Saturday, October 25, 2008

Shawna, Queen of the Tree Tops

It seems, once again in my life, a black cat has adopted me. When I moved into Live Oak Cottage, the landlady told me I might expect a visitor. “Her name is Shawna, Queen of the Tree Tops,” she said. “She doesn’t come down to the ground much—she mostly lives in the trees. She is feral, but friendly. She won’t come in the house, and you’ll probably never be able to pet her, but she’ll come around outside.”

I moved in about a month ago--on a Saturday. The next morning as I was making coffee in the kitchen, I looked out the window and saw a black cat on the landlady’s roof. Figuring that must be the famed Shawna, I went to the door, stood on the front stoop and presented myself. She halted and watched me intently. I spoke softly—she wouldn’t have been able to hear from that distance, but I figured her spirit would understand—“I’m the new person who moved into the cottage. You may come to visit any time you like.” I let her take a good look at me and then went back in the house, watching her from the kitchen window. She ambled along the roof-line, sniffing at cedar shakes as she went. Just as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee and doctoring it with milk, I heard a tapping at the door. Figuring it must be the landlady, I went to the door and looked out the screen. No one. I looked down and there was Shawna. She had put her paw on the door and pressed the door against the jam—her way of politely knocking. I opened the screen. She hesitated for a moment and then came in. Since I had the milk out (and nothing else to offer a guest), I poured a little milk in a bowl and set it on the rug in front of the sink. She accepted my humble offering graciously, as is her way. After she lapped up the milk, she took a tour of the house, sniffing around the piles of boxes. I was busy and kind of ignored her, figuring she’d complete her tour and let herself out the open French doors in the bedroom. Instead, when she was satisfied she’d inspected the premises, she meowed and stood by the screen at the front door. Before I let her out, I picked her up and held her, thanked her for coming and invited her to come back again.

I went back to the business of unpacking and forgot about her. Twenty minutes later I heard the unmistakable gravely “meow” of a tomcat and peeked out the screen. There sat Shawna. She meowed once, my introduction to her gray and white sidekick, Phil. I opened the door and they both came in, Shawna leading Phil to the sink area. Phil meowed and the meaning was clear, “I’ve come for my milk.” I poured him a splash of milk, which he devoured while Shawna sat quietly in the middle of the kitchen floor. After he finished his treat, she took him on a tour of the boxes. I stopped what I was doing and followed them around the cottage, almost able to hear their conversation. “…And this is the couch—it goes here, and the chair… in here is the bedroom, Phil.” Again, I thought they would just march out the bedroom doors when they were done, but no. Shawna has a strong sense of manners and decorum. She brought Phil to the screen door again and asked to be let out. They were guests and they would leave the way they came, thank you very much.

Since then, Shawna has been a regular visitor at the cottage; Phil less so, but then Phil is old and feeble. The landlady, Barbara, said he was very ill last year and barely made it. He used to be the tom of the neighborhood, taking on all comers. Now he is an old man, skinny, frail, and a little on the grumpy side. Phil comes over when he feels like it, but won’t come in the house anymore. He prefers his treats on the porch—a few crunchies with his milk.

The other cat that claimed Live Oak Cottage as part of his territory was the neighbor’s orange tom. I would see him come through on his morning rounds when I would be sitting at my desk writing in the morning before work. Last Saturday, as I slept in, a coyote made a visit to the estate, boldly trotting up the lane and nabbing the orange tom right off Barbara’s porch. She had just come downstairs and was in the kitchen when she heard the tom yelp. She ran out, waving her housecoat to scare the coyote. Tiny Barbara must have stirred up quite a ruckus because the coyote dropped the cat and trotted away. She scooped up the terrified cat up, coyote drool dripping from its neck, wrapped it in a towel, and marched down the lane to take him to his owner. As she got to Foothills Road, the coyote was sitting across the street, waiting. She stared it down, hoping that she wouldn’t be attacked as she turned her back on it to go up the road to the neighbor’s driveway. She delivered the cat and came back down Foothills, then turned and headed down the lane. She felt, rather than heard, something behind her and looked over her shoulder. There was the coyote, following her up the driveway.

As I sit here this morning, Shawna rests on the braided rug at my feet after having had her morning crunchies and splash of milk. She slept in the house for the second night last night, gracing the overstuffed chair that Barbara left. Knowing how incredibly "street smart" she is, I figure that she's decided domesticity trumps feral, live trumps coyote lunch, and she's made herself at home.

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