Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Annie's Western Adventure
There is so much going on in the news -- the economic crisis, bailouts, a new president, a stylish first lady, and even the academy awards. It all makes me feel as if I should address something important, something newsworthy here. But then there's the escapist in me. One morning, just a week or two ago, I actually said, "Shut up" out loud to the radio as I was getting dressed and heard another dismal report of cutbacks, layoffs, greed, falling stock prices, and economic drear delivered on NPR news. So something small, personal, and close to home might make me (and you!) feel more secure for a minute. The topic this time will be my cat, Annie. Maybe we'll get back to the wider world, and our serious problems next time.
Annie is my independent, in-charge alpha cat. She's a calico I adopted 5 or 6 years ago. Annie is the kind of cat who loves people to pet her, but hates to be held. She's curious, bold, acts like she's the biggest, baddest cat in the land, and harasses Sugar, my Himalayan (who has never fully recovered from Annie's arrival in our household). But when it comes right down to it, Annie is a little cat and a big chicken. I'll never forget the way she screamed and cried, "Help. Murder. My world's falling apart!" when we moved to the house in St. Anne's Hill in Dayton. I had to wrap her in a blanket and carry her to the house, screaming all the way. All the stray cats in the neighborhood came out of the bushes to see what the trouble was. I'm sure they, and all my new neighbors there thought a cat was being skinned alive, from the sound of it.
But let's get back to Utah, and the present. In this little friendly town, a neighbor made a sweet snack after dinner one night, and brought me a sample. While I was accepting this gift, and chit-chatting at the door, Annie must have slipped out the door at my feet.
Annie has always yearned to be an outdoor cat. I never let her out when we lived in the city. But last Fall, she found a way out of the house several times, and started training me to be the owner of a cat that is both an outdoor and an indoor cat. But since the the snow started falling here, she had not ventured out.
Annie often wanders the house. So I didn't notice she was gone until the next night. I was thinking about going to bed and the cats usually gather 'round at that time. I noticed that I hadn't seen Annie for quite a while. When I started calling all over the house, Sugar, the Himalayan, hunkered down and looked slightly guilty. Then I went to the front door and called out to the dark valley and the bright stars. No luck. I spent a restless night, imagining Annie's frozen little body somewhere out there in the wilds of northern Utah. I got up several times that night and called for her.
In the morning, I went out searching again. The neighbor's lambs were startled at my shameless calling, and stood absolutely still, on edge, the way lambs do. The neighbor's sheep-herding Border Collie came over and looked at me nervously. By this time, Annie had been out in the cold for 36 hours.
When I got to work that morning, I called my wonderful neighbor, May. The first time May came over to visit, she was surprised that I brought cats with me all the way from Ohio (cats are barn animals here, and they're all at least half stray). But May was concerned. She could hear panic in my voice. I'm sure her sympathy was based in an undersanding that I had misplaced one of my 2 only companions. She said she'd send her husband, Myron, out to the barn to see if Annie had joined their cat pile. She also said she would call the other neighbors, put out an APB for a wandering Eastern calico house cat.
I didn't hear back from May that day. So I knew Annie was still at large. I "sang the blues" to the receptionist at work, who is something of a bartender behind that counter. I talked about how sad it is when a small pet dies. I thought about all the cats I've buried in the back yard, usually in the pouring rain or the bitter cold.
When I got home that night, I went out cat-hunting again. Just after dark, I passed a small open field not far from the house, still calling "Annie," and I heard a distant "meow."
"Annie is that you?"
I could make out the shape of a car sitting in the field, and I thought I could see something moving on its hood. So I ventured into the snowy field. I didn't have boots on. But the snow was crusty enough that I mostly walked on top of it.
As I got close to the car, I saw that it was, in fact, long-lost Annie. She wouldn't leave the car to come to me, but paced back and forth, and jumped into my arms as I walked up close to the car. I noticed that the windshield was caved in, and there was still a little trailer hitched to it. Hmm. Had Annie been on a camping trip?
The getaway car (with footprints):
Annie was warmer than I was at that point. She seemed more cuddly than usual as I walked home with her. I guess she had been hiding in that old car for a couple of days. But the car wasn't really that far from the house. Was she just reluctant to put her feet back in the cold snow, since she had found the oasis? Was she lost, disoriented? Didn't she know her way home? Was she having a mid-winter cat party there? Was this her trusty steed, and was she playing Annie Oakley? I don't know. But as we approached the front door of my house, and I opened it, she got excited and bolted out of my arms. I corralled her into the house.
Annie immediately started rolling on the carpet. Sugar, the Himalayan, hissed and growled when Annie rolled near her, as if to say "You're back, darnit. I thought I was going to have this place all to myself. Keep your distance, and next time take a longer trip." And I thought that she had been upset about Annie's absence!
That was 3 weeks ago. Annie, now known as "Oakley," hasn't been outside since then. But the ice is starting to melt on the fish pond. Melting snow and icicles are dripping from the garage roof. I see lots of migrating ducks and geese in the morning as I pass the reservoir on my way to work. And I guarantee that Annie is plotting her next adventure.
Now, don't we feel better?