The Calico Cat

Things come and things go. I became acutely and personally connected to the nature of change when I attended a Titans game today with a good friend.  We enjoyed our time together, even though I can easily say it was the worst football game I’ve ever watched. I am not a real football fan. I like the game, but I’m just not devoted. Now, my friend is solid, but despite the differences in the level of our sports-groupiness, we were equally embarrassed by our team’s loss to the Texans, 41-7. There was much discussion of “what happened” and “how on earth did we beat Baltimore a few weeks ago.” There was an early exodus from the stadium. And after each subsequent score by those Houston guys, another lot left.

This down-in-the-bottom will not last forever. The Titans will crawl (probably not “bound”) back up to become a much-admired leader in the NFL. It’s just the way of the game. It’s up and down, ebb and flow, yin and yang, drafts and retirements. It’s change.

The ravine is in a state of constant change. We build a brick pathway through a lush garden that was only scattered with sad little perennials last year. We tear down an unsightly wooden compost bin and re-seat it further down the ravine, hidden from public view on the backside of the apartment. We plant vines here, chop down others there. The seasons afford us the demise of okra and the rising up of turnip greens—a whole bed of turnip greens, and we gather the green tomatoes and fry them in cornmeal.

Dad and I make plans for next year’s garden. He’ll plant more Blue Lake green beans. I’ll move a crape myrtle or two. Whatever plans we make, Old Mama Nature will trump with her own design, sometimes adding too much rain or heat, a late frost, or a sinkhole. Change.

Even the critters have a way of changing here on the ravine. The first month we lived here in November 2009, we saw red foxes—two young ones who ran and played and sunned, a large family of raccoons, a humongous groundhog, and a feral calico cat who had kittens down in the ravine according to the neighbors. There were squirrels—a gazillion squirrels.

For the first few months, the foxes dashed in and out. The raccoons became indignant and refused our company. The groundhog was quite comfortable even though we laughed at him and named him Mr. Lockwood after the previous owner of our property. We watched the small calico stand off one of the foxes and chase him up the driveway and across the road. The squirrels danced and played in the trees.

By the end of the first year, the foxes multiplied and inhabited the ravine. The raccoons discovered nummie-yummies in our garbage cans and declared us to be keepers. The groundhog was pleased with our plantings so much that he considered the cosmos his personal food crop. The calico licked clean the platters of warm milk we left for her. Squirrels? Still plenty, actually more.

But then we saw the calico cat no more. A black cat from across the street occasionally strolled through the back yard, but no calico mama cat. The foxes moved on. Some of them developed mange. We think maybe some died, and that some left to find healthier quarters. Two skinny ones remained. The raccoons frolicked every evening. They were partial to leftovers containing fish or chicken. Grandpa trapped Mr. Lockwood—live, of course—when the old groundhog determined to mow down hollyhocks, bush beans, and tomatoes. We delivered the old gent and his friend, Junior, to a new home over at the agricultural center. The squirrels? They dig in every flower box. We can count on it.

Now there are also moles. As it turns out, foxes eat moles, and when they left… And then, there were cicadas, a plague of the seventeen-year variety. Turns out moles love cicada meat so they are fat and they are as plentiful as the tunnels in our back yard. We also think the cicadas told the box elder bugs that the sugar maple out front makes a fine abode because we’ve had thousands of box elder bugs. Change. Things going, things coming.

When we moved to the compound here on the ravine two years ago, we left a home five miles away, one that we just now leased to a lovely family from Florida. The grounds and plantings have deteriorated over the two years so we called in the landscapers and nursery guys to clean it up.

Yesterday, we stopped by to check out their work-in-progress. The landscaping truck and a trailer mounded with brush and debris from the yard took up the street in front of the house, so we pulled in front of the neighbor’s house up the hill. Dave got out of the van ahead of me and went to the front door to hand over some extra keys. I headed across the lawn, calling out to my old gardening friend, Ritchie, who knows that property as well as I do. Ritchie was supervising the work.

Just as I stepped into the corner bed, the toe of my sandal caught on a flat rock I’d placed there years ago for a stepping stone, and I fell onto the lawn, face down, flattened out. Ritchie and Paco came running, Ritchie asking “Are you hurt?” and Paco summoning all his English to ask me if he could help me up. I heard the third man call to Dave through the front door of the house, “She fell down. She fell down.”

“No, no, I’m not hurt,” I said.

Paco had a bit of difficulty understanding me when I said, “I’ll get up, but it’s going to take a while” so I had to tell him, “Come back over here. Help me get up.”

He understood my beckoning and ran to hold out his hand. I could not reach his extended hand because I was lying face-down, on my stomach… As I climbed his leg, grabbed the other hand at his side, and pulled myself up, he kept saying, “Sorry. I’m so sorry.”

I feel certain he did not understand when I said, “It’s not your fault,” but he smiled when I said, “I’m okay.”

“Ritchie, this looks great,” I said, sweeping my arm around the front.

The third man said, “You need to take a look at the back yard. I think it needs a little more.”

The pine trees needed a little more trimming. The lilacs might not make it, in spite of the careful and severe pruning. The yucca plants are making great progress in their quest to take over the bank at the end of the drive.

Ritchie said, “It does not look like your place. You are gone. It looks like you are gone.”

“Yeah,” I said, checking out my sore left hand. “But it looks good, Ritchie. It looks good, all cleaned up. It’s just a change.”

Ritchie took my hand. “Is it hurt?” he asked.

“No, no, just a little sore.” I rubbed off some of the dirt and grass that had pressed into the heel of my hand.

Later I told Dave I was really surprised I didn’t break something. We both laughed when Dave said he didn’t know I’d fallen until he saw me sprawled out on the lawn and all the guys running to get me up.

I got up. I’m a bit bruised but okay. Same for the Titans. This current wretchedness will not undo the team. They’ll come back and fans will be saying, “Can you believe it? They’re better than ever.” The grounds at Beech Tree Lane will come back. Things are different there, but things are just fine. The critters on the ravine will come and go, and some plants will die, some new ones will spring up.

Three days ago, I noticed a brown, orange, and white ball sitting on the fox feeding station, almost blending in with the autumn trees behind it. It was the calico cat. We haven’t seen her in a year, but there she was, fatter than she was the last time we saw her, curled up in the morning sun, looking toward our windows. She was back every morning after that, same spot.

I was away from home this mid-morning. She may have come to visit earlier, I don’t know, but I do know that the sun’s rays are very bright–and I bet warm–on the fox-feeding station right now and she has plenty of time before sundown.


To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven…Ecclesiastes 3:1.

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