Two days of rain have washed away the last of the snow, leaving the ground saturated and muddy with puddles standing everywhere. I abandon my plans to take my walk in the woods, and decide to walk down the road instead, wondering what I'll see on foot that I never notice while driving. The sky is heavy and grey, threatening more rain; and I stuff a poncho in my pocket before setting out. Glad of a chance to get outside without getting rained on, even Katt goes with Mutt and I today. As we near the low water bridge, I can hear the water rushing over the slab. A tree is down in the creek, it's branches laying across the slab, catching debris from the swiftly flowing water. I start to turn back toward the cabin; but notice Mutt looking intently at the branches. Looking for what he sees, I notice a grey and white ball of something, then a second one. Two tiny kittens cling to the branches, high above the water. Looking even closer, I see a third black kitten trapped where he can barely keep his head above the water. I stuff the bottom of my jacket into the top of my jeans to make a place to put the kitten and wade out into the water. The slab is slippery and the water ice cold. Gently freeing the kitten, I slip him inside my shirt against my skin for more warmth. It's soaking wet; but the tiny body still feels warm. It couldn't have been in the water for very long. The two kittens that had climbed up the branches out of the water are more difficult to get to; but soon they are inside my jacket too. Mutt finds two more little bodies wedged against a tangle of branches almost under the water; and I retrieve them too, thinking they must have drowned. But they are still alive too. My feet are numb; and I'm wet to above my knees when I see one more kitten trying to stay afloat in the water just above the tree. They must have just been washed into the water I think; and I send Mutt to retrieve it, carefully making my way back out of the water. As I reach the road again, I see Katt has two more kittens that she found along the bank. That makes eight kittens; and I have no idea how I'm going to take care of two or three, much less eight. I hurry back toward the cabin to get the kittens warm and dry at least, wondering where their mother is..... She must have had a den too close to the creek; and I wonder if she drowned or was looking for her kittens. As I start to close the cabin door behind Mutt, I see what I think is my answer limping into the clearing, following our scent. I leave the door open just enough that she can squeeze in if she gets that brave; and put the kittens on a big comforter by the fire while I hastily strip off my own wet clothes. I grab a robe and some hand towels and return to dry the kittens one by one. They are starting to revive a little as they get warm and dry. Their anxious mewling little cries finally coax the mother to slip through the door to get to them; and I almost cry out at the cuts and her obviously broken back leg. Quietly closing the door to keep her from leaving, I reach for the phone to call the vet.
Feb-2-2002 The down tree has been cleared, the vet has come and gone, the room is a mess with the improvised den I've made out of chairs and blankets for the mother to hide in, and I've got wobbly little kittens exploring all over the living room. At least they seem to be using the improvised litter box I put in the corner. "How do I get into stuff like this?" I wonder as I settle down in my chair with a book to read until bedtime.
Feb-8-2002 I stir the fire into new life; and settle down on the floor in front of the couch. Half the kittens are napping on it; and I don't want to wake them up just yet. It's been almost a week since I found them in the flooded creek; and they're no longer afraid of me or anything I do. Instead, they treat the whole cabin as their playground and any moving object as a target for their attacks. They're getting more coordinated every day; and I have to watch every step I make so I don't accidentally step on one of them.
Mama still spends most of her time hidden in the den of quilts when I'm in the room; but she's eating well and getting around okay on her splinted leg now. Mutt and Katt come and settle down near me. They're glad of the quiet too. The kittens have taken to ambushing Katt any time she moves and attacking Mutt's tail.
I wonder what it is about the young of any species that seems to bring out the protectiveness in most people and animals. Or at least tolerance in Mutt and Katt's case. They've been so good about the kittens no matter how often they're attacked.
I sit for a long time, just watching the fire while all the critters doze. Soon I start getting sleepy too until Mama limps out of the improvised den and goes behind it to where I've got the litter box out of sight. Surprisingly, when she returns, she lays down on the corner of the rug instead of going back into the den. Mutt raises his head curiously; but drops his head back down on his paws when I don't make a move toward the cat. I want to shout, "YES!" because she's finally not hiding from me; but I make myself ignore her like she's ignoring all of us. She doesn't act like she's really wild, yet I haven't been able to find anybody who's lost a cat either. My mind goes back to the question of what to do when her leg is healed and I can let her go outside again. Will she take the kittens and go back to where she came from or will she stay close by? I know I'm getting very attached to the black kitten with the white feet; but I sure can't keep 8 kittens and their mother. If she leaves again that would sort of solve the problem; but I hate to think that the kittens would grow up wild if she did. For now though just seeing Mama not being so afraid gives me such a good feeling I can't worry about a few weeks down the road.
Feb-19-2002 I settle down in my favorite spot on the floor in front of the fire. I've spent a long time working on a new story today; and it feels so good to just stare into the fire and let my mind go blank. Mama is feeding the kittens; and doesn't even look up as Mutt and Katt curl up next to me. I rouse myself long enough to add a couple more logs to the fire then settle back and close my eyes.
Mama's sudden choice is just as swift as it is surprising. I feel a paw on my lap, then another one on my shoulder. A moment later I feel a velvety exploratory tap on my cheek and then a rough tongue. This is so unlike Katt who is not a cuddler that I open my eyes in surprise. Mama's eyes look into mine, then blink as I meet her stare. She continues washing my face for a moment more, then curls up in my lap as if it was a familiar place to her, her splinted leg hanging awkwardly off the side. I reach up on the couch for a throw pillow to slip under her leg to support it, then close my eyes again, one hand gently stroking her head. Her purr is loud compared to Katt's. With a smile, I realize Mama has adopted me.
Feb-19-2002 I awake with a start, fleeting remnants of my dream dancing out of reach in an instant. Still I can vaguely smell sweet scented smoke. Mama's head is turned, watching me intently. I resume my gentle stroking of her head; and she settles down again. Poor Mutt is really outnumbered now I think wryly, looking at the kittens curled up all over and around him and Katt and I. Perhaps the trails will be dry enough in the morning for a walk. It will be good to get out and move after so much sitting. But for now it's bed time, if I can get out from under all these critters.
Mar-19-2002 Scrambling to meet yet another deadline, I'm up early this morning; but the words just won't come. I realize I have let myself get caught up in too much work again; and I get up and walk into the kitchen to fix some hot chocolate. The family room looks so warm and cozy as I return and sit down at the table by the window. The fire crackles cheerfully in the fireplace, sending waves of warmth throughout the room and holding the cold dampness seeping in from outside at bay. Mama and the kittens are busy stalking anything that moves as she tries to teach the kittens the finer points of hunting. I realize that it's been six weeks now since I found them; and I have to take Mama back to the vet this afternoon to get the cast off. I should take the kittens too for their first shots. Maybe I'll just take the day off and work on the cat door I want to put in. The article I'm working on will write itself better while my hands are busy with other things anyway; and it's the last one in the series so I'll be able to take some time off when it's finished. Just in time for spring cleanup too I think with a grin. Setting my cup down, I get down on the floor to add another target for the kittens to stalk. Life sure doesn't get much better than this.
Mar-22-2002 Looking like a decoration sitting in the bushes, the miniature cabin that houses the exterior openings of the cat door is finished. Wide strips of rubber overlap each other on both sides creating two door flaps to keep out the weather while being easy to push through. It is almost hidden by the bare bushes now; and in the summer it will be invisible. Covering the sensor, I push back the door flap to check that the light is on. I hope the light will discourage nocturnal visitors from trying to get into the cabin through the cat door.
Back inside, I hang the rubber flaps on the inside opening; and finish the framing. Katt is curious, but wary; while Mama is still busy washing the vet smells off her leg. I hang the door that will close the entrance if it should ever prove necessary and then latch it open. All that's left is to see if I can coax either Katt or Mama into using their new door.
I go back outside; and wiggle my way back into the bushes by the door. Calling to Katt and Mama several times with no response, I mutter, "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea." I put my hand in through the door and tap on the floor to arouse their curiosity, still calling to them. Finally extending my arm until my hand goes through the interior door flap. My wiggling fingers are attacked almost immediately by tiny teeth and claws.
After half an hour, the closest any of the cats have come to using the door is extending their paws through the flap and feeling for my hand. The sun has finally topped the cabin; and I can feel its warmth through my jacket. Perfect weather for the kittens' first outdoor excursion. If I can get them to come out, I think wryly.
Finally I pull my arm all the way out, and just hold the door flaps open on the outside. After a few minutes of this sudden inactivity, Katt's curiosity wins out over her caution. She slinks through the space between the doors to stand twitching her tail in indecision half in and half out of the outer door, her front paws on my shoulder. In moments, the kittens are tumbling out around her, using my shoulder and back as a path to the ground. I realize they are going to need something to climb on to get back in since I had to put the door at least a foot above the raised bed to get it even with the floor inside.
Finally Katt jumps down, leaving room for Mama to come out. She calls the kittens to follow her, intent on teaching them some lesson. This leaves me free to find something for them to use to reach the door to get back in. An hour later I have wrestled several large stones in to place to provide king sized stairs up to the door. It looks better this way I think. More like a cabin built on a rock outcrop. By the time I finish, Mama is bringing the kittens back to take them inside; and Mutt is curiously sticking his paw through the inside door flap, trying to figure out where the cats and I have gone. I've got to do something about that I think.
When it gets warm I'll build a couple more little cabins to set in the bushes to make it look like a little community. But that can wait a while until the spring cleanup is done. Tomorrow I'll change the handle on the front door to one that Mutt can open by himself. With the cats free to come and go at will, it's not fair for him to be stuck inside by himself. And hope I can teach him to close it after himself. Maybe I better come up with a plan B just in case. But now it's time to finish that article and send it off. It's gonna be a while before I let myself get talked into a series like that again.
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