Thursday, March 30, 2017

The tennis ball

The shoosh, shoosh sound penetrates my thoughts, pulls me from the story I am reading. I look up from the book on the kitchen table, my eyes not quite focusing in the near distance as I test myself. What is that?

There are a number of sounds I have become familiar with, a number of things that can be batted about the floor or dropped, or bounced, or licked. There’s the little pink rubber ball, a cat toy that Molly likes to carry around inside her mouth to be spit out at random moments at unsuspecting feet; there’s the tiny red mouse of faux fur with the green tail that frequently disappears beneath the stove or the fridge before its enthusiastic rediscovery some distant day when its existence has been all but forgotten; there’s the orange catnip-jelly-worm thing that tumbles awkwardly when swatted and clonks against the floor when rubbed against a feline face by eager paws; there’s the odd uncooked rice noodle that has fallen from the counter and skytes quickly and satisfyingly across the floor; and then there’s the chewing of dog beds, the licking of paws, the eating of firewood scraps. I know the sounds each of those things make, but this sound, I begin to realize, I can’t place.

I turn then in my chair, glance over my shoulder to see Cleo playing with the tennis ball. She sits tall above it, staring seriously, intently at the graying felt orb and taps it carefully with one paw, sliding it ever so slowly this way and then that. Shoosh, shoosh.

The tennis ball smells like the outdoors, like spring rains and wet earth and decaying leaves. It smells like melting snow and just-frozen ice and crisp breezes. We found it sometime in February when it emerged from the retreating snow of an early melt beneath a warm spring-like sun. It brought the essence of the forest into the house and everyone has quickly fallen under its spell, Cleo batting it about, Chestnut curling his body around it, hugging it to his chest, kicking it with his back feet, Molly mooning over it, choosing it above anything else to carry around. Murdoch likes it too, but only when someone else is getting attention because of it.

“Maybe it smells like Bear,” Morgan said one day as we watched Chestnut roll about on the floor with it before we had actually sniffed it ourselves. The ball had belonged to Bear, and when I found it that mild day, poking out of the snow, I picked it up and brought it inside, uncertain then what to do with it. The part of me that wanted to preserve it somehow, not give it to the dogs, placed it carefully on top of Murdoch’s kennel where it promptly got lost amongst the gloves and sweaters and winter things that accumulated there.

But then Morgan found it one day and tossed it casually onto Molly’s bed. It landed with a thunk and when Molly lifted her head and saw it sitting there, her eyes lit up as though she had uncovered a treasure she had been searching for her whole life. She scooped it softly into her mouth and headed up to the kitchen to try its bounce on the wood floor.

It turns out Molly is more careful with the ball than Bear ever would have been. Bear delighted in stripping tennis balls of their fluff, ripping and tearing until the ball was no more than a rubber orb and then she would work that between her teeth, chewing and chewing until there was the very satisfying pop of the seam letting go and then she would work it until it eventually split in two.

Molly is a lot less aggressive than that. She is mildly obsessive, but in a loving sort of way. Molly pads around the kitchen with her slow, purposeful walk, the ball carefully clamped between her teeth. When she thinks one of us is looking, she drops the ball, lets it bounce once, and then snatches it up again. She sinks to the floor front end first, places the ball between her paws and looks at us expectantly. Sometimes she scoops it up again as we make a move to take the ball, and then, when we ignore her, she grumbles in her throat until we make eye contact.

Molly likes it when Morgan bounces the ball off the wall and she tries to catch it as it flies past her head, or when he bounces it off the ground at an angle that makes it ricochet off the kitchen cupboards and she has to think on her feet, tap dancing across the floor, attempting to guess where it might go next. The other balls don’t bounce like that, the road hockey ball and the other hard rubber ball Molly brought with her when she came to live with us, this tennis ball, she says with her intense brown eyes, is pretty awesome.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A legend in his own mind

Chestnut rockets down the stairs to the kitchen and leaps on to the easy chair sitting in the corner. He vaults over the armrest and somersaults onto the seat, landing on his back squarely in the middle of a beam of morning sunlight.

His amber eyes flash about the room, land on Molly as she circumscribes a plodding path around the table, tennis ball held eagerly, hopefully, in her mouth. As she moves past the chair, her long body swaying purposefully, Chestnut flails wildly at her flank with his front paws as he pushes himself forward on his back with his hind legs off the backrest of the chair.

Molly skips forward and Chestnut pushes himself farther, stretches out as far as he can and grabs at the thick fur of Molly’s backside and then her tail. Molly swings around then, looks at the cat with piercing eyes, stands in her permanent, no-nonsense, military stance and drops the ball. It bounces twice and then rolls towards the chair.

Chestnut lies splayed on his back, front legs outstretched, eyes locked on Molly. “I dare you,” he says. “To pick up that ball.” I watch Molly process the conundrum. Her beloved ball has rolled within range of the cat. If she goes for it, he will grab at her and she’s not allowed to retaliate, although she doesn’t understand why. But she can’t leave the ball there for just anyone to find, it’s hers and if she’s patient enough someone will eventually throw it for her.

She tiptoes forward eyeing the ball, almost sliding on her big lion-like front paws, as she ducks in to retrieve it from the bottom edge of the chair. Chestnut strikes then, arching his back and stretching his legs, claws splayed in another wild attempt to grab hold of some fur. Molly skips sideways with the ball securely in her mouth and then lunges forward as though to nose-butt Chestnut in the face; the cat retreats, pulling his paws to his chest and half rolling away.

“Molly!” I say, a warning before she gets too rough.

“Fine,” she says and turns reluctantly from the cat, who moves like lightning and takes a final swipe at her tail as Molly walks away. She skips ahead and throws a glance over her shoulder, contemplates going back.

“Come on Molly,” I say, breaking into her train of the thought with the magic words. “Bring your ball over here.”

Ears tall, eyes bright, Molly plods towards me, dropping the ball too soon as usual, looks at me with anticipation, completely forgetting about the annoying cat. Chestnut watches from his upside down position, eyes round and wild, the sun glinting off his white belly, tail flicking menacingly.

It is not long before that movement catches his eye, and Chestnut amuses himself for the rest of the morning, turning somersaults on the chair in earnest pursuit of his tail.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A very Bear memory

It was almost 13 years ago now when Morgan, Bear and I left our respective homes in southern Ontario and hit the road; wanderers with no real destination in mind. We piled our camping things into my car, strapped two canoes to the roof, stuffed Bear in the back seat and took off.

It was a summer full of adventure that tumbled into fall, right to the edge of winter. Back roads traveled, rivers paddled, lakes explored. Beaches became home for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. There were campfires and dark night skies with endless stars, there were raging storms and misread maps, there were fascinating people and interesting places.

So many moments define that summer, each a vivid memory that could have happened yesterday, but there is one that I remember as the moment when I felt like we had made it. It’s kind of plain, nothing flashy about it; there were no beaches or sunsets or northern lights. It was an early overcast summer morning and we sat in a park in the middle of a town I forget the name of and cooked breakfast on our camping stove while the world came to life around us.

To say “we had made it” is probably not the right sentiment. We were essentially homeless, living out of my car, finding quiet places along the road to pitch our tent each night, starting our days with giant bowls of oatmeal to last through until late afternoon when we would awkwardly make peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch with a Swiss Army Knife. But in that moment, in the park with our oatmeal and tea I remember being filled with a sense of peace and clarity.

We sat on a stone wall in the early morning mist and late-summer damp and watched cars rush past on the road that arced around the edge of the park, a good-sized green space in the middle of town with a creek running through it. There was a nervous energy to the hustle and bustle of the morning unfolding as people sped into their day, to work, a million things to do, slurping coffee on the run. And here was Morgan and Bear and I together in this bubble that encompassed the park, as though we had stepped out of time, sipping tea and enjoying our breakfast. We were invisible sitting there in the middle of this organized chaos, observers, completely unaffected by all of it. It was the greatest moment.

The moment was short lived. It was quickly shattered when Bear reappeared after a wander down to the creek. She skipped back to our sides with a new light in her eye, an extra spring in her step. “Hi Beary!” we said before the smell hit us and we swung quickly into, “Oh gawd!”, “What the!?” and leapt away from her as she pranced closer.

After Bear had inhaled her breakfast, snarfing it down as though she had not seen food in days, she followed her nose off across the grass to investigate some trees and rocks and more grass in the oblong-shaped park that stretched away from the road. We let her go on her own because she was a good dog. She was three and a half and she listened well. We weren’t worried about her taking off. What we hadn’t counted on was that she would decide in the spur of the moment to roll in a pile of some other dog’s crap.

She hadn’t just rolled in it though, she had basked in it, gloried in it. It was so ground into her fur it looked like someone had not only spackled the side of her neck with brown paste, but had massaged it into her fur. Her bright blue collar with the silver reflective strip was ruined. The once-gleaming fabric was so defiled we decided to throw it out right there, removing it carefully from her neck and, between pinched fingers and a lot of “eww, eww, eww”s, dropped it in the garbage can.

“Why, Bear?” we asked as she beamed back at us. “What were you thinking?” we wanted to know as we marched her back to the creek with a bar of soap and washcloth rummaged from the car.

She was so happy, so proud of herself  “Look what I found!” It was almost heartbreaking to see how crestfallen she became when she realized what was happening, an impromptu bath in the cold water.

“But I did that for you guys,” she seemed to say, a look of mortification sliding on to her face.

The washcloth ended up in the garbage too and as Bear shook off the water, along with her indignation, we packed our breakfast things in silence and loaded everything into the car.

“Did you really think we were going to let you back in the car like that?” we asked Bear as we held the door and invited her in. She leapt into the back seat as though the last fifteen minutes had never happened, disappointment gone, hard feelings discarded, because this next moment was going to be even better as we set our sights on the horizon.

How could it not be?

“Where to next?”

November 29, 2000 - March 16, 2013
 We miss you Bear xo

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book review

A huge thank you to award-winning author Ingrid King over at The Conscious Cat for writing a lovely review of my book "The Comeback Cat"!

Please click here to read what she had to say and then peruse her awesome site. It is chock full of information about feline health, nutrition and behaviour.

"The Comeback Cat: Cleo's incredible journey through feline diabetes to remission" is available for sale through Amazon.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Intrepid explorer

The third drawer down of the dresser in the corner of my bedroom was ajar. It did not look like a big enough space for a cat to squeeze through, but as I put my face near the opening and peered into the dark reaches of the drawer I could see movement, the flash of white fur amongst t-shirts, the source of the mystery rustling that had roused me from bed and the book I was reading.

“Cleo what are you doing?” I said into the shadows, snaking my hands into the drawer to try and push shirts aside and make a space for her to come out. It seemed so tight and cramped I had a passing claustrophobic thought of her suffocating in there amongst the cotton and polyester.

“You can’t stay in there,” I said, thinking about the restless night ahead, worrying about how she would get out again, the ongoing rustling sounds of her arranging and rearranging a nest for herself.

The dresser, an old wooden beast of a thing with drawers that stick, sliding grudgingly in or out only after a good shove or two, has frequently been a favourite sleeping spot of both cats, but usually it is when a drawer has been left generously open, its contents easily swirled into a comfy bed. I am not sure what possessed Cleo to stuff herself through the barely-there opening on this night but clearly she did not give a glimmer of thought to how she would get out again.

“Um, I can’t open the drawer,” I said into the gap. I was sure I would get her head stuck somehow between it and the drawer above, or on the frame of the dresser itself, a 1x2 wooden crosspiece that spanned the width of the drawer. “You’re going to have to crawl out.

“How did you get in there?” I asked. And as I shifted more shirts I heard the soft scraping sound of fur against wood. “No, no, no, Cleo, don’t do that,” I said, and caught a glimpse of a white leg disappearing as she slithered over the back edge of the drawer and down into the drawer below.

I stood up straight and stared at the dresser. The fourth drawer down was also open a bit which meant Cleo was now in the fifth drawer and I imagined her sitting there sandwiched between the wooden back of the dresser and the back of drawer four.

“Well, now you’re stuck,” I said.

There was silence from the dresser and I wondered what she was doing in there, just sitting, contemplating. If she had been at all distressed I would have heard about it, but she didn’t make a peep. I had a half thought to just leave her, sure she could climb back out on her own the way she went in, but I wasn’t going to wait around to find out at 2:00 in the morning, woken from a deep sleep by the sound of an elephant rummaging about in my dresser.

But now that Cleo was two drawers below, I could pull out drawer three as far as it would go and then remove it. I placed it on the floor next to me and peered into the space it had occupied. Cleo stood at the back of the dresser, front feet in the fourth drawer, back end in the fifth, neck craned, pink nose twitching, “Well, isn’t this interesting,” she seemed to say.

“Come on,” I said, reaching into the back of the dresser and grabbing her under the armpits. I pulled her up into the exposed drawer where she turned to liquid in my hands and I had to let go, reposition, and pull her out sideways.

When I placed her on the floor she did a little happy skip towards the drawer I had left there, “Ooo did you put this here for me?”

“No, Cleo, it’s bedtime,” I said and lifted the drawer up and away, securing it back into its position in the dresser.

And with that, the nightly Cleo whirlwind was over. Curiosity maybe not quite satisfied, but tempered for now, Cleo turned abruptly and hopped down the stairs, loudly, leaving me to shake my head before crawling back into bed with my book and the glow of the lamp and the quiet.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The bagel thief

I stood frozen beside the kitchen counter with my mouth hanging open, a gasp having just escaped. In one hand I held a bread knife, in the other, nothing, but my fingers still curled in the shape of the bagel that had been there seconds before.

Beside me Molly sat tall and regal, as she does in her casual way, and watched Murdoch with some curiosity. He sat in front of me, head down, jaws working in a frenzy as he gulped and chewed his way through the bagel, swallowing great chunks, not letting even a crumb fall to the floor.

It was cinnamon raisin. I could still smell its sweetness in the air as I tried to process exactly what happened. It wasn’t particularly early in the morning, but I had stumbled down the stairs just moments before in a blur after a not-very-restful night’s sleep and felt that my brain had not quite awoken yet so I was still frozen in disbelief after Murdoch had polished of the bagel and sat up straight again to stare at me expectantly as if I might have something else for him.

“What the…?… I just…” I stammered in some explanation to Morgan who sat at the table mere feet away and missed the whole thing, swinging around in his chair at the sound of my shocked, sharp intake of breath. I was caught somewhere between disbelief and a weird appreciation for how expertly Murdoch had stripped me of my un-toasted breakfast, which I expressed with a laugh as I said, “He just took my bagel right out of my hand. I don’t even know what happened there.” I can’t deny I was impressed. I let my guard down; he saw his moment and took it, in and out.

But obviously we couldn’t just let that go, so even if it was a little delayed, even though it came after a brief chuckle shared between us, Morgan and I put on our serious voices, “Bad boy Murdoch,” and sent the dogs downstairs.

I returned to the counter and pulled the last bagel out of the bag, noting to myself that it wasn’t quite as nice as the one Murdoch had just inhaled. “I’m glad that wasn’t the last bagel though,” I said as I sliced this one open. “Then I would have been really mad.” But as it stood at that moment, for some reason I found the whole thing more funny than maddening.

I should be annoyed with Murdoch’s pushiness that never seems to stop no matter how many times we tell him to back off, make him sit a mile away from the counter. And now Molly is the same, her tongue ‘accidentally’ brushing against fingers as you move from the counter to the fridge to the stove. “Why is your nose in my hand?” we often ask of her.

But now that the dogs were downstairs in the entryway and not flanking me as I slid my bagel into the toaster oven, I missed them. There was no drool on the floor, no head jammed between my legs and the cupboards beneath the counter, no paws to trip over. It was all just a little too civilized.

Their presence in the kitchen demands a certain amount of vigilance on the part of Morgan and I. An alertness I did not possess that morning when I allowed the bagel to cross that unspoken threshold, anything below countertop level is fair game. I could still feel the emptiness of my hand, the phantom weight of the vacated bagel. But in our unbalanced human/canine world, Murdoch was just reacting, really, to an opportunity that presented itself.

Good one Murds, I thought as the toaster oven dinged. I tip my hat to you sir.