June 17, 2015
One halcyon summer, when I was a child roaming free range through the wilds of West Lafayette, Indiana, a bunch of us neighbourhood kids formed the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club, essentially a group of cat vigilantes. Our mission was to disrupt and degrade the predations of Plato, a thuggish tabby belonging to a girl – Eddie, by name -- who lived down the street. Otherwise a member of our gang, Eddie declared a conflict of interest when it came to Plato and declined to join the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club, although she bore us no ill will on this account. She lived with Plato; she had his number.
Plato was a serial killer. He roamed the neighbourhood and most especially the ravine behind our house, killing but never actually eating anything he could lay his big paws on. Offended by the ongoing slaughter of the innocents, the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club spent whole days tracking Plato and, whenever he nabbed a bird or chipmunk, into action we would spring, rushing at him from all sides, yelling and whooping and waving our arms.
Sometimes this sufficed to make Plato drop his victim and sidle resentfully off, in which case, one for the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club. At other times, our intervention was too little, too late and the woodland creature we wrestled from Plato’s jaws was either DOA or mortally wounded. These dearly departed we laid to rest in a shoebox and buried in a little graveyard we had carved out of the ravine. Joey Flynn, scion of the Catholic family I wrote about in Why I Became a Catholic, officiated over what he claimed was a full Catholic funerary service in what he purported to be Latin – in those days, the Church still conducted all its business in Latin. It sounded to us like he was just saying “Nabisco” over and over again, but what did we know? Anyone caught laughing during the service was banished, but not for good. If we were to have any impact on Plato’s one-cat crime wave, we needed all the vigilantes we could muster.
This Spring my husband and I turned our back yard, a narrow strip of land backing onto a precipitous ravine, into what we call the Avian Way, complete with five different bird feeders and a bird bath. This way, we figured, we can sit at our dining table or on our screened in porch and enjoy watching cardinals, blue jays, orioles, humming birds and the occasional bully bird.(This, children, is Old People Fun.)
As it turns out, squirrels, chipmunks and racoons failed to get the memo that these seeds and sugar water we set out were for birds only. Hence the Avian Way is regularly transformed from a pristine idyll, to a battleground strewn with toppled feeders and bent shepherd’s crooks, littered with peanut shells and scattered mulch and pocked by holes as we attempt – futilely -- to enforce our Birds Only policy. At this point I’d have to say the critters are winning.
A couple of nights ago the situation on the ground was put in a whole new light, when Midnight, a sleek black cat that prowls the neighbourhood in search of victims, suddenly lunged out from between the boxwoods and snagged a chipmunk that, its cheeks stuffed with peanuts, was shimmying down a pole from the Squirrel Buster.
It was like Syria: you think Assad is bad and then ISIS arrives on the scene.
Up Ken and I leaped, yelling and whooping and flailing our arms. “Bark! Bark!” we enjoined the golden retriever, pointing to the marauder. "Cat! Cat!" She blinked at us, then glanced away. She appeared to be embarrassed for us. The elderly, blind cockapoo, on the other hand, sprang, bristling and harrumphing, to her feet, charged off in the wrong direction and ran headfirst into the wall.
Fortunately for the chipmunk and no thanks to our supposed allies in the war between cats and dogs, that is to say, our two dogs, sufficient commotion ensued that Midnight dropped her prey and disappeared over the lip of the ravine and into the foliage. Gone, but not, I fear, for long. Clearly vigilance will be required now and going forward.
And so, it seems, my life has come full circle.