The glory of the understory

The glory of the understory

Sometimes you have to go undercover.

Cover of darkness.

Cover of velveteen blankets.

Cover of time itself, the great unbroken string from the world’s sunrise through the circuit of stars and unto the veil between light and greater light.

Um, or something like that.

Trip the light fantastic with me for just a minute.

You have your story. I know you well enough to know it’s far more than a fable, more magnificent than a myth; we’re not speaking of a Little Golden Book here, but of a Great Coverless Tome.

And yet, as glorious as your story is, there’s a thread that’s livelier yet.

You, like every cat who ever yawned, like every brave peculiar creature on this earth, like the sheltering forest itself, are gifted with an understory.

Among trees, the understory is the quietly riotous, confidently content layer of capital-L Life that thrums between the floor and the canopy. Seedlings and saplings and green grinning things float and fill the void between the ground that gives you courage and the branches that give you hope.

Warm and sheltering, a plentiful pantry for scampering beasts and woods-hungry souls, it’s neither earth nor sky. It’s easy to ignore the understory; it’s better to let it lead you on an adventure.

Among cats, the understory is the essence of all the elegance or arrogance that sprouts to the surface, the meaning behind the mysteries and histories we think we can begin to understand.

Chewbacca understands.

How the sad-eyed sapling came to share a name with the greatest Wookiee in all the worlds, we shall never know. The story that splashed across our headlines, in bold-face, font-size-48 HELP MEEEEEEEEEs, came from somewhere far below the starclusters, tangled in leafless trees and empty cans of Chef Boyardee.

No, really: Chewie was found in a restaurant basement. (I can neither confirm nor deny the literal presence of Chef Boyardee cans, although I’m confident that Mr. Boyardee would have personally assisted the cat if at all possible.)

And so the story goes. You can read it scratched into the bark of all the birches and oaks in Suite A: Chewie was in a Hopeless Situation. Chewie needed Tabby’s Place like leaves need light. Chewie needed three thousand cans of meat product. Chewie had never been properly socialized to human beings, since Mr. Boyardee had sadly never visited his basement.

Years and pages scrawled more story: Chewie was not what you might call a smiley Spaghetti-O. (If you meet someone you would call “a smiley Spaghetti-O,” please introduce me.) Chewie was committed to his quiet, shnoogle-me-not ways. Chewie would always choose the hidden hollow of the tree rather than the happy hands of the humans who would climb sequoias for the faintest chance of cuddling him.

That was Chewie’s story.

But no woodsy soul is simply a story.

Beneath the canopy of his curmudgeonly ways, far above the forest floor of his anxiety, Chewie gently gardened. Right beneath our nosy noses and all-too-human yearnings, the chunky botanist with the saddest of eyes was a one-cat arbor for verdant, victorious joy.

Beneath the harsh eyes of the sky, Chewie was cherishing saplings.

He was nurturing bonds.

He was nourishing wobbly little plants, staking them on the strength of his devotion, willing them into the sunlight by the sheer force of his love.

Under the story of The Unadoptable Cat, Chewie was unfurling the understory of The Unfailing Friend.

One by one, twiglets took strength under Chewie’s (venerable, meatball-like) head. He purred nervous newcomers into strength; he held them close until they could release their walking sticks; he loved them enough to let them go, full-grown hikers down the road he would demurely decline for himself.

Who can tell how many cats burst through the canopy into their adopters’ arms thanks to King Chewbacca the Quiet and Good?

Who can tell how many lost hikers found water, granola, and a fresh canteen of grace through Chewie’s quiet choices?

Who can tell any of our understories until the last page is written?

Despise not the little things, the sacred things, the whispers between earth and sky. Your story may look like a slopfest at times; there may be days where all you can see are exploded cans of noodles and lonely rolling meatballs.

But somewhere in the midst, pressed like a leaf between your pages, a great green grinning tale is taking shape.

You, no less than Chewbacca Rosenberg, are a living, breathing arboretum. Stretch those branches. Let sunlight hit all of your layers — even the ones you can’t quite understand. Especially those.

Who knows what tender shoots you’re sheltering?

Who knows what wee creatures you’re nurturing?

Who knows what may yet grow in Chewie’s forest, or yours, or mine? Past and present are smiling and smooching in our understories, and we’re wise to let all the luscious questions and answers grow together.

Keep going and growing, all my leafy kittens.

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