And what does it have to do with copywriting?
Splintercat’s disjunct population
On a forgotten corner of Mt. Hood, within spitting distance of my favorite fishing hole, runs a tributary of the Roaring River called Splintercat Creek. The original, 1927 edition of the Oregon Geographic Names, lists the creek and notes the story of the SplinterCat.
It’s a mythical beast of the American wild, whose legendary existence was first recorded by William T. Cox in his 1910 book Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods. Cox was the first state forester of Minnesota, and he later headed the Minnesota Department of Conservation. In the book, Cox states that the SplinterCat is found from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and east to the Atlantic. But he says it “has been reported from only a few localities” in the Rocky Mountains. He doesn’t even mention the Cascades, but SplinterCats are clearly here, otherwise we wouldn’t have the creek. What’s more, the “talk” section of Wikipedia’s article about the SplinterCat notes that the creature is most widely rumored in the Pacific Northwest. That’s proof positive.
Perhaps it migrated here more recently. Perhaps the Pacific Northwest was just less well-explored in Cox’s time, and the SplinterCat’s Northwest population wasn’t well documented. Perhaps the SplinterCat was forced to relocate here as the forests of the midwest were cleared for timber, much like the Bar-ba-loots and truffula trees of Seussian lore.
Why is it called the Splintercat?
The SplinterCat lives on raccoons, bees, and (according to some) honey, all of which it acquires from broken tree trunks. But the SplinterCat doesn’t just go around looking for dead trees to eat from, it smashes the damn things with its head. SplinterCat pounces head-first into tree trunks and cracks them open with it’s extremely hard skull, sending wood shards everywhere, and killing the tree instantly. Some stories claim that the SplinterCat climbs one tree to smash into the next. Another (entirely preposterous) story related by Art Childs in his “Yarns of the Big Woods” column suggests that the SplinterCat has a head of stone on a long neck that it swings to and fro like a wrecking ball. What’s even feline about that creature?
In any case, the trees so struck by the SplinterCat immediately die and turn the silvery-grey of well-seasoned deadfall. When you come upon a stand of dead, broken trees in the wood, that’s where the SplinterCat has been to work.
Legend holds that the SplinterCat kills so many trees in pursuit of food because it can’t distinguish between trees that may contain raccoons or bees, and those that don’t. Legend accuses SplinterCat of stupidity. Not so. The SplinterCat smashes trees for the love of impact, and the sound of the crash, as much as to satisfy its hunger. I know this because I control this SplinterCat narrative now.
Maybe not coincidentally, these are the same reasons I write: to feed myself sure, but mostly just to be heard. Harness that impulse for your business!
Nerds say the Splintercat isn’t real!
Matt Simon writes the Absurd Creatures column at Wired, and he once spent a column dispelling the myths surrounding these old lumberjack legends. He claims that the seemingly exploded trees one sometimes finds in the woods aren’t the work of the SplinterCat at all, but are in fact the result of lightening strikes. Got it Matt. Thanks for clearing that up for us. (Has this guy ever been to camp?)
What is fascinating about his story is the mechanism by which he claims lightening shatters trees: the heat generated by the energy of the strike causes the water in the trunk to instantly vaporize, literally exploding it from the inside. I’ll stick with the cat theory.