The steady gaze of this half-wild cat faces me. It’s behind a tree in the garden of the stable block of the Italian manor house which is our home for the week. The stable block, that is; not the Manor House. I could feel something was looking at me before I saw it. Have you ever had that same feeling? Of knowing you’re being watched?
Our eyes see far more than our brains can possibly consciously process and comprehend. The pace and sheer volume of signals bombarding our brains is immense and we have to filter the meaningful information out simply to remain sane. We see faces in many things: in walls; on houses; in clouds; in the moon; in a random arrangement of objects on a table. We recognise faces as babies before we can see anything else. We’ve evolved to see a thousand emotions upon the faces of our fellow humans and the other animals that surround us. We can pick out the faces of our loved ones in a crowd at the airport, recognise an old friend in a crowded street and pick out someone we know from a huge group photograph.
Both this beautiful cat and I are the products of millions of years of evolution. Every one of our ancestors was subjected to natural selection, meaning the people and the cats that were most able to recognise faces and to identify quickly the mental state of other people or animals from their facial expression survived to have more descendants.
So it is that I saw this cat without seeing it; and I knew it was there without knowing it. And then I saw it and saw that it saw me.
And then we knew we could trust one another.