Lenten Meditation: Living in the Shadows

The first time I saw him last year was just a flash of gray ringed tail
Disappearing into the autumn night mist as I opened the back door
To pour kibble into the empty cat dish on the porch: another
Stray cat among many who visit the farm. A few stay.

So he did, keeping a distance in the shadows under the trees.
A gray tabby with white nose and bib, serious yet skittish,
Watching me as I moved about feeding dogs, cats, birds, horses,
Creeping to the cat dish only when the others drifted away.

There was something in the way he held his head,
A floppy forward ear betrayed hidden wounds I could not approach to see.
I startled him one day as he ate his fill at the dish. He ran away
His head flashing red, his back scalp missing from forehead to neck.

Not oozing or bleeding, nor something new. A nearly mortal scar
From an encounter with coyote, or eagle or bobcat.
This cat was thriving despite his trauma and pain,
His tissue raw, trying to heal. He had chosen to live.

My first inclination was to trap him, to put him humanely to sleep
To end his suffering, in truth to end my distress at seeing him every day,
Envisioning the florid flesh even as he hunkered invisible in the shadowlands.
Yet disfigurement did not keep him from eating well or licking clean his pristine fur.

As much as I wanted to look away, to avoid confronting his mutilation,
I greeted him from a distance, acknowledging his maimed courage,
Through wintry icy blasts, and four foot snow, through spring rains and summer heat with flies,
His scar never quite healed, a sanguine reminder of approaching mortality.

I never will stroke that silky fur, or feel his burly purr, assuming he still knows how,
But still I feed him his daily fill, as he feeds my need to recall:
Each breath he takes is sacred air, no matter how deep his wounds,
Nor how much, because he lives, he continues to bleed red.

3 thoughts on “Lenten Meditation: Living in the Shadows

  1. Ah, Emily, between the ages of twelve and fifteen for me, my family lived on a property that had been, a few years earlier, a working farm; not a big commercial farm but it is easy to conceive that some earlier owner had raised a few cows, sold a few strawberries, and pretty well sustained himself by raising pigeons, as testified by the presence of a rather sophisticated pigeon house. For my purposes, it was THE ultimate chicken house!!!

    It seems the first thing to go were the cows. A pasture that separated much of the property from the US Highway 25 just east of us had not been grazed in at least fifteen years, judging from the sapling sizes and the saw briar growth. I went into the pasture a few times to set rabbit boxes (usually collecting a possum), but it was pretty rough going. One hot sultry day, however, I had gone down our road and then down the highway to a small store on an errand for Mama; leaving the store, I looked across that pasture and decided to take the short cut.

    What an experience. There were grasshoppers the size of chickadees flying around with ground support from the saw briars and all sorts of nettles; looked peaceful enough from the highway, but it was a war zone, what with all these creatures protecting their turf from me, the invader. Those bugs bombarded me and sweat got in my eyes. Wow. What an experience, indeed. What a relief when I reached the far fence and climbed over, headed to the house on “civil” ground.

    Your stray cat brought that experience to mind. Ah, my lesson that there is a world of nature that goes on it’s way regardless of human activity. Eagles and bobcats WILL attack small animals and some of those small animals escape. Their subsequent lives might not be what we consider “normal” but they get by. Some of them, at least THIS one, are lucky enough to find a compassionate soul to encourage from whatever distance is necessary. I know people who would have shot the cat. I’m glad I know one who didn’t.

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  2. Wow Bill, I have heard of huge grasshoppers but have never seen them. I can imagine that was a vivid reminder that we are not in control, no matter how much we may think so. Also makes me realize a grasshopper plague is not what I’d care to experience! As always, thanks so much for your wonderful stories and comments on my posts. Happy Easter week to you and your wife!

    Emily

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  3. Sometimes it takes a while for a cat to learn to trust. We had one show up in the yard and hang out with our cat, and dogs. We left food out for it, but could not get within ten feet. When we went on vacation it moved in, following our animals in through the doggy door. The pet sitter reported the two cats were now lounging on the couch.

    The breakthrough came when it (now named Kat) sat in the hallway every evening watching me snuggle with the other cat, Buttercup, on the bed. It was a nightly ritual at 8 pm, and you could set your watch by it. One night he quietly got up on the bed behind us, reached out his paw, and touched me on my hand. Aw, he wants to be family.

    I still cannot pick him up, although my wife can for a few minutes at a time, but he loves a snuggle on the bed, or when I’m having breakfast. The area by my chair in the dining room is apparently designated safe territory, and he is willing to show his belly there.

    I sometimes say to him, “All you really wanted was someone to love you,” as he purrs away, belly up, thoroughly contented. It took seven years to reach this point, but we have a happy Kat.

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