Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lightness and Darkness

I have a kitten. She is now nine months old and rapidly taking on the form of a graceful feline. She came to me in mid-December in the back of a pickup of a friend who brings to me scraps for my chickens. My friend arrived one dark December evening and explained in her Spanglish, that she had a couple of kittens in a bucket in the back of her truck. She had taken them from a friend’s empty house that had been vacated by a family who left behind a mother cat and a litter of kits. I cannot understand how heartless people can be as animal shelters in this locale accept such creatures and they only destroy those that are badly diseased and so feral that they cannot be adopted. The owner of the house allowed the cats to remain inside and provided them with food, water, and a clean litter box daily. But, at six weeks, it was decided to find them homes.

I had never seen a bucket-o-cats and so asked permission. My friend opened the lid, and I could vaguely make out two dark forms at the bottom. I reached in and picked out the darker of the two. I suppose I subconsciously picked out the darkest, as those are the ones most likely to survive the onslaught of the coyotes. Once I have such a helpless and lovable creature in my hands I am unable to put it down. What a concept…a bucket-o-cats.

So, I took my new charge into my bedroom, shooed out the other cats, provided litter, food and water. The entire time I was doing this the kit was hissing at me. My thought, of course, was that it was perfectly natural for her to hiss as I was a stranger. She curled up on a comforter and hissed me a goodnight. But the next morning, there she was still hissing at me. Shortly thereafter, I concluded that she was not capable of normal meowing. A few days later she received her first checkup at the veterinarian clinic and the vet reassured me that some cats develop a voice much later than others.

So I dubbed her Miss Hiss. Over the months she has developed more of a meow but it is used primarily to warn me that I have stepped on one of her parts or to tell me that she is very, very hungry. When contented, she reverts to her endearing hiss, interspersed with trilling sounds. She is a black-gray and white semi-long haired pussy who still takes advantage of her kitten status by eating the better food from under the jowls of the adult cats. Her forte is the catching of gypsy-moths that hover near the flowers of the evening. The moths, she then brings inside and releases into the environment of my home; just as all good hunter cats must do with rats, mice, grasshoppers, snakes, etc.

She’s formed some type of symbiotic relationship with my Peking duck, Ms. Friendly. This is only speculation, as I did not see it happen, but I suspect that Miss Hiss has accidentally fed Ms. Friendly a gypsy-moth or two. Typically Miss Hiss will bring her moth-prey into the house and release it so she can jump about on the furniture, knocking books off of shelves and articles off of tables in her frenzied attempt to recapture her newly released toy. At some point I grow tired of the whirlwind of chaos she creates and recapture the moth which is then delivered to Ms. Friendly, who in turns devours the offered treat. I suspect that Ms. Friendly, at some point, short-circuited the capture-and-release process a few times by snagging the moth from Miss Hiss’s mouth. So the duck has apparently come to associate the kitten with food and it therefore identifies Miss Hiss as a friend. This would explain the willingness of Ms. Friendly, to tolerate the kitten.

Typically the duck will chase off any cat within easy range. It’s an amusing sight to see a duck lower its head and charge a cat that is moving too slowly. The cats run off at double time, uttering bickering sounds. But in the case of Miss Hiss, Ms. Friendly pays no heed. I frequently see the kitten lounging on the lawn, close-by Ms. Friendly.

A few months ago the two of them teamed up to save my life. I was watering plants and was walking back to turn off the hose when I noticed both the kitten and duck investigating something in the shrubbery under which the hose bib is hidden. I wisely looked before I reached, and there I discovered a rattlesnake twined about the stand-pipe, with its head resting within inches of the hose bib. Had I not noticed the kitten‘s and duck‘s behavior, I would have unthinkingly done as I usually do, reached under the shrub, and would have been bitten. The snake would not have had time to warn me. It was a Mohave rattlesnake which has particularly vicious venom.

I bring Miss Hiss and the cat-company inside at night, to protect them from the coyotes that grow very bold in the evening. I have only one dog which is not enough to keep the wild beasts at bay. Last night a coyote came up to the doorstep, next to the dog house and attempted to carry off my Ms. Friendly. There is a gap in the pen in which I place her for safe keeping and the beast plunged its muzzle between the bars and grabbed a piece of hide out of my poor duck. I heard her squawking which awoke me, and my shouting scared off the ghostly intruder. My dog remained inside his house as a ninety-five pound black-lab, pit-bull mix is no match for even the scrawniest coyote and they both know it. Two dogs make a wolf pack; one dog is a coward.

Ms. Friendly bled through the night and is hanging on to the day. I hope she survives as she is the friendliest duck I have ever had. What can I say about a duck that runs up to me quacking madly upon my arrival home, that then stretching its body across my path, it beseeches my indulgence, forcing me down upon my knees, it purrs and whirs with delight as I gently stroke its neck and it winks its tiny gray eyes that it holds trustingly within inches of mine?

I have a solution for the coyote dilemma that is outside the boundaries of the law. I will implement it very soon. And soon enough there will arise from the sparse green shrubs of the desert the moaning and keening sound of a coyote in its death knells, begging for a merciful bullet, howling to the merciless stars. I will listen, and enjoy its last song.

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