- HuntersA Meander
As I look out the window on this early winter day, cup of coffee in hand, I see one of my cats, starkly black and white against the winter grays and browns, prowling in the apple orchard, tail held high in a muscular curve, going after whatever moves there—mice, red squirrels, chipmunks, moles, voles. He is beautiful and sleek, powerfully built, agile and alert. A hunter. Both cats live in the barn and under the house and woodshed. Ruth and I are both allergic to cats, so this is a necessary arrangement. Mustache and Stripe, named for their facial markings—one with a white stripe down his nose, the other with a white mustache—came to us as kittens, a brother and sister, many years ago, the unwanted progeny of someone else's barn cat. They may live outside, but these cats have none of that mangy, scabby dullness that you might associate with working farm cats. They have bowls for food and water in the barn. They make an annual trip to the vet. They meet us when we come and go from the house, squirming over on their backs and offering their white bellies to be petted. They sit on the doorstep and print their muddy paws against the glass-paned door. They meow and purr and tangle themselves in our legs when we are in the garden or doing chores in the barn. They love to be cuddled and squeezed, held upside down even, and enjoy riding up on our shoulders. Their bellies are always full. Their eyes are shining emerald-green marbles. They are our pets and friends, our little white-mittened darlings. They are also ferocious hunters, so much so that we removed our beloved bird feeders soon after the cats arrived, because the cats would sit under the feeders, jumping athletically up, one paw outstretched, to hook down a tiny chickadee or titmouse. [End Page 65] The cats have certainly done the job we hoped they would do, which was to help us control rats in the barn, mice that invaded our home every fall, and the moles and voles that tunneled through our vegetable garden, destroying any hope of successful onions, carrots, beets, and other root crops. As I look out at the cat hunting in the winter orchard, I am full of admiration for these shapely, self-sufficient animals, their sense of purpose, their repose, their joy for life, their effortless elegance and robust health, their seeming equanimity.
It is the second day of December in Maine. Last year we had several feet of snow by now, and Gene Allen, the old-time Mainer who plows our long dirt driveway, had come twice already. Last night it rained, and the thinnest shim of ice on the road brought out the town maintenance trucks, spreading sand and salt on the village streets and outlying country roads. Nevertheless, as I slowly took a corner coming out from yoga class, the wheel of the Subaru seemed to float out of my hands, and it felt for a moment like the car and I were weightless, about to lift off from the wet, dark pavement into the pines and naked maples and cattails beside the road. We settled back down, machine and I, and made it home. In the barn everything and everyone was safe and warm and dry, the chickens settled feathered-wing to feathered-wing in their coop; the goats resting in their bedding of dry, fragrant hay; the cats perched on the stairs in the barn, their thick winter coats glossy and black and smelling of fresh summer from their cozy bed among the bales of hay in the loft of the barn. In the house, Ruth had lit another fire in the woodstove before she left to spend the week alone in a small camp we had purchased on a pond just four miles away. The house held the signature of her consideration for me, her love. She had wanted me to have the pleasure of coming home to warmth and light, to coals in the woodstove still orange and glowing, ready for me...