Sunday, March 25, 2012


Off the Wall

My wife and I traveled to a place called Hidden Valley, a name lost on me because the location was on a hill and in plain sight, to view an antique chest of drawers. As we closed the deal with the lady who had the piece for sale, a kitten bounded sideways into the room, went into full “scardy-cat” mode at the sight of us, and tore off into another part of the house. The young cat was in and out of the area so fast, all I really noticed about it was most of its tail was missing. I mentioned that fact to the chest of drawers lady.
            “Oh, her,” she said. “She’s a bobcat. My ol’ man found her out in the woods when she wuz just a tiny little thing. If’n ya’ll wont her, take her with ya. We’re movin’. I wuz just gonna dump her out by the crick.” She collected the kitten and thrust her into my arms.
            We looked at the cat, its tawny, mottled coat, the beginning of white cheek ruffs around her face, guard hairs already tipping her ears. Would we take her? You bet! While the kitten dozed on my wife’s lap as we drove home, Laura dubbed her Jessica. We had a new family member.
            During the journey, I began to have doubts. We were now responsible for a Bobcat. I had never been so selfish as to want to keep a wild animal. I believed then, as I believe now, that the vast majority of people who do attempt to keep cougars, ocelots, wolves and the like, are fools, far more concerned with their small grandeur than with the animal’s welfare. There was no doubt in my mind, however, that if the chest of drawers lady had dumped the young cat “out by the crick,” the kitten would have surely died. We’d accepted the cat, for better or worse, and by the time we arrived home we were both worried. We already had housecats, Miss Spock and Leroy, and we feared the coming confrontation.
            The kitten was placed on the living room floor, and Spock and Leroy began their inspection of the intruder. Spock bumped noses with her…hissed…and delivered an overhand right worthy of Ali. The kitten easily slipped the punch, as well as the two that followed, and Spock stomped off in frustration. Leroy watched the proceedings and reclined on the arm of the couch, declining to make a fool of himself. The kitten jumped on him and a battle ensued, minus teeth or claws. Jessica was home.
            Cats, unless it has been bred out of them, are superb natural athletes. Jessica was amazing. By the time she was three months old, we’d carpeted two of our living room walls to give her a place to run. Run she did, streaking up a wall, darting sideways, the ripping sound of her oversize claws audible throughout the house. She would bound up to one of us, ears back, bouncing sideways…her way of asking to be picked up and literally thrown at the wall. We’d oblige, tossing her fifteen feet across the room, and she’d stick like Velcro for a moment, five or six feet above the floor, then blast off horizontally at bobcat velocity. She stalked the other cats, and would attack by sailing over them in airborne frenzy, reaching down to tag the freaked-out victim as she soared away. In the years she spent with us, to my knowledge, she never bit or clawed a family member, feline or human. That courtesy, however, was not extended to interlopers.
            While still just a young cat, she nearly killed a tomcat twice her size who was threatening Miss Spock in the front yard one evening. The fight (punishment?) was over in just a few seconds, leaving the area littered with bloody bits of fur. The intruder squalled his way down the block as Jessica sat quietly on the porch, picking his hair from between her toes.
            She loved hugs, gave as good as she got, and grew into an adult bobcat of intimidating appearance and marvelous temperament: as gentle as a collie pup, and as social a cat as I have ever known. She was sweet, caring, loveable, and funny, and the day we had to have her euthanized because of a brain tumor was one of the saddest of my life.
            Years later, while at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival, I purchased my wife a magnificent cased bobcat skin of remarkable size and quality. As I was walking back to Stubtoe Lane to present it to her, a lady began to verbally abuse me. Who did I think I was? How dare I carry the skin of one of nature’s creatures thrown over my shoulder as some sort of adornment? I was an unfeeling barbarian! A bloodthirsty heathen, a vicious slayer of innocent creatures, a rat bastard of monumental proportions!
            I have little patience with fanatics. When the lady stopped screaming at me long enough to draw breath, I told her to go away. Whether it was the force of my dynamic personality, or the fact that I was in tights and carrying a large Chinese executioner’s sword, she scuttled off, calling me names in her retreat.
            I do not agree with the wholesale slaughter of wild animals just to satisfy somebody’s superior sense of fashion, but I could not have made that point with the woman. She was not in the mood to discuss, just blindingly accuse. Nor would she have understood the import that skin had, and has, as it resides with other heartfelt personal remembrances on our altar…an honored symbol and reminder of a wonderful animal and beloved friend saved from being dumped “out by the crick” in a place called Hidden Valley.

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