Thursday, June 14, 2012

There's no place like home

Rudy checked the weather website long before David got up on Wednesday morning.  Unfortunately it was forecast to be over 90 today, and the rest of the week looked to be stormy.  It was already almost halfway through the month, and Rudy didn't want to wait until next week for another opportunity to look for the legendary cats of Pottawatomie.  Well, at least they seemed to be legendary more than findable right now.  Rudy chewed on a ragged claw and dithered.  Wait?  Go?  Go early?  Go late?  LT came in through the cat door and Rudy shot him a look.

"Don't look at me like that.  I was just out using the giant poo field and took the opportunity to thin the local rodent population.  I'm not sure what it was, but it sure was tasty." When Rudy looked horrified he smiled and said, "Don't worry, it wasn't a prairie dog.  More like a western variety of a vole, I believe.  At least it tasted like vole."  He licked around his mouth.   Rodents were so tasty. 

Rudy explained her dilemma to him, and LT recommended that if she wanted to go that she should leave now.  It was just starting to get light, and since the first part of her trek was by road, she wouldn't be likely to be somewhere she’d get lost before sunrise.  This was the first time that the lack of trees could be a positive thing.  There was nothing to block the little light there was in the sky.  Rudy nodded agreement and gave LT a quick lick of appreciation before heading out the door. 

Either Rudy had overstated the distance on the road to travel or she was moving faster today, because she found herself at the tree line on Bigelow while it was a ways to sunrise.  She peered at the line of trees running south, wondering if it would be safe to try in the dark.  As long as she stayed just to one side of them, she shouldn’t get lost.  She pictured the aerial satellite view of the area and decided she'd be fine. 

As she moved toward the pond she could hear the scurry of little animal feet moving away from her.  She chuckled, thinking that maybe she'd find a vole or two herself for an early morning snack.  Rudy arrived at the pond as the sun came over the horizon.  From the noise in the grasses, she'd disturbed the morning water hole break for a majority of the local small animal population.  She had a leisurely drink and lay down to rest for a minute.  "Don't worry whoever you all are.  I'm just here for water and a few minutes rest.  I'll be gone and you all can come out.  I've had my breakfast, and as long as no one runs out in front of me I'm not likely to come hunting you down."  She put her head on her paws for a moment. 

When her eyelids began to droop, Rudy realized she'd better leave now or risk sleeping the morning away and having to travel when the sun was high in the sky.  She got up, called "Toodles!" to the cowering small wildlife and ran off directly west.  As long as she kept the sun behind her, she should be able to find the house that the prairie dogs had mentioned.   After at least a half-hour run there was no road in sight.  How could this be?  This was Kansas, not Antarctica!  She stopped and pictured the map again, wishing that either the land or the map had some landmark or sign or something to let her know if she was getting close. 

Looking around, Rudy spotted a small branch sticking up out of the ground.  Then it moved and whistled.  "Rudy --- I've been keeping an eye out for you.  It's Whiss.  Remember me?  You're getting close to the road, but you can't see it.  It's a little lower than this field.  You're a small ways south of the house, so when you get to the road you're going to have to go right, or north, to get there.  Don’t worry, you can’t miss it, it’s huge." 

"Thank you, Whiss!"  Rudy called this as she sped onward.  She wanted to get to her destination, even though she didn't know exactly where it was.  Rich Pottawatomie cats - this should be something to see. 

The prairie dog was right, and the road was just ahead.  The field came to a drop off, and Rudy hurtled onto the shoulder of the road and sped off northward.  In a few moments the house came into sight on the opposite side of the road.  It was big, and it had more than one building, and none of them were barns.  Garages, two.   What looked like a guest house, and maybe a workshop?  Her Daddy had a workshop, but it was a utilitarian cinderblock building.  This place?  Even the garages and outbuilding were beautifully crafted.  Rudy slowed down and then stopped.  She was a simple barn cat at heart.  Would she have anything in common with rich cats, she wondered.  They might be purebreds and not even come out of the house.  No, probably not.  Otherwise, how would the prairie dogs know they were there? 

She walked hesitantly across the street, wondering how she would be received.  Maybe she should stay on the driveway.  Rich people sometimes didn’t like it when folks walked on their lawns.  She was about ten feet up the driveway when she heard, “Halt.  Who goes there?” 

Rudy stopped, and sat down, looking in the direction from which the voice had come.  She didn’t see any cats, but she was sure it had been a cat that called to her.  The voice asked again, “I said, who are you?”  

Rudy realized the voice was coming from somewhere above her.  She looked up and saw a cat in a tree.  Well, part of a cat anyway.  Whoever it was up there was mostly obscured by leaves.  “My name is Rudy, and I’m visiting the area from New Jersey.  May I ask to whom I am speaking?”  She thought politeness was in order.

The cat moved to see Rudy better and replied, “My name is Maggie.”  This was the largest cat Rudy had ever seen.  Sheba was big, but this cat was tall and long and had legs that just kept going.  “Why don’t you come up here and join me, Rudy?” 

Rudy looked at the tree and at Maggie and decided, why not?  She carefully climbed the trunk and walked out onto the low branch Maggie was perched on.  Up close this cat was even bigger.  She made Rudy look like a runt.  She tried to think of a polite way to ask her what kind of cat she was, but Maggie saved her the trouble. 

“I’m a Savannah cat, Rudy.  We come from original breedings of servals and Siamese cats.  Servals are wild cats from Africa, and as you can guess, they have rather large ears.  We are now a recognized breed for the International Cat Association.  My human collects unusual cats.  Personally, I think I am the best looking of the bunch.”  She struck a pose.  

Rudy tried not to laugh.  The cat was beautiful, but a bit on the vain side.  Rudy explained that she was a garden variety long-haired barn cat, with no pretense to breeding.  She was born in a barn, grew up in another barn and if she hadn’t been stepped on by the horse she lived with, she’d still be a barn cat. 

Maggie smiled and said that perhaps, then, Rudy would like to meet the horses.  Rudy said that she would, although she’d prefer to make the acquaintance of the other cats.  It wasn’t every day she got the opportunity to meet rare and unusual cats, and if they were as unusual as Maggie, it might be very interesting.  Sighing, Maggie turned and told Rudy to follow her.  They returned to the ground and Rudy followed Maggie up the driveway in the direction of what Rudy thought was a guest house.  Maggie called out, “Chauncey, Fiona, there’s someone here who wants to meet you!”  Maggie turned and said, “There are some others, but they only stay in the big house and I can’t take you in to meet them.  House rules.” 

Two cats emerged from a cat door in the guest house.  One looked kind of like a kitten with very short legs and the other one was a cat with a large head and ears that folded over frontwards.  Rudy recognized the second as a Scottish Fold, but had no idea what the first one was.  The small one bounded over and introduced himself as Chauncey.  “I’m a Skookum.  Short legs, curly fur, but I’m one fierce cat.”  He bared his teeth and Rudy tried hard not to laugh.  She could backhand this cat across the yard if she wanted.  The second walked over and introduced herself as Fiona, speaking in a Scottish accent. 

“Oh, cut it out, Fiona.  You’re from Oregon, not Scotland.  No matter what your names, you’re all as American as I am.”  Maggie’s tail lashed viciously.  Maybe these cats don’t get along too well, Rudy thought to herself. 

Chauncey bounced over to Maggie and Rudy just had to laugh.  He could walk under her stomach if he wanted to, she thought.  All three cats fixed her with steely glances.  “You’re all so different and beautiful.  I’m sorry I laughed.  I’ve just never seen a cat over three weeks old that could walk under another cat’s stomach.” 

The looks on the face of the three softened and Fiona answered (without an accent) that no offense was taken.  She then invited Rudy in for a snack.  Rudy followed the three cats into the guest house and was met with the surprise of her life.  It wasn’t a guest house; it was a house for cats.  A full-sized house, furnished with climbing towers, special staircases on the walls leading to high perches and more toys than she could imagine.  This was the Pottawatomie she’d been looking for!

The three cats let Rudy gape at their home and wander around for a few moments and then Maggie invited her into the kitchen.  Maggie hit a large red button mounted on a low cabinet and said, “Our food should be here in a few minutes.  The cook should have our breakfast ready about now anyway.”

“Do you have your own cook?  And does the cook make food that’s just for you?”  Rudy was torn between anticipation of the delicious food that would be coming and jealousy that she didn’t have her own cook.

“Well, no, we don’t have our own cook, but the humans’ cook makes our meals separate from theirs.  We don’t always enjoy the same things.  For example, the humans eat entirely too many grains and vegetables.  We prefer meats and light sauces.”  Maggie said this as if it were a typical situation, found in any household. 

The three purebreds took Rudy on a tour of the house while they were waiting for the food.  Each cat had his or her own bedroom, complete with a wardrobe with foul weather gear and a selection of collars.  Chauncey’s room featured low furniture, and Maggie’s of course had lots of high places, since she wouldn’t be challenged by tiny furniture like Chauncey’s. 

A bell rang downstairs, and the cats raced down for their breakfast.  The cook stood in the kitchen with a rolling cart holding a variety of serving dishes.  She portioned various foods into divided porcelain plates, obviously knowing which cats liked which foods.  She looked at Rudy and said, “Well, I don’t know what you’d like, so I’ll just give you a little of each.  Is that okay?”  Rudy nodded, mouth hanging open, and the woman put down a dish with four different foods on it.  From the look and smell of it, Rudy had salmon, a chicken dish in a light sauce, liver pâté and a shrimp and scallop dish, also in a light sauce.  She was in heaven.  She sampled all four, and decided that since she couldn’t possibly finish all of them that she’d concentrate on the salmon and then the liver pâté.  A crystal water bowl appeared next to the plate, and Rudy took a sip of the clearest water she’d ever tasted.  She tried to eat daintily, but the food was too delicious, so she ended up wolfing it down. 

“Man, do you eat like this every day?  I sure could live like this.  You know, I’d always heard that Pottawatomie cats lived well, but this is more than I expected by far.”  Rudy sat cleaning her whiskers, which had some liver on them. 

The cats laughed and explained that most of the cats around here didn’t live anything like this.  It was just that they were rare show cats, and they only were fed like this as long as they won their cat shows and stayed healthy.  Otherwise, they’d be sold off as pets, or put down if they were in poor health.  Chauncey, who turned out to be the eldest, told how other cats had lost favor when they didn’t show well and the owners had sold them, and one cat had been put down simply because he got old and didn’t get around too well.  Chauncey looked wistful, and said that he hoped that wouldn’t happen to him. 

Rudy looked at them in horror.  How could humans treat them like that?  Fiona took over and explained how a trainer came and worked with them every other day and they had to practice walking, posing and putting up with humans feeling their legs and body, no matter how intrusive it felt.  She said that the cat shows were horrible.  They were put in tiny cages and flown to wherever the show was to be held, and flying was terrible.  When they got to their destination they got bigger crates to live in, but they couldn’t run around, sometimes for days.  And when they came home after the show if one didn’t do well he or she had to watch as the winners got fussed over while they sat in their crate until someone bothered to let him or her out.  She looked sad and said that although the food and the house were great, there was a price to be paid for such luxury.  Maggie walked to Fiona and nuzzled her.  “You’ll do better next time, Fiona.  I can feel it in my bones.” 

The four cats went into the living room, where there were a variety of cushioned areas for lounging and the conversation became very light. Rudy did her part to distract Fiona.  She told of how she and LT had come to be in Kansas, including the part about how different cats had heard that Pottawatomie was a utopia for cats.  She didn’t mind seeming silly right now.  These cats needed something to distract them.  The three laughed at Rudy’s stories, saying they had never heard such things, even from the various places they had originally come from. 

The sound of the doorknob turning galvanized the three Pottawatomie cats.  Maggie yelled, “Rudy, you’ve got to hide.  They can’t find you here.  They’ll chase you out and try to hit you with a stick, and we’ll all get in so much trouble.  Quick, HIDE!”  Rudy scooted inside a hideaway, wondering how long she’d have to stay in there, but it was better than getting her friends in trouble or getting hit. 

A human entered and shook what sounded like a treat bag.  “Time for our training session, you overpriced furballs.  Let’s go!”  The human walked through the living room and went up the stairs.  “Come on Maggie, no dawdling.” 

Maggie stuck her head in the hideaway and said, “This morning has been the most fun I’ve had in a long time.  Thank you for visiting us, Rudy.  You should leave as soon as we get upstairs.”  She ran for the stairs as the trainer called for her again.

As soon as Rudy heard the footsteps of the human upstairs she scooted out of the hideaway and ran out through the cat door.  She started running, and didn’t stop until she was across the road and partway to the pond.  She finally slowed down, panting, but kept putting distance between herself and that house. 

She stopped at the pond for a nice long drink, as it was getting hot already.  From the look of the sun, it was mid to late morning, so she had more than enough time to get home before the full heat of the day.  Rudy looked out over the water, and considered what she’d seen and heard.  Yes, those cats had all the good things they could want, but at what a cost….

She heard footsteps in the grass and looked back, hoping vainly that it was one of the cats, but it was a prairie dog.  She was pretty sure it was Swee.  “Howdy, neighbor,” Rudy said, just in case it wasn’t.

“You were running as though being chased by the hounds of hell, Rudy.  Are you okay?”  Yes, it was Swee.  She recognized the voice. 

Rudy explained about the cats who lived in the big house, and said that it would be nice if maybe some of the prairie dogs would befriend them.  They needed some friends, from Rudy’s point of view.  Swee considered it and said he’d discuss it with the others.  They didn’t want to get caught, but if they could help a fellow animal, that would be a good thing.  They chatted for a few minutes, and Rudy said she needed to get back to her folks.  She wished Swee a good day and ran off towards town.

The trip back took even less time than she’d remembered from the other day, perhaps because Rudy really wanted to get back where she knew she was loved for herself, and not for what she looked like.  She burst in through the cat door and took a long drink of water.  She wasn’t a bit hungry, so she looked at the food bowl only briefly to check that there was something to snack on for later.  She turned on the iPad and considered how she’d describe her meeting with the Pottawatomie cats.  She didn’t want to destroy LT or Peep’s dreams about Pottawatomie, but they needed to know that if these cats were representative of Pottawatomie there was no place like home.  

No comments: