Phil Hugo: Walk in the field with Miss Maisie
It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in mid-June and I walk in the garden of our rather small estate, according to certain criteria. A quick read of the scene assures me that not much has changed since I went to bed and went to bed on Saturday night June 13th.
Like most mornings, I’m not alone as I venture out after a breakfast of oatmeal, a banana, and medicine that I wash off with water. My companion is Miss Maisie, a pretty little feline on a leash. Yes, you read me correctly. Leash; a short at that – all six feet.
Maisie walks to the screened porch door, her white paws gently touching the patio, then out to the yard, nose to the ground: sniffing, sniffing, sniffing all the smells that trigger her olfactory senses. An intruding cat? Short-tailed shrew essence? Some breaks are longer than others. Maybe I should get on all fours and join her, but I suspect I would go back up only smelling good soil rather than specific odors associated with soil.
In the process, she takes the time to munch on blades of grass, seeming to ingest little or nothing. I’m told that people who study feline behavior have ideas related to the activity, like maybe cats do if they need to vomit, but in the end, they don’t have a valid reason. for such behavior.
Always curious, Maisie still looks up, scanning the small trees and shrubs and especially looking up into the branches of our great white oak. It could be a Caroline Wren singing her happy song or a squirrel catching her eye. Who knows? When I look, I see nothing. But wait, Hugo, take a closer look. Ah! There is a squirrel walking among the foliage. Even though she sees nothing, she is still the moving predator.
It’s by chance that Miss Maisie even walks in our yard. I find it interesting to see how people approach animals that become pets and, by extension, beloved members of households. Some stories are more interesting than others. Bringing a cat or dog closer to a new home may go unnoticed or become newsworthy. People go to animal shelters or ranchers and sometimes the animal shows up on your doorstep. Or, someone at a veterinary hospital can call on an owner whose pet has recently died.
My wife Karen and I have been together for almost 30 years and three cats have been a part of our lives during that time. When I first met Karen, her residence mate was a mostly black cat with a short tail named Clouseau. I had always been a fan of dogs, so I wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out. However, it was obvious that if things worked out with Karen and I, it would be a global deal. Finally, I got the lady and her cat.
Shortly after Clouseau’s death, we received a call from the employees at Baker Animal Hospital asking if we would be interested in adopting Mittens, the office cat. After Karen and I discussed it, we said yes and Mittens, who sported a tuxedo-like coat, became a member of our household for 14 years until she died of cancer.
While we haven’t ruled out having another cat in our life, a major kitchen remodel that began around the same time Mittens died put such notion on the back burner. The project ended and a sense of normalcy returned to our house.
One of my spring projects is to tidy up the water garden and get it ready to fish. Running water adds a sense of tranquility to the place.
I invited Karen to do an errand with me, telling her that we would stop at Pete’s Ice Cream before heading to Dot’s Pet Store. I selected the fish and as I walked over to the register Karen informed me that there was a cute cat in one of the kennels. Hey people, guess what? Karen chose a name for the rescue cat and Miss Maisie returned home the next day.
What did I say earlier about the way people come with their pets? Was the new cat in our life a fluke? What if I hadn’t invited Karen to come up with me? Pet friend and lover Marilyn Huffman said, “Maisie has found you.”
What matters is that for a little over a year now, Miss Maisie has continued to embellish our lives with her personality and her antics. About these walks. While she has her claws and a collar with an ID tag, we don’t yet know how far she might walk, so we like to play it safe. Sometimes I follow her off the leash. Like when she walks over to the long climbing hydrangeas – what I call her botanical jungle gym. It was forbidden when robins built a nest there. Or when she climbs the treehouse ladder and walks on the railing. A cat’s sense of balance continues to amaze me.
Back on a leash, she climbed the trunk of a large honeysuckle along the garage, perched on a branch. As she watched her next move on the roof, I threw a preemptive strike and placed Maisie on solid ground.
One advantage of walking with Maisie on a leash is that it slows us down, forcing Karen and I to take a closer look at what she is doing. Sometimes the predator nails the fly to the grass; most of the time, she arrives empty-handed. One day she was near a short section of an ancient tree trunk in a flower bed. I found myself watching ants carrying crumbs of wood out of a hole and dropping them to the ground where other ants located the crumbs and deposited them a few inches from the trunk.
Clouseau and Mittens have never been on a leash, so when we set them out to explore we definitely missed some of this activity, even close by. This is not the case with Maisie, the cute tiger with beautiful white and tan markings and a cute look on his face.
What’s no fun taking Maisie for a walk around the estate, forcing us to slow down and be a part of her world? It works for the three of us.
“What are you looking at, Maisie?”
Phil Hugo lives in Lima.