Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Meeting Prairie Dogs

Rudy sighed. Here she was, on the vacation of a lifetime, and there was no one here to share it with.  She was glad that LT had reunited with Ginger and the grown-up kittens, but she guessed he’d spend every possible minute with them until they left to go back to New Jersey.  Now, Rudy liked Ginger and her family but LT had made it clear that she didn’t need to go with him this morning when he’d taken off to visit her (translation – stay here, Rudy). 

She wondered if maybe she should look up some of the cats in town.  Nah, they thought she was psychotic or something.  That wouldn’t be fun.  She didn’t like being talked down to and didn’t want to spend days convincing them she was just a normal, everyday cat. She was caught up on her sleep, so napping the day away wasn’t likely.  She sighed again.  What could she do? 

Wandering around the RV, Rudy caught sight of the iPad.  She had been sending Peep brief updates every night, but she hadn’t spent any quality time on the internet lately.  That was a good idea, and it was so easy to use an iPad.  You’d think the on-screen keyboard was designed with cat paws in mind.  Well, as long as she aimed carefully.  Her paws were a little larger than human fingers, but it worked as long as the display was set on landscape rather than portrait.  Portrait made the keys much too small. 

She fired up the iPad and was happy to see it was fully charged.  She could surf for hours.  First she decided to search for Pottawatomie, Kansas.  Maybe there would be some stories about how well they treated their cats.  What she found was boring.  Demographic data, and nothing about cats.  Who cared what jobs the humans had or what kind of houses they lived in?  She tried a different search engine, still no luck.  Next she tried a search combining ‘cats’ and ‘Kansas’.  That turned up sites selling cats and a few cat rescue places, and none were in Pottawatomie. 

She looked at what apps were loaded on the iPad.  Hmm, there was a map one.  She clicked on it, and a map of her current location popped up.  This was promising.  Maybe she could use this to figure out a way to get to some places in Pottawatomie without getting dehydrated.  Sheba admitted that she hadn’t been out of town, so it was a possibility.  Hmmm, if she went out West State Street to Flush Road and then either west on Bigelow or just north on Flush there were two houses there, and they were just about a mile away.  She checked the weather, and saw that today was going to be cooler than yesterday.  There might be some showers way to the southwest, but it was dead clear here.  Rudy stared at the map until she’d memorized the turns, counting the number of roads she’d pass.  As she looked at it, she found two houses closer, one of which was almost on the street and the other with a long driveway.  She checked the clock – it was mid-morning and she could get out to probably four houses and back before anyone missed her. 

Rudy had a nice long drink of water, a few mouthfuls of crunchies and then set out on her day trip.  Following her directions she came to the first property in mere minutes.  She zipped down the driveway and was greeted by barking dogs, chained in the yard.  They looked so fierce she decided to skip this one and headed back to State Street to look for the next house.  State Street was a two lane road, not any bigger than the street on which Rudy lived, but it had a bit more traffic.  From the map, this one was one of the main roads around here, even though it wasn’t anything like a highway.  It had a broad dirt shoulder and she kept well away from the cars. 

The next property turned out to be a business.  She figured there might be cats there, but when she stood in the parking area looking around she found no cats.  No dogs, either, and that was good.  Once back to State Street she remembered that it would be a ways to the next property.  That didn’t matter, it wasn’t hot and Rudy was enjoying herself.  She was getting out, seeing the country. 

Half an hour later Rudy decided that the country was pretty boring.  Grass, grass and more grass.  She hadn’t even passed a tree since soon after that last business.  She turned onto Bigelow Road and headed for the next property.  She saw the trees ahead that she remembered being on the property and looked forward to sitting in some shade.  This walking was hot work on the paws.  As she drew nearer her hopes shrank, at least for this place.  It looked to be something very businesslike, although it was in the middle of farm fields.  Tractors, harvesters and machines she had no name for.  Well, farms had cats to keep the mice out of the grain, right?  She trotted up the drive and scoped the place out.  There were a few pickup trucks parked next to one of the buildings, but no one was around.  She poked about, looking for some animal to talk to.  She rounded the corner of a building and came face to face with a large crow, who was picking at a very dead something.  Rudy backed off as the crow cawed at her, “Stay away.  It’s mine.”   

Rudy answered politely, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.  I’m a visitor and am doing some sightseeing.”  The crow laughed at her and said the only sights to see around here were wheat fields.  Rudy asked if he knew of any cats who lived in the area, but the crow said the nearest cats were probably a mile or two southwest of here.  He did say that almost directly south of here there was a lovely pond.  A lot of the local wildlife visited there, and possibly some cats and it wasn’t far.  All she’d have to do is follow the line of trees and she’d get there. 

Rudy thanked him.  There didn’t seem to be any source of water at this place, and she was starting to get a bit thirsty.  A pond would be nice.  She could sit in the shade, relax and wait for some of the natives to drop by.  Rudy headed back down the driveway and the crow cawed, “Just watch out for dirt bikers.” 

Before crossing Bigelow, Rudy looked carefully for dirt bikers.  What was a dirt biker anyway?  Someone on a bicycle who was dirty?  That made sense with all the dust and dirt on the edge of the road.  If cyclists kept on the shoulder, which was mostly dirt, they’d end up quite dirty.  Whatever.  She followed the line of trees, staying mostly in the shade.  There was a dirt trail, but why walk on that when she could walk in the shade?

It wasn’t far to the pond.  Rudy could smell the water before she saw it.  It smelled clean, with a hint of algae.  The tree line broadened in front of her, and Rudy went in among the trees, crossing a wider dirt trail.  Ahead of her she could see the pond.  The land was so flat around here, but the pond was a little lower than the surrounding area.  Most of the pond was unshaded, but she saw one area where trees went right to the water.  She headed there and was soon satisfying what was now a major thirst.  The water tasted clean and was nicely cool.  She settled in the shade and admired the scenery.  There was grass at the edges of the pond and nearby there was some type of flowers growing in the shallow water.    They weren’t water lilies, she knew that because they had them at home in the tiny pond the Daddy had dug. 

It was cool and restful by the pond and Rudy was exhausted.  She dabbled her paws in the water to cool them off and then curled up next to the trunk of a large hornbeam.  She thought a nap was in order and dozed off. 

The sun was lower in the west when she woke and Rudy noted that the temperature had risen a lot.  She was uncomfortably warm, even in the shade.  She looked around and noticed a group of odd animals drinking from the pond.  They were brown, a little smaller than Peep with black-tipped tails.  Several appeared to be on lookout duty, guarding the others.  They weren’t squirrels, she was sure of that.  She called out a greeting to them and the entire group froze in place. 

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to eat you.  I’m a cat, here visiting from New Jersey.  You sure are funny looking.  What the heck are you guys?”  Rudy was not known for her sensitivity.

One of the animals turned his head to look at her.  He made a whistling sound and most of the group scurried off away from her into the grass.  “No, don’t go away.  I just want to talk to you.”  She hoped the ones that remained would be social, but it didn’t look like it. 

The one who’d looked at her scrutinized her closely.  Finally it made a ‘hummphing’ sound and then said, “You’re the odd-looking one, at least for around here.  You must be roasting with all that black fur.” 

Rudy acknowledged that she was.  “I’d like to get a drink if you wouldn’t run away.  I’ll go to the edge away from you.  Don’t be scared.”  She slowly walked to the edge, keeping a good distance away from the creatures.  After she’d had a good long drink she looked towards them.  A few more had left, and there were only three of them sitting on their haunches looking at her.  “Thank you for staying.  My name is Rudy, by the way.” 

The closest one decided that a cat named Rudy probably wasn’t dangerous to them, at least right now.  He moved a little closer and introduced himself.  He was Whiss, a black-tailed prairie dog, and his companions were Swee and Phwip.  They were members of the Flush Community, not to be confused with the Wilson Creek Community.  When Rudy looked confused, he explained that these were two distinct prairie dog colonies in the area.  Members of both visited this pond when the local creeks got a little low. 

Since Rudy had never seen a prairie dog before she was fascinated.  She asked them where there colony was but Whiss said that the information was not shared with outsiders, to protect them from predators.  Rudy could understand that.  Whiss could see that Rudy was genuinely interested, so he told her a bit about the colony.  There were over a hundred members, and their burrows were fairly widespread.  Swee chimed in to say that the grasses around here were delicious, and could support a colony quite well.  Phwip said that this year was even better than most, as the nearest field had been left fallow and was now full of fresh grasses. 

Rudy shook her head.  “So, you all eat grass?  I only eat grass when my stomach hurts really bad and I need to throw up.”  The prairie dogs laughed at her.  She was a carnivore and wouldn’t understand.  The various types of grasses had different flavors and textures, and some were delicious. 

They chatted about the area for a while with the prairie dogs telling her about the streams and ponds she could visit.  When Rudy asked if they knew of any cats in the area she could visit, Phwip looked thoughtful and said he thought there were some cats all the way over at the next road to the west.  Someone had built a big house out there, much bigger than the usual farmhouse around here.  The house had displaced part of the Wilson Creek Community, who’d moved into the Flush Community’s lands.  That’s how he knew there were cats. 

They talked a bit more and Rudy told them about where she lived and how different it was from Kansas.  The prairie dogs listened politely, but couldn’t understand a place with so many trees and houses.  Finally Whiss announced they needed to get back to the colony, and they said their goodbyes. 

Rudy considered trying to reach the house they’d mentioned, but from looking at the sun she determined that it was just a few hours until sunset.  It was time to get back to the RV.  She retraced her steps, and was home within a little over an hour.  LT was pacing back and forth in front of the RV and ran to Rudy when she came into sight.  “I was so worried about you, Rudy.  I came back mid-afternoon because I felt guilty for deserting you and I couldn’t find you.  I thought you’d been catnapped or maybe had got lost, since you didn’t come back for so long.” 

That made Rudy feel a little guilty.  She’d been gallivanting around the countryside while LT sat and waited for her.  She briefly told him of her travels and visit with the prairie dogs and that there were some cats they could get to according to those prairie dogs.  But now Rudy was tired, both from the heat and the long walk.  She yawned and told LT that she needed to get into the air conditioning, have a nice drink and get some sleep. 

 Photo courtesy of Glyn Lowe - http://www.flickr.com/photos/glynlowe/630608005

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