Last fall I went on a history tour of Bodie, the fascinating preserved mining town in California’s Eastern Sierra.
When I returned from my long weekend, I discovered a mama cat and two kittens on my patio.
One of my other cats alerted me to these interlopers. As he stared intently out at the garden, I looked to see what had caught his attention. A bird on the fence, perhaps? No, it was a long-haired calico cat crouched in the flower bed.
I opened the patio door, stepped outside, and the cat fled. So did her kittens. I hadn’t seen the babies until then. As they ran, I had the impression that one was black and the other striped. They were tiny, maybe six weeks old.
What is a cat person to do? I got out the can opener.
I told myself that I most emphatically did not need any more cats. A friend once told me I was one cat over my limit. Despite losing my elderly calico earlier that year, I had other cats to keep me company.
Perhaps if I could catch mama kitty and the babies I could get them into the cat adoption program run by a local organization. I certainly wasn’t going to keep them.
I borrowed a humane trap and set it on the patio, ready for use, thinking of strategies for catching the cats. Food is a good lure. Mama and the babies showed up regularly for the next few days, coming into the patio through a gap under the fence. They ate, disappearing when they were finished.
The black kitten was shy. The striped kitten was bolder. After eating, it would stare in the patio door, as though curious about what was going on inside, curious about those other indoor cats staring out.
No, I wasn’t going to keep them. But I’d already thought up names. Mama was Lottie, after Lottie Johl, who was a “working girl” and gained respectability when she married a Bodie businessman. I guessed that one kitten was male and the other female, though I didn’t know which, since they were so small. The boy kitty would be Bodie, of course, and the girl kitty would be Clio, the Muse of History, since I’d attended that history seminar.
I just had to catch these cats. Of course, I wasn’t going to keep them.
Then I didn’t see the kittens for a week, though Mama kept showing up to eat. I thought something had happened to the kittens, out in the unforgiving world. Cars on the street, raccoons, other cats, other humans. Then, on a Thursday, Mama and striped kitten showed up. I was sure black kitten was gone for good. I had to do something, and soon.
On Saturday evening, I put out food. Mama and striped kitten ate and left. Then striped kitten came back, alone, prowling outside the patio door, looking in, full of curiosity. On a hunch, I opened the screen door. Striped kitty walked right in. Curiosity, in this case, caught the kitten.
As I went to bed that night I heard meowing outside. Mama looking for her kitten? I opened the front door and peered out, but didn’t see anything.
Early Sunday morning, I heard meowing again, plaintive, frantic. This time when I opened the front door, the black kitten was huddled outside. I hadn’t seen it for a week and a half, but here it was, looking for its sibling. It ducked under the patio fence. After grabbing and sequestering striped kitty and shooing the other cats out of range, I opened the patio door and set a bowl of tuna inside, just far enough that black kitty would have to come in to eat. Hunger won out over fear. As soon as black kitty had all four paws inside, I shut the screen door.
That was early October. It took me until Thanksgiving morning, nearly two months, to catch Mama Kitty. She was far more wary, though accustomed enough to her twice daily feedings to meow at me from the patio when I hadn’t put out the food yet. It has taken Lottie months to settle in. She is now past the hissing and hiding stage and will deign to let me touch her.
Bodie, the striped boy cat, is a cuddler who likes my lap. Clio, the black girl cat, helps me write, in the time-honored tradition of computer cats everywhere, who get between the writer and the screen, purring as I tell her I can’t see through her. All the house plants are out on the patio and the breakables have been stored. I took the Christmas tree down early, since Bodie and Clio were up in the branches playing with the ornaments.
You see, I’d forgotten what it’s like to have kittens.