Saturday, June 14, 2008

Learning to count - part two

Peep looked at the scratches she’d made in her secret place, and matched them up with her paws, as she did most days. Both front paws and one back one had all toes taken, and the last paw was now involved in the counting. She’d predicted she’d end up lying on her back with all four paws in the air to count, and here she was, doing just that. It was a good thing no one could see her, as she knew she looked a bit silly.

What would she do when she finished the last paw? Peep went to ask LT if he knew any more about this counting thing. She found him sunning on the deck, and after checking for Fuzzy, went out to join him.

“LT, about this counting thing. I need to know more about how people count. I’m running out of paws, you know.” Peep settled down for what would probably be a long lecture.

“Well, little Peep, I don’t know a lot about counting other than what I’ve figured out from watching the Mommy and Daddy. When they write numbers, they do talk about ones and tens and powers. I think they’re all different types of numbers. We count by smell, which you know of course. Your cat mommy could tell if one of you was missing by knowing that there were not enough kittens because it just didn’t smell right. I know when there are too many cats in the neighborhood because it doesn’t smell right. There’s the complete smell, the less than complete smell, and the too much smell. And of course there’s the bacon smell, but that’s another thing entirely.” LT was hungry and easily distracted by his stomach. “I think powers and tens are like that. A ten is a bunch of ones, and powers are probably bunches of tens, or some such. I never saw a reason to learn that – it’s not going to keep me fed or groomed or warm. Does that help?”

“I guess so. It does give me some ideas.”

Peep wandered off to see what Rudy might know about numbers and counting.
Rudy had arranged herself in the middle of the bed, making a nest of the covers, since the Daddy hadn’t made the bed this morning. That was the one thing she liked about the Mommy being gone. She made the bed too much, and it was harder to get a snuggly nest in the covers. “Peep, how are you this beautiful morning? Would you like to join me on the bed for a snooze?”

“Thanks, Rudy, but I need to know what you know about counting and numbers,” Peep replied.

“Absolutely nothing. When you’re as beautiful as I am you don’t have to be smart.” Rudy shook her head a little to fluff out her white ruff.

Peep wandered into the living room and sat down to think. She should be able to figure this out. She was a smart cat – LT had said so. She thought about ones and tens and powers, but other than one meaning a scratch, she didn’t know how to get to tens, much less powers. “I’m a cat, not a person, so what would a cat do to count?” she thought.

She spread out a front paw as far as the toes would go. “When I make enough scratches to match up to all of my toes, that’s a paw. Maybe that’s like a ten. Okay, I understand that. But what happens when I get enough scratches to fill up all my paws. What do all my paws make?”

With a flash, Peep realized it – front paws and back paws together make a cat! It was obvious, really. Unless a cat was injured, it had front paws and back paws, and it was the same for each cat, the same with toes, if you didn’t count those little ones far up her leg that didn’t even have claws.

Satisfied, Peep, figured that she’d come up with the next step in counting, and then remembered hearing the Daddy say that cats had four paws. So, now she even knew a name for that number. Four paws make a cat. Comparing her toes and her paws, she realized that she had the same number of toes on each paw that she had paws. Four toes equals a paw, four paws equals a cat. Marvelous!

But what if you wanted to count further than a cat? Peep liked the number four, because it was so very much a part of her. She giggled a bit at that thought. Of course it’s part of me. They’re my toes, my paws. As she looked at her paws and then around her for ideas, she had a brainstorm. Four cats make a house! You’d never want to have more cats than that in a house, because they’d fight too much. Yup, that was the next step – four cats make a house.

But now Peep wondered how she’d mark this. It was easy to make scratches. You just stuck out a claw and scratched. It was what cats did best, even if the people didn’t always like what they scratched. If she just kept making scratches, how would she know when the equaled more than one cat, or a house?

Peep decided she needed a place to work this out, and went outside to where LT was still sunning on the deck. “LT, can you watch out for Fuzzy for me? I have an idea about this counting thing, and want to concentrate on it.”

LT agreed, and Peep set to work in the yard. First she found a nice patch of sand and made deep paw prints in it. Looking at them, she decided that paws were wide with things sticking up from the top. Could she scratch something that looked like that to mean paw? Moving to a patch of dirt, she made some exploratory scratches, and came up with an idea. It was a line going sideways that went up at each end, kind of like the edges of a paw. Well, maybe like the edges of a paw, if you squinted hard.

She made four scratches and the new mark that she’d decided meant paw in the dirt so she wouldn’t forget it and then tried to figure out what she could do that would mean a cat. She looked at LT, who was lying down and facing her. What was the thing that when she looked at him made him a cat and not something else, like the Daddy or the bullfrog? Ears! Cats have pointy ears. So she experimented with drawing ears. Cats had an ear on each side of their head, should she scratch both? No, that was too hard, and would be confusing if she made them too close together. One ear would mean a cat.

She went back to where she’d made the scratches and the paw scratch. Next to it, she scratched four paws and the ear that meant cat. Good. This was getting easier. Now, for house. What could she scratch that looked like a house? She walked away from the house and looked at it. She’d never really looked at the house this way before, and it struck her that the house looked like a big box. Not exactly a square box, but a box. She tried scratching the top, sides and bottom of a box as though she was looking at it from the front. Perfect! She marked that next to where she’d done the first two along with the four cat scratches and called to LT.

“LT, I’ve figured out cat counting! Come look at it!” When he came over, she explained her system. “It’s quiet easy, really. Four scratches make a paw. Four paws make a cat. Four cats make a house. See, these are the scratches to show paw, cat and house. What do you think?”

LT looked at it for a long time, trying to figure it out. He thought to himself that this might seem obvious to Peep, but he wasn’t sure he understood it. He tried some scratches in the dirt himself – four scratches, paw. Four paws, cat. Four cats, house. He kind of understood it, but not really. This was hard.

Peep had been watching LT apprehensively. When he hadn’t answered right away, her first thought was that she’d come up with a really dumb idea, and he couldn’t figure out how to tell her politely. LT finally said, “Peep, I’m not sure I understand it completely, but I think it works. I never knew you were so smart. I don’t think I ever could have figured this out. One question, though. What do four houses make?”

Without even thinking about it, Peep replied, “The world. They’re can’t be more cats than that in the world, if you think about it.”

LT wasn’t quite sure about that, particularly after his recent trip, but this was Peep’s idea, and he sure didn’t have a better one. “Peep, you’re a cat genius.” He reached over and groomed her ears tenderly. LT hardly ever did that, so it showed how much she’d impressed him. After they’d sat together for a while, LT grooming her, and Peep admiring her work, they both fell asleep.

When Peep awoke, she decided that she needed to go to her secret place and scratch this new information. She didn’t want to wake up tomorrow and not remember it, so scratching it for reference was a good idea. She checked to see that no one would see where she was going, and went to the secret place and marked her new system. Then she used the system to mark how many days the Mommy had been gone in cat counting. Both front paws, one back paw, and one scratch. It looked quite impressive!

Maybe I am a genius cat, at least in cat counting. The Mommy said she’s not good at counting methods, but I am! Maybe I’m even smarter than the Mommy.

Photo courtesy of Doeth -

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