Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Feral Cat

I've been jotting down little phrases on slips of paper for weeks.  This is what we writers do, I know.  I always have the best of intentions about writing something later.

But here's a situation that I could not put off writing about any longer.

To start, I live next to a woods where I can watch all sorts of animals and birds go about their daily lives.  We have deer, raccoon, skunks, bluebirds, a woodpecker, various crows, robins, wrens, sparrows, mourning doves and a family of wild cats.

The tomcat is an amazingly scruffy fellow with matted black fur that perpetually sticks out like he's angry at all the dogs in the neighborhood.  He streaks through the parking lot once in a blue moon, probably on a hunt.

For two years, his gray and white female mate has had kittens.  Last summer, she had five.  One didn't live, but three females and one small male managed to make it.  My neighbor Ray downstairs, an elderly Italian man who has a cat of his own, put out a cardboard box for them and left food out for a few weeks.

We could see the kittens tumble around, engage in mock fights, chase insects, and try to keep up with their mother all summer.  By fall, they were larger, and spent more time in the woods.  The old man still fed them occasionally.  Somehow they made it through the winter with the rest of us hapless souls, with foot upon foot of snow falling much too often.  My allergy to all kinds of fur and feathers was all that prevented me from taking them in.  The old man's house cat Tiggie had become jealous, so Ray also did not adopt them.

Somehow, by Spring, at least two had survived, along with the mother and the scruffier-than-ever father.  During the first few weeks of April, the three kittens who are now nearly young adults kept coming around the stoop.  The old man had stopped feeding them, to appease Tiggie.  I could see her lying on his windowsill, enjoying her status.  The feral cats completely ignored her, and frolicked on the stoop, ready to accept a crumb from anyone.

Since I had cats years ago, I know a bit of cat language.  My old cat Venus tried to teach me the subtle difference between "I want to eat" and "I want to go out."  I always got it wrong when she was standing by the kitchen screen door.  She finally gave up trying, and decided I was hopeless.  But I do remember some of my lessons.

At least, I know how to say "hello" in Cat.  So I started talking to the kittens.  The females would dash to hide in the shrubs, but the male jumped off the stoop and lingered just beyond.  One day I was in a particularly friendly mood and I gave him the eyelash blink that means "I love you" in Cat.  I guess that was a bad idea.

Now, this cat is on the stoop every day waiting for me to come home.  When he sees me, he arches his back and rubs himself against the door.  He flops on his back and flirts.  He meows most adorably.  He reminds me of the way people will talk a blue streak to you in a foreign country after you speak a few words.  In spite of myself, I named him Mowgli.  He really is a very handsome little gray tiger.

The past few days he was waiting for me, crouching in anticipation of the leap into my door, which I had to close very quickly to avoid him coming in.  I tried, of course, to discourage him in Cat but my accent is really bad, and I'm probably saying, "Oh, sure, maybe later."

Anyway, this all came to a head the night before last.  Here in Dutchess County, we've had a lot of what people call stink bugs.  I don't know the real name, and I've actually never smelled them, but it's said if you kill one they give off a terrible smell.  In any case, I'm a Buddhist and I never kill anything.  When I find a bug, I usually trap it and take it outside, unless it's a spider, which I tolerate in the house.

So I had cooked some dinner, and since it was warm outside, I had the windows open.  I just sat down when I noticed one of those stink bugs had fallen off the window onto my table.  I got a small glass and an index card, and trapped the bug and carried him down the stairs.  When I opened the door to the porch, Mowgli was waiting for me.

He seemed surprised to see me so late, but he took a step back, and watched me take the bug over to the grass and release it.  I noticed him tiptoeing over to the bug as I went back inside the screen door.  He seemed very nonplussed by this apparent gift from me, and a haughty gait, he stalked away.  In comparison to my dinner upstairs, this was indeed an insult.

Perhaps he was saying to himself in Cat, "If she thinks this is what I eat, then she is too stupid to waste time on."  He had already eliminated my Italian neighbor with his tamed animal.

Sure enough, last night, Mowgli wasn't on the stoop waiting for me.  I saw him over near the dumpster, where he probably figured he would have better luck.  I meowed "hello" but he gave me a "You talking to me?" glance.

I wonder what our karma (or his catma) will be in our next life.  Maybe when we meet, he'll offer me a bug in return.  Maybe I'll be a spider and consider it a feast.  Oh, the circle of life ...