Cat People

I’ve always considered myself a horse and dog person.

Not a cat person. Or a kid person, either.

Yet we have 3 kids and 5 cats.

Better than 5 kids and 3 cats, I guess.

Still, Maisie ranks above the cat population. So do the horses. (Please, don’t ask me to rank the kids.)

I could have lived a cat-free existence, were it not for the farm. With a barn and grain and sloppy horses, they are a necessity.

But I didn’t feel much affection or affinity for them until Mel and Frog came around. They changed my views.

Many years ago, after Old Kitty — an ancient, skeletal feline conveyance — finally keeled over, Martin and I realized that our supply was running low. With only Drippy, a lazy, drooling cat, we contacted a crazy cat lady and agreed to take two kittens.

We selected Tippy, a tiger-tabby with a tail dipped generously in White-Out. For color contrast, we chose his scrawny littermate named “Cool,” a Creamsicle orange-and-vanilla kitten with runny eyes.

Frog was an afterthought — a spare heir — scooped up last minute.

It was fall 2004. I’ll never forget, because my father had just been diagnosed with dementia. And I was emotionally wrung out…. hence my willingness to deposit a third kitten into our cardboard box.

Frog, Tippy and Mel (formerly “Cool”), two years later

Fast forward a few years. Tippy, unfortunately, disappeared around 2007; I believe he fell victim to local wildlife. (All three cats display a visceral aversion to cars, but roam to hunt.)

For more than a decade, Frog lived a relatively normal existence, even as our cat colony grew. She proved a top mouser and all was harmonious until a young upstart — Toulouse — rose in the ranks, and toppled the monarchy.

Mel (formerly Cool) gave Toulouse little thought. But the black panther intimidated Frog and last year, she was driven into exile. Her condition declined and she might’ve perished had she not snuck back into the kingdom.

The solution? Frog lives underground, in 5-foot-deep hole in the paddock: all that remains of the old outhouse. It sounds undignified but the dwelling suits her. It’s heavily-fortified by horse fencing, wire mesh and hot-wire. Coyote proof. And the broken wood cover allows her entry and protection from the weather. She is quite content and is the only feline who dispatches with mice on command.

As for Mel? Most of the time, he lives up to his “mellow” moniker, but he also reminds me of our old dog, Corrie.

While Maisie is the typical hardwired, workaholic Border Collie, she isn’t as nutty about walks as her predecessor. When Martin and I bought our first house — an old Victorian in Rockville with floor-to-ceiling windows — Corrie would stare us down after work. We’d collapse on the couch to veg out and Corrie would gaze fixedly through the wavy glass, her eyes boring into us, saying, “Hey! You’re not going to sit there, are you? After being gone all day? Hey! Get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up….

It was impossible to ignore.

Mel has inherited Corrie’s commitment to the daily perambulation. He’s always enjoyed walking and will abandon food for a stroll, but as he’s matured, he has become more insistent about the daily routine. There are evenings when Maisie is snoozing in bed, while Mel sits at attention by the mudroom door…. staring. Waiting to walk.

In a calendar year, I’d wager that he misses 15 walks, tops. He more consistent than the postal service.

On these winter evenings, as we walk up the drive bathed in moonlight, or stumble along in the dark, Maisie jogs ahead, bouncing and barking. Meanwhile, Mel trots reliably behind us, pausing to purr and hurl himself into the grass for a roll. We are so accustomed to him, it’s odd when he’s missing.

Maisie is now 11 years old and Mel and Frog are 13. I hate to say that they are slowing down, but the signs are there. Nowadays, as we head home in the dark, I pause to call Mel to catch up. He’s not a cellar-dweller like his sister, the spare heir. And I don’t want him to become coyote bait.

I wait for him to catch up.

I guess that makes me a cat person.

With Drippy, Mel and Corrie, 2005


A cat and kid person.

Hadley and Drippy, 2009

The Interloper

Olive is our sweet, affable — but dimwitted — barn cat.

Of the farm’s five felines, Olive is slow to respond to kids, cars and other threats to life and limb. Dopey Olive, we often say. She’s a few bricks short of a load. 

But Olive does possess an unwavering desire to lounge indoors. Leave the screen door unlatched…. crack the mudroom door to unload groceries…. and she skulks in, and bee-lines for a bed.

Once detected, she is discharged.



Lately however, Olive has adopted a new tactic. She is a stealth, nighttime interloper.

Let me set the scene. It is 5:30 am. The house is relatively dark and I stumble groggily around the kitchen — assembling lunches — while my mind pedals through the day’s to-do list.

It is cricket-quiet and I presume I’m alone, until an abrasive SCRATCH-SCRATCH-SCRATCH rings out. I stifle a startled cry before spying the cat, clawing the couch.

Unceremoniously, I heave Olive out the door.

The next morning I’m lost in thought, when the cat freaks me out again, her darkened shape writhing in the living room shadows.

“Hey!” I yell at the kids when they emerge later. “Someone keeps leaving the damn door open and the damn cat is in the house, scratching up the couches! Shut the door, okay?”

Blankly, the kids stare back; none of them fess up.

Olive announces her presence over four consecutive mornings — clawing a different piece of furniture each day — until it dawns on me: 

This cat is beating the odds.

In the cellar I discover her entry point: she has popped out a broken, jagged window pane. The same window that I featured in my second-ever blog post, way back in 2009.  



At the time, wise old Drippy stalked me from a perch by the basement window. But he never breached the glass barrier. He never puzzled it out.

Perhaps Olive is not as dimwitted as I thought.


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.