Beneath the Cat Tree


Everyone’s familiar with evergreen, right? Foliage that remains green and functional through more than one growing season.

In the publishing world (at least among magazines), an evergreen isn’t a plant, it’s an article without a pressing deadline. There’s no news peg, no seasonal or timely angle. It’s a vanilla feature — nothing flashy, but pleasant enough to publish — so an editor shelves it for months or years. (Or until the irate writer begins frothing at the mouth.) Then, a gap in the editorial lineup appears and: it’s evergreen to the rescue.

Today’s post is my evergreen.

A raw draft of “cat tree” have been squatting on my laptop for years — the germination of a post that wouldn’t form to my liking. The stories never fit, no matter how I assembled them. Normally, that’s cause for deletion. Kill it and move on. But instead I flagged it as an evergreen. When a gap surfaced I’d use it, flaws and all.

Well that gap is now. With scant writing time, I haven’t penned any new posts. To stave off cobwebs, I’m running this entry: Beneath the Cat Tree. Here goes:

The barn silo has long dominated the farm’s skyline, towering above us with its rusted, barely-there metal roof, which sheds tin and plywood debris in gusty storms. But this summer, I noticed that the “cat tree” is challenging the leader of tall. (See top photo.)

A dozen years ago, that tree was a puny, runty thing. It barely cleared the pasture fence and it bore an inexplicable bend in the trunk. Like a kid bullied at school, doubled over from a punch.

It was a scrawny, crooked evergreen that stymied the lawnmower. Cutting the grass between the tree and fence was a close shave and inevitably, the mower deck would snag a board or post.


Molly 05

In the distance the tree is visible against in front of the barn. Puny but pertinacious in 2005.


The crooked trunk never recovered but the tree flourished. In the last five years, it has shot up fast. Like it’s taking steroids. This summer the branches browned-out with a bumper crop of pine cones.


Undoubtedly, the tree’s galloping growth is thanks to a diet of decomposing cats.

Old Kitty was the first of our cats to die. Around 2005. Her death coincided with a winter cold snap and it was impossible to break ground in our unofficial, unmarked pet cemetery somewhere in the orchard.  Martin tried to bust through but only the mulchy earth beneath the tree gave to a spade’s blade. Martin chiseled the frozen dirt and we buried her under the tree.

When Drippy (age 20) checked out, it made sense to place one cat beside the other. And since then other cats (sadly, not all victims of old age) have joined the plot.

Hence the cat tree. Named not — as friends believe — for our many cats who frequently scale the tree to wreak bird havoc. But for the ghosts below.

The cat tree is the only plant that we’ve fortified with anything, beyond a watering can. And judging from its size, it has benefited from feline supplementation.

On a vaguely related note, I’ve often wondered what lies beneath our acres. No doubt, there are generations of pets buried below (one former owner said that he too, buried his animals in the orchard). But I like to imagine artifacts… Civil War buttons, bottles and bullets, discarded or lost. Just waiting to be found.

A couple years ago, Martin and I thought we’d uncovered a real find. We spotted a bright glint of white, shining in the front field. It was round and smooth, about the size of a baseball, firmly sunk in the grass. With dueling shovels we hacked at the dirt until we unearthed our prize.

It was a kitchen sink.

A monster-enamel sink — so large, we needed the tractor to move it. Clearly, the front field was once the farm dump. I already knew that the paddock behind the barn was a trash spot; every so often, the horses’ hooves dredge up broken glass and metal. Sometimes I search their trodden paths for bits of this and that.

And I still ponder what lies beneath… but with less romantic notions. Beneath the cat tree, there are bones for sure. But beyond that? Probably lots of garbage cloaked in earth.

Someone might find a treasure but it is trash nonetheless.