hours. (Yes, I checked on him twice.) Unmoving, but still breathing. When I went back much later, sure I’d find him dead, he was gone. I assume he recovered and went back to his hole. I have no idea what ‘addled’ him. There’s no mouse poison anywhere close by, he had no wounds on him, and there weren’t any holes he could have come out of, that I know about. All I can assume is that something interrupted his hibernation, he staggered outside, found it too cold, and went into shock. But thanks to me, he may just live to produce 5,000 more of his kind.

I’ve also had time to notice insects seem to stay busy year-around. On even frigid days, I’ve seen flies (proof nothing kills them) hopping around. Tiny little spiders scurrying through the leaves. Various unnamed insects buzzing, rustling, and creeping. It never stops except when it snows (and then, I’m not out there either). I discovered how many pine needles accumulate under the trees in the winter, which means come spring they’ll need cleared to prevent fire hazards.

I’m grateful to my cats for ‘forcing’ me to go outside and experience life… without being in a hurry. Oh, there are days I urge them to come inside after I get bored, but most times it’s a good way to think, clear my head, wonder about things, and be in nature. Too much of my life is noise, even though I minimize it as much as I can. I read somewhere that the human brain is not evolved enough to handle ‘all the disasters in the world,’ yet that’s what we do to ourselves much of the time through a constant stream of information. I’ve also noticed the less quiet we are as humans, the more we’re inclined to dislike each other, leap to conclusions, or face depression.

I realize humans cannot unplug from the world and should not have to, but it’s important for me to carve out quiet time outside. Whenever I think too highly of myself, nature reminds me of how small I am, and that I am just a piece of a “life in progress.” There is a lot going on that I would not notice if not for my walks. A cat’s life isn’t as long as mine, either, so I want to get as much joy and amusement out of being with them as I can during the blessed time of being ‘owned’ by them. The other day, Cap found a bottle cap outside. He went into “full frenzy playing mode,” hopping two feet in the air (he’s a long-legged jumper) and just having a great time. It lasted about 30 seconds, before he looked embarrassed and pretended it never happened. But I was there to see it, and I’m glad.

Don’t be so busy you can’t truly enjoy the people and pets around you. Put down your iPhone, and look at them instead. ♦