Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Saying Nothing, Telling Much

I sit in a pole barn on my family's 5-acre property, a few miles west of Port Austin. The air is warm, but a stiff breeze is blowing, and the evening sun casts the fields of corn and sorghum in blazing orange light.

I'm surrounded by a family of cats. Recently taken in by my parents, I'm told that they have been wandering the family property for months. The eldest is the matriarch, Melinda, a gaunt but elegant white female. Her age is unknown, but though she's been living on her own in the wild for some time, her feral nature is clearly a product of conditioning. She is affectionate with humans when approached--indeed desperate for it--but her eyes display a certain coldness. They hint at a hardness of living that any northwoods working mother would understand.

The next is Melinda's adolescent son, another white cat I've come to call Dagger. I suspect that Dagger was born feral, because while he insists on trailing his mother at this advanced age, he is still clearly distrustful of humans. None of us have ever been able to approach him to within three meters. He accepts the food we give him, but like his mother Dagger still prefers to prey on the songbirds that frequent the feeding stations in our backyard. His name comes from the way that, even now in safety, he still insists on treading "blade out," constantly on the defensive. I don't think he'll ever be completely comfortable with human beings, even if he stays out the rest of his days here.

The rest are newer additions; a litter of four-week old kittens birthed by Melinda not long after her adoption by my parents. There were six originally, with one dying early of undisclosed causes. That leaves five remaining healthy: three white like their mother, plus one black tabby and one Russian Blue. They reside in a small hay-lined cage furnished by my mother, and here Melinda is able to keep her brood safe from prowling raccoons, as well as from the intrusions of another feral black tabby seen on our property. This last is suspected to be an older brother of Dagger, as the two have been seen interacting with some degree of familiarity. Only Melinda regards him as a threat.

The kittens are growing fast, only recently having gained full sight. No bigger than a human palm, they've lately been attempting to wander outside of their nest, though they never get more than a single human pace before hunkering down and mewling for their mother. Melinda's a good parent, though, and is quick to rush to her children's cries for comfort and nourishment. Honestly, with Melinda being as starved as she was when adopted, I'm amazed she's been able to nurse her kittens at all. That being said, however, I'm upbeat about the future of these kittens, and about Melinda's ability to earn her keep as a valuable slayer of local field pests. Even my mother's two horses have gotten used to Melinda's company, and allow her to wander in and out of their pasture enclosure with impunity.

The sky is growing darker, and the late summer breeze continues to howl outside of the pole barn. The metal creaks, and the wooden supports of the barn groan and shudder quietly. Dagger is hopping up and down the hay bales, while Melinda busies herself with nursing her litter. There was some squabbling among the kittens initially for position, but now they lay huddled together, quietly suckling away at their mothers' belly. Melinda looks up at me from roughly bathing her brood, and fixes me with a stare that, while weary, betrays a sense of relief and contentment. She knows that she is safe here, along with her brood, and as we exchange gazes she blinks once, slowly, before licking her chops and returning to the neverending task of cleaning her charges. Outside, the wind moans, and the Appaloosa, Tokahe, lets out an insistent whinny. No doubt she sees my mother, regarding her from the back patio window. I breathe deeply, and savor the smell of fresh grass and moist hay. I sit silent in the company of animals, and on a windy evening in late August, share with this lot a sense of silence and security greater than any I have long known.

There are no words, but the message between us is clear.

We are home now. We are safe.


Blogger cameo said...

i love the mama kitty. she lucky. and dagger sounds like a challenge. i love cats who are like that. there's got to be a dull spot on that dagger edge somewhere. a dull spot to work past. he'll be the lovingest of all if you can find it.

11:46 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

Zee poem, it has disappeared. Hmmmf.

You've got a talent for description. I can see the barn, the cats, the horses. I can smell the wind. Thank you for sharing that.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Hayden said...

beautifully written. Thanks for sharing it.

4:39 AM  

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