When we bought our house, we thought that the house and the property were uninhabited, except for wildlife, which flourished on the abandoned peach and pear trees, ran down gardens, native grasses that grew voraciously in our yard, trees full of grubs and termites and swarmed bee trees, lots of acorns from the oak trees, hickory nuts and wild berries. I nearly fell over our first spring here at the astonishing variety of the little biosphere that had developed over the nearly 100 years since there was a sawmill on the ridge.
The house had not been occupied for about five years or so, with the previous owners’ demise being a bit of a sticking point in the sale of the house, along with its location along a dirt road. Laura found the place all on her own and was so proud of what she had discovered. I was a bit dubious, to be honest, a mortgage scared me to death. I have a bit of a commitment phobia, and purchasing a home was downright scary to me.
The wonder of it is, my beautiful, intuitive wife bought the house knowing that I would grow to love it, fast. Isolated, with the sound of the New River in the background and not one outside light anywhere, the night sky is staggering in it’s beauty and the forest is a deep secret, with wonders everywhere you look, especially for a geologist, dendrologist, archaeologist, biologist, writer and cook. Every rock tells a story, the soil lets me know what it needs and the native plants are wonderful indicators of what will and will not grow naturally.
Needless to say, we love the place. We were also relieved to find that there were no mice in the house, moles in the yard, and very few snakes, only a couple of huge black snakes that preferred to be left alone and one big rattler that wasn’t left alone very long at all. All of that remained a bit of a mystery, especially after we moved in during winter and stocked our pantries. Why no mice? Where are they? Is the place haunted? I’d never lived in a rural area that didn’t have its share of field mice, little cute things with big ears that scurry about and tear tiny holes in cereal boxes, eat their fill and then poop all over the place. Something like a cross between a puppy and a koala bear, I never liked to kill them but I didn’t enjoy throwing food away and bleaching cabinets on a daily basis either.
We didn’t have to do either of those things here. No mice. After a few months, I started seeing something small, gray and fleeting out the corner of my eye, then when I would look, it would be gone. At first I thought I was seeing things and decided not to mention it just in case I really was.
One night, just at dusk, I watched a small gray cat stalk a mouse in the remnants of the old orchard on the south side of our house, where the light lingers a bit longer in the evenings and filters through the trees, reminding me of a haunted place, somehow. Beautiful and forbidding. The cat pinned the mouse neatly, and ended its hunt then and there. She ate carefully, then seemed to be contemplating something. Fluffing her fur (we found out later it was a girl), she lifted her dinner and carefully carried it to our front porch, meowed once, and vanished.
I was astonished to see that she was a Manx Cat! I have a deep affinity for those guys. Personable, brave, independent and usually trusting, I found them as a kid to be fascinating and for years one followed me around like a dog, much to my public embarrassment and secret glee. I used to pet him when no one was looking and sneak him food from our table in the winter. Mom would always pretend to not notice.
I scooped away the mouse and left her a piece of a steak. That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Laura named her “Kitty Batman” for her habit of peeking through the door with only her ears and eyes showing, watching us to make sure we were ok in her house.
I loved that cat. We hiked together with her trilling in contentment all the way, venturing off to find something to eat and always returning when I thought she was lost. She was a very unwilling participant in a Christmas portrait.
She met with a terrible end and I was devastated. She would ride on my shoulder in the winter and as long as I kept the window open, go for rides with me in the truck, where she would sit on my arm and stick her head out the window.
I cried off and on for a couple of days after that. Laura felt absolutely terrible, and secretly went through a Manx rescue group to find and adopt a half-grown, completely feral kitten. I was angry and didn’t want another cat. I wanted KB back, not this weird, spooky, sickly thing that insisted on living in a drain, even when it was raining.
Then it happened. He moved from the pipe to the porch, in KB’s old kitty house, where there was a heating blanket, food and water. I was a little mad – who did he think he was, anyway? I started to put food out for him regularly, telling Laura that I just didn’t want him to go hungry. She would roll her eyes and not say anything.
Then he started following me around, content to just sit by me on the porch or supervise while I worked outside. He was never far away.
My son was born and I seriously contemplated finding a home for him, but I was worried no one would understand his checkered past and independence and try to make him a house cat or, the horror, de-claw him. Like a lot of Manx cats, not only is he missing a tail, his front claws don’t retract and he has six toes on his right foot. When I explained my reasoning to Laura, she rolled her eyes again. I said, in my most manly tone, that if he ever bit Nolan I would kill him on the spot. Laura just looked at me. Really, I said. Sure, sweetheart. Anything you want.
Today Nolan was dragging poor Stubbs around by his ears and stub of a tail (Stubbs, get it! Ha!). He wallowed him, laughed at him, and patted his back as only a sixteen month old boy can. The cat meowed at him, play batted at his feet and followed him about as though he was his protector. Laura once again made the best decision ever. She doesn’t really even like cats, but sometimes I see her toss him a piece of fish. It’s ruined of course, she says.