October 20th, 2010


More Cat Stuff

Mrs. Gaines, who died just a year ago, was what we call an 'up' cat. Weatherdude and I have regularly owned a cat that went UP. For more than half our lives, we've had the joy of a cat that gets itself really, really up.

Braggledorf could jump six feet from a standing position. He would balance on a fence post in Nebraska and then jump straight up to the roof of a shed. When we bought our first house, a split-level, it had little fake window boxes. He would jump from the stoop to the window box (at least six feet) to look in on us in our bedroom in the early morning hours while we were still asleep. Once he jumped with a dead rabbit to enjoy eating it in peace. "What's he doing? He's eating something? Let me see. Oh, Ugh. Get rid of the carcass. Ugh, ugh." Later, we weren't sure how, he got to the roof and ran around up there at night. He did this in other houses as well.

It was years before we had another up cat. And then Mrs. Gaines showed that she had the same tendencies. She climbed trees to get to birds' nests and learned to jump on the roof of our one-story ranch here at Walkabout Farm. I used to look out my office window and see her shadow on the pine trees, ridge-running. What was different from Braggledorf was her tendency to cry piteously. This disembodied meow would stump the humans until we looked, well, up. At first we helped her down, but that was only because we thought she wasn't very bright. Eventually we figured out that she was doing it on purpose and we ignored the meows. "You got yourself up there, you get yourself down again." Those words were said to my father by my grandfather when he climbed the rocks in Maine over 80 years ago. They're part of my family lore. When my grandfather was 99, he told how he had stood under my father the entire time he climbed down, trying to figure out how to catch him if he fell. My father didn't fall. He got himself down again.

Shy Ozzie has been an up cat since she arrived as a kitten. She's tiny and skinny and lithe and has gone up into the highest branches of trees and gotten herself back down again over and over. Weatherdude and I have been quietly holding our breath, wondering if she would discover...the roof. We didn't want to actively try to train her to do it. We wanted to know if her natural tendency to climb would eventually lead to being on the roof. And we actually have no idea how Mrs. Gaines used to get up there. It's not all that accessible.

In the past two weeks, Ozzie has demonstrated that yes, she can get on the roof and, yes, it's not a fluke. For a while she was doing it every day. Now the novelty has worn off a bit, but I was out on the deck last Thursday when I heard the disembodied meow and looked up. This time, I grabbed my camera.

And if you want to see the photos, you have to click through. Collapse )