Saturday, April 18, 2009


Life in Kickapoo Center always seems to revolve around this bad boy. His good looks, cat smarts and rightly timed affection keep him from being booted outside. In the country there are barn cats and cats that are members of the family. Barn cats live from hand to mouth. Mice are not a play toy, but breakfast, dinner and lunch. Nobody spends $75 for Frontline. Burrs, ticks and distemper are facts of life. As an inner city teacher, I would not tolerate bad behavior. I was strict and fair. I had chairs, shoes and snowballs thrown at me. One student tried to bite me when I kept him in for not doing homework. The Pooch gets away with antics I would never have allowed in the past. Why? Perhaps I am older, wiser or just a sucker. Last night he tried to bite me. He was angry.

During the day the Pooch hangs around our five acres. He has a tight schedule. This morning he comes upstairs at six on the dot. If I'm too lazy to get up, he walks over me, settles his head on my pillow and purrs. Wanting immediate attention, he'll lick whatever part of me is closest to his face. That always works to get me up. The field mouse he carried around yesterday, the pool of stagnant water he laps up near the neighbor's horse corral and the butt hole(his) he cleans daily are too vivid a memory for me to allow a face wash.

I turn up the heat, make coffee and prepare breakfast while he's outside. Sometimes I'll watch his morning routine. He covers the perimeter of the place and after making sure that all is in order, he'll head for the horse farm adjacent to us. Lately, he's been entranced with the second floor haymow in their barn. Ron, my neighbor says he thinks a hen is nesting there. The Pooch walks up the piece of farm machinery that extends into the mow. Late one night after 15 minutes of yelling for him, I walk the lane between our place and the corn field behind us. As I approach the neighbor's barn, he's sitting at the doorway to the mow surveying the neighbor's yard, like it's part of his territory.

After awhile, he'll jump up on the deck railing and peer in our kitchen window. If he sees me, he'll meow. The windows are new thermopane, so all I see is an open mouth and a sad look. It says, "I'm hungry." After a short breakfast, he's back outside to chase leaves, birds and look for mice. The in/out routine continues during the day. Frequently his afternoon will include a long nap in his favorite chair in Dawn's studio. If I'm working outside he'll join me to pitch in and help with the work. He likes to dig in my newly tilled gardens. He doesn't like machinery.

Near sunset a demon enters his body. I make sure that our routine is strictly adhered to which includes a late afternoon walk down to the river circling around the property, greeting the horses next door and perhaps a jaunt to the old railroad tracks. Sunset here in April is close to eight o'clock. That's when he decides to wander off to the haymow. Wise to his ways, I bring him in early after our jaunt and feed him cat treats and dinner. Raccoons, coyotes and all manner of harmful varmints which include skunks are nocturnal. I cannot afford a vet bill to have him stitched up after an encounter with any of the aforementioned.

He has no fear of heights. There is a healthy respect for the horses who like to chase him as he winds his way through their corral. I've seen him follow woodchucks, chase raccoons up a tree and be nose-to-tail with the squirrel that lives in the silver maple in the front field. Therefore, we keep him in at night. He'll stretch out on the couch and watch TV. When the movie gets too noisy or he gets bored, he retires to his chair. Occasionally he comes upstairs with us when we retire to read and sleep. Even that involves a routine. He'll hide under the bedspread hanging over the sides of the bed. He thinks because he can't see us that he's invisible. A wagging tail tells us to be careful. A paw with sharp claws will snake out and grab a barefoot. He loves the joke. Then he'll climb on the bed, leaving for the first floor when we begin to snore. In the morning, he appears exactly at 6 am.

Last night,I pick him up and take him outside with me while I lock up the garage. He's keenly interested in the sounds at dusk. But I don't let him down. Walking back inside, he extends his paw as we enter the back door as if he's pushing it open himself. When he figures out that he isn't going back outside, he bites my arm. He's pissed. I put him down on the cedar chest in the back entryway. When I reach out to pat his head, he takes a swipe at my hand. It's a 360 degree attitude change from the purring fur ball that sits in my lap as I write this post. He nuzzles my arm as I type. I feel his wet nose on my elbow.

The rest of the evening he paces in disgust. He'll look out the living room window when he hears a tractor coming down the lane for some late night plowing in the corn field in the floodplain. The sucker that I am puts a stool in front of the deck door for him to jump up and peer through the deck storm door. He gets bored with that quickly. Watching this evening's Netflix selection, we hear noise in the kitchen. He's knocking things I put on the wood stairs down to the kitchen floor. In the middle of The Last Metro , a French movie we got in the mail, The Pooch streaks through the room as fast as he can go. Another attention getting maneuver. It doesn't get him outside.

The limestone cliffs around us are reputed to be a safe haven for rattlesnakes. I've never seen one, therefore I can't tell you which type of snake live here. In a severe drought 20 years ago, old timers tell of snakes descending into the lowlands near the river. We're into a severe drought according to the Lacrosse office of the National Weather Service. We haven't had a significant rainfall in weeks-a concern for farmers and early planting. The usual April Showers Bring May Flowers hasn't happened. All flat land fields in the area are tilled and ready for corn. Our sandy loam garden plots are dry to a depth of six inches. Yesterday, I asked the dairy farmer closest to us to spread liquid manure on a new corn patch I recently converted from grass to garden. The liquid sludge from his cows dried overnight. The Pooch needs a healthy respect for snakes. In normal times we've seen him play with grass snakes. There's TV program out there we've never seen called, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? I'm not sure if I'm smarter than a two year old gray tabby and I hope he's smarter than a rattlesnake.

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