Yet another chapter in our life with pets...
|The Neighbors and The Tree
I’m pretty sure that we’ve mentioned that we live in the woods. The rural development that we’re in is called Westchester Farms. It probably should have been called Westchester Woods. There was no way any self-respecting farmer would have left as many trees in any kind of pasture as we have in our yard. In fact, it’s pretty hard to grow any grass in our yard. Moss seems to thrive – grass, not so much.
The neighbors’ yards are all the same, too.
Enough trees were cleared to build houses, but almost everyone here decided that cutting the lawn was for someone else. We all chose to rake leaves. That can be a real job, but leaf-raking season is much shorter than grass-cutting season. With a little ingenuity, leaf raking becomes, leaf blowing, and with just a little more thinking, leaf blowing becomes “ride-the-yard-tractor-and-let-it-mulch-and-blow-the-leaves-for-you-while-you-sip-a-cold-beverage-time”. Our mower even has a cup holder.
It’s not a bad system.
So, another product of the neighborhood, and our detached society, is a rather anonymous lifestyle where neighbors seldom see each other and almost never talk, let alone become friends. I think that this is probably a contributor to a myriad of other societal issues, but that is the subject for somebody else’s book.
The woods make the ideal playground and hunting territory for the cats. They love it. In the summer, they wear a path through the underbrush on their daily patrols. In just a few quiet cat steps, they vanish into the dense growth. They might be gone for hours, invisible to us, even though they’re only a few feet away.
In the winter, a myriad of cat-created snow trails crisscross the yard disappearing into the more densely treed areas. Even with a coating of snow, it only takes a few seconds before they become invisible again.
Several of their paths leave our property and head directly into our nearest neighbor’s yard.
We’d spent a lot of time worrying about the cats bothering the neighbors. I mean, it wasn’t as though they were throwing wild parties or playing their music too loud, but they had adopted the neighbor’s property as their own, too. Some people don’t like cats, and since we didn’t know our neighbors beyond waving from a polite distance, we had no idea where they stood on the issue of cats.
A severe summer storm would provide the answer.
Being very heavily wooded, there is a mixture of old and new growth trees. Some of the more scraggly trees eek out a meager existence - twisting and turning crazily, searching for sunlight beneath the canopy of old growth.
There are a lot of big trees, some certainly more than 200 years old. Some of those trees are on their last roots, hanging on through the storms, waiting for that last bolt of lightning or gust of wind that will finish them, making room for the smaller trees to fill their space.
One such storm blew through on a hot, mid-summer evening. While tornadoes do occur around us, we are much more likely to see very strong straight-line winds. This storm packed those winds.
Shortly after dark, as the lights flickered we heard a tremendous crash in the yard. Crash isn’t even the right word. It was more like an explosion – a very big explosion.
Of course, we were worried about the cat brigade, but generally they are smarter than most golfers I know. They do know when to come in out of the rain. In fact, they know enough to take shelter in their houses well before the weather gets dicey. When the storm ebbed a little, we did a quick inventory, and true to form, they were all huddled together in their houses.
Using a little flashlight, we made a cursory examination of the yard. Roof – intact. Deck – intact. Branches – scattered everywhere. Everything seemed to be OK. A more thorough investigation would have to wait for daylight.
Dawn brought with it the reality of the storm.
It had been a really big one. There were limbs strewn all through the yard. These weren’t your run-of-the-mill little branches – they were large limbs. Nature’s tree pruning service had been hard at work. Our burn pile was going to be working overtime for a while. The sound of chainsaws filled the neighborhood as we continued to take inventory.
As we persisted through the yard, the source of the explosion revealed itself. One of the biggest, oldest trees that stood on the property line between houses had been unable to withstand the storm. Easily 100 feet in height and six feet in diameter at the base, it had finally given up its life and fallen neatly between the next generation of maples and pin oaks. Almost none of the young growth had been damaged in the fall.
It was as though nature placed the massive old tree there – carefully assuring that the next generation would be able to assume the old tree’s place with only minimal disruption.
The cats know a good thing when they see it.
They were cautiously examining their newfound haven before it had fully settled into its resting place. Comfortable that it was safe, they immediately adopted it as a playground, and port of safe harbor. Riddled with hollow spots and ready-made cat perches, it quickly became their favorite place in the yard.
At any given time, several could be seen sprawled out, sunning themselves on a limb. Others would crawl into one of the rotted sections of the trunk, spending hours playing hide and seek – batting each other through the holes in the massive trunk. It was nature’s ultimate Cat Condo – without the carpet or sisal rope.
For several weeks, all was well. Then, on a bright Saturday morning, the sound of a chainsaw and the smell of two-cycle fuel filled the air.
It was the neighbor, and he was headed toward the tree!
Scarcely awake, I scrambled out of the house and made my way through the woods toward the tree. Remember, we’d been neighbors for more than 10 years, but we didn’t know each other. Now, I was approaching a man with a chainsaw from behind. I wasn’t really afraid, but I made sure to make enough noise to avoid that awkward moment when a stranger with a chainsaw is startled.
After the obligatory “Hi, I’m your neighbor.” introduction, I began to plead the cats’ case.
“You see Mike, our cats really like this tree. They play here all the time. It isn’t bothering us, and even though it’s on your property, the cats would really appreciate it if you would just leave it alone.”
As it turned out, Mike is a really nice guy.
But wait, it gets better. It seems that Mike and his wife Marilyn are cat lovers, too. In fact, at one time, they had 12 cats of their own. They are down to two inside cats now, but they had seen a lot of our cats moseying through their yard, and had begun to feed them.
That would help to explain Corky’s massive girth, because we certainly weren’t feeding her that much.
Mike was sure that he wouldn’t mind not spending a couple of weeks sawing, hauling and burning, but the final decision would have to rest with his wife. Smart man.
Relieved that he had at least a temporary reprieve from this chore, he headed back inside to check with Marilyn. A little while later, while we were having coffee on the deck, Mike and Marilyn headed our way along one of the well-trodden cat paths. Verdict time.
With cats scattering to and fro (these were strangers, after all), they made their way to our deck. After exchanging embarrassed pleasantries for not really meeting before, we all sat down to a cup of Maxwell House. We figured that no one could refuse our request if the coffee was good to the last drop.
We shouldn’t have worried.
As it turns out, Mike and Marilyn are wonderful people and great neighbors. The tree and the cats broke the ice, but we have since become fast friends. They still put out food and water for our brood, and now, some of them can be found sunning themselves in their driveway on warm summer’s days.
They even like the same wine that we do. Mike and Marilyn, not the cats
I think that Mike was as relieved as the cats were that the tree could stay. When we finished the coffee, he put the chainsaw away and went golfing.
The cats headed right back to the tree and went about their cat business.
Today, the tree remains exactly where it fell. The cats still spend a lot of time there, and I’m sure that the next generation will, too.