About Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Shirley Rousseau Murphy grew up in southern California, riding and showing the horses her father trained. She attended the San Francisco Art institute, and later worked as an interior designer while her husband Pat, a World War II veteran, attended college. When he graduated she quit her job and began to exhibit paintings and welded metal sculpture in the West Coast juried shows. Her work could also be seen in many traveling shows in the western States and Mexico.
"When we moved to Panama for a four-year tour in Pat's position with the U. S . Courts, I put away the paints and welding torches, and began to write," she says. After leaving Panama, they lived in Oregon, Atlanta, and northern Georgia. During that time she wrote over twenty books for children and young adults, winning five Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists awards, plus The Catswold Portal, an adult fantasy novel.
"At the stables we had Peggy, a gray shorthair who, walking atop the pasture fence, would step onto the back of the gentlest old gelding and take a little ride.
"Peggy would run beside my father when he went to irrigate the pastures. Wading hip-deep in water, she watched for the first rabbit to escape from its burrow--but not from her swift claws. Catching it, she would drag it across the flooded pasture to her kittens, to teach them about wild game and about the finer points of hunting.
"When my husband was a young probation officer, in San Bernardino, he was
often gone for several days. We had two black cats then, and on a summer
midnight I woke to see Scrappy pacing in the open window, growling like a
little panther. Peering out, I saw a man standing in the bushes--he could
have stepped right through the window. I was young, and frightened. I phoned
my neighbor, he called the police, and they caught the prowler. Several
years later, when we lived in Panama, again I woke at night to Scrappy's
growling from the open window. I looked down, from the second floor this time, to see
a man slipping through the yard. But when I called the cops, they laughed. 'It's okay,'
they said, 'he's one of ours.' But how was Scrappy to know the guy was an undercover officer?
A prowler is a prowler, and my little watchcat got double rations the next morning.
"Lucy was two years old when we got her from our local volunteer rescue in Georgia. They had trapped her and had found her litter of kittens. They caged her with her litter, and found homes for the babies. When we took her, she weighed four pounds, just a handful of scruffy fur over bones; she had spent all her strength hunting, to keep herself and her kits alive. You could feel every vertebra, every rib. But before long she was eight pounds of silky purring loveliness, And still, every spring, she again became preoccupied and agitated, needing to hunt, needing to provide for the kittens that were still there in some secret pocket of her memory.
"When he brought her home, she took over our house, bullying shy Lucy, storming up the bookcases like she was going to the moon, walking on the overhead beams, totally trashing my desk, destroying whatever efficiency I'd managed. More than one finished manuscript went to HarperCollins with claw marks and muddy pawprints on the pages. She loved to chase a flock of full-grown Canadian geese into the lake. She would race into the water up to her belly, stand watching them flap away through the water honking and scolding, and would return to the house wet and muddy, hugely pleased with herself.
"To imagine our lives without cats stirs such an empty feeling. To imagine our human world without any animals at all, is, for me, to imagine a vast and empty void sterile in the extreme. No bird, no beast. No warm fur to stroke, no mute friend who is yet so eloquent, no eye of another species in which to gaze and speculate, no wondrous and tentative communication with one who is not like us. To be surrounded only with other humans--who are often very dull--to encounter no other form of intelligence or joyfulness or wit, seems to me unthinkably tedious."