Pawprints in the Snow

pawprintsIt’s snowed the last three nights, and every morning when I go out to shovel there are cat tracks in the snow. They always follow the same route: in through the fence at the back corner of the lot, over some drifts (about a foot and a half tall, but iced up enough to walk on), along the compost-pile path, alongside the garage and up the back steps, back down the steps and around the corner past the trash and recycling bins, down the path shoveled along the driveway, hopping up into the planter with the yews against the front of the house, hopping further up to the front porch, then down the front steps and away down the sidewalk.

I haven’t heard Mike yowling at anyone out there recently, though he doesn’t go out as much in winter, and I definitely don’t encourage him to stay out all night when it’s cold. If it’s twenty below he doesn’t want to be out there anyway, but if it’s ten above or better I sometimes have to chase him down and bring him back in the house. Anyway, he’d notice a strange cat on his turf even if he were in the house. So maybe it’s a buddy of his.

Or – and this is what I keeps me thinking about it – maybe it’s Ariel.

We adopted the two as kittens from Friends of Ferals. We think they’re littermates, though it’s possible Ariel is older and just naturally small. Mike’s a big Jethro Bodine of a cat, none too bright but plenty friendly. He couldn’t wait to be somebody’s house pet, as long as wandering privileges were included in the deal. (With him, my self-imposed pledge to keep my cats house-only went literally right out the door. With some cats it just ain’t gonna happen.) He’s a big black bear of a thing, likes to sit on your lap on top of the newspaper, let you play soccer with him, enjoys mauling mice, etc.

Ariel wasn’t having any of the whole pet thing. She was a skinny little thing, mostly black, but with white paws and a white diamond at her throat. I really liked her; she still had a lot of feral in her, and I sort of admired that. She spent the first week at our house hiding out in the heat ducts, and occasionally taking a dainty bite or two of the food we left for her in the basement. After that first week she’d come upstairs and hang with Mike, but she never was a people cat.

One of the first times we found her upstairs, she and Mike were raiding the bread cabinet. They’d hopped up on the countertop and dragged a few loaves of bread down, torn open the plastic, and were eating some of it and making a huge mess of the rest. That was kind of funny, but most of the time she just ran away when anyone was around. Somebody else might have had the patience to do better with her than I did.

Anyway, one day in summer, Ariel was outside with Mike. They never used to leave the back yard. But this time, Mike came back and Ariel never did. We never saw her again, but at that point I felt like trying to hang onto her as a pet was hopeless anyway. Mike was out there constantly for a couple days, crying and trying to find her, but as far as I could tell he never had any luck. The only consolation was knowing she was spayed.

But with this new cat coming around, I just wonder. Maybe Ariel stayed close. There are all kinds of places around here where a cat could stay incognito. I’d be happy to know she was still alive.

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