He Wasn’t Much of a Hunter

He closes the door of the red pick-up truck, re-positions his gun over his shoulder, and sets off into the woods.  Despite trying to ease his weight onto the twigs and leaves, toe first then heel, his footfalls snap and crackle and echo through the pre-dawn forest.

A doe lifts her head from foraging, her button-black nose twitching with scent-taking.  With noiseless ease, she lopes off, her white tail high.  A groundhog stands on the crest of his mound-home squinting into the distance, his forepaws tucked up to his heart, his teddy-bear ears angled forward.  He squeaks and retreats inside his burrow.  A flock of quibbling sparrows wheels off into the sky.  Only the cat remains.   She is motionless except for the white tip of her tail.

The hunter walks on, pausing from time to time, looking around, then moving on.  The cat follows, unnoticed, at a distance.

When the sun has climbed well above the horizon, the hunter sits down on a large, sunny rock.  He opens a thermos of steaming coffee, crinkles flat the wax paper covering his sandwich, and munches thoughtfully, his head angled to the side.  Sun-warmed and drowsy, his shoulders relax and he closes his eyes.

The cats comes closer, soundlessly.  She sits a few feet in front of him and looks up.  The hunter opens his eyes and startles, then feels foolish.  He mutters something about cats—he’s never liked cats.  He glares at the cat and looks into her gold eyes.  She holds his gaze evenly.  He sighs, then he breaks off a small piece of cheese from his sandwich and tosses it on the ground.  The cat eats it and looks up expectantly.  The man breaks off a larger piece and holds it out to her.  She gracefully leaps onto the rock, and with one paw on the hunter’s leg, she gingerly takes the cheese from his hand.  The hunter slides his broad palm down her back, then offers her the rest of his sandwich.

After a while, he gathers his things, slings the gun over his shoulder, and sets off.  The cat jumps down and follows.  Twice he looks back over his shoulder.  He opens the truck door and sweeps his arm wide in a welcoming gesture. The cat jumps in, settles herself on the passenger seat, and washes her face.

Two seasons have passed since I found my hunter.  He wasn’t much of a hunter, really—I could read that much in the way he moved.  It was plain to me that he wasn’t really interested in hunting as much as he was playing a role.  It was also plain to me that he thought he didn’t like cats.  Most people who give cats a chance find they like them after all.

These days I wait by the window for my hunter.  He comes in with a blast of cold air.  I jump down and wind my way around his legs.  He stoops to pet me and says a word or two.  Then we pass a companionable evening in silence.  His gun is in the attic, tucked away forever.


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The Stray Black Kitten

I saw him again the other day, the black kitten that is growing into adolescence and toward adulthood.  He made it through the 0 degree Pennsylvania weather.  I hope that he found some place to shelter and was not, as I feared, huddled against a tree trunk with icy winds whipping around him.

Now that the weather has shifted, I will resume trying to humanely trap him (when I know he will not be sitting for hours in the trap, freezing, before I can get to him) and deliver him to the SPCA.  I hope that I can do so before he has sired kittens—all of which will be homeless, feral, and lead shortened lives.

When I saw the kitten the other day, he was sniffing around for food by the water saucer on my patio (since most animals do not eat ice or snow, I bought an outdoor water heater and placed it in a large plant saucer).  I stepped outside with the Mason jar of cat food I keep by the front door, walking slowly and speaking softly to him, but he ran off.  At the blue spruces at the edge of our property, the kitten turned around and looked at me.  I stood still, regarding him and looking into his wide, green-golden eyes, and I swear I saw him soften a little.

I poured the food into a tidy pile, plucked a leaf from the water saucer, looked at him again—his eyes had never left me—and went back inside.  He did not come right away, though later he did.  I can tell when the food has been eaten by a cat or a raccoon.  Raccoons hoover up every molecule of food, while cats eat only until they are full, sometimes leaving a small ring of food from which they’ve eaten away the center.

Once I trap and deliver the kitten to the SPCA, here is what will happen:  he will be euthanized.  I do not have qualms about this.  I think it’s infinitely preferable to the life he’ll lead in the wild—hungry, thirsty, scared, fighting for scarce resources, exposed to the elements, mistreated by some humans, and sooner than later, injured and diseased.  A feral cat typically lives only a few years, and they are not easy years.

There are approximately 40,000 million homeless cats in the US alone, though many think that number is a gross underestimate.  According to the University of Washington, each breeding pair of feral cats can produce between 100 to 400 kittens in seven years that live to reproductive age and subsequently reproduce, with each of those 100 to 400 mating and producing 100 to 400 kittens that live long enough to reproduce.  Given this exponential growth rate, it’s no wonder there’s overpopulation, and with overpopulation, the species as a whole and the individuals in it suffer.

Some humane societies are mandated to do feral capture, spay/neuter, and release.  I am vehemently opposed to this.  Some dedicated Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) proponents provide food, water, and shelter for the neutered/spayed, ear-notched, and returned cats in their area, but this is rare.  More often, the cats are returned to a life of less-than-subsidence living.  While TNR can reduce overpopulation, which is good for the species as a whole, it does absolutely nothing for the suffering of the individual.

The black kitten will be given a humane, painless death by caring hands.  He will not be adding to overpopulation, and he will not go hungry or suffer.  I’m okay with that.

Humane trap:  http://amzn.to/1hLd1In

Outdoor water heater:  http://amzn.to/1ezfeU4

Erna’s Garden

purple tulips ID-100139402Erna’s home carried the scent of roses and crisp cotton sheets.  The kitchen was sunny, with flowery curtains billowing in on the wind.  It was as if the worn oak floorboards themselves contained comfort.

These days Erna’s gardens are overgrown with tassel-topped grasses waving in the wind.  The shutters and gutters are slightly askew, and moss grows on the white clapboard.  Sometimes I come to watch the weeping willow’s arms sweep the pebbly driveway, and to remember.

I knew Erna long before she knew me.  From the woods where I lived I watched as she carried a basket on her hip to the clothesline. . . as she tilted her face toward the sun and closed her eyes. . . as she weeded the garden and gathered an armful of flowers for her table.

One afternoon I sauntered over to her as she was pegging out the laundry.  “Oh!” she said, “Oh!  Wait here.”black and white cat ID-10029960

She came back with remnants of a pork chop and a small bowl of waterEach afternoon after that I visited her.  She sat next to me on the patio as I ate, talking about anything that occurred to her.  I think she was lonely.

Cold weather came early that year, and the wind bit through my fur.  One day, as I waited for her on the patio, Erna held the door wide open.  “Well, come on,” she said.  I walked in and made myself at home.

By day I kept her company in the kitchen as she worked, her shoulders soft and rounded, her hands moving in and out of shafts of light.  She hummed tunelessly to the soft, repeating clang of the wooden spoon in the mixing bowl.

By evening we sat by the fire in winter, and by the open window in summer.  Erna worked with her hands, always, making afghans, quilts, and linen napkins, always in shades of green.

By night I slept on the window seat under the dormer, the stars glimmering overhead.

In time, Erna became ill.  People came and went from the house.  I slept curled by her feet, keeping an eye on her, caring for her as I could.  She passed away anyway.  I watched them carry her from the house, but it wasn’t her.  I sensed her around me, free.

A neighbor woman took me home with her.  I’ve made my life there with her family, and it’s a good life.  But sometimes I like to come here to Erna’s garden, to sense her, to feel our life together.

•Images, in order of appearance, courtesy of chaiwat & foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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