Wednesday, June 6, 2012

One-Eyed Tom and the Wily Sierra Fox

We have a black and white cat named Tom (Tom Cat) who is now sixteen years old.  Over the years Tom has earned benchmark status in our lives, the blue ribbon boy.  My wife and I have over 50 years experience owning many cats, and Tom, without question, is the smartest cat we have ever known. 

He was a garage sale kitty, and his formative years were spent on a relatively quiet neighborhood street in town.  However, there was a rather busy thoroughfare a block away with a state park on the other side.  With so much adventure (and danger) lurking on the other side, Tom ran regular excursions into the dark nether reaches of the miles and aisles of trails and dales.  Besides the wild animals that resided in the park that could pose a threat, he had some pretty wicked traffic to contend with just to get there.  We lived in that house for over six years and he never had a scratch.

He was also Top Cat of the neighborhood and was challenged routinely.  He didn't go out there looking for trouble, he just protected his turf.  Just a regular sized cat, smart, quick and fearless.  I don't think he lost one of those battles, I don't recall many if any wounds at all. 

In 2005 my wife and I began what turned out to be a two state five year walkabout.  The kids had graduated and were both off at college, and my wife got a helluva job offer in Monterey, CA.  We've always loved the coast, so we shrugged our shoulders, put the house on the market and set sail.  There's a bit more to that story, but that's not this story.

We were in Monterey for year, then moved to Capitola, CA, just south of Santa Cruz for two years.  After that we made a hop up to Portland, OR for just over a year.  In every one of these neighborhood locations Tom adapted quickly and never had an issue until a routine Vet visit up in Portland.

My wife had noticed a brown spot on his right eye and when the Vet examined it she referred us to a feline ophthalmologist.  Didn't even know that profession existed, and there were several to choose from just in the Portland area.  Go figure.

Well, he had cancer, and the prognosis for survival (and pain relief) was eye removal.  He still had some kitten moments in him and we figured he had a few more years left.  We decided the investment was worth the risk, and at the age of thirteen he became our one-eyed pirate cat.

We had an inkling things would be OK his first day back from the Vets office.  He had spent the night there after surgery and came home pretty whacked on pain medication.  Try though we might to keep him in, that boy loves the outdoors.  The next thing I knew he was across the street in the neighbor's tree stalking a bird.  He didn't get the bird, and he managed to clumsily climb down.  I corralled him and we got him back inside to recuperate properly.

I really don't think he has any idea his eye is gone.  He should be missing some peripheral vision as well as depth perception, but it seems as if he didn't miss a beat.  Maybe he can't hit some of those high notes like our aging rock stars used to, but he still listens to a lively beat.

                                                                            Tom Cat

You know, the grass always appears greener out there, but everywhere you go there is always some sort of compromise to be made.  We ended up moving back to Grass Valley after roughly five years out and about and on the road, on the coast in California and up in Portland, Oregon.  Fine locations by many standards, but we discovered we're more mountain than coastal people and we also had a lot of friends still living here. This had become home, only we didn't know it until we left.  Echoes of Joni Mitchell, speaking of aging rock stars.  It made the move back easy, and we've been extremely happy ever since.

Tom was happy to be back as well.  His first moments outside were spent rolling in dust and dry pine needles, soaking in the smells, knowing that he had returned to his home too. 

We rented a house here in Grass Valley for a little over a year, and then my wife found the homestead we are currently creating. We're on two and a half acres in the country now, definitely more rural than Tom has ever lived.  There's been a couple skirmishes here where he has come back wounded, but shit howdy he's sixteen years old and only has one eye!  Gimme a break!

There was this one adversary, a larger, younger grey cat that gave Tom a licking.  After that battle I had a conversation with Tom.  I told him he's already earned his stripes many times over, but I also knew he had to do his thing.  So, since he was past his prime and maybe had lost a couple of steps (and an eye for sure) I told him I'd back his play.  Any day.  

It was several days after this conversation with Tom that my wife and I were sitting in the living room.  Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw that bully gray cat streak by in a flash.  Or flash by in a streak.  I get confused.  Wondering what the heck was up, I immediately looked outside and saw Tom with his back towards me, standing on a retaining wall with his back arched like the Gateway in St Louis and snarling like a demon cat possessed.  Or a possessed demon cat.  Again, the confusion thing. 

Following his one-eyed steel glare, I saw a wily, cunning fox in the bush, not six feet away from our cat, in total stalk position, whatever that means.  Tom was fifteen years old at the time, getting a little frail, with only one eye, holding his ground.  We didn't have chickens then, so wily Mr. Fox must have been looking for a feline feast of sorts.  He ran by in a grey panic.  Tom was not going to be anybody's prey.

I was out the door in a heartbeat though, shouting and clapping my hands.  The fox turned and ran, and Tom gave a short chase with a couple snarls just to make sure he got the point.  Tom returned feeling quite triumphant!

One night after the fox incident Tom had another skirmish with a varmint and ended up with a puncture on his neck that came close to his trachea, amongst other wounds.  He had been holding his ground (all the wounds were on the front part of him), but he was tore up pretty good. 

He's kind of hoarse now, but he never spoke much anyway.  Otherwise, he's healed up fine.  After that incident he's been a little better about coming in at night.  It's as if he's finally realized he's lost a step or two and maybe needs to take it easier.  Maybe he's also figured out there's some larger, more dangerous foes in this locale.

He still does a little bird and rodent hunting, but most of the time he's in a chair on the front porch or back deck, hanging out and taking it easy.  Once in a while he'll still play kitten.  Grabbed by some sudden impulse, he'll  dart about the house or yard in a lunatic frenzy for a few minutes.  Then he'll calmly return to the leisure at hand.

It's as if a little of that Purple Double Dome you took forty years ago managed to flash back into your system for a brief moment or two and you find yourself dancing like a maniac to Surrealistic Pillow or Live Dead.  And then you regain consciousness and wonder where the hell you are and what you've been doing. And you hope you're not naked.  In public.  Again.  Especially at this age.

But Tom doesn't care.  He's a cat.  He listens to whatever he wants.  A little Bob Marley, a little Metallica.  A little Chet Atkins, a little Jimi Hendrix.  A little Burt Bacharach, a little Alice Cooper.  It must be a spontaneous cavalcade of tunes that constantly course through his little cat cranium.  He may be missing an eye, but he apparently still listens to quite a variety of music.  In stereo too.

                                        Tom listening to the Plastic Ono Band in Oregon.