Monday, March 29, 2010
The Tale of a Cat
In my Lone-Mountain days, in Montana, a neighbor rad the long-range weather prediction for the coming winter, and decided to spend it in Arizona. He asked me to look after his pet wildcat while he was gone. I promised to do so, thinking it would be very little trouble, and would let me get better-acquainted with wildcats, whose tracks I often saw in the timber, but seldom caught a glimpse of.
So I let the cat in the cabin once in a while to relieve her boredom, and give me a chance to psychoanalyze her. She proved to be an entertaining and friendly pet. I spent many pleasant hours relaxing, by watching Sheena prowl around the cabin and investigate every piece of furniture, every corner and "hidey-hole".
One night I felt lazy at bedtime, I left Sheena sleeping on the rug when I turned in, instead of returning her to her cage, as usual. That would have been all right if she had continued to sleep on the rug, or anywhere else, for that matter. To Sheena, night time was playtime. I was almost asleep when I sensed something whipping past my scalp. Then a set of sharp claws combed through my hair just a little too deeply for me to sleep well. That's the only night I ever slept with a blanket over my head, indoors.
Once she jumped up on my lap. The reason she got a chance to do this was that I was reading, and hadn't observed her intentions. I regarded her with a wary look, trying to fathom just what she was up to, but it's hard to brush twenty pounds of wildcat off your lap, since they have such an effective means of anchoring that they are almost irresistible, so I let her stay.
She always liked to soften cushion with her front paws before lying down. She did the same thing to my leg muscles, and I've yet to figure out how a soft cat paw can be so bruisingly hard.
The she eyed my long beard, with her head cocked first to one side, and then to the other. She must have liked it, because she smiled softly, and brushed her head against it in a loving soft of way. She patted it a little, but her claws were only partly extended, so there was very little bleeding.
She laid her head alongside mine and purred, and her beautiful white teeth closed gently over the lower part of my ear. I did some rapid calculating, trying to figure how I could disguise the loss of half an ear, in case she decided she liked the flavor. The suspense finally got to me after a long moment, and I gripped the nape of her neck, figuring I should at least try to save part of my face. She relaxed immediately, retracted her claws, and went limp. If you ever need to wrestle a tiger or lion, perhaps you should try this same hold.
I described her as gentle, with a sweet disposition. Well, she was, but remember, men, how entrancing it is to be dining with a charming, soft-voiced, liquid-eyed young lady? Imagine being out with on like that who turned into a werewolf when the waiter put a rare steak on the table! And envision her ears flattening back against her head, and her pupils narrowing, and a threatening snarl issuing from her lips. This is about the way that I was affected the first time she complained of being hungry, and I handed her a venison rib. Fortunately, she was smaller than I, and not rash enough to attack a hermit who snarled some himself, upon occasion (Maybe she just didn't like venison ribs). Should I have offered her tenderloin?
Sheena wasn't fond of dogs. Once a lost Australian shepherd came to the cabin, and poor, half-starved beast hung around for a day or so, absorbing all the grub I could rustle for him. When Sheena came near the cabin while I was feeding him, she must have become jealous, because she suddenly spit, growled and jumped all at the same time, giving the dog a solid thump in the ribs with her forepaws. The dog gave a roaring bark, apparently warning her that if she wanted trouble, that was the best way in the world to get a bellyful of it. He didn't deign to look straight at her, but continued to concentrate on making friends with me (My respect for Australian shepherds zoomed to new heights. The Aussies I had known previously had been quite timid.).
Once Sheena got loose and strayed away from home. Being domesticated, she wasn't adept at catching food for herself, and I was worried about her welfare. Next morning a neighbor half a mile away called and reported that the cat had been on his back porch. I pocketed a chunk of venison and rushed to his place. I was trailing her through the timber and talking, telling her how beautiful she was, when she recognized my voice and came running, delighted to see me, and relieved to be with her good friend again, and especially interested in the venison. Getting her home was a problem. I was skeptical about the wisdom of carrying her, so I decided to let her walk, and try to coax her along with me. We passed a neighbor's house, where the Weimaraner dog barked, and Sheena delivered a hearty wallop to my leg with both forefeet. This was probably an effort to get me to climb a tree, or to run, so we could escape what she considered our common enemy. Or she could have been rattled, and hit the closest animal she could find.
In late March, Sheena became restless, as though she had an important engagement somewhere. She escaped from her cage one night. I trailer her over the melting snow for a half mile, and then lost the trail. Since she had been traveling in a quite straight line, she must have been primed for some far traveling, with a more compatible friend driving her onward. There were plenty of mice that winter, so she had a fine chance to learn to hunt, before she starved, and I evidently had less appeal than a male bobcat.
I don't know if our paths ever crossed again, but when I see a medium-sized cat track in the timber, I can't help but wonder if Sheena was fortunate enough to escape hounds and hunters, and if perhaps she dimly remembers a human who was once a trusted friend.
Does she ever watch me as I pass by the spot where she crouches, almost completely invisible behind a small fallen limb? Does she ever have an impulse to come running up to me, only to be held back by some ancient fear?
Sheena was a good pet, but wild, and how else should a wildcat be?