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Ode to my cats

April 13, 2011

This afternoon it started raining, and that is good, because the plants on the banks of the garden pond and the two newly planted fruit trees and all the other trees and bushes around the house need watering.

Last week the house got a new roof and the down pipes were fitted with diverters, leading into rainwater tanks (big plastic barrels). We have now four rain barrels, where all the water from the roof and also from the roof of the greenhouse is collected. When I looked in the morning, the barrels were nearly empty, another reason, why the rain is very welcome.

I live in a rainy country, and rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. Whiners and fussers here constantly complain about the weather, but I like it. I like to listen to the pouring rain and I like the sound of the raindrops on the window pane. In spring and summer, when it is warm I also enjoy walking in the rain.

The whiners and fussers who complain about the weather don’t realize that the rainy climate is a big benefit, as water will become scarce and precious very soon – sooner than we ever would have imagined until recently.

Unfortunately today it also has cooled down and that means, that my cat friends spend most of their time in the house, laying on the bed in my study. Only Sumo aka Indi, the old cat who defected from the neighbors and came to us last year, is curled up in her basket in the sitting room.

Before it started raining, I went out with my little friends to make our daily walk in the forest. The cats were unusual disciplined, though Wendy and Sumo got lost when we reached the big clearing in the middle of the forest. I didn’t bother and continued at a fairly fast pace with Princess Min Ki, Cindy and Rosy. Cindy loved it, she normally is a bit bored strolling along with the other cats. Cindy is in fact an incredible fast sprinter, when I go out with her alone, I can hardly keep up and often have to run after her gasping for breath.

Today we choose a shorter trail and also went in the adverse direction, taking the small path through the wilderness northeast of the house which leads to a small clearing with newly planted trees. From there we advanced to the big clearing in the middle of the wood, crossing it and going downhill to the little valley from where one can reach either the tree nursery on the eastern border of the forests, the small lake in the north, or enter the narrow footpath that leads into an dark and arcane part of the forest and ultimately back home.

We took the small footpath, as the first raindrops were already falling and everybody was eager to get home. When we reached the area with higher trees, Cindy, Min Ki and Rosy went through their usual tree climbing competition. Normally Cindy wins the contest, but this time it was a dead heat between Princess Min Ki and Cindy, with Rosy at a distant third.

It is very frustrating for Rosy, to be continuously outperformed by Min Ki and Cindy. Rosy is one year older than Min Ki, she is a lovely, rather small tortoiseshell cat. Rosy grew up under the guidance of Harry, who was our first cat and who was throughout his unfortunately only six year long life the unchallenged patriarch of the family. Harry was neutered, he was a huge cat and he was very easy going and reasonable. He was also an excellent mouse catcher.

When Rosy and her brother Paul joined the family, Harry took care of Rosy and the two developed an unusual close relationship and were always playing and hunting together. Harry had obviously, like many males in leading positions, a soft spot for young female subordinates.

It was a match made in heaven, but it unfortunately ended after five years with the tragic and untimely death of Harry, who in summer 2008 mysteriously and without apparent reason became quiet and withdrawn. He had, as we learned later from the vet, an incurable lever infection, probably contracted in a bloody fight with an intruding straying tomcat.

Harry was the co-leader and co-organizer of our walks, but in the last weeks of his life he could not go the whole way, so he just rested after a few hundred meters and waited till we came back and then he joined us again, leading the group home like in the old days. When I realized the severity of Harrys condition, I walked half the way that we normally took and then turned so we would came back to the place where he was waiting for us. Occasionally I also carried him a part of the way, which was quit exhausting because he was still a big and heavy cat despite the fact, that he did not eat much anymore and constantly lost weight.

I can remember when Rosy repeatedly jumped at him during the walks as a clear invitation to play and how deeply disappointed she was when he just shrugged, continuing walking as good as he could.

Harry’s death was a blow to all of us. I lost one of the best friends that I ever had and even as I write this I have to wipe my eyes. Consider me a sentimental geezer or a sissy or whatever, I don’t mind. Harry, together with Lizzy and the other cats were responsible for the happiest years of my life until now and I’m deeply indebted to him. A debt that I pay back to the cats which are still with me.

As I wrote before, it is very frustrating for Rosy, to be always outperformed by Princess Min Ki and Cindy. Rosy is one year older than Min Ki, but seniority doesn’t matter in this case. Min Ki has certain social talents, which she obviously acquired as she grew up on the neighboring farm together and in competition with a horde of other cats. When Min Ki moved to us she was well prepared for any social challenges. She used the group dynamics in the cat family to her advantage and laid the foundation for her takeover of the leadership even before Harry died.

After Harry’s death Rosy’s brother Paul was the logical successor, but none of the other cats liked him and they shunned him and snubbed him. In the end he retreated from the family and when we moved he didn’t come with us. He obviously had found new hosts and I hope that this people care for him and that he has a good life.

Rosy lost her last friend when Lizzy died last year. Lizzy was not a social cat but Rosy grew up alongside her and they were used to each other and respected each other. Rosy is now the outsider, because the two young cats Cindy and Wendy adore Min Ki, who became their stepmother when Cindy and Wendy joined the family as tiny little kittens. Sumo aka Indy, the fifth member of the cat family, is an old lady and a loner and rather opposed to Rosy, who repeatedly chased her out of the garden last year as Sumo desperately tried to join the family.

Rosy is lonely and I’m her only friend. I often sit down with her, talking with her and petting her. When she climbs up a tree I praise her and tell her that she is making progress. We both know very well that this is not and never will be the case and that she always will be a lousy tree climber but I can see and feel that my appreciation comforts her.

Rosy is lonely and I try to help her and give her solace. As I do this I have to keep in mind that Sumo and to a lesser degree the other three cats also need my attention, and that I have to spend time with them so that they don’t feel discriminated. There are days when I do nothing than go from one cat to the other, talking with them, petting them, playing with them and making our obligatory daily walk in the wood with them.

It is time well spent, because they give back all the love and care, and they give it back twice and threefold.

===============

I composed a guitar piece for Harry with the title “Harry’s Puddle And The Stars In The Sky”. I have not recorded it yet but I wrote down the story of this tune. Here it is:

Harry is buried in the corner of the vegetable garden. He has left us but he is not dead. He lives on as long as I live. And as long as Rosy lives.

Harry in not dead. In a night where the sky is clear and a million stars shine down on earth, covering the land in an eerie light, it can happen that around midnight Harry arises from his little grave. He walks out the garden door to the big old nut tree and from there to the backside of the barn where we often started our walks.

He continues across the meadow till the cornfield and then turns right and walks in the narrow trench that parts the cornfield from the meadow till he reaches the corner of the field and a small way, that leads from the neighboring farm through fields and meadows to a small forest patch and from there to a bigger forest and a railway crossing.

This way is only used by the farmer to access his fields and it is completely overgrown with grass and weeds. When Harry is at the corner of the field, he turns left and follows the way across the fields and meadows till he comes to the small forest. He walked this way so many times before together with us. Now he walks it alone in the deep of the night.

Shortly after the forest the way evolves into a narrow unpaved road. There are some big holes in the road and it seems, that no tractor ever passes here, because the holes are always filled with rainwater. The clayey ground prevents the water from seeping away and the puddles seldom dry out.

When we walked this way in his life time, Harry and the other cats always made a stop and they drank from the puddles. I often had to wait for some minutes till my friends had tasted and checked the flavor of all the puddles. Harry had a favorite puddle, it was the biggest one. I called it “Harry’s Puddle”.

As Harry reaches the puddles on his way through the night he sits down like he did on our many walks and he drinks from his puddle as he did so many times before.

And the stars in the sky are reflected in the puddle like little silver dots.

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