Winter Tails

Photo (c) 2018 by A. L. Thummz. All rights reserved.

I for whatever reason am occasionally asked for advice about writing. My bottom line suggestion — one that I follow myself only after being dragged to it, kicking and screaming — is to tell the story simply. Not everyone needs to be James Lee Burke, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison or Cormac McCarthy, and they shouldn’t be. Write from Point A to Point B, at least at first. You have to build the wall before you decorate it. Get those corners at right angles and those verticals plumbed in your story before you decorate it. You’ll have plenty of time for that later. Your story or novel isn’t going anywhere unless your cat walks across the keyboard and steps on the delete button.

That brings me to an example of the foregoing.

There is a feral cat who has been coming around since late last spring. We call him “Felix.” He’s grey and skittish. His trust is measured in incremental inches, bought and paid for with food on demand. Felix disappeared for several weeks near the end of summer.  I was fairly certain that he had crawled into the brush to await the arrival of the picadors and had risen to meet them one last time. He surprised me, however, by returning near the end of October, gazing at me through the rear sliding glass door with an expression that probably translated to, “Yeah? Whaddya want from me?” He has visited regularly since. It’s been a tough winter, and I’m surprised whenever I see him, but see him I do, and almost every day.

Felix and I tell each other a story each day.  When I get up each morning I turn all of the backyard lights on. Felix always shows up within ten minutes. His arrival is heralded by Demonspawn, the resident housecat and indoor maitre ‘d. I bring the food out while Felix stands an arm’s length (mine, not his) or so away from me until I go back into the house. If he wants more, he hangs around and I give him more. We follow the same pattern at night. Sometimes I’ll see his footprints on fresh snow, weaving in the same pattern he always makes, and know that one of us missed the signal. I make it up on his next pass.

The story that Felix and I tell each other is simpler than that, however.  He tells me he’s hungry. I tell him I care. Actually, that’s the root of just about every story, from Aesop’s Fables to The Bible to The Dark Tower series and beyond. So there you go.

Simple stories aren’t just for children, but it’s during childhood that we normally hear our first ones. Are there any that you care to share?

As always, thank you for stopping by. And if you are able please take a minute to feed our friends outside. It’s a cold one this year.

40 thoughts on “Winter Tails

  1. Sucker be my name. Nearly all of my current cats were born to a feral mother in my yard. The other was a lost or abandoned move in special (he moved in, whether we wanted him to or not). I have fed ferals for years. And hummingbirds. If you have non-migrating hummingbirds in your yard they could really use the extra help in winter.

    • First! And how appropriate, Catfriend. Interestingly enough, I have a hummingbird feeder up as well. I’m laughing about your “move in special.” We had one of those too. Thanks for stopping by and for all that you do.

      • My dad kept hummingbird feeders on his porch. They would come up and drink out of his hand. Beautiful birds.

  2. Touched my heart. Short sentiment about being doing bare bones writing first, add the adornments later. Makes perfect sense. Then you opened up about the cat. Pulled me right the hell in, teared me up (as in moist eyes) for a second. Just a note here to say you did good here.

    • Chris, thank you so much for your kind comments. They’re much appreciated, especially on this particular morning…

  3. Thanks,Joe. Great way to look at things. I too, have an ‘at arms length’ feral cat. We have been writing together for sixteen years. After her travels each day, I see her footprints in the snow returning to eat, and write in her tiny heated house.

    • Thank you Betty. I assume you give your buddy co-writing credits in the form of double helpings of Sheba. I hope she knows how lucky she is.

  4. Love the advice. When I read a book with brilliant prose, I wonder if I should aspire to that, and always say, “No.” It wouldn’t be me, and it wouldn’t be my characters. I do start sparse and decorate later, but in a minimalist style.

    Up here, the coyotes and mountain lions mean we don’t have much in the way of feral cats.

    • Thank you, Terry, for your compliments and for sharing. We have coyotes around here as well, which is why I get a little nervous when Felix doesn’t show for a day or two. So far he’s outwitted them, however…

  5. You make me want a feral cat, Joe.

    A dear friend of mine in Lubbock has been feeding a feral cat for years. Dot used to belong to a neighbor so without fail who moved away, but Dot apparently wanted to stay & stubbornly did so. The old neighbor asked my friend to look after Dot and my friend has done so, even when they go on vacation, they make arrangements.

    Dot is 26 years old. Its years are measured by how old the ‘move away’ neighbor’s son is since they got Dot when he was a child.

    I used to joke with my friend that she didn’t have a REAL cat, but after I heard her story and Dot’s age, I don’t kid her about her cat any more. By her example in kindness, my friend has reminded me why I need her as my friend. So does Dot.

    Thanks for your post, Joe. Stay warm. Groundhogs don’t lie.

  6. Good morning, Jordan! That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing. Feral cats usually don’t live too long so Dot is very lucky. Hope you your friend is aware of how lucky she is to have a friend like you as well.

    As far as staying warm goes…Ohio seems to have two seasons: summer and winter.

      • And I count you that way as well, Jordan. I’ll never forget that look on your face as we went through security at the casino in Cleveland. You’re the best.

  7. Your writing advice this morning is especially good for us beginners. If I try to think too, um, FANCY, then I freeze and can’t write anything! Faulkner is often over my head, but I dig James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux stories. My husband had Burke as an English professor and said Burke was a REALLY good teacher.

    Eleven cats, ten of them feral or strays that eventually wound up under our roof. And I’m not a cat person! (I married one.) Funny how the little critters grow on ya. Got one sitting on my lap as I type.

  8. Thank you, Priscilla. And thank you for sharing that story about your husband. James Lee Burke as his English professor…that’s a tough one to beat.

    You’re fortunate that your cat is sitting on your lap and not your keyboard. What is it that makes them want to do that?

  9. While I have always been a dog person, your story reminds me of a special kitty that had a mission to come into my life just when I needed her.

    I had to put my beloved black lab, Cody down in January one year, a dog that I still miss deeply to this day. But for several months I couldn’t bear to even think of getting another dog. Not long after Cody died, a long-haired gray cat showed up on my back doorstep. I paid little attention on the first day because cats running loose is not exactly uncommon. But she kept coming back, and I began stocking cat food for her.

    She would come visit several times a week, have some munchies & move on about her business. Finally toward the end of the year, I came home with a new pup named Aztec. Miss Kitty came around for a few weeks after, but then stopped coming. I was a little worried about why she quit showing up, but I choose to think she had a mission at someone else’s house she had to follow through on. That, and I’m sure she found Aztec quite obnoxious (because she was LOL!) and felt that as a kitty queen she didn’t have to deal with such foolishness on the dog’s part.

    But I appreciate her showing up at just the right time and still think of her often and gratefully.

    • Those are beautiful stories, BK. Thanks for sharing. And while I’m not sure how long ago Miss Kitty hung out with you, or if you’ve moved since then, don’t count her out. It’s amazing how they leave and then turn up months or even years later.

  10. In the following story, the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

    A friend with a Kind Heart (I’ll call her KH) feeds the deer in her neighborhood, which is illegal. Several years ago, a doe appeared with a badly broken leg. KH made sure she had extra food and shelter. The limping doe not only made it through the winter, she showed up in spring with a new fawn. Smiles and celebration…which KH shared on FB.

    Enter the antagonist who was The Big Cahuna (I’ll call him TBC) at the Fish and Wildlife Dept. TBC also just happened to be in the same critique group with KH and me. Hmmm, awkward dilemma. Does TBC bust our close friend KH or ignore the law and jeopardize his job?

    Ultimately TBC issued KH a stern warning, no fine. KH of course learned her lesson–never again post incriminating evidence on FB. TBC recognized KH was a serial offender who would never be rehabilitated from her life of crime so he moved out of state to avoid prosecuting his friend. All right, there were other reasons he left (better job) but why spoil the story?

    The deer in KH’s neighborhood continue to live happily ever after.

    • People in our neighborhood often illegally feed the deer. Trouble is, that totally messes up the population, and oftentimes spreads disease.They become overly friendly, wander the roads, and get hit by cars. Sadly, Mother Nature has things set up but when humans intervene because Bambi is cute, it leads to the need for culling the herd. Or they feed things the deer can’t digest and they starve.
      While saving an injured deer is a little outside the basic storyline, sometimes we have to understand there are reasons for some of the rules. (But I still like your story!)

      • Terry, I struggle with the interfering with wildlife thing. Here in the big city, we don’t have a lot of opps to see wildlife save a few coyotes and bunnies (whom I leave alone and they don’t want anything to do with people anyway). Maybe six months to a year ago, someone posted a story of a park visitor (Yellowstone? Not sure) who rescued what appeared to be a lost bison baby in need of help. Evidently when the rangers re-introduced baby to the herd they rejected it and the baby had to be put down (and I still don’t agree that was their only alternative). But as much as that bothered me, I was very much bothered by the brutal name calling at the park visitor who acted out of kindness of heart (albeit lack of wildlife knowledge). Yet when people tie a dog to the back of a car and drag it to its death, the perpetrator just gets a slap on the wrist and they most certainly did not do that to the dog out of good intentions.

        I guess my point is, with the overpopulation of humans we need to work hard to keep educating people on co-existing with wildlife, but I wish that people like that park visitor weren’t crucified like that as if they were blackhearted devils. Sorry, I took us off course from this post but the subject bugs me very much in all its facets.

        • BK and Terry, I hear ya. Many years ago, my bro-in-law was a park ranger on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Of course with no hunting allowed in a state park and no natural predators, the deer population kept increasing until they were starving to death. My BIL snuck out in the middle of the night and put more than one emaciated deer out of its misery b/c he couldn’t stand their suffering. Nature’s balance is precarious.

          BK, the baby bison was in Yellowstone.

          I feed deer…unintentionally–they consider my vegetable garden their salad bar and no amount of repellant, noise-makers, motion lights, or fencing deters them.

    • Debbie, you get a special tip of the fedora for that story. I’m conflicted on feeding the deer and understand the pro and con arguments. What I’m glad that you mentioned are the potential problems that can occur when one puts all of the details of their life on Facebook. I heard a story a few weeks ago about a woman who bought a new HD television and was bragging about it, posting photos of it, etc. The same day she mentioned that she was planning to go out to her favorite club that night and invited her peeps to come say hey. She even listed the hours she planned to be there. When she got home that television and some other items she had were gone. Facebook: the burglar’s friend. Thanks for the reminder.

  11. Love the heartwarming story, Joe! We have a yard full of sweet faces, at 8 a.m. sharp and again at 2 p.m. If I’m late, they throw the stink-eye. They’re also not opposed to peeking in the windows. No feral cats, I’m afraid, but we do have 6 crows, 1 raven, more blue jays than I care to mention, and a squirrel family of 8 who inhabits our trees. When the sun goes down I lay out more peanuts, suet, and leftovers for Foxy Lady and Cornelius (mother and son foxes). My husband and I have spent so many special moments with wildlife. Especially my crows. Did you know crows name their favorite people? It’s a call reserved only for that person. Amazing!

    • Sue, I am howling! I fed squirrels one year until they started crawling up my pantsleg (the outside, fortunately) while I was on my way out to the feeder. We get possums, skunks, and racoons, and squirrels that come to feed and yes, we’ve had a fox or two as well. They’re fascinating to watch. I did not know that crows named their favorite people. I do know that they are numbered as the most intelligent of birds. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Loved your post today, Joe. I have a special spot in my heart for animals who need help. I guess in view of my current health issues I strongly believe in second chances. Our dog was adopted from the mother of my wife’s boss. The lady had to go to a nursing home and couldn’t keep the dog. We had just lost ours to old age. Our cat is at least 20 years old, and she was found as a stray by our daughter, who lives in a group home and can’t have pets. Then this last December, my mother-in-law who lived with us at age 92 passed away. The night she before she died, the hospice team gave us a break so we could go out for dinner. When we returned home in my wife’s car, I spotted an unusual green bird sitting on top of my car. As I approached it it flew to me and landed on my arm. It was a parrot. (Not your usual Missouri wild bird.) It was obviously someone’s pet that had escaped. I took it inside, took a picture of it, and my wife went to a nearby pet store to get a temporary cage. The store manager identified it as a Quaker parrot. We asked all our neighbors about it, but no one knew anything. So now I have a little squawking buddy to keep me company. By the way, be warned, buying parrot cages and toys can be highly addictive.

    • Thank you, Dave, for your kind comments and for your stories. I particularly enjoyed the one about the parrot you adopted. That’s amazing. Parrots are one of the few (potentially) domesticated animals that don’t like me, the other being…monkeys. We won’t describe their reaction to me. Anyway, hope you are well and that your pets appreciate you.

    • Philliip, I have another name for him besides Demonspawn, but I can’t share it in this forum. I use it for him so much that he now answers to it. My bad. It’s what you call a cat who gets you up at 4:30 every morning. Can you guess? Please don’t.

  13. Nice story, Joe. My grandmother lived in the country and she fed all the stray dogs that showed up at her door. That was a sad story — too many were abandoned pets. We have a feral cat who lives in our condo garage. We’re not allowed to feed him. He’s a working cat and his job is to eat the rats that live in the seawall and under the dock. He’s a tough old guy and does a good job.

  14. Thank you, Elaine. There is no lower form of human being than that who abandons a pet, and no higher form than one who takes one (or more) abandoned creature in. And i bet that cat in your garage is as happy as a lark. Thanks for sharing.

  15. When we moved to Chagrin Falls (outside Cleveland) about ten years ago, there were fawns in our yard to greet us. And every year since. The deer get extremely confident around us, though we never feed them. Drives our dog crazy that they’ll munch away at the ivy not 20 feet from where she’s desparately barking through the slider. Being an Aussie-Golden mix, she’d probably try to herd them if she could.

    The highlight happened about the third year we were here.

    I got up from dinner and looked out the front door. Ten feet from the front door a doe was busy licking the placenta from two newborns. After a bit she slowly walked off, one fawn following on wobbly legs. I was concerned for the other, but a while later–an hour maybe?–she came back for it. Never happened again.

    I’ve only got terrible pictures–the stupid auto-focus insisted on the window pane rather than the lovelies.

    • Thanks for the story, Eric. I am very familiar with Chagrin Falls, having been raised in the Akron-Cleveland area. I can certainly see that happening there. It must have been quite a sight!

  16. Good afternoon, Joe.

    Great story. We’ve had so many feral cats at our house over the past 30 years, that they number in the hundreds. At one time there were over thirty that we were feeding. Then the fox, the coyotes, and the hawks found us. The original ancestor, Maria, moved into the garage while we were building the house. So I guess we were the guests.

    Living on the edge of town, with lots of trees around us, we have regular deer visitors. They seem to enjoy the shrubs in the front yard. I tell people that the deer come to our house for dessert. One particular buck, like the cats, felt that he owned the house. During rutting season, he stood chomping on the bushes, thirty feet in front of the house. I stepped out the front door to get a better look. He snorted, threw his large rack up and down a few times, and turned toward me. I stepped back inside the door, hoping it would hold together if he charged.

    Have a good weekend.

    • Good afternoon, Steve. Thanks for sharing those stories, particularly about the buck. I’ve been told that bucks are extremely intelligent, except during mating season. Why am I not surprised? As for the cats, they have a way of finding the kind-hearted, which is why they gravitate to your house!

      Hope you’re having a good weekend. Thanks again,

  17. Your story is an inspiration. I was reminded of one verse from David Bowie’s Heros.

    Though nothing, will keep us together
    We could steal time, just for one day
    We can be heroes, forever and ever
    What’d you say?

    There is one little cat who thinks you’re a hero, and you are.

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