I get the sense that my cat comes from the desert. I usually come to this conclusion when the backdoor slams, Katya thunders up the stairs in the middle of the night, wailing her head off, runs to my bed, jumps on me and leans down until she's shrieking in my ear.
This is just to let me know it's raining outside and she may have gotten sprinkled on.
I know most cats don't like the water, but Katya is phobic about it. Which is too bad, since I live in a floathouse in one of the last great rainforests on earth, the Tongass National Forest, covering 14 million acres. We average over 170 inches of precipitation a year--and we're in one of the drier areas. (For a humorous take on this, see Brent Purvis's mysteries set here: MINK ISLAND and TSUNAMI WARNING, written about in earlier blog posts.)
So how did Katya wind up here?
Eight years ago, some boaters passing through abandoned her in the nearby village. As they left they let one of the locals know what they had done, suggesting someone take her in.
To be fair, she had jumped ship at the dock and hadn't come back by the time they were preparing to leave. And boaters are well-advised to take advantage of any good weather when traveling in these waters. Delay can be disastrous. (On the other hand, I had to wonder about how she was treated by her former caretakers when she showed a fear of men and cringed whenever she thought she'd done something wrong, as if she was about to be hit. I'm not really surprised she jumped ship.)
At any rate, two different locals tried to take her on, but it didn't work out. My dad picked her up and brought her home, hoping to deal with their mouse problem. But as soon as he opened the pet carrier, the cat ran right up him, over his head, and took off for parts unknown. She disappeared into the wilderness behind our house, populated by bears and wolves and other predators, that stretches all the way to Canada.
We saw nothing of her for over a month.
One day in late July my niece Aroon and I were walking on the trail behind my house when Aroon spotted the cat just a few feet away in the underbrush. Had she been stalking us?
We crouched down and called and she came immediately. It was obvious as she headbutted us and purred loudly that she was desperate for human attention. We tried to get her to come back to my parents' house, but nothing doing. She had firmly decided I was her person.
The problem was I was highly allergic to cats. Stinging eyes, sneezing, asthma--even petting her made me break out into a rash.
But there was no arguing with her. She moved into my back porch with the engaging air that of course I wanted her. I made a house and bed for her (winter was coming) and, on the suggestion of a friend, made a point of exposing myself to her a little bit at a time, petting her for a little longer every day, to overcome the allergy. I was skeptical, but to my suprrise it worked!
I finally managed to let Katya, as I'd named her (after my favorite Russian pairs skater) inside the house, since it was now winter and she was obviously a house cat used to warmer climes.
My handyman dad rigged the backdoor with a pulley and counterweight so she could let herself in or out any time she wanted.
Like when it rained and she got caught outside.
I eventually put a cat door in my front screen door for summertime, but I found that others besides my cat found it irresistible. One time a land otter came inside, investigated, then decided it wasn't in his budget and left.
Another time a mink invaded--in the middle of the night. Katya had a blast chasing it all over the furniture and up the walls, things crashing, banging and shattering behind them. I jerked awake, sure a bear had broken in.
Katya herself used the cat door to bring in live finches. The poor, unglamorous little brown scratchers she killed and left on the step. The pretty birds she brought to me alive--until she grew disgusted with my way of immediately giving them their freedom.
My parents, who had a mice problem, loved her and bought her treats. Once she came, the mice population rapidly diminished.
I think word spread that this was the Death Zone and mice whispered to each other that "there be dragons there."
I'd never had a cat before, only dogs, but Katya responded like a dog. When I said, "Want to go for a walk?" she'd immediately head for the door. Or even if I just put my boots on, she knew I was going for a walk and she'd be at the door waiting.
She trotted a little ahead or behind me wherever I went. Her favorite game was showing off her prowess at "tree dart." She would let me get ahead until I reached a promising tree, then she'd streak forward and fling herself at the tree. There she stuck, all spraddled out, her claws digging into the bark. When she was satisfied that I was impressed she'd drop down and swagger ahead, tail plumed. She knew I couldn't top that.
Then she'd do it all over again.
She's older now and has put "tree dart" behind her as childish. Now on our walks her favorite thing to do is involve herself in my blogging activities. When I'm taking notes she has to come over to offer suggestions, headbutt me for encouragement, or sit on my pad of paper, or investigate my backpack. She also knows that any photograph I take could be improved by her presence in it.
And she can't get enough of the sun when it comes out. I always take her on a walk on those days. In defiance of the bald eagles she'll lay on her back and expose her white belly to the sky. "You want a piece of me?" she seems to say contemptuously as the eagles fly over. "No? That's what I thought. And you call yourselves raptors."
She has the entire wilderness to herself, and interacts with the mink population whenver she can--mostly to torment and harass them. She loves to sit on the front deck of my floathouse when the tide is in and watch the underwater world going about its business, bullheads flitting, jellyfish pulsing, hermet crabs laboriously crawling....every now and then a kingfisher will dive in and grab a fish dinner and Katya will watch enviously. But she's not about to stick so much as a paw in that wet stuff. If she does, I'll hear about it.
She's the perfect companion in every way...except for those nights when it rains.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)