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Wednesday, August 12, 2009


caterpillar in wild cherry petals

This is Caterpillar, one of the three cats that live here. They were born together, only three, to a young feral mother. She took up under my house in the time of an ice storm that put 2 inches of ice everywhere. The air stayed below freezing for two weeks. I heard a cat's cry, and automatically realized the cat was lost and hungry. I put a bowl of food and water out for her daily. It was an adventure for me, walking on the ice taking food to her. She wouldn't let me see her for a month. Then she let me see, but not touch. Gradually she allowed a touch. I could tell she'd never been touched by a human. A hand was nothing to warm up to. When I touched her, she didn't move into the touch like an animal does accoustomed to a human touch. She chose to stay where I was feeding her and being friendly with her.

Aster the dog was living then and with me every time I went to feed her. The cat was a tortiose-shell, calico put in a blender. She finally, after a couple months allowed me to touch her. In the late winter I felt a foreign object in her belly. A shed by the house I built for chickens my first year here came to mind. It's been a place for things I don't know what to do with ever since, like pieces of plywood and other pieces of wood and boards picked up over the years for someday.... Judy Cooper at Rite Aid in Sparta let me have a good-sized box. I fixed it with a nest of hay in the bottom and an opening. Folded the top flaps to open and look inside from above and not disturb. Put it on hay bales and put hay bales around it for insulation.

I lured her into the shed by putting her food inside, and closed the door on her when I found her there. I wanted her to discover the nest when she was getting round. She did and one morning when I opened the door, by this time she was greeting me instead of hiding, I saw her girth had gone down. I opened the top of the box and saw 3 kittens, 2 black, 1 gray. The
9 yr old cat I had at the time, since she was a kitten, Peck hated the intruder. Beat her up every time she caught her outside the shed. Peck was hateful as a cat can be, and that's pretty bad. I think it's called catty. Peck was not having this intruder. When the kittens were 2 weeks old, in a series of events that fell like dominos, ended with her running under a car. Peck didn't have any problem with that, but had a big problem with what happened next. I brought them in the house, putting them in a corner with a couple of boards on edge making two walls less than a foot high. Every day when Peck walked through, she'd pause and look in at them, hiss and walk away exuding contempt. That put me on a spot.

I had been given three kittens to nurture and raise on the one hand, and on the other hand the cat that lived here hated them. I loved Peck. She was my cat of 9 years I'd nurtured as a kitten with a bottle like I had to do with these kittens. I explained to Peck that this is how she got here too. She was a helpless baby and I took her in to nurture her and raise her, give her a good home with good loving going around and a big dog too, for protection. God gave me these babies just like he gave her to me. I told her I can't refuse. They're 2 week-old orphans, I'm their only hope, I can't turn them down. Besides, I want to help them and want to raise them like I did her in a good home. Aster the dog came to me in a helpless state. This is what we do here. I pleaded with her to be accepting at least to some degree. She let me know that's not even a consideration. I told her they're going to grow up. When they're the same size she is, there's three of them. She's really not going to like it then if she only treats them with contempt now. I asked her to go with me on this, please.

A year later, the three of them were almost her size, and for most of the year their favorite game was Tag Aunt Peck. They'd hide when she came striding through the house, reach out and tag her when she passed by. She'd jump and hiss, looking like a demon. The kittens laughed like crazy every time. By the time they were a year old, the tag had advanced to a half pounce, draping a front leg over her back pretending a pounce. Peck really hated that. Then one day she never showed up again. She packed her bags and went away. I had a subtle feeling of where she went to, down in Whitehead/Pine Swamp, and I recall the day when she would have been 14 I had the same subtle feeling she'd died. She was a small blond cat who was Aster's friend. Aster raised her, allowing her to sleep on dog, jump on dog, pounce on dog, anything.

Then one day Aster weaned her. That was it. No more jumping on dog. No more sleeping on dog. Stay off the dog. That's how it was from the start when the next round a kittens came through. Anything they wanted to do was ok, just stay off the dog. That was the one and only rule. She meant it and they knew it. Sometimes Caterpillar would very slowly tip-toe toward dog like she was going to get on the dog when Aster was lying down with eyes closed. About two feet from the dog, Aster would growl, Caterpillar would freeze, turn around and creep back to where the others were watching in awe. Brave Caterpillar.

Caterpillar was the one to take the role of nurturer after mama went away. She kept their hind ends clean. At the start, she was the one with the most active intelligence discovering new things. As each one discovered something, the others got it too. It seemed to me like they were learning three times as fast and as much as a single kitten would learn. Caterpillar is a good replica of a Maine Coon, except her genetic coil is mixed with everything. Her behavior is Maine Coon too. Seeing a bird, her cheeks start twitching, whiskers just-a-goin, and she makes involuntary squeaks.

When she was younger she could run like a streak. One day I was walking up the road with Aster and saw her in the meadow just inside the gate that went to the Vance Caudill house. She was crouched down looking at me. I was having a hard time telling if it was a coon or a cat, Caterpillar. I called to her by name. She took off running up the hill full blast, and I didn't know a cat could run that fast. I'd seen plenty of cats run and not even TarBaby could run that fast. It was visibly out there in a zone of its own. She was fast as a rabbit. Her back feet went both at the same time like a rabbit's. I was impressed. She was out in her wild world mind and I was a human intruder. Run like hell.

In the picture above of Caterpillar, she'd had a fight a couple nights before, a serious fight. She spent her days and nights in the small barn across the road. That place seems to be the cat hospital. TarBaby goes there too when he's nursing a wound. Caterpillar came home every day for a meal and went back to the hospital. She stayed there about 4 days recovering. This explains the pain in her eyes. I suspect most of her pain was stretched muscles. She was a bit up in years and a bit sedentary. I know she gave a good fight, because she can outfight both Tapo and TarBaby. Caterpillar rules. She has access to her inner wildness too. I don't know if she won or lost, don't even know what the other cat looked like. Cats out rambling from Pine Swamp and Whitehead come up here from time to time. TarBaby has had a couple such fights along the way. I expect Caterpillar's skin felt like a dart board after an international dart tournament.

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