Friday, November 21, 2014

Empty Basket: Pippen (1999-2014)

“But the best death, quick and crystal-pure, set so glaringly open before us, is hard enough to face, even though we feel gratefully sure that we have already had happiness enough for a dozen lives.” – John Muir

 Pippen had been a steady purring presence on this blog, in our life, and in our artwork and my cartoons for many years: fifteen of them in fact. A precious pound kitty, and the fourth orange tabby in my history of households. Last weekend he suffered a sudden seizure and died, in my hands, while awaiting transport to the emergency veterinary service in town. So sudden and unexpected (“threw a clot” was the best guess from a couple vets) that we have been in sadness and shock for some days now.

A year ago to the week we lost Bird-Dog. The cabin is so damn quiet now, but for the elder cat Souchie, who doesn’t do all that much these days save a couple caterwauling patrols to the outhouse. I think he’s finally catching on to who’s missing at the food-bowl, and wanders around plaintively meowing, maybe wondering what’s wrong, but then he’s twenty now and that’s to be expected. In contrast Pippen was the explorer, and the welcoming greeter, and a constant couch companion… definitely the friendliest and most curious kitty I’ve ever had. By nature they’re supposed to be somewhat aloof and distant, but not him – anything new on the scene, be it a person or a piece of paper, was cause for examination. Now one of the many triggers for missing him is realizing that the outside door can be left open longer, as there isn’t anybody making an immediate beeline for freedom.

He was a hurricane of cuteness: just last week I was mentally counting up all the cubbyholes and corners he routinely stakes out for napping spots throughout the entire house – up to dozen places whether they be in front of the heat vent, a basket, shelf or box, or most often, nearby wherever YOU happened to be.

His homes had spread across the whole country, in carriers in truck, car and plane, from Montana to Maine to Hatcher Pass, and half-a-dozen cabins across the Interior. So many adventures, encounters and friends, both four-legged and two. We've been really deeply touched at the outpurring of calls, emails and notes: thank you to everyone who has offered condolences.

He was the fuzzy paperweight that would pin down any corner of a blanket, burrow inside a pile of coats or underneath a comforter. Given the instinctive propensity of an animal to fixate upon any new source of napping space, his animal magnetism manifested in the unerring and uncanny ability to shed an incredible amount of orange fur upon anything slightly darker colored than his own pelt – black felt being a particular favorite.

Pippen was an outdoor cat for half his life, only setting up full-time indoor residency during our sortie to Maine, mostly on account of the tick menace. Thereafter he became fully domesticated, and along the way became more properly the property of the Significant Otter, who effectively trained Pippen in the finer arts of snuggling. I’m so glad for her recording so many clips of his every endearing habit, from trademark wallowing belly-rolls and flexing of mittens to his dainty paw-dips into leftover cups of milk.

While his name was coined from both Tolkien’s Took and Melville’s Pip, he was also known, among many other terms of affection, as the “Thundering Butterball,” as he literally shook the house while galloping around the porch in pursuit of another Red squirrel, or while stalking his nemesis, the common vole. In fact his powers of observation would often alert us to the arrival of another bird at the feeders, with the funny little window-ledge ritual of chuffing and squeaking and thrashing of tail.

Just a couple days before passing he had sneaked his way both onto my lap while in the studio and into another panel, and was is also featured as a model for another upcoming piece I did for submission. I never, ever knew of another kitty who so thoroughly epitomized the term “lap cat.” The hours and hours of endless entertainment that could be gotten from just a simple piece of string, teaching us to stop for a moment and have some fun. And don’t get me started on catnip… the monthly fishing expeditions under the futon were always so rewarding for a toy quest of retrieval.

Pippen was a little volcano of rumbling purr that lulled us into languor and peace. He’s at peace now, and we will miss him terribly every single day for a very long time. Just about every time we walk anywhere around the cabin we feel distinctly unfollowed, or sense the palatable absence of being watched while at work in the studio. Taking a pickaxe to the frozen tundra and trying to dig a grave is about how much it feels inside. Never gets easy. Not the least when his big, fuzzy head will be gone from where it waited at window and door.

And the empty basket. 

Image: Diane R. Hunt


  1. A lovely tribute of a lovely cat. My condolences, Jamie and Diane.

  2. No one gets to stay but it sucks when they go.

    1. Yep. Glad to share the time though.

  3. Oh man, he really was all of that. So grateful Significant Otter was able to capture his amazing cuteness and my heart aches for you both. Yet, so happy he lived large and suffered little. Big hugs to you my friend.

    1. Hey thanks Melissa - raising some nip to ya.