Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?
I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Chuck has always had a thing for teepees and tents and being outside underneath the stars. He is one of those cats who should have been born hundreds of years ago when the West was still wild and a cat could still roam the plains free, without fear of being run over by a car or a wild horse.
After he attacked the woodpile in the English 17th c village of Plimouth, we lost no time hightailing Chuck over to the other half of the Plimouth Plantation--the Native American Wampanoag homesite--located on the Eel River, figuring he had a thing or two to learn about how the native people lived on the east coast.
At home we call Chuck the “eagle eye.” He is always the first one to spot the tiniest bug crawling along the window ledge. He goes nuts if there is a reflection from the sun off your wristwatch hitting the kitchen wall. He notices everything.
In that first minute when we arrived at the homesite, Chuck’s head popped out of my backpack, and he just itched to jump out and have a look around. This was not the usual protocol. After all, cats are seldom welcome anywhere.
But Chuck had a distinct advantage. Smoke.
There seemed to be smoke everywhere because it was cold, cold, cold and the only way to keep warm back then was to build a fire. Which created smoke. The entire homesite sat under a gray cloud, which gave the Chuckster just the protection he needed to roam around without being noticed.
So off we went. First, the “belly boy” trotted over to a lean-to where animal skins were being laid out to dry, skins which would later be used as clothing and bedding. Sniff, sniff, sniff, his curious nose couldn’t get enough.
But I could tell that Chuck had his eye on a bigger prize--the Wampanoag had recently completed building a massive dome-shaped house covered with bark. No, it wasn’t called a teepee. Native American domiciles out west were called teepees. In the East, the proper term is a “wetus” or “wigwam.”
Chuck snuck inside, and luckily no one noticed his furry body.
Imagine a rectangular structure that extended at least twelve feet high, with a dirt floor and a large campfire placed strategically in the middle for warmth. The beds, built from tree branches and off the ground, would be placed along the edge, but facing toward the center. This “wigwam” would be large enough for an entire extended family. The interior decorators were at work.
I started coughing from the smoke. So did Chuck.
There was nothing glamorous about life 400 hundred years ago.
Outside, shivering, I asked Chuck, “Have you seen enough?”
But Chuck was already scampering over to what appeared to be the cooking area. Two beautiful ladies sat in front of an oversized black kettle, preparing what would be the evening meal.
Oh, yeah, Chuck has an eye for the ladies.
Inside the kettle was a combination of berries, pumpkin seeds, squash . . . “Did the Chuckster want to stay for dinner?”
He obviously didn’t think so. At that very moment a whiff of wind from the river blew through the camp, and the smoke cleared.
From the corner of my eye I noticed two official types “noticing” Chuck for the first time, frowning.
It was true--the Chuckster had gone where no cat had ever gone before, but his idyllic trip back into the past was over.
We had to get out of here FAST.
“We’ve been spotted,” I whispered to the kid. “C’mon.”
Chuck was no fool. But, you know, what they say about cats-mighty curious.
He stopped mid scamper.
“Chuck, c’mon. We’re not welcome here.”
But Chuck had spied an authentic hand-carved canoe, or rather what the Native Americans called a “mishoon.” And at that moment, it was on fire. Yep. That’s right. No joke. It seems that the native people often used fire as a tool to hollow out a tree so they could “create” a canoe.
With no thought of the imminent danger from the “suits,” Chuck jumped on the edge of the canoe and began sniffing, careful not to burn his too curious nose off.
“That’s it,” I thought, as I grabbed him by the scruff of his orange and white neck. “You’ll thank me later when you’re not rotting in some Massachusetts jail cell awaiting sentencing from some dog loving judge.”
On our way back to the car, I asked him, “Well, Chuck, what do you think? Do you still want to live back then?”
I had gently shoved the kid back into my backpack. Now I peeked inside. He looked to be catnapping.
Was he dreaming of a more rustic lifestyle when he could someday grow up to become Chief Chuck of the Wampanoag tribe?
Who knows what cats secretly dream about besides snacks?
Sunday, November 20, 2011
In honor of Thanksgiving this year, Bob and I and our good friends Chuck and Phyllis decided to take a ride up to Boston and visit the Plimouth Plantation. The Chuckster, of course, came along for the ride, eager to see what a seventeenth century English village looked like.
Chuckie has a very active imagination for a cat, and he decided to pretend as we arrived in the parking lot of this living history museum, that he was really back in 1627.
What harm could that do?
The museum is divided into two sections: the 17th C English village along the shore of the Plymouth Harbor and the 17th C Native American Wampanoag homesite located along the Eel River.
It was a bit nippy outside and by the time we arrived in the village--late--we had no trouble letting Chuck wander around on his own. He has a thing for sniffing the grass, sampling the vegetation, and he didn’t hesitate when it came to hopping in and out of the herb gardens behind the twenty or so timber-framed houses. No harm done. We also explored the houses themselves, eyeing the quaint (translation super small) quarters, fireplaces, narrow beds, tiny tables and sparse furniture that constituted living arrangements almost 400 years ago.
All was well until . . .
I spotted the temptation before Chuck did, but there was little I could do about it. Stacked firewood. Now, at home, the Chuckster has a thing for climbing up or jumping up on piles of firewood--outside--neatly stacked. And Chuck is no lightweight. When he hits that stack with all his weight, something is sure to go a tumbling--the wood.
This stacking of firewood was like the mother of all stacking--imagine a circular arrangement of the wood, where the wood all comes together in the center, fanning out like a beautiful fan that’s been opened.
Chuck made a run for it. And I knew, just knew what he was going to do--make a running leap and hop up on top of it.
I imagined it all--some, if not all, of the stacked wood crashing to the ground below.
There was no way to stop the kid. No way at all.
I closed my eyes and waited. Secretly praying that no one else would witness the fiasco.
There was nothing. No crash. Nothing. What?
I peered out.
Chuck sat on top of the woodpile, like the King of the Mountain, and surveyed his seventeenth century kingdom.
Okay, maybe he dislodged one or two pieces.
Still, the kid was in trouble. With me.
The potential of what could have happened . . .
But he looked so cute posing up there. His big belly . . .
And, as he spied me getting closer, he knew just what to do--he jumped on down and posed on the ground.
You got to love a cat that will do what he has to do, even if it makes his mother crazy and comes this close to getting us kicked out of a living history museum!!!
Sunday, November 13, 2011
No matter where we stayed on safari, something always excited Chuck. And the few nights we spent at Camp at Siana Springs were no exception. This time it was monkeys.
Now in the United States, you are used to riding along the roads and spotting squirrels or, perhaps, an occasional deer out your window. In Kenya, you see more than squirrels. Although fifty percent of the wild animals are on preserves, fifty percent of them are not. As you drive through the country, it is not unusual to glance out your window and see an elephant in the distance or a giraffe or a family of monkeys running along beside you on the super highway.
At first, you are simply amazed at the sight. One time in particular, a mama monkey with a bambino on her back, followed by a few other family members, chased after each other in the field as we sped down the highway, so we asked Stephen to pull over so we could get some photos. And, yes, I held on fast to Chuck, just guessing he would want to leap out and “get a closer look.”
When Stephen announced that we would be spending a few nights at a camp where a very special monkey also lived, Chuck was in his glory. He just loves monkeys because he thought they were cute.
Sure enough, when we first arrived, we immediately noticed something peculiar. Monkeys seemed to be everywhere. Some were hanging out in trees; others were lounging around on pathways.
“These monkeys are smart,” Stephen said to us. “Smarter than the average monkey. Be careful.”
“How smart?” I asked, knowing that Chuckie was wondering the very same thing.
“Well, for example . . .” and Stephen proceeded to explain that one of the things that the monkeys loved to do was break into the tents and scavenge for people food. So, under no circumstances, were we to EVER leave our tents unzippered.
“Okay, I got it. Zipper the tents.”
“But, that’s not going to be enough. You see, the monkeys know how to unzipper the tents. They’re constantly on the lookout for food.”
Chuck’s eyes grew wider.
“So what do we do?”
In Stephen’s hand, was rope. “We string this rope through the zipper so we can tie it down to the ground.”
I shrugged. “No problem.”
“But,” Stephen said, “Unfortunately, the monkeys have learned how to untie the usual knots that people use to secure the zipppers down to the ground, so we’ve had to come up with a new knot.”
I lowered my voice. “A secret knot, you mean?”
“You hear that, Chuck?”
But, of course, Chuck wasn’t listening. He is the most distractable cat. No, his attention was focused to the side. What was the Chuckster looking at? I glanced over and almost fell backwards.
On a log, sitting neatly in a row, sat an entire family of monkeys. Not saying a word. No chattering. No eating. No monkeying around.
Only watching. Us. Waiting for us to tie the secret knot. I was convinced that all they needed was to see I tie it--once--and we would be doomed. They would be in our tent in a flash.
“Don’t pay them any attention, Chuckie,” I said.
“Just don’t let them see you tie the knot,” Stephen warned.
But it was difficult to concentrate on learning a new knot when ten beady monkey eyes were staring at your back.
I literally froze. I panicked.
After Stephen left, I didn’t want to leave our tent, fearful that when it was my turn to tie the knot, the monkeys would catch on, untie our knot, and break into our tent. Chuckie worried, of course, that they would find and eat his “cat snacks.”
Now a cat’s paws are not designed for tying knots, but Chuck was determined to be helpful. When the time finally came to leave out tent, Chuck peeked his head outside the tent and motioned that the coast was clear.
But . . . darn. As soon as we unzipped the tent and rezipped it, the monkeys appeared like magic. Lined up on the same log, their beady eyes poised on us, watching, waiting.
That’s when Chuck jumped into action. He became my blocker. He stationed his belly between me and the monkeys and blocked their view.
“That’s the spirit, Chuck,” I whispered, as I frantically struggled to tie the knot.
But the monkeys were clever. They started moving in closer.
Suddenly, Chuck let forth a deep, guttural growl.
Whoa. The monkeys didn’t like that sound.
“Where is that coming from? You sound like a lion.”
Chuck narrowed his eyes. I guess the “chuckster” was capable of anything when his snacks were being threatened.
Finally, I tied the “secret knot,” and Chuck and I were able to leave our tent.
Now monkeys are cute all right, but Chuck and I both learned that even though they have a good arm when they’re throwing fruit down at you from a tree, due to Chuckie’s superior blocking ability and guttural growl, when we returned after dinner, our tent was still tied down shut. Our “secret knot” had not been broken.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
The expression “curiosity will kill a cat” was never more true than when Chuck decided he wanted to join Bob and I one evening to watch the elephants go to the trees.
We were on safari in Kenya, Africa, and staying at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro in a fenced area near a preserve.
The elephant is the biggest land mammal still alive today, and can live to be between 50 and 70 years old. They can weigh from 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms) to 26,000 pounds (12,000 kilograms). An elephant can eat about 600 pounds of food and drink 80 gallons of water a day.
To me, these are intimidating statistics.
If you see an elephant lying on the ground, that is not a good sign. It is almost impossible for an elephant to get up, once he is on the ground.
So, one day, Chuck asked the magic question--how do elephants sleep?
Now when Chuckie sleeps, he gets all curled up in his cat bed and sometimes twines himself around Ella (his sister) so that you can’t even tell where one cat begins and the other cat ends. He puts his paw over his nose to keep it warm. He wraps his tail around him. AND Chuckie loves to sleep in the cat beds that are near the heaters. Cats love heat and the sun.
Can you imagine elephants curling themselves in giant elephant beds?
I don’t think so.
Stephen, our guide, who owed his life to Chuck after the leopard in the tree episode, promised to take Chuckie out near dusk to watch the grand exodus of elephants across the plains to the trees.
Stephen explained. “Elephants sleep by leaning against the trees. They can transfer their weight against the trees, little man. So every night they walk across the plains to the trees to sleep. It makes their tree trunk legs feel better.”
Chuckie just blinked. He couldn’t imagine it.
The sight of hundreds of elephants crossing the plains is a magnificent sight. We were parked in the road. They crossed in front of us and behind us. They circled around us. They walked steadily and with purpose, headed toward the trees in the distance. Their journey would take hours, and they did that journey every evening.
You would think Chuck would have been intimidated by that many elephants, but he wasn’t. Perched on the ledge of the safari vehicle, he watched in amazement. But, nevertheless, I held onto him.
Chuckie was always full of surprises. The last thing I needed was a cat leaping out of the vehicle and causing a stampede of elephants. The last thing I needed . . .
That’s when it happened.
Chuckie spotted an elephant that seemed to lag behind the others. An outcast. He pointed his paw in the direction of that particular elephant.
Stephen explained. “That, little man, is the loser elephant. Every herd has one. He is no longer considered part of the group.”
Chuckie did not like that answer. Suddenly, he wasn’t interested in the elephants going to the trees anymore. All he wanted was to help the loser elephant.
I must have a mother’s sixth sense. Just as he was about to bolt out of the safari vehicle, I screamed, “Chuck, don’t you dare.”
But Chuck wanted to get a closer look at the loser elephant.
“Stay in this vehicle.”
Chuck leapt outside and landed in the dust.
The loser elephant, who’d been lagging behind, spied Chuck and now began to move forward.
I half expected Chuckie to run over to the loser elephant. But he didn’t. He meowed. He didn’t growl.
Oh, great. I imagined the worst. Disgruntled loser elephant charges the vehicle. Chuckie is crushed to death. We are killed, of course.
But that didn’t happen.
The loser elephant began to purr, a deep rumbling purr.
“Elephants do purr like cats,” Stephen explained.
“They do? I didn’t know that.”
Chuckie meowed back, even louder.
Then, the other elephants around us starting running. Not toward us, but away.
“Stampede,” Stephen yelled. “Chuck, back in the vehicle.”
Chuck finally listened to Stephen.
When it was over, I couldn’t figure out if Chuck had acted heroically by trying to befriend the poor loser elephant or if he had made the situation worse.
But one thing for sure, at the end of the day, Chuckie had made a new friend with the loser elephant. And, no, I explained to Chuckie, we couldn’t smash all the air out of the loser elephant and take him home with us. Even with the air smashed out of him, we were still talking--what--a thousand pounds of elephant skin??? Stuffed in my carry-on? And what about those tusks? Yikes.