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, January 29, 2012

Chuck Almost Meets Vincent Van Gogh

As my rascal cat and I travel around the world, there are times when I am forced to say, “Chuck, we are going here. For culture. For enlightenment. We can’t always go to places just for fun.”

While we were in France, sailing down the Seine River, we stopped in a lovely riverside town--Auvers-sur-Oise--which just happened to be the last place that Vincent Van Gogh, the famed artist, lived and painted. I knew this and Chuck didn’t. But I had noticed that recently Chuck had shown a modicum of interest in art. He had stared at, if briefly, one of Van Gogh’s paintings--his most famous one, in fact, “The Starry Night.”

The opportunity, therefore, had presented itself.

If the kid liked the painting, if he seemed interested in it, why not shove a bit of culture down his throat and acquaint him with Van Gogh’s life and struggles. After all, I figured, Chuck, my very privileged and now pampered cat, had come a long way from his once homeless situation, and I didn’t want him to forget that life can be hard.

Vincent Van Gogh led a tortured life.

My plan was this---do the typical tour and share Vincent’s struggles along the way.

We began with the house where Van Gogh rented a room and painted. We passed the local church. As we walked, I talked. Chuck listened, or seemed to be listening, but you never know with him. Then we headed out to the cemetery, where Van Gogh is buried with his brother by his side, which is a bit outside of the main area of town, up a hill and through a field. Because we were alone, I let Chuckie out of the backpack, and he scampered beside me, enjoying his romp. The cemetery is to the right. But when it came time to make that right, Chuck kept on going.

“Chuck, the graves are over here.”

He pretended not to hear me.


Laughter bubbled up behind me. I had company.

Now, in all honesty, I try not to advertise the fact that I have a cat with me. I stopped walking and pretended to be fiddling with my backpack. The couple passed by enroute to the cemetery.

“Chuck,” I called into the tall grass, but he had disappeared.

That darn cat.

It was clear to me now that the Chuckster had no interest, whatsoever, in seeing Vincent Van Gogh’s gravesite. So I popped over, admired the gravestones myself, took a photo, and returned for my recalcitrant cat.

“All right. We don’t have to go see them. I get your point.”

Like magic, the bellyboy re-appeared as if nothing had happened. Cool as a--you guessed it--cat. Grooming himself the way cats do when they’re pretending nothing is amiss.

We headed back to town and even poked our heads into a local restaurant that pays tribute to Van Gogh in their own way by sporting a mural on their wall of Kirk Douglas, who played Vincent Van Gogh in the Hollywood movie. I thought the mural was great. Chuck, of course, was not impressed. Oh, yeah, he glanced at it but seemed more interested in sniffing the peanuts on the counter.

And when the shopkeeper told us that there is a festival every May in honor of Van Gogh, Chuck snorted.

But to keep the record straight, Chuckie still likes “The Starry Night.” He just doesn’t give a fig about Van Gogh, the artist.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chuck Almost Swims with the Hippos

In the heart of Africa, on the Masai Mara Game Reserve, an extension of the great Serengeti Plain, which runs through Kenya and Tanzania, the most dangerous animal isn’t the lion or the leopard, the elephant or the buffalo . . . it is the giant hippo.

More tourists are injured by the hippo than any other animal.

On safari, if you decide you want to see a hippo in person, you are escorted not only by your regular guide, who carries at best a walkie-talkie for protection--the theory being that information is your best ally against danger--but you are also escorted by an armed soldier who carries a machine gun, ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.

Although hippos spend almost all of their time submerged in the water to keep cool, in the nearest river or lake or mangrove swamp, they can get themselves on land and in your face faster than you can make your grand escape.

Despite the inherent danger, Chuckie, my fearless and rascal cat, decided he wanted to see hippos swimming in the river. This dream of his was born after we visited the animal orphanage at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club and Chuckie met a baby hippo and saw him smile.

So late one morning we trekked down the path from our safari vehicle toward the water with Steven our driver, James our guide, and, of course, Botswain, our trusty armed soldier who came along JUST IN CASE. Botswain was the one in the know. He knew where the hippos were most likely going to be. He knew how close we could get to the water’s edge without falling in or attracting the attention of said hippos. He was our “go to man,” and we were lucky to have him.

Because the hippo, for those of you who know nothing about this magnificent beast, is considered the most aggressive creature in the world and the most dangerous animal in Africa. The hipppo is the third largest land mammal, after the elephant and the rhinoceros, weighing one half to three tons, but it can easily out run a human and has been clocked at short distances running nineteen m.p.h. Even though it closely resembles the pig, its closest living relative is the whale. The name hippo, short for hippopotamus, comes from the ancient Greek meaning “river horse.”

Of course, Chuck knew none of these interesting facts. He just wanted to see a hippo in action. And, I have to admit, I was curious, too. And a bit on edge.

The path that led from the Serengeti Plains to the river’s edge was about a quarter of a mile. As we neared the river, I kept a look-out for lions and leopards. I didn’t know quite what to expect.

But there they were. Their roundish heads popped in and out of the water. Occasionally we were lucky enough to see their backs float on top, but usually the hippos were totally submerged, keeping cool, while we humans and CAT stood on the shore and stared and sweated.

Chuck peeked out of my backpack.

For once, he behaved himself.

Feeling brave myself, I inched closer to the water and grabbed onto a tree limb to support myself so I could get a closer look. I wanted to snap a few good pictures.

Curious, Chuck leaned out further than he probably should have.

Suddenly, my foot slipped, or perhaps, the ground underneath me wasn’t as solid as I thought.

I lost my balance and began sliding toward the water.

Now, let me explain.

I was standing on a ledge that tipped out over the river.

And I was being careful.

When I slipped, I didn’t go sliding into the water. No, I slipped and slid maybe a foot, but it felt like I was about to keep on going--me, the camera, and the CAT into the water, into the mouths of the MOSTLY herbivorous hippos.

At that moment I didn’t know if that meant they ate meat or not.

I screamed.

Chuckie ducked back into my backpack.

I spotted at least one hippo pop his head out and look AT ME.

Botswain came running.

I regained my equilibrium and didn’t slide in, but Botswain did not look happy. (I suspected he had never actually shot a hippo in his life.)

As we hiked back to the safari vehicle (yes, I was very embarassed), I whispered to my rascal cat, “I blame you for this. This was your idea. If it hadn’t been for you--”

Then I stopped and realized the kid was going to be the death of me yet and what was I thinking to have brought him along with me anyway on SAFARI and wasn’t I just setting myself up for more crazy adventures?

Well, wasn’t I?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chuck Hears the Lion's Roar

And now for the rest of the story . . .

Unfortunately, the Chuckster’s encounter with the sleeping lions during our “picnic” did not satisfy my cat. He wanted more.

And wasn’t that just like my rascal Chuck?

First, he wanted to meet a lion face to face. Then he wanted to see a lion in action and hear the fellow “roar.”

I reminded him we were on safari and not part of some Disney movie. These were wild animals. We were traveling on the Serengeti Plain, the best game viewing spot in all of Africa. It cuts through Kenya and Tanzania. This is where the famous migration occurs every year. We were sure to see plenty of lions, but could I guarantee that we would hear a lion roar?

“Chuck, get serious, lions don’t just roar for the hell of it. They roar for a reason. And not a good reason.” The implication was clear. “Life as a lion is tough, Chuck. They don’t get their food from a cat can, like you do. What do you want to see? A life and death struggle for survival?”

Chuck blinked.

That’s exactly what he wanted to see.

And, of course, what Chuck wanted, he often got. Especially after he had spotted the leopard up the tree and practically saved Steven’s life. Steven now became committed to finding Chuck a roaring lion.

Steven had friends who roamed the plains, like he did. He communicated with other drivers using a high-tech walkie-talkie system. When the call came that a pride of lions had been spotted with a kill, Steven anticipated that Chuck was going to get what he asked for, so we raced across the plains to the spot.

“Just keep a hold of that cat,” Steven warned.

The picture in front of us was not a pretty one.

Five lions surrounded their kill, but they were being taunted by a family of hyenas, the scavengers of the plains, who were hungry and wanted a piece of the kill. The hyenas were faster than the lions and were attempting to lure the lions away from their prize.

Steven parked the safari vehicle as close as he could to the action. We watched as the lions paced back and forth, protecting their bounty. The hyenas darted in and out, making sneak attacks, trying to unnerve the lions. This went on for awhile.

I held Chuck tightly in my arms. He watched in fascination.

“It’s only a matter of time before something gives. Someone is going to make a more daring move.”

You could almost see the hyenas salivating. Life on the plains at this time of year was tough. There had been little rain. This kill was precious. The lions were not willing to share.

Finally, it happened. One of the hyenas, the one I would call the sacrificial hyena, ran straight into the kill and ripped a piece of meat off in his jaws.

The lion closest, the one standing guard, let our a terrific ROAR.
The air shook around us.

The hyena with the meat secured in his jaw stepped back.

The lion ROARED again.

The hyena began to run for his life. Literally.

The lion took off after him.

The meat fell from his jaws, and the hyena managed to escape.

I suspect the other hyenas were supposed to go for the meat in those precious seconds when the kill was left unattended, but they didn’t. Perhaps, the ROAR sounded so fierce, they lost their nerve. Instead all the hyenas slinked off, and the lions were finally left in peace.

“Well, what did you think, Chuck?”

He was purring softly. With Chuck, that is always a good sign.

He was happy.

A lion’s roar on the Serengeti Plain sounds magnificent.

I would have purred, too, if I were a cat.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Chuck Picnics with the Lions

Lions, tigers, and bears.

Lions, tigers, and bears.

Lions . . .

My rascal cat Chuck has had a thing for getting in touch with his ancestors so while we were on safari in Africa he was on the look-out--at all times--for sightings of lions on the plains. He wanted to see one up close. Face to face. He wanted to look a lion in the eye.

And who knows what he thought would happen. Did he think they spoke the same language? Did he think that a lion would meow in greeting? Or did he just want to hear a lion roar?

But lions are difficult to spot.

For one thing, the grasses are tall on the plains in Kenya, and it is almost impossible to see a pride of lions slinking through the tall grasses. Their magnificent tan coats blend in well with the burnt out color on the plains, and unless the pride is camped out under a tree, in the shade, in a picnic spot, you can be within 100 feet of them and miss them completely.

We were shocked and dismayed at one point, while stopped in our safari vehicle observing a leopard, when we received an alert that a pride of lions was sauntering along--headed right towards us, in fact. Sure enough, within minutes, they walked on by, and we didn’t even see them until they appeared out of nowhere, strutting their stuff, cool and sophisticated past our vehicle.

One day in particular, on safari, we’d been riding around, and not having much luck spotting much of anything, when Steven, our driver announced it was time for lunch. He knew of a tree about twenty miles away that happened to be smack in the middle of the plains AND it happened to have a bunch of picnic tables underneath it. Yes, we would be having a picnic on the African plains.

So off we rode, chugging along on roads, riddled with potholes, that were not meant to be ridden on, getting hungrier by the minute.

I kept my eye on Chuckie, who sat in my lap, staring out, scanning for that tree.

We rode and rode, and I knew that the Chuckster was getting hungrier and hungrier.

“We’re getting closer,” Steven yelled back into the vehicle.

I heard Chuckie’s tummy grumble.

“I can see the tree now,” Steve called.

Chuckie straightened and leaned his head out the window. I knew what he was thinking. He’d be the first one out, the first one to the food. The kid had no manners when it came to chowing down.

Finally, Steven turned off the main path, and we slowed as we wound our way toward the tree. I could see that the grasses under the tree were greener because of the shade. I tightened my grasp on Chuck. He began to wrestle with me.

“Behave yourself,” I hissed.

After the incident with the leopard in the tree, I would have thought Chuck learned his lesson--never just jump out of the safari vehicle until you check what might be up the tree, until you check that it is SAFE.

The vehicle stopped. Chuck broke free and leapt onto the grass, obviously without looking.

Then I saw them.

An entire pride of lions were fast asleep underneath the tree--sprawled out everywhere--some on the grass, some on the benches, some near the fire pit. They were taking their afternoon siesta. And my Chuckie had jumped directly into the center of the action. My little Chuckie.

“What the hell is that cat doing there?” Steven whispered, a bit too loudly, I thought.

Chuckie stayed absolutely still. It took him two seconds to realize the danger. His ancestors were not about to provide him with any heartfelt welcome. In fact, I figured Chuck had about 30 seconds to get out of there before one of his ancestors woke up and devoured him alive.

But the poor kid was scared out of his wits and paralyzed.

It seemed as if the air stilled on the entire African plain.

I heard Steven open the door of the safari vehicle.

“C’mon, Chuck,” I heard myself praying, “Do something.”

Someone must have nudged him on the shoulder for it was as if he suddenly awoke. He began to moonwalk backwards so quietly you saw it but didn’t hear it. Then he swiveled and quicker than a jackrabbit, jumped back into the vehicle.

I pulled him close to me and didn’t say a word.

Oh, there were plenty of things I wanted to say, but why rub it in it. If the kid hadn’t learned his lesson this time around . . . no, the most important thing was the kid had made it back alive.

To read more about Chuck and his adventures, log onto to my website: www.katelutter.com.

Wild Point Island -- soon to be released 2012.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chuck Howls in the New Year with the Wolves

I guess I will never learn.

Years ago, and I mean years ago, Bob and I visited Yellowstone National Park, and I heard wolves howl for the first time. It was a magical moment that I would never forget. I couldn’t see them, only hear them.

Years later, back in my home state of New Jersey, I heard of a place and of a man, a photographer, to be exact, who had bought some land, fenced it in, and built himself a wolf preserve in Columbia, NJ. You see he had been to Yellowstone, too, and wanted to build a home for some wolves back on the east coast.

He called this place the Lakota Wolf Preserve.

This year I thought what better way to welcome in the New Year than to howl it in with a bunch of wolves . . .

Well, the Chuckster thought so, too.

It’s cold up there . . . in the mountains . . . when the wind blows. So cold in fact, that sometimes your battery in your camera konks out. Your breath blows like smoke in front of your face, and the trail that you follow to where the wolves actually are . . . well, it is so icy, you have to walk it, not take the small “shuttle bus” that is provided for the visitor’s convenience.

Yeah, it’s an experience. But you get to see real wolves up close and personal. You get to hear them howl. There is nothing better than that. Your eyes tear up, and your heart quakes.

I wasn’t sure if Chuck was up to that kind of adventure. After all, these wolves live on a diet of dead road kill and eat approximately 30,000 lbs. of meat a year. When their jaws clamp shut, (they exert 1700 lbs. of pressure as compared to a dog’s 700 lbs.) it sounds a bit like a thunder clap rumbling in the sky. If Chuckie ever ended up in the middle of the preserve--with the wolves--he would become their next dinner. He couldn’t run fast enough or long enough to escape. Wolves can run at a pace of 35 mph for 12 miles and if they slow down to 12 mph, they can stay at it for 8 to 10 hours. The belly boy wouldn’t stand a chance.

Danger would lurk around us. Chuck knew that, and I knew that.

Unfortunately, I had talked about the wolves so often, my almost brave cat couldn’t resist the opportunity. He wanted to look a wolf in the eye--through the chain link fence, of course.

And, as you guessed it, none of this was allowed. At this wolf preserve, twenty five wolves roam an area which resembles their natural habitat. All of these wolves came to the preserve as pups and have grown up there. And although the owner can walk among them, he does so fully cognizant of the risk involved. What he doesn’t need is a cat on the other side of the wire fence stirring up the wolves.

The wolves are lured out of the woods with dog biscuits. The owner shakes the box and the wolves slowly emerge from behind the trees’ shadows.

So, yeah, by being there with the Chuckster I was breaking every kind of rule.

Chuck’s head peeked out of my backpack. He was mesmerized immediately. He wanted to see more. I moved closer to the fence. He craned his neck out farther. Luckily, I was standing in the back and the man in charge was busy talking about the social habits of the wolves and didn’t notice my ever curious Chuck, who stretched out his paw and was attempting to reach through the chain link fence and make contact with a wolf who eagerly was leaning against the fence, wanting to make contact (or was he thinking “meal” with or “of” my Chuckie.

There was no chance of that, but still, what was the kid thinking?

Finally, the moment came that I had been waiting for--setting the stage for the wolves to howl. It didn’t take much. We were instructed to cup our hands around our mouths and HOWL.

First, the man howled.

Then, we howled.

Then the man howled again, only louder.

We howled again, louder.

And this is where, some say, the miracle happened.



I glanced over at Chuck. Now, he couldn’t howl with the wolves, but he certainly appreciated the moment. With one paw, he swiped at his eyes.

I nudged my ever faithful husband. “Look, the kid is getting all teary eyed.”

“Who wouldn’t?” Bob said. And then he sniffled.

My two boys were losing it.

“It’s okay, Chuckie. It’s a magical thing to hear.”

What a way to bring in the New Year!!!