Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cat Hiking

The following was written in Santa, New Mexico on our third day of dog/cat/house sitting.

Vacations give you the chance to experience things that you might not have an opportunity to do at home. This week Mars and I went hiking with a cat.

(Picture by Mars - click to enlarge)

We both consider ourselves "dog people". Each of us had family canines in our youth, and during our marriage we provided room and board to Nicole Marie, a Labrador Retriever / Irish Setter cross, for about twelve years. After her passing we decided not to get another because with both of us working it just wouldn't fair to a new dog -- and it was confining on us.

Neither Mars nor I have any cats in our history. In fact over the past several years we each had instantaneous congested-head, itchy-eyed allergic reactions to the furry felines. Now we are house-sitting for one of them in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Actually the cat was added to J and J's family after we had accepted their house-sitting gig so I prefer to think of it as a throw in -- not really a part of the reason we were there but rather a tiny divertimento from our real responsibility, the previously mentioned Audrey the dog.

She is a tiny cat -- tiger with some calico (Mars' guess). J and J call her "KitKat" although as our son Bram says it is a mystery why people bother to name their cats, "It's not like they come when they're called anyway."

Like Audrey the dog, KitKat requires very little attention. She is a "self-regulating" eater who is allowed outside on her own throughout the day and (if she chooses) at night. We were asked to keep her and Audrey inside when the coyotes are prowling in the immediate area, but she has apparently spent several outdoor all-nighters in the high desert by herself.

Mars crocheted some toys for her but, after an initial display of interest, she has largely ignored them. And us. She did however crawl into bed with us briefly around five o'clock last night (our second sleeping night there). And about four hours later went for her second hike with us.

J and J said that she might do that, and not to worry -- although she is normally kept inside on their own high desert treks because she becomes "bothersome". We hadn't really planned on her accompanying us but she scurried out the front door as Audrey and we were exiting -- so there she was.

We walked down to the arroyo and hiked up one of its side tributaries -- a distance of about two miles. Audrey, as is her wont, led the way -- running ahead in search of long eared rabbits to chase through the low underbrush on the hills and banks alongside the dried-out waterway. The cat stayed an equal distance behind us -- walking about a third of the time in our footprints and the remainder in the same part of the landscape as the dog, but presumably looking for smaller prey. She would be gone from sight for several minutes then suddenly sprint past us at breakneck speed and quickly drop back to her rear guard position -- as if she forgot then suddenly remembered that she was not really a part of our trekking team. (Kind of like the oh-so-bored "tween" girl in the Royal Carribean Cruise commercial that gets caught smiling during her jet-ski lesson then quickly realizes that she is on her mom's video camera.)

We hiked up the bone-dry side stream until we came to one of the metal inlet pipes that conduct the overflowing mountain pour-offs into the stream bed. There being no real alternative we turned and headed back. KitKat decided to explore the outer edges of the corrugated conduit. Being unsure of her loyalty to us, or her ability to find her own way home, Mars and I paced back and forth for a few minutes before convincing ourselves to leave the area.

We walked for about five minutes with no signs of the cat when she darted past us and fell back into her self-designated spot in our slowly moving parade. Moments later we lost sight of her again until we left the arroyo and found her laying down in the shade by the side of the dirt road that leads at a forty-five degree incline back up to the house.

Evidently as long as she knows where she is, or where she is going, she will ignore us. When she is uncertain as to what is going on, she keeps in touch. But not enough to make us feel needed or even wanted. Her body language, unlike that of Audrey, never betrays any recognition of our presence.

Last night, around 1:15 a.m., movement awakened me on the outside of our bed up around my head. KitKat was standing next to me, her silhouette barely visible in the dark.

In spite of the complete novelty, and overall freakiness, of the situation I fell asleep. Three hours later I awoke again and was told by Mars that the cat was lying between us, sleeping. I woke up again at 6:15 and detected a definite animal smell next to me and when I rearranged my body I could feel her paws pressing against it.

A little later, when I got up to go to the bathroom, she left the bed. Mars said that she had taken up residence there at four o'clock -- apparently her earlier visit being just exploratory.

Then this morning we all went for another hike.

I have no idea what other "firsts" the cat has in store for us. Maybe tomorrow she would like to join us for a visit to the museums and lunch in town. She could pretend that she was by herself and had no idea who we were. Apparently all it takes to make her comfortable is for us to be around -- and act as if we aren't.

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