Every once and a while doing something with feral cats helps me tune in to the real beauty of life. This is one of those stories
Saturday afternoon, driving between errands, I was listening to NPR’s program Sound Opinions and their segment on poetry in remembrance of the Virginia Tech shootings. Listening to the stories and poems of these three poets made me think of just how much we take life for granted, especially after listening to a poem about cleaning out a young man’s apartment after he was killed. I was thinking of how we are so busy running between appointments and meetings, we are so busy we don’t have time to make our beds, put the groceries away, enjoy our loved ones and before we know it life is done. I was thinking how ironic it was that all I want is to do something meaningful and to really enjoy life, yet I spend my days rushing from place to place, trying to get things done.
As I was driving through the forest thinking how great it would be to stop and explore the woods and really feel alive again, I noticed a dark shape framed against the sparkling white snow. Somewhere in my brain it instantly clicked that the dark shape was a cat. A cat! Cat’s don’t belong in the forest!
My thoughts went back to my days working at the shelter, and the number of calls about cats found in forest preserves. I thought she might be a lost or abandoned cat, so I had to stop for her. I sped down the road to the next parking lot, pulled in and hesitated. How far away was she? I couldn’t remember if there was a parking lot further west, the direction she was headed, so I decided to just walk it, thinking it might also give me a better chance of finding her.
Traipsing through the woods, I kept loosing her tracks; apparently if you are a cat walking in a straight line is out of the question. I ungracefully slipped down a small ditch along the side of the road, crashed through the bare undergrowth and around dead trees, unintentionally stomping my feet down every step I took (I was trying to not slip on ice), stopping occasionally to shake the bag of cat food I had and making that clicking sound you make with your tongue when calling to animals.
At one point I stopped and looking to the side noticed three or four deer within ten feet of me, staring me down. I apologized to them and continued (slowly) on my way. A few more delays–picking dozens of burrs off my gloves, losing the tracks several times, nearly wiping out on a construction sign buried in the snow, I reached the far west end of the forest, where the forest slowly tapers off to an end before the river and a major intersection. No sign of the cat.
I stood there and took everything in, the hopelessness and sheer insanity of tracking a house cat through the forest. The beauty of the sun shining in the blue sky, making the snow covered ground shimmer like a Christmas card. The deer grazing several feet away from me. The two whole oranges sitting in the snow, apparently frozen solid in the bone chilling cold that made my nose drip and my limbs feel like ice. Then I saw her. On the far edge of the parking lot eating something off the ground.
I hurried over to her, moving as quickly and quietly as I could across the parking lot. I got closer to her, slowed down and quietly called to her, gently shaking the bag of food as I walked, hoping the smell would attract her. It didn’t. She took off, down the grass, towards the busy street. I backed off, afraid she might run right into the road. She tried to weave her way through the underbrush hoping to lose me, but I kept my eyes fixed on her in the hopes I could get close enough to show her the tasty food I had. She kept heading west and went down the slope by the Des Plaines River.
I stood there for a second taking in the deep embankment, the rocky slope that filled the space under the “bridge” that is Irving Park Road and the icy river below. Then I remembered how uncatlike I am when it comes to grace and nimbleness. Sighing I headed down towards the gravely patch of ground to pour some food out for the kitty. When she saw me get that close she took off across the rocks, running so fast she was out of sight in seconds. I was broken that she was gone and most likely feral, broken that I didn’t have a trap and tuna in my trunk. So now I sit here, deciding what to do next. My gut instinct is to go back and try to trap her, but I wonder what my chances are of even finding her again.
Even if I didn’t find her, tracking her was a great experience! I felt so alive! I was doing something of importance, I got to enjoy the blue sky, trees and wildlife. Even the numbing cold was worth it, because it allowed me to truly be aware of my body as it walked along. It was a great feeling and something I will keep with me always. Now to try and work another trapping into my busy schedule.