Oozie walks across my pillow, purring loudly, as though on an imperative mission to my bedside table. Other than to paw my loose earrings, scattering them on the carpet for the vacuum to hungrily discover, I know that her only real mission is to awaken me. If her soft pads on the pillow, inches from my head, and loud motor briefly next to my ear does not do the trick, she will circle round and come perilously close to my face. Her whiskers will “accidentally” brush my cheek, and when my eyes flash open, she will look at me as though to say, “are you awake? Well, since you are, how about getting up and letting me out?” Yes, I know her tricks. She is bound not to let me sleep too late on my “day off.”
I pack my 40 hours a week of my job “outside the home” into the first four days, in order to have Friday off. I’ve argued about this so-called “day off,” as it is really only the accumulation of all the evenings that I missed by working late. It is a law of physics that you don’t get something for nothing, a conservation of energy, and in this case, a conservation of time. Indeed, there is no making more time in a given week than what is available to everyone else. I just prefer to have it all at once, with the monotonous work week behind me and a three day weekend ahead. However, all those chores are saved up and must be done on Friday, rather than spread out through the week.Oozie revs her motor by the closed bedroom door, staring longingly at the doorknob, directing my attention to it, willing me to open it. She taught me this trick many years ago, and it is the reward for allowing me to sleep just an hour or so more after my husband rose at 4 am to leave for work. Oozie, as well as the other cats that own the house we care-take, are quite adept at training humans.
I stumble out of bed in the gloom, pausing to pull on a pair of sweats and one of my husband’s flannel shirts. Oozie is switching her tail impatiently. Once the door is open, Oozie accelerates out, and I follow her fat waddle down the stairs. I ask her when the kittens are due. She stops on the landing, glaring back, as though to say that her humans are not as svelte as they used to be, either.
She waits downstairs by the next closed door, that to the utility room, or cat room, as it has come to be called. I open the door, and she crouches against the onslaught as four cats push out at once. These are the late comers, the “kittens,” the hooligans that will not allow you a night’s sleep if allowed the run of the house. They have their own tidy little litter boxes, feed, cat trees, and variety of improvised sleeping places on the fridge, washer, dryer, and in the storage cabinets. They are an eclectic combination of red stripes, a calico, and a dark tiger. The undisputed leader is a still-growing male Maine Coon cat named Toes.
Oozie makes her way to the communal feed dish, and I go out in the garage to feed the outdoor cats, Gus and Bryant. More strays. Of the seven cats, only Toes was not a rescue, a stray, or an orphan that was forced upon us with a story of woe and dispair that I could not turn my back on. All are neutered or spayed, and live together in relative peace, as cats of leisure are prone to do.The feed dish in the garage is completely clean, and the water bowl, full last night, is also dry. A sure sign our raccoon friend has been here. I have trapped several ‘coons, and ferried them unceremoniously to the state forest, to begin life anew away from the free meals afforded in relative suburbia. I recall one evening watching four baby raccoons make their way in loose formation to the cat door in the garage. While cute at that age, some of these wild visitors have proven to be quite destructive. The current ‘coon seems to take what is offered easily, and leave without even tearing through the empty feed bags. Perhaps he is just happy to get his share of the high-priced, name brand urinary-tract-health cat food that he has become accustomed to. (This is certainly better than the whole tube of cat hair ball remedy-a certain laxative—that one hungry coon devoured one night!) I haven’t gotten motivated to set the live trap and prepare for another journey to liberate our uninvited guest.
I go back in the house, and make my way to the computer room. I am amused that I can say that; time wasn’t too long ago when computer rooms only existed in high-tech industrial buildings. Now most residences, and certainly anyone reading this over the internet, has a room that they might dub the computer room. In our case, five PC’s raise the temperature of the converted small office space to a cozy degree that can only be rivaled when the wood burning stove is in full roar.
Linus and Peepers: web page critics
Linus creates an intentional obstacle to my path, throwing himself on his side directly in front of me. I step over him, only to have to pause as Ringo, a cat who is blind in one eye, proceeds to make two quick clockwise circles in front of me, unsure of which way to go to avoid my feet. Having crossed the feline mine field, I finally reach my PC and sit down. I become a cat magnet.
Toes is instantly in my lap. He is not a cat; he is a presence. Accurate mousing is impossible, as he pushes my forearm for attention. Linus has lept to the printer, and with his soft pads against the klixon control panel, reset the printer in an error mode before moving up to the riser on my desk. Peepers, the calico, sits patiently by my feet. She knows Toes will soon grow bored, and she, the true lover, can come into my lap and purr herself to sleep while I try to type one-handed on the computer.
I awkwardly peruse my email, and sort through the list serv mail that threatens to bog down the server if not read daily. This is usually the best part of the day; quiet, surrounded by these little felines that want all my attention. Yet today, although it is still dark and cold outside, I am somehow impatient to start the day. I shut down the modem, and boost Peepers from my lap. I slip on a pair of low-cut rubber boots over bare feet, and my Carhart jacket over the long tails of my flannel shirt. I sneak outside to check the llamas in the predawn light.
They are just starting to stir, and seeing me approach, they rise from their warm spots, frost on their backs, and do their morning stretches. As I walk across the pasture, they come up to me. I pause, as crias find breakfast from their moms. When I seem to have everyone’s attention, I walk out and open the gate to the far pasture. They have followed me, and are pressed close, rushing into the pasture as the cats rushed out of the cat room this morning. And like the cats, in a mere few yards, they slow, wondering why they were in such a hurry to get here.
I stop by the gate a few minutes, and scold Max, the German shepherd/Chow mix that belongs to our good neighbors Pam and Rich. Max knows the routine, but he feels it is his duty to announce the arrival of the llamas, and particularly my presence in the pasture. He knows my voice and quickly quiets down, though his ruff remains raised and he remains alert. The llamas pay no heed to their neighbor dog, as they know he will not venture through the electric fence around their pasture. Woe to a strange dog, however; I’ve seen the llamas chase along the fence as a dog passed down the road, and watched unnerved as even Gus and Bryant came close to leaving this world at the stomping feet of Kodacolor, our most aggressive guard llama.
The boys, consisting of our senior stud Curry and several youngsters, watch longingly by the fence as the girls move farther away. Curry makes a plaintive hum, more like a whine, ending in an upward, questioning note. I’ve investigated extending the boy’s pasture along the narrow lane between the girl’s fence and the edge of the ravine, in order to allow the boys to follow the herd in their meanderings back and forth between the near and far pastures. The difficulty of installing fencing in this hard to maneuver area has prevented me from asking Paul, our “fence man,” from giving me an estimate on the work. That is if he even wants to attempt it.
I grow cold in my slightly underdressed garments, and head back to the barn. The llamas watch, and a few follow me. They know it is not feeding time, but perhaps I have a treat hidden in my pockets. Either that, or I am the only fresh entertainment they have had recently during this bleak, early winter gray weather.
As I close the gate behind me, I see several sets of perked ears atop long extended necks; llamas straining at the fence to see me leave, as though beckoning me to come back and play. What do they want? Probably food. Maybe not; maybe something more. Although most my llamas give you a look, as though they only condescend to having a halter put on, they almost always seem to enjoy the walks around the pond and woods. I really think they enjoy my company. They seem to enjoy certain visitors too; some people they just become at ease with almost from the start. After an initial wariness, they will allow strangers to scratch their backs, seeming to nudge them to the best spots. Many of these people, though animal lovers, have never been so close to a llama before. They comment that they can’t believe how I can come right up to them, and handle them. Then, when they can do the same, they begin to realize the joy that comes from knowing these special, gentle creatures.
I turn my back on my buddies, heading back to the house. I have umpteen litter boxes to clean, and the trash to take out before the trash man cometh. Then a sink full of dishes and the usual house cleaning. Well, a half-hearted attempt at house cleaning, anyway. I will spend more time cleaning out the barn (now that the llamas starting pooping in there again since the last snow!) than I will the house. At some point I will wear down and take a nap; but it will have to be coordinated with the cat’s nap time; otherwise, their tearing around will wake me up. A long winter’s nap, with Ringo on my stomach, sounds rather good about now, and makes Fridays worth the wait.