On Sunday morning, October 24, 2010, I buried Cali in the back yard, here at the Elk River Ranch and Raccoon Refuge, in the clearing where I put out kibble, each night, for the resident nocturnal quadrupeds. Cali (short for 'Calico' - yes, I know, not particularly original) had been with me for over 15 years. Cali and her sister littermate, Valentine (a tuxedo), came to me from a litter of kittens born to my niece's cat, Glitter. They, along with feline companions Jonah (a tuxedo) and Bacall (a sable mackeral tabby), traveled with me from Long Island, 7 years ago, to our new home in Elkton, Maryland. Cali and Jonah, in particular, often joined Roberta Raccoon and me on our walks in the woods.
Cali and Robbie in the creek ravine at the Elk River Ranch and Raccoon Refuge October 2003
A year or so after Robbie 'crossed the bridge', Bella Beaglet joined our family, and the cats continued that routine of walks in the woods, with me and Bell. Valentine 'crossed the bridge' two years ago - Jonah died in January, 2010, about a month after I adopted three more canines - Daisy (beagle), Maggie (black Lab/Rottie cross) and Toby (yellow Lab/golden cross). This left me with only two feline friends, Cali and Bacall.
Cali resting on a pillow November 2009
Cali was always the smallest of cats - little more than fur, bone and sinew - a very petite and light weight sprite. Cali liked to nap on my lap, when I watched TV in the loft. She learned to negotiate the metal spiral staircase to the loft quite well. At bedtime, she'd jump up on the bed in the 'twin' room, groom my hand with her tongue for a few minutes, then walk to the foot of the bed, and lie down for the night. If she got restless, she'd go to the basement door, and wait expectantly for the door to be opened for her.
Once she felt comfortable and confident with the 'new' canines, Cali liked to walk with me and the four dogs, along the gravel drive that provides access to the ten homes on the riverbank about 2/10th of a mile behind my property, and then back through the woods, here at the Elk River Ranch. She'd also sit on the deck and 'supervise' my efforts at lawn and garden care, or watch me from the back door steps when I hung laundry. Occasionally, I'd find her sleeping in the daytime in the hay shed - if the day was warm and bright, she'd occasionally take a nap on the deck mat in front of the sliding glass doors to the 'great' room. It was typical for Cali to join me in the evening, when I'd let the horses out for the night. Once the horses are in, I usually return to the basement, get a few scoops of 'cheap' dog kibble, and put it out on trays in the clearing of the back yard, for the resident raccoons. Occasionally, Cali would stop at a tray, and eat some of the kibble. I'd often 'chastise' her for this, asking if I didn't already provide her with plenty of cat food - it seemed a bit greedy, of Cali, to raid the raccoon's repast. "Come on, then, I'll feed you in the house," I'd say, then call her to the basement. Cali, like most cats, would take her sweet time responding to my instructions to come in for the night - but she would follow, if not quite at my heels.
Cali's appetite was always pretty good, and she was inclined to stay under my feet, when she'd come inside in the morning, to remind me to serve her some tuna. Now and then, she would sample something a bit out of the ordinary, from the kitchen.
But, I'd noticed the years catching up with her, and knew her days were numbered. Cali never had any illness - her eyes and nostrils were always clear. But, I did notice that on Monday, October 18th, she was slow to clean up her canned food. When I took the dogs over to the neighbours' yard, Cali followed, even as far as going into the chain-link fenced back yard. This was not typical for Cali, as my neighbour still has a cat, and Cali has never been especially 'cat' friendly. I picked her up, and brought her home, hoping she'd finish her breakfast. She didn't want more, but went to the basement door, to be let downstairs. I let her down, put a dish of cat kibble on the duct-work "feeding station" that Cali and Bacall use, during the day, and then returned to the main floor of the house.
I got ready for a chore I needed to do, in town. I'd agreed to purchase my friend's 1999 Ford Explorer, and needed to get the cash, get the insurance card, and collect whatever I'd need, for the MVA. Monday was a sunny day, perfect for taking the soft top '67 Stang out. I didn't get very far, tho - I was only about 1000' from the gravel driveway when I came upon a Canada goose, on the side of Blair Shore Road - the goose was mobile, but not moving out of the way in a normal fashion. The 'resident Canada goose' early eastern hunting season ran from Sept. 1 until the 15th - so the possibility of there being an injured goose from hunting was pretty reasonable. I slowed to a stop, put the 'Stang in park, and got out, expecting to see an injured goose in the rain ditch, with the goose 'in sight' keeping it company - geese will often stop with their mates, when something has happened. But no, it was only the one goose - but clearly, something was not quite right, with it. What could I do .... I took off the sweater I was wearing, walked into the bramble into which the goose had waddled, covered the goose with the sweater, and scooped it up into my arms. Got back in the 'Stang, 'k' turned in the next driveway, and returned to the house. I took the goose into the basement, and put it in the big stall, with a shallow pan of water, and a handful of horse kibble, as I didn't have any goose kibble on hand. Cali came down from her basement pillow bed, to investigate, but then just went out the basement doors, with no other interest in the goose. Nothing unusual in that, and Cali was up on the deck mat by the time I got back into the 'Stang, and went on my way. I added another stop to my chores - Tractor Supply Company, where I bought a 50# bag of whole corn, for the goose. I was hoping the goose might have only been 'stunned' by some misfortune, and would be ready for release within a day or so of just getting some easy pickin's. I finished most of the car related chores, and planned on doing the title application on Tuesday.
Monday night, Cali again showed little interest in her canned food. She did come upstairs to eat some, but then walked away from it, and jumped up onto the bed. I went up to the loft, to do some computer 'stuff'. When I came back down to the main level, Cali jumped off the bed, and stood at the basement door. I opened the door, and she proceeded down to the basement.
Tuesday morning, the goose was not showing signs of any particular improvement, and in fact, seemed a bit worse for the confinement. I decided the best thing to do was to take the goose down to the creek, which runs to the Elk, and leave it to Nature to decide the best thing, for the goose. I let the horses in for their morning feeding, took the dogs for their walk (Cali followed for a short stretch), then put the dogs into the neighbour's yard, and returned to the goose. I carried it through the woods, down the ravine to the creek, set it on the bank, and stepped back. A V-formation of geese were traveling overhead, moving from their cornfield evening resting area to the river. They were 'honking', but the goose showed no evidence of desire to take flight to follow that beckoning call. I stepped toward the goose, and gave it a slight push with my left foot, toward the creek. It waddled into the creek, took a few drinks of water, but didn't move off. There was really nothing more to do - the goose would survive, or not - but at least it would not be smashed by a car, on Blair Shore Road, was my thinking. I came back up to the house, and went to turn the horses out for the day. Cali walked with me - and began to head out to the horses' paddock. I 'whistled' to her to come back, then walked after her, and scooped her up. I'd been noticing for some time that Cali was not hearing well, any more, and I didn't want her to be accidentally stepped on by a horse. I brought her back to the deck, let her into the kitchen with me, and gave her some canned food. I collected the papers I'd need at MVA, and went to the hall closet for my coat. Cali was standing in front of the basement stairs, so I let her down - then noticed that she'd spit up some cat food onto the scatter rug in front of the door. I cleaned it up, then went down to check on Cali. She was already sleeping on the pillow near Bacall, but raised her head and purred, when I gave her a 'scritch' behind her ears. She did not seem 'out of sorts'. I went back up, gathered my papers together, and went to MVA.
Tuesday evening's routine with the critters went 'as usual', mostly. Cali came into the basement, stopped at the water dish and drank, but showed no interest in coming upstairs for any canned food. Wednesday was much the same, except that Cali did take some kibble at the 'raccoon' trays, that evening, then came inside and had some cat kibble, too. I'd made plans to visit IKEA with my friend Linda on Thursday morning, so hit the hay after watching the late news.
Thursday morning's routine also went 'as usual', excepting that Cali again was not interested in her breakfast. When I went to leave for Linda's, Cali slipped outside, and went up to the deck. I did not return home until just after 4 p.m. - and Cali was no where in sight. I called for her, but she did not appear. Even then, I had my suspicions. I walked over to the horses' paddock, where Cali had seemed to be 'sneaking off' the day before, and I walked along the fenceline in the paddock, but did not spot her. At 6:30 p.m., I brought the horses in for their evening feeding. I looked around, and called, for Cali - to no avail. Then, when turning the horses back out for the night, something quite unusual. As I went to close the paddock gate, I caught from the corner of my eye a movement in the shadows - and immediately, I called, 'Meow?' But no - the shadow was catlike in movement, but not a cat - the tail was too full. Instead of moving away from me, however, the shadow came closer - and that's when I realised it was a fox!
Both the fox and I stopped in our tracks for a moment - then the fox just sat down, and looked up at me. "Are you hungry? Do you want some kibble?", I asked aloud, fully expecting the sound of my voice to send the fox on its way. But instead, the fox stood up again, and as I moved to secure the gate with its chain, the fox slid under the fence rail, and followed after me. "Come on, then ....", I said, as I walked back toward the basement. The fox stayed about 20 ' from me, but clearly was following, very much in the same fashion that Cali would have done. I went into the basement to get the kibble for the raccoon trays - and the fox waited in the clearing, close to the bramble and brier that separate the yard from the woods. As soon as I put some kibble on one of the trays, the fox trotted right to it, and began to eat - just as Cali often did.
Fox eating kibble from one of the 'raccoon' trays (another tray with kibble can be seen to the left)
I was beginning to reflect on the fox's visit ... and wondered if it was some sort of 'cosmic' message, from Cali. 'Shapeshifter', I thought to myself - was the fox's visit just a condolence call - or had Cali's spirit taken up a new home? I decided to see if I could get a photo of the fox. The camera was up in the loft, so I went inside to get it. I really didn't expect the fox to still be in the yard, when I returned - but not only was the fox there, it had come to the front of the house, near the steps to the deck. When I descended the steps, the fox did move off - but only about ten feet or so, away from me. I called to the fox, and walked to the back yard clearing - and the fox followed! It moved to one of the trays, and began to eat. In the dark, my camera is not easily used, as one cannot tell if the subject is in the view of the lens until the photo is taken. Once the photo is taken, the image does appear on the image screen. My first attempt didn't disturb the fox, even 'tho I was using the flash. But, I didn't get the fox in the photo. I tried again, and had better luck. I was surprised that the fox was not bothered by the flash, or by the 'mechanical' sounds from the camera. I took one more photo, then bid the fox a good night, as it returned to the woods.
The next morning I took a walk along the paddock fence line, thinking I might spot Cali. I felt certain she was dead, and wanted to bring her home for burial. I didn't find her. But on Sunday morning, I took the dogs for a walk in the woods, and in the creek ravine behind the house, I spotted Cali's body. I made my way down to the base of the ravine, and gathered Cali up. I called the dogs to come back to the house, and closed them in, then got the shovel.
I've not seen the fox since that Thursday evening. But I see Cali often, in my dreams and thoughts, when walking in the woods, here at the Elk River Ranch and Raccoon Refuge.