Stuff I just can’t let you miss

An Ig Nobel prize was awarded to Marc-Antoine Fardin for a paper proving that cats are both a solid and a liquid.

Go ahead and laugh if you want, but I live with a cat and I understand this. Put a cat in a shoebox—sorry, invite a cat into a shoebox—and it will become shoebox-shaped and fill the shoebox. Do the same experiment with a round casserole dish and it will become casserole dish-shaped. It’s a liquid. Try to pass your foot through it because you didn’t know it was there and it will trip you. It’s a solid.

In Fardin’s words:

“If you take a timelapse of a glacier on several years you will unmistakably see it flow down the mountain. For cats, the same principle holds. If you are observing a cat on a time larger than its relaxation time, it will be soft and adapt to its container, like a liquid would.”

Fast Eddie as a liquid and a solid. See how he flows between the bars of the drying rack? People, this is science. I’ll thank you to take it seriously.

*

A family in Coventry—that’s in the U.K., so the story’s legitimate blog fodder—called the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in a panic (or so the papers claimed) because they’d spotted a reptile under a bed. The creature hadn’t moved in about a week.

A week? If that’s a panic it’s such a slow-moving one and that it could, like a glacier, as easily be a solid as a liquid. But never mind. The RSPCA sent an animal collection officer, and she crept up on it.

“It was around seven inches long and two wide,” she said, and was “protruding from the edge of the bed.”

It turned out to be a pink striped sock.

Due to the officer’s intervention, the family was saved from a fate worse than moldy laundry.

*

Having posted about spam last Friday, I thought I’d better check my spam folder to make sure Pit hadn’t been sent to Siberia again. He hadn’t, but I found this gem:

“I dear nonsensical body fluid. think me, ally, I make out it, and outside of this blog I’m a political militant

“and do what I can–which is never enough.”

I’ll have to think about this a bit longer, but I might feel offended at being called a nonsensical body fluid. Although I’ll admit I’ve been called worse things, all of which I understood better. Which leads to to think that even if I do turn out to feel offended, I’ll live.

The minute I figure out what the rest of it means, I’ll let you know if I want to argue with it.

And with that I’m out of your hair for another week.

You know, you don’t really have to read this stuff.

Life in the village: the white cat

The latest village uproar—or, to be more accurate, the latest our-small-section-of-the-village uproar—involves a white cat who breaks into other cats’ houses and sprays. And, of course, other cats’ houses means other people’s houses.

Okay, okay, it’s the latest uproar in our house. The neighbors have been putting up with him (reluctantly) for years. But before I tell you about it: all you city dwellers, listen up: We live in a small village. We take our scandals where we can get them. Y’know how in some place you have the Mafia? Well, we have the white cat.

And let me add that there is juicier gossip to be had, but I can’t repeat it. Because I’d like to stay here, thanks. So even if I knew who’d done what with (or to) who( or whom, if you prefer), I couldn’t post it.

And I’m not saying I don’t know. I’m just ducking the issue.

Don’t you just hate it when people go all discrete on you?

A surprisingly relevant photo: Fast Eddie, guarding the house.

A surprisingly relevant photo: Fast Eddie, guarding the house.

The white cat, though, doesn’t give a rip who says what about him, and besides, if my neighbors had to choose between me and him, even the ones who don’t like me would choose me.  Because even at my worst, I do not spray in the house and never have.

We first heard about the white cat some years ago. One set of neighbors had two cats at the time, along with a cat flap, and the white cat would come in through the flap, then all three cats would go into a panic and try to escape through the flap at once.

All very funny if it’s not your house, and since we don’t have a cat flap I got all smug and thought we were immune. But we do have a window, which our current cat, Fast Eddie, and his predecessor, the mighty Smudge, have used instead of a cat flap. The smudge on the wall underneath it bears witness. They’ve braced their front paws there so many times of the way in on the way in that it’s become permanent. We do clean it every so often, just to pretend we’re the kind of people who clean big smudges off the wall, but it never completely disappears and it’s back to full smudgeliness in no time.

If you look at something like that long enough, it goes invisible.

It’s been demonstrated that if our cats can get in, so can others, but we didn’t give it much thought. When we first moved here, a different set of neighbors had a cat named Missy who went visiting by moonlight, and when Wild Thing was in the U.S. getting our cats and dog ready to ship over, I’d wake up in the night and find Missy in bed with me. I used to think I should rise up and say, “Excuse me, have we been introduced?” because I don’t know about you, but I like to know the names of the creatures I sleep with. But I’m not sharp enough in the middle of the night and the subtler the joke is, the more it’s wasted on cats.

Besides, we had been introduced.

I didn’t really mind her curling up with me, but she was noisier leaving than she was coming in, knocking over lamps and scrabbling against the wall, and after a couple of nights I closed the main windows and opened a little transom window to let some air in. That night I woke up to frantic scrambling and Missy dropping onto the bed triumphantly.

I closed the transom window until Wild Thing arrived with our cats, who explained in yowls of one syllable why Missy should go sleep in her own house.

Which is a long way of saying that I should’ve known we weren’t white-catproof but I didn’t and the other night I looked through the glass of the hall door and saw him ghosting along behind Fast Eddie, who hadn’t noticed the white cat because he was totally involved in scratching at the edge of the closed door and teasing Moose.

I opened the door and yelled, the white cat turned to leap for the window, Fast Eddie gave chase, and Wild Thing let the dogs out the back door. The dogs were ecstatic: Something to chase. Something that runs away. Wheee, pant, bark, pant, bark. We’re dogs, we’re dogs, we’re dogs. They ran around the corner of the house, barking as seriously as if they really were dogs, which being shih tzus they only kind of are.

So now we’re on high alert. We’re forming a militia made up of two armed dogs plus Fast Eddie to do recon and summon them when they’re needed. The white cat must not enter the house. No pasaran, if you know your Spanish Civil War history, although the verb there is plural and missing an accent mark and the white cat is singular and couldn’t be trusted with an accent mark and besides he almost certainly doesn’t speak Spanish. Why should he? He doesn’t speak English and he hears a hell of a lot more of that than he does Spanish around here.

There’s a lot of complaining about him on the village Facebook page. Some of the neighbors, Wild Thing tells me, are talking about catching the cat and getting him neutered, but the owner doesn’t want it done and no matter what they say, nobody’s likely  to do it. That’s a British thing, I’m told: talking to anyone except the right person about what needs to be done so that it never happens. (If you’re interested in this as a cultural phenomenon, look in the index of Watching the English under “moaning.”

From what little I know about cats and spraying, neutering wouldn’t help anyway. Once they start, they continue, vet or no vet.

So that’s the latest uproar here in romantic Cornwall. We live an exciting life

The British and their pets

Let no one say I hide from the tough topics. I asked what you wanted to hear about and I got questions about budget cuts (destructive), mental health services (needed more than ever given the budget cuts), British television (mixed but I’m not much of a TV watcher these days), and what the British think of Americans (long story). So let’s start with the heavy-duty stuff and talk about the British and their pets. This is justified because Sandy Sue wrote, “I’d love to hear about Brits and their pets. In one post you said they don’t holler for their animals like we do–I loved that. More!”

Okay.

Spoiler alert: The Big Guy's been found.

Spoiler alert: The Big Guy’s been found.

Dogs played an important part in introducing us to the village. Wild Thing has a gift for starting conversations with pretty much anyone, and if she sees someone with a dog she stops to talk if she can. In any country. In Kate Fox’s book Watching the English, I read that dogs are an accepted conversation starter. A bit like the weather. They’re a nice neutral topic that allows shy people to connect, and Fox writes about the English as a publicly shy people. The national assumption is that each person goes into the public sphere surrounded by an invisible privacy bubble and it would be rude to break in. Commuters who see each other morning after morning may, after a year or so, go all out and nod to each other. Which is why they need pre-programmed topics—the weather, the dog, the whatever—in order to break out and enjoy a bit of human companionship.

Lucky us that Wild Thing’s quirks fit so well with the country’s. Our acquaintances and then friendships in the village grew out of Ida’s habit of talking about dogs. When we first came here as visitors, we met a few dogs, and through them a few people, and through them a few more people, and here we are, all these years later, still pestering them.

One of the first things Wild Thing noticed was that if you asked people about their dogs, a certain number of them would tell you entire tales: She’s a rescue dog and she’s settled in wonderfully but she’s still afraid of people with hats. Oh, he’s had a difficult day—he saw the vet this morning. Last week she was stung by a bee and it’s been very traumatic. These weren’t just dogs we were hearing about. Each one was the central character in a novel.

I don’t know if more people adopt abandoned dogs in the U.K. than in the U.S., but I do know we hear about it more often. Stop to admire a dog and if it’s a rescue dog that’s the first thing you’ll learn. Which leads me to wonder not only if more people adopt rescue dogs here but if more people abandon them. Or is it that more of them find a home? Or do we just hear about it more because people need the outlet of talking about their dogs?

Dogs are welcome in more public places here than in—well, it’s hard to generalize about the U.S., but certainly than in Minnesota. Lots of cafes and pubs welcome them. If we’re not sure and don’t see a sign in the window, we’ve learned to poke our heads through the door and ask. A few even offer dog biscuits. Some set water bowls outside the door, whether or not dogs are welcome inside. At singers night in the nearby pub, dogs are a regular part of the mix. Every so often one will add a well-timed howl and be welcomed with general hysteria. One of the organizers has a small repertoire of dog songs that he’ll sing at times like that. Mostly, though, the dogs are content to listen and hope someone will drop a sandwich.

As a result of being taken more places (or I’m guessing it’s a result), dogs are generally more relaxed in public than a small and unscientific survey leads me to believe they are in the U.S. I do hear and read about aggressive dogs, but so far our experience has been good. A bit of growling now and then, the occasional pup who’s too big and enthusiastic its brain, but mostly they get along peaceably and behave well. Even if one or another of them howls at a song. We’ve all wanted to once in a while, haven’t we?

We’ve usually warned away from snappish ones by their owners.

In Minnesota, state law governed where dogs could and couldn’t be taken. A coffee shop near our old house let dogs in because they couldn’t see a reason not to, and it worked well until they got caught by an inspector from the Minnesota Department of Dog Fur and General Bad Behavior and received a couple of stern warnings. They still couldn’t bear to kick dogs out but we took pity on them and stopped bringing ours in. Other dog-owning regulars did the same. Then the state passed a law that made it illegal to tie a dog outside while you went in for coffee. No, it didn’t specify coffee. It could have been shampoo or a bottle of milk. But it limited what people could do with their dogs. We could walk them and take them back home. We could keep them at home, and we could let them out in the yard if we had a way to keep them inside it. But we couldn’t integrate them into our lives the way we can here.

Because I live in the country, people keep other pets and semi-pets. On the other side of the valley, B. keeps peacocks. Come spring we hear them yelling something that sounds like “Help! Help!” The peahens want nothing more out of their lives than to lead their chicks onto the road and wander up and down it, and I’ve learned to slow down near B.’s house. The peacocks like the road as well. One year I saw the local half-size bus herding a peacock down the road toward me at maybe half a mile per hour. As the bird walked, he threw his feet forward—not quite in a goosestep but it was close enough to make me understand why they named the step after a bird. He had his fan spread and was yelling furiously for help, or for reinforcements. When he got to the house and no reinforcements had come, he stepped aside and let the bus through.

I didn’t have a camera.

Any number of people keep chickens and a few keep geese. Some of these are just chickens and geese and some are pets. One year two of M.’s chickens died, leaving her with just one, which was so lonely she’d follow M. from place to place as she worked in the garden and would sit on the windowsill when M. went in. Eventually M. got another hen or two and the chicken went back to acting like a chicken.

M.’s hens are battery hens that aren’t laying as heavily as they used to and would otherwise be slaughtered. They come to her practically featherless and in terrible shape, hardly knowing what to do with the great outdoors. Then before long they feather out and start pecking.

A few years back, someone not far from the village adopted a lamb with a broken leg that she found on the moor. She located the farmer and told him about it and the farmer offered to shoot it, so she loaded the lamb in the car, got its leg set, and raised it until it became a ram and a bit of a handful, when she found someone with a smallholding who was willing to take it. By that time, it didn’t consider itself a sheep anymore and didn’t settle in well with the other sheep. Eventually it made itself a home with the horses.

And then, of course, there are cats.

When the stray we adopted, Big Guy, disappeared a couple of weeks ago, we put a note on the village Facebook page, which is all you have to do to activate the village network. For a while, the comments were all about I hope you find him and next time try putting butter on his feet the first time you let him out. Then last Saturday night we got a phone call: The Big Guy had showed up outside S.’s house, yelling his head off, and they were feeding him. They’d heard he was ours. The kids wanted to adopt him and the parents were being won over. They said he was shy about coming inside but they’d made him a space on the porch, where the boiler is, so it’s warm. Their house is just downhill from where he was first found. Apparently that’s where he wants to live. It’s got a beautiful view and I guess he likes it. Wild Thing told them that he didn’t seem happy here, so if they were willing to keep him that would be great.

I stopped by on Sunday morning to bring them some cat food left when Moggy died. Fast Eddie still eats kitten food. And dog food. He plans to be a dog when he grows up. Anyway, I stopped by and there was the Big Guy, cuddling with one of the kids. He was happy to see me but not as if he’d been lost and I’d found him. He was indeed a bit shy about coming into the house but when he saw a bowl of cat food he decided he’d take the risk. It’s hard to know whether he’ll stay, but he does seem to like the neighborhood, they’re treating him well, and I think he’s found a home. Even if they do call him Marvin—Starvin’ Marvin.

I don't  think the Big Guy's going to sleep here--he's not much of a jumper--but they made him a nice warm bed in an old doll carriage.

I don’t think the Big Guy’s going to sleep here–he’s not much of a jumper–but they made him a nice warm bed in an old doll carriage.

While I was down there, Wild Thing got a call from S.’s neighbors, who reported that the Big Guy had been trying to get into their house. Then A. called. She thought she’d seen the Big Guy at yet another house in the neighborhood and she’d gone to ask if he was their cat but they don’t have a cat.

Oh, and W. thought he’d seen the Big Guy running across a back road nearby.

It takes a village to find a cat. And in Big Guy’s case, to house one. For the moment, though, he’s housed and fed, which is good because it’s been raining a lot and the wind has been so strong that during some of the gusts I couldn’t walk into it.

How is this any different from the U.S.? People in our old neighborhood people also put themselves out to care for cats. One of ours, the much-loved Big Ol’ Red Cat, was a stray who was taken in initially by our neighbor, D. But she couldn’t keep him because the cat she already had was pounding on him, so she brought him to us and he settled in happily. The underlying feeling about cats was the same. But in a city a cat can fall off the radar without wandering far. Just like a person can. Living in the city, you end up with a series of short stories. In a village, you hear the entire novel.

Cats, dogs, and questions

Cats: Our oldest cat, Moggy, died a couple of weeks back. She was 18 or 19. Or maybe 20. She was a rescue cat, so we never really knew her age and she didn’t much care so we never got a sensible answer out of her on the subject. She’s much missed, but we figured it was time to let Fast Eddie be the only cat.

Ha. M. and J. had a very friendly stray desperate for a home and yelling bloody murder outside their house and since J.’s allergic the cat’s now at our house and settling in nicely, thanks. We call him the Big Guy.

the big guy 017

 

He’s not thrilled that we have a dog, but he’s likes the food bowl and the amount of attention he’s getting. We’re checking around to see if we can find his original owner. He’s a lovely cat and somebody somewhere misses him. The going theory is that he jumped in a delivery van and ended up here.

The dog? All she wants to do is knock him down, stand on him, and clean his ears. Which she considers a friendly gesture. We kept them separate for a few days and she had a hard time with it.

the big guy 019the big guy 021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point, we can leave them in the same room together as long as we’re there to keep the peace. He and Fast Eddie doing fine. I’ll add some new Fast Eddie photos to the Kitten, cat, and dog page for you cat-picture addicts. So there you have the dog and cat update. It’s totally irrelevant to the blog’s topic.

Questions: Actually, that’s only one question: Do you have a topic you’d like me to address, either about the U.S. or Britain? Let me know what it is and—well, if you’ve been around for a while you know what I’m like. If it grabs me I’ll write about it. I may even be informative—you never know. So give me a push and let’s see what direction we head in. And yes, I’m ending a sentence with a preposition. Because in English it just makes sense.

So daring.

Cross-cultural adventures: Two Americans call a cat in Britain

Fast Eddie went over the fence for the first time this week. We knew the day was coming, but we’d hoped it wouldn’t come quite so soon. He’s still a very small cat in a very large world. He’s built for climbing, though, and climb he did.

The first we knew about it was when we heard a bird doing what Wild Thing calls checking and our neighbor calls alarming.

Fast Eddie, the fiercest kitten for 10 yards in any direction

Fast Eddie, the fiercest kitten for 10 yards in any direction

Americans and Brits agree on what the noun alarm means, but use it any other way and we get into that odd stuff that happens when we think we share a language. In the U.S., if you’re alarmed, you’re moving in the direction of panic. It’s a feeling. Once you cross the Atlantic, though, being alarmed is more likely to involve wiring, as is demonstrated by the signs that say, “This door is alarmed.”

And there I was thinking the door was an inanimate object. So now I’m alarmed myself. The announcement seriously destabilized my world view.

Alarm can also involve actions—for example, the bird we heard was alarming, as in making an alarm call, not as in scaring the hell out of us.

So, with today’s language lesson out of the way, let’s go back to the bird. We heard it making a checking / alarming sound, and Wild Thing asked if I knew where Eddie was.

Insert a moment of, ahem, alarm here, because he was nowhere in the house. We went outside and called. He still wasn’t in the habit of coming when we called (we’re working on it), but we did it anyway because, what the hell, humans are a very strange species and it was something we knew how to do.

I need to interrupt myself for a minute here to talk about cross-cultural cat calling. I can’t swear that this is universal, but the Brits I’ve noticed calling cats tend to bend over, rub their fingers together, and say something quiet, like “puss, puss, puss.”

How do Wild Thing and I call our cats? With a two-note call that’s approaches a yodel: “kitt-TEEEE. KITT-teeee” You can hear us most of the way to Devon. Even in Minnesota, it marked us as not being local.

Okay, it wasn’t the only thing that let people know that, but I do remember standing on our open front porch one night when the air was so cold I thought my lungs would shatter and calling our cat by yodeling, “FUZZbucket, KITT-teeee.” (Go ahead, laugh at the name. Everyone else did. A friend used to call him Fuzzbuster and Fuzzduster, with the occasional Fussbudget thrown in for luck. I still think it was a great name.) From the far end of the dark street, a man’s voice echoed, word for word and note for note, “FUZZbucket, KITT-teeee.” I’d call, he’d call, I’d call, he’d call. He had the notes and the tone down perfectly, and I figured if Fuzz had any intention of coming in the echo wouldn’t hurt.

He didn’t, of course. He was a cat. And an old lady down the street used to feed him canned shrimp and keep him with her during the coldest weather. I’m sure he told her he had nowhere else to go.

But that’s a different story and a different place. In this place, I was worried that Eddie might have gone over a fence and discovered that the other side didn’t offer him a way to climb back, and there he’d be, a very small kitten on the wrong side of a tall wall.

So Wild Thing went to our over-the-tallest-fence neighbors. They don’t live on our street and to get to them you more or less have to run up to London, then Hamburg, and then come back to Cornwall to our village to a different street and go through their front gate, which sometimes sticks so badly that you need a chisel and a hammer to get through, and all of that is necessary because, unlike Minneapolis, the neighborhoods here don’t have alleys and the yards here don’t have back gates. In fact, they’re not yards at all, they’re called gardens, and if they’re close together they have barricade-like fences or hedges meant to screen you and your thoughts from any awareness that you have neighbors. It gives back yards (sorry—they’ll always be yards to me) a sense of privacy and quiet, but it could strike someone used to American yards as unfriendly. (I’m not one of them. I like that sense of quiet.)

So Wild Thing was gone for a while, hiking to London and Hamburg and Cornwall and then through the neighbors’ gate, which didn’t happen to stick that day, and I couldn’t think of anything useful to do with myself so I worked on the bread I was making, which was ready to shape into loaves. And at some point something almost weightless brushed against my ankles and I looked down and found Eddie, who hadn’t a clue in the world that he’d just caused an uproar and wouldn’t have minded much if he had known.

So I did what any dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker would do: I went out back and bellowed for Wild Thing. When I was a kid, that’s how the mothers in our neighborhood called us—they leaned out the windows and bellowed our names. (What the ones whose apartments didn’t have windows on the street did I never stopped to wonder. Chose not to reproduce? Lost their kids forever? Waited till they got hungry enough to wander home? I just don’t know.) That was also how we called our mothers: We stood on the sidewalk, tipped our heads back, and bellowed up. To this day, my voice–well, no one who hears me is left with the impression that I’m shy. If you want to bring down the walls of Jericho, leave the trumpets at home and convince me that they need to come down.

Back in New York, every mother somehow knew her own kids’ voices well enough that they didn’t all pop their heads out in unison when one of us bellowed, even though we all yelled the same word, “Mom.”

Oh, damn, I’m getting teary. Thanks for being able to pick my voice out of the maelstrom, Mom. I miss you.

Minnesotans never seemed to bellow for their kids. I don’t know how they got them home. Compared to New Yorkers, Minnesotans are indirect. Or repressed, if you prefer. Or well behaved. It’s all in how you see it. Maybe the intensity of their frustration sends out a vibe that the kids pick up.

But however long I’ve been away from Manhattan, I’m still a New Yorker, so I bellowed. And Wild Thing, who’d just gotten into the neighbors’ yard, answered in true New York fashion (she lived there for ten years and picked up the important skills).

She started the long trek home, and our neighbor, G., who’d somehow managed to hear all this (damn, that man has good ears) popped up on his side of a different fence (we have three immediate neighbors), which is about shoulder height, even on me, and said he’d heard the bird alarming, then seen Eddie running along the top of the fences. The fences make a fine highway if you’re a cat.

Then, G. said, he heard us calling Eddie.

And no doubt laughed his ass off at the volume and sheer uselessness of it all, but he was far too kind–or maybe that’s well behaved–to say so.

Irrelevant post: new kitten in the house

Since my pioneering use the irrelevant blog photo has been a smash hit with at least one of you and the rest of you are too polite to comment, I’m going to push the boundaries here and add an irrelevant post. This is justified by two things:

  1. When Moongazer left a comment, she asked me to post some kitten photos. In the context, this actually made sense.

  2. A few weeks ago, I wrote about our cat Smudge having been killed by a car and a lot of you sent sympathy and lovely comments and even a poem. So although I can’t write a happy ending, I can share a happy beginning.

kitten. cat. sleeping kitten.

Fast Eddie. He has two speeds, High and Off. This is Off.

Left to my own devices, I’d have waited longer to get another cat, but Wild Thing doesn’t do well with the gaping holes that deaths and departures leave behind, so we now have a kitten, Fast Eddie. And although we still miss Smudge, Fast Eddie’s ridiculously cute, and absorbing in that insane way kittens have. The dog follows him everywhere and licks his ears. She believes she has to stand on him to do this, which is a bit of a problem but at least she’s not a mastiff and he seems to think it’s normal. And who am I to rule on what’s normal?

Fast Eddie and Minnie the Moocher. Sounds like a pool hall, doesn't it?

Fast Eddie and Minnie the Moocher. Sounds like a pool hall, doesn’t it?

We also have one pissed-off older cat. I trust she’ll get over it eventually.

 

Domestic Wildlife

Monday: We have a mouse problem. At least we think we do. The four-legged residents are paying a lot of attention to one corner of the spare room.

Let me be clear about this. We have two cats. Two of them. Enough, you might think, to vanquish even the wiliest of mice, but no, it’s the dog who usually gets rid of them. The dog who looks like a wind-up toy dreamt up by a particularly extravagant little girl. And not some tough, tree-climbing little girl, but the over-the-top stereotype of a little girl in the pink princess dress, complete with the wings and the wand. If she got the job of inventing a wind-up dog, Minnie to Moocher is the one she’d invent.

Never underestimate a foo-foo little dog. Or a girl in a pink princess dress. She—that’s the dog, now, not the girl—is a stone cold killer.

Minnie the Moocher, also known as Killer

Minnie the Moocher, also known as Killer

But we have to start back a way. We live in the country. The weather’s getting cold. Mice are surely looking for a nice warm place to bed down for the winter, but that’s not how the current one got in. I’m sure of that. Our younger cat, Smudge, brings them in. He wants to start a captive breeding program. We’ve discussed this with him, but have you ever tried arguing with a cat? Save your breath. They’re always right. He thinks like a feudal king: Once he stocks the forest—or the back room—with enough game, he’ll keep himself amused forever.

The little horror is one hell of a hunter. When he was younger he brought in birds, mice, voles, rats, and moles, some dead and some living. I’m not sure which were worse, the ones that were so mangled we had to kill them or the ones that were so unmangled that we ended up crawling all over the house, throwing furniture as we went, while we tried to catch them.

One of the rats was in perfect health. He’d brought it in courteously and left it to explore its new surroundings. I was nowhere around, lucky me—I think I was doing the book tour for Open Line—and it took Wild Thing a full day but she finally killed it by bashing it with the bread box. The hunt involved a lot of yelling and some interesting language, none of it on the part of the rat.

Wild Thing did not get her name by accident. And I really do call her that a good bit of the time.

When we found the second of the moles, it was trying to dig its way out through a wall. It’s almost a swimming motion, the way they dig. I got a plastic box with a lid and Wild Thing got the heaviest pair of gardening gloves she could find. She lifted it into the box, it tried to bite her, I put the lid on, and we drove it to a nearby field. The whole time it was in the box, it kept making those swimming motions, digging its way to freedom. When I let it go, it hit the earth still digging.

I’m a city girl so I don’t really know, but I hope the farmer didn’t mind an extra mole in the field.

When we have to catch living creatures, I’m no worse than Wild Thing. Okay, I’m not much worse. She’s bolder about it, but at least I’m useful. I am squeamish, though, about the wounded and the dead, and for the most part I leave those to her. It’s almost fair. She’s squeamish about cleaning the litter box or dealing with cat vomit. But when she had ankle surgery (which has happened three times now, and she only has two ankles) I’ve had to get over it. The first time, post-surgery, that I looked at a mangled but still living bird, I asked myself, Could you kill it if you were being chased by a bear?

I admit, the question makes no sense. If I were being chased by a bear, killing a wounded bird wouldn’t be at the top of my to-do list. I mean, how would that help? But it did focus my mind. I pulled myself together, took the poor thing outside, and bashed its little head in. It was quick and it was the best I could do for the poor beast.

I dealt with the dead and the mangled for many long weeks. Then Wild Thing started moving around without crutches and I got squeamish again. Funny how that works.

These days, Smudge doesn’t bring his prey home as often, and what he does bring is more likely to be fully dead, and if I find the corpse first I can make myself throw it away without waiting for Wild Thing to play undertaker. I use a broom and dust pan, then wash my hands as thoroughly if I’d just juggled a dozen dead rats and then gutted them, but still, I do get rid of it.

Wild Thing picks ‘em up by one foot or the tail.

Tuesday: We haven’t caught the mouse. For the past week, Wild Thing has had some kind of bug that involves waking up at 3 a.m., turning on the light, and coughing for half an hour, so she’s been sleeping in the spare room—the mouse room. Unless (we haven’t seen it yet) it’s a rat. Last night, when she went to bed, she heard some rustling in the corner.

You have to understand something about our spare room. It’s not large, but it does contain a single bed, a bedside table, a tall, narrow chest of drawers, a computer and computer chair, roughly 150 copies of the village calendar plus a box of envelopes for them, 196 plastic sleeves to protect exactly 4 posters for the village calendar, the prototype of the Soyuz space capsule, manuals for every piece of computer equipment that ever passed through our lives, most of which we no longer own, and a cement mixer. Plus a full-size Cornish gig, with all six oars.

I may be exaggerating, but I flinched away from taking a true and unflinching inventory. There’s a bunch of stuff in there, okay? And a mouse. Or quite possibly a rat.

Wild Thing, as I think I’ve already established, is not faint of heart. Her mother once faced down a pawing, snorting bull armed with nothing better than a broom, and won. Wild Thing is worthy of her heritage. But, c’mon, she was going to be asleep. And a rat—well, we both New Yorkers enough to know that rats are capable of crawling up to a sleeping person and taking a bite if their lips have a trace of food, and she’s been living on cough drops. When I say her lips are sweet, I’m not talking being romantic.

When she heard the rustling, she called out to tell me about it, at which point Smudge the mighty hunter went out the window.

I will say in his defense that he’s as sleek and beautiful as any cat, and as self-involved.

Wild Thing went into the living room, where Minnie and our older cat were still sprawled in front of the wood stove. She picked up the Minnie (who’s not allowed in bed), and took her to bed.

There were no rats in the bed that night. By the time Smudge joined them later in the night, there wouldn’t have been room for one.

The older cat is around 17 and never was much of a hunter. She killed a bird once, and Wild Thing took it away from her. She’s convinced Wild Thing ate it herself and she gave up hunting.

Wednesday 10 a.m.: After I wrote Tuesday’s section of this post, we set a trap, closed off the spare room, and caught nothing. As I type, Wild Thing’s tearing the room apart (I just heard a small avalanche; it sounded like paper mixed with broken crockery). Any minute now she’ll check the cement mixer and see if the mouse bedded down there. I expect it moved into the kitchen, though, or the living room, before we closed the room off. On Saturday we have a bunch of people coming over for a delayed Thanksgiving. Last year a mouse crashed the party and provided no end of entertainment. I’m hoping it doesn’t turn out to be an annual event.

Wednesday 4 p.m.: The spare room has a floor. I hadn’t known that. Everything that used to be on the floor is now piled on top of something else and looks frighteningly well organized. If you don’t look too closely. But what matters is that there were no traces of mouse or rat. What Wild Thing found was a set of wings. (Smudge is known for leaving wings, or the heart and lungs. What can I tell you. He’s a fussy eater.) I don’t want to think too hard about what Wild Thing heard and what the story of the kill was, although I’m sure Smudge would be not just happy but proud to tell the tale, in full detail and bleeding color.

We hope to get through our mis-timed Thanksgiving party without a mouse this year.

For the Americans reading this, hope you had a fine and mouseless Thanksgiving.