by Guest Columnist, Alan Gauvin
HOULTON, Me—(Weekly Hubris)—8/30/10—As the legal intrigues surrounding the transfer of my new property to my control ran their course, the owner, as if he weren’t doing enough for me already, let me squat in an old gravel pit on his own property, which is adjacent to mine.
The pit varies in depth from ten to 30 feet and covers an area roughly two acres in size. It was a quiet, private place to park my motor home and allowed me the convenience of daily walks to my own acreage.
I had come to this spot not alone, but with my companion—variously known to me as Dopey, Hey You, Empty Headed Fur Bag or, as he is known at his most playfully sinister moments, The Dreaded Black Poopus!
I’m speaking, of course, of my cat. Much like many other cats, I suppose, Dopey’s all black, with a chocolate brown undercoat, green eyes, and long, snow-white whiskers. We’ve been inseparable since he adopted me at the local shelter on Long Island two years ago. He was thought to be three years old or so when we met, having been in the shelter’s care since he was a few months old, and it was assumed that he had never spent any time outdoors.
Dopey managed to escape the confines of the motor home in the junk yard (where I was living, back then) once when I inadvertently left the door open and, upon hitting the oil-spotted, scrap-littered ground, thought better of the move, panicked and, apparently unable to find the door to return to his domicile, went skulking in slow motion under the motor home, tail between his legs, yowling the deep, hollow, forlorn sound cats make when they are in distress.
My appearance under the perimeter of the motor home did nothing to calm him, or entice him to come to me. He was frozen in place like a puddle in the arctic. After some wriggling toward him, my pot belly hindering my progress, I managed to grasp one feline leg and gently coax him, and my belly, out from under and return him to the security of our home.
Had he remained outside for a prolonged period, he would have been attacked by any number of the nasty strays which inhabited the area, or struck by a car or truck. In our new home here in Maine, the chances he will be hit by a car are far less likely, considering the infrequent passage of vehicles along our road, but the dangers posed by predators are more varied and far more lethal. There are bears, coyotes, martens, fishers, bobcats, raccoons, and foxes, all of which would be delighted to make a meal of an unseasoned pussycat.
So it was not without some trepidation that I allowed him the opportunity to venture out of doors within the confines of the gravel pit, since he could easily have made a dash into the woods beyond my control.
He sat whining just inside the screen door as I sat in my folding chair enjoying the crisp, fragrant spring air and glorious sunshine. I simply couldn’t deny my dear friend the same experience, and so I opened the door and returned to my chair.
Memory of his excursion in the junk yard must have come to the fore because he couldn’t seem to bring himself to take the plunge. He’d put one paw down on the lower step and then recoil, look at me, meow, and try again, over and over. It was both charming and a bit pathetic, so I took pity on him, carried him to my chair, and placed him in my lap, where he settled down and began purring. After several minutes of encouragement and a round of obligatory strokes and nuzzles, he finally summoned the nerve to descend to the pit floor.
I need not have worried about him running off. His first minutes were spent walking as if on egg shells in close proximity to my chair, and every minute or two he would return to my lap for further reassurance. “How’m I doin’? Am I OK?”, he seemed to ask.
As time passed and minutes became an hour, his adventure zone increased to the circumference of the pit walls for a distance of maybe a hundred feet or so in each direction, but always, just as I was becoming concerned, he would race back to my spot and then resume his explorations. By the way, it has been said of cats that they never come when called. I guess Dopey doesn’t know that because he almost always comes when I call.
There is a patch of scruffy plants not far from my usual perch, clinging tenaciously to the barren, stony floor of the pit, and here he discovered a variety of early-season bugs attracted to the bright yellow blossoms. Imagine his delight, and mine, as I watched him, batting them from the air and pouncing on them, his first encounter with such creatures.
Another first-time experience was rain. He’d seen plenty of it through the motor home windows and had heard it on the roof, but had never had the pleasure of being pelted by it. The first time a small cloud opened up and began dropping its load however gently on his empty little head, he sprinted for shelter while registering his total annoyance with a deep visceral growl. The sprinkle ceased, he ventured forth, then more sprinkles and off he ran to shelter, again voicing his annoyance. These days, it seems he has become indifferent to water, for he often returns home soaking wet after a prowl in the woods.
As he raced about the pit that first day, it occurred to me that it was the first time in his life he had had the space to run flat out. At one point, he actually bounced straight up, stiff legged, as might a gazelle or pronghorn. It brought tears to my eyes to see my little pal so jubilant.
Of course, I had now created a monster that would seek freedom every time the door was opened, day or night, night being the most hazardous time for him to be out and about.
The first night following his initial excursion, I was awakened at two in the morning by the sound of what I thought must be an animal trying to claw its way into the motor home. I went to the door with a flashlight and peered outside. Perhaps raccoons were tampering with my trash pail. I saw nothing and returned to bed. Minutes later, the disturbance began again. This time when I got to the door there was a creature clawing at the door, not to get in, but to get out, of course. Dopey had shredded the lower screen and was clawing at the solid door beyond. I simply hadn’t noticed on my first trip to the door, intent as I was on looking out the window above.
The following morning, I drove the 15 miles to town, purchased a magnetic cat door, replaced the lower screen with plywood, and located the new access strategically. Now, during the day, Dopey is free to wander in and out at his whim which, as an added bonus allows countless Maine mosquitoes in with each pass.
The Dreaded Black Poopus has become more or less accustomed to remaining in after dark and makes only occasional half-hearted requests to be let out, which I ignore.
We are now properly installed on our property, the electric line is in, and Dopey has become quite the outdoor cat. It didn’t take long for his primordial instincts to kick in and, like most owners of outdoor cats, I am periodically presented with the gift of a mouse, shrew, or some other hapless creature left on the steps or brought inside for me to step on with bare feet. He now wears two loud jingle bells to alert his small neighbors to his presence, a move I hope will at least lower the rate of carnage.
Yesterday, he came home smelling of skunk, not sufficient to bar him from the house, but strong enough to cause me to question the wisdom of having let him out in the first place. Fortunately for my furry friend, I can relate to his having been trapped indoors for so long watching the world go by. If I restricted him now, I’m sure I couldn’t deal with his response; in any case I wouldn’t even want to try.
I too am now unrestricted, free to wander the forest visiting the significant places of my youth. Time has slowed down enormously, and I am experiencing what feels like the longest summer of my life.
I am content for the first time in many years.
To order copies of Alan Gauvin’s books, The Story of Dr. Jazz, a Lurid Tale of Sex, Drugs, Jazz, and the Occasional Trout, or Change of Life: Be careful what you wish for!, from Amazon, click on the book cover below.