Monday, November 9, 2009

But first... Doing something wildly stupid pays off

While walking the dog, one morning, we were just starting up the lower portion of the street that winds up the major enormous hill in my neighborhood, when I noticed the dog was pulling hard toward the house located in the elbow curve of that street. It's a house I always think of as the Snow Bird House, because of the fact that I think it used to serve as a summer home for some people who spend winters further south. Actually, they may or may not have given up on living in it at all, as I've never seen anyone there even in the summer, beyond the people hired to keep the lawn mowed and the interior dusted. The dog continued to pull toward it and I was about to scold her for this when I heard a cat cry. At first I thought it was coming from the snow bird house, but as I listened without my headphones it seemed instead to be coming from the house of our neighbors the Wiley's house, which was back the way we'd come. Still, Sadie was pulling directly for the Snow Bird House. Crazy dog. We walked on up the hill.

As we returned from our journey, I heard the cat again and this time it did sound like it was coming from the Snow Bird house. In fact, it sounded like it was coming from the garage. Now, I had seen a car parked in the driveway of the house the day before, and had assumed it was the person hired to come in and clean. I wondered if the cat was either theirs, or perhaps it was one of the neighborhood cats that had somehow gotten into the house while they dusted and become trapped when they left. How awful.

I moved toward the house, the dog again pulling, and tried to listen for the cries. I was right next to their garage door when I heard more meows, but this time they were behind me, again seemingly in the direction of the Wiley's. Or maybe they were from the culvert that ran beneath the road in that direction? I walked toward the culvert, then heard meows again, this time from directly above my head. I looked up and saw that some 30 feet up there was a calico cat on a tree limb. I recognized the cat as the Wiley's cat, who I'd first encountered a few days before while on a similar walk. I'd first mistook him for our cat Avie, not only due to his similar coloration but also to the fact that he came walking down the Wiley's driveway in our direction despite the fact that I was leading an enormous dog. He had seemed friendly enough to both of us, but had kept his distance when Sadie took interest in him.

The kitty in the tree mewed at me pitifully, but I wasn't being fooled. After all, the old adage does still say that "cats will come down from trees when they're ready, or hungry enough." So I told it to come down and then took the dog home.

After a few hours, I returned to make sure the cat had indeed come down. He had not, and was now perched a bit further down that limb, where a branch could give him added support. He looked to be smaller than Avie, perhaps a few months younger than she, which would practically make him a kitten. One has to take a little pity on inexperienced youthful climbers, doesn't one? Nope. I told him again to get down and then went home.

Around 3 in the afternoon, I was going out for some errands when I noticed the sky was getting darker and threatening rain. It was also getting colder. I drove back by the Snow Bird House to check on the kitty. He was still there, still mewing for help. I wondered if he'd been there all of the previous night. I left on my errands, during which the weather continued to worsen, though still wasn't actually raining. The kitty was still in the tree when I returned, so I decided to do something that I was pretty sure was very stupid: I went home and packed up my expandable utility ladder and drove it back down to the kitty's tree.

The limb really was thirty feet from the ground, but because the tree itself was set into the side of the hill that sloped down from the driveway, it was far more in places. I extended the ladder to nearly its limit, leaving two rungs worth still unextended so that I could actually maneuver it. This really was a two person job. Once the ladder was leaning against the tree, I tried to wedge its feet into the most stable position I could find for them and gave it a test climb to a couple of rungs. It seemed stable enough, but I couldn't help but notice the many rocks piled at the base of the tree and how painful they might be if fallen upon. The top of the ladder seemed very high above and didn't even come within three feet of the actual branch I was going for. This became even more apparent as I climbed higher. In order to reach the branch, I would nearly have to be on the next to last rung at the top, which would give me nothing but the tree to hang onto. I'd also not considered how I was going to get the cat down with me, but decided I'd have to figure that out when the problem presented itself.

I went as high as I dared, still well out of reach of the limb, and stood there for at least five minutes. Above, the kitty crawled to the tree trunk and positioned himself in such a way that I could probably have grabbed him if only I had a couple feet more ladder beneath me. Even that idea, though, made me nervous as I thought that might further weaken my stability that high up. What I really should do, I reasoned, was to wait for the wife to get home so I would have someone to hold the ladder for me. I was pretty sure, though, that the weather would have set in by then, making the task even more unpleasant. As a safety measure, though, I thought what I should really do was to phone the wife at work and tell her that I was about to do something wildly stupid and to call an ambulance for me in case I didn't call her back in ten minutes.

I descended, extended the ladder by two rungs and stood there trying to work up the courage to climb back up. Above the cat mewed and climbed back out to his perch in the fork of the branch. This was either going to work or was going to be really bad. What if I got up there, secured the cat and then he went nuts with the claws? I'd have to drop him to keep from losing balance.

After a few more minutes, one of my neighbors happened in her car. I could have guessed which neighbor it would be before she even rolled down the glass, because it was only fitting that the lady I've come to think of as the Nosy Neighbor, cause I can never remember her name, would be the one to catch me in this act of ill-advised, half-assed rescue. Yep, it was her. The very one who has cornered me in the grocery store in the past to attempt to wring details out of me as to what exactly it is that I do for a living that allows me to walk the dog at all hours of the day, or details as to the lives of one or more of my immediate neighbors. No doubt such details were intended as fuel for some local gossip mill where I have no doubt she's a foreman. Fortunately, I don't keep up with my neighbors and my own answer was too boring to bother repeating.

"What are you doin'?" she called.

"Got a cat in a tree," I said, imagining the gossip headlines my name would now be appearing in.

"Awww," she called. "Is it yours?"


"Whose is it?"

"I think the Wiley's," I said. "It's been up there all day. I'm a little scared to go up after it."

"Well, if it's the Wiley's cat you should go get them to help you."

"Uh huh," I said. It was not a bad point, as Mr. Wiley might be an older gentleman, but he might be able to at least hold the ladder for me.

"Yeah, you should go get them to help you," she reiterated. "It's their cat."

Something about the way she kept insisting I go alert the Wiley's annoyed me. It was probably because I still viewed my little rescue mission as more than a little bit unnecessary and foolhardy and therefore something I'd prefer as few people knew about as possible. (Which, now that Mrs. Nosy was aware of it, would also be highly unlikely.) It seemed to me that Mr. Wiley was just as likely to laugh at the idea of a cat needing a rescue from a tree as he was to actually agree to help me pull it off.

"Yeah, I'd go get them," Mrs. Nosy said again, then drove on up the hill.

Now quite annoyed and with the clouds continuing to gather overhead, I decided it was time to shit or get off the pot. I started up the ladder, keeping eyes forward on the trunk of the tree. Within very little time, I was four rungs from the top. The going felt very smooth and steady, too. That was, I reasoned, probably the trick to this--pretending I was only four feet above ground, rather than 24 feet. I put an arm around the tree and took one more step up, putting me at three from the top and, after a bit of tree-hug steadying, within reach of the cat's branch. The cat, quite cooperatively, came all the way to the trunk and put himself within reach of my left hand. And he remained cooperative as I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him off of the branch and down to my chest. He was definitely nervous and meowed a couple of times, but he didn't claw me to ribbons. He didn't even really try to dig in to hold on, but just let me hold him there. With my right hand, I guided myself back down the trunk until I could again grip the side of the ladder, then, rung by rung, we descended until I was once again on solid ground.

I expected that when I set the cat down in the driveway of the Snow Bird House he would claw me for my trouble and run away. Instead, he meowed and began to rub himself gratefully along my legs, as if saying thank you for the rescue. This somehow made the whole thing worth it and I packed up my ladder and departed feeling all warm against the chill of the afternoon. Somewhere, on some alternate earth, might be lying dead or broken in the gravel, but on this earth doing something wildly stupid actually paid off.

Haven't seen that cat since.

No comments: