Sam treed the neighbor’s cat, Climber, but it wasn’t like you think. Climber had come in close to the backyard and when Sam came out of the house he rushed the fence. Climber is a survivor of the first order, and thinking the fence might fail, he did what cats do; climb. Sam sat and watched him until I herded him back into the house, but Climber stayed put. This is a cat who has lived outside all his life, and has done so quite well.
I see Climber cross the fenceline across from my front yard four or five times a week. He comes back with rats, and once he was carrying a full grown rabbit. Climber isn’t the biggest cat I’ve ever seen, nor is he particularly well camouflaged. He’s a black and white cat, not tawny or tabby or solid black and invisible at night, yet Climber keeps on keeping on.
Hickory Head is a hostile environment for small mammals. Hawks, Owls, foxes, Bobcats, venomous snakes, gators, and especially coyotes will take a shot at a cat. Climber crosses the fence in front of my house into the planted pines and there will be no help for him in there, and he has to know this. Luck is not something that exists in any great quantity in the wild, and it certainly doesn’t exist in Coyote Land, at least not for a cat. Yet there Climber is, each and every day of his life, going out and pretending to be a feral cat. I guess if he’s pulling in the game and staying alive it is not pretending, is it?
Saying this area is hostile cats is more than just supposition. Bert and Sam have killed three or four cats in the last nine years. People dump cats out near farms thinking they’ll make their way into a family. The sad and brutal truth is some cats are not afraid of dogs, and they damn well should be. Standing your ground against a dog is predicated on the belief the dog won’t charge in and tear your head off if you just hold your position. Or maybe that’s preferable to trying to run from a predator that’s a hell of a lot faster. In my backyard, it is suicide to be a small mammal and to be there. I found what was once a beautiful little grey tabby in the backyard, and the dogs were milling around all happy and wagging their tails about it. Over the fence it went, and with it was part of my heart. They are dogs, Mike, you knew this when you started rescuing large dogs, and if you didn’t, you damn well know now.
When I visit my neighbors Climber always comes over to greet me, and to get his chin rubbed, and it’s all purrs and body pushing. He’s a pet and wants to be petted! This is Climber the house cat, the yard guard, and he’s everyone’s kitty. Out in the field, or beside the pond, or in the woods, Climber hisses at me, and runs away. I thought for a while there were two cats, but Climber is just asserting his wildness once he’s away from home. He cannot afford softness in the wild, and he knows it, and I think he resents my intrusion into this world he escapes to at times.
This will end poorly, and you know it, as I do. This is how it ended for Abbi Gale The Cat From Hell, and this is how it ends in the wild for all animals. No matter how smart, or how wily, or how lucky Climber is, age will creep up from him from behind, and one day he will be too slow, or too distracted, or too unlucky. I hope it doesn’t happen here, I hope he never gets close enough to Sam to…nevermind, I don’t want to think about that. I rather Climber just go missing one day, and I don’t have to see it.
I think civilization has robbed people of the ability to go out and be wild again. Like cut out dolls with those paper clothes with tabs on them, we feel like we needs so many things, so many accessories and so much stuff before we can do anything at all. Even the best among us, who will go out and dare nature to kill, must take enough emergency stuff to last a day or two, and I’m guilty of that when I go out into the Okefenokee. Take a cell phone, a GPS, some waterproof matches, some spare clothes, and tell someone when you’re coming back, just in case. Tell the ranger where you’re going to go, and don’t dare get off the trails! Do the calculations of how long it would take someone to find you, and don’t stay out after dark! Take a flashlight, take a medkit, take a small nuclear weapon with you while you’re at it, and make sure you wipe your feet before you come back in, please.
I think sometimes that is why so many people take so many drugs, and why so many young people are so destructive. We, as a culture, have lost the ability to work without a net. There are so many rules and law protecting us from ourselves there is hardly any life left in our actions. We’ve put training wheels on everything we’ve ever done and we’ve become experts in risk management to the point we have lifeguards stationed at water fountains.
There are none among us anymore who will sail a ship into the unknown, past the point where the food and water will be gone before they could sail back home, hoping in some wild chance to find some new land. We’ve lost that. We’ve lost the ability to risk life for the hope of finding something better than what we have. We think our lives are worth more than exploration, and hunting. In thinking this we diminish our lives, we make them timid and frail, and we forget that even the small mammals, in the worse environments, still hunt.