She is tiny, black, and feral. She has made my sister’s home, her home, though she lives all around it and not inside it. Nature teaches you things.
For months now, she shows up morning and night, shadowboxing the cats on the inside and waiting for them to be fed. She knows she will be fed too, though she darts for cover when the door is opened, then returns to the only safe part of her day.
She refuses to be tamed, this little one. Her stature belies her experience, her wary knowledge of how her world works. There is frustration that our imagined solution – the better way, the only way – doesn’t fit as neatly as you’d like. Perspective teaches you things.
The clipped notch in her ear could easily have been from a fight, but it’s not; it’s the signal that she’s been spayed, a city doing its best to help those trying to help the creatures they can’t ignore. In care for a week, upon recovery she bolts in a flash, her wildness intact, her trust shaken. Discovering your limits teach you things.
Her last and final litter is gone, plucked from her early enough to avoid her fate. In her blanket lined bed one morning, there is a new kitten. This mama is fostering, taking care of the vulnerable as she herself is being taken care of. Wild creatures teach you things.
She’s gone for two days, and you know the truth outweighs any imagined happy ending. She hasn’t found a new home, she isn’t on the inside looking out. If she’s still alive, she’s hungry. Fear teaches you things.
When she’s back, you know nothing, wondering if the silent squeeze on your heart means you’re too soft, but also knowing relief when you feel it. You realize how little you control, but you also realize how these creatures who aren’t yours still are.
It only takes a few moments to discover thousands of kindred spirits. “Keeping feral cats warm in winter”, you ask your computer. The response is overwhelming, stories and videos and pictures, all with the same goal, all from a tribe of people you didn’t know existed yet now belong to. The Internet teaches you things.
From the outside, she watches. She watches the careful consideration for insulation, for drainage, for waterproofing. Your new tribe is thrifty; they’ve discovered the best way to protect a cat that won’t let you pet her, who you’ve found a way to love nonetheless.
Straw, it seems, is the way to go. Not hay, you’re cautioned. In the middle of downtown Toronto, you are looking for straw. The big chains shrug at the request, but at a tiny, unassuming gardening centre, the owners nod at the three cats lounging around the store, knowing exactly what you’re doing. “There’s some out front, but we sell it by the bale,” they say. You wonder what you will do with a whole bale of straw.
What you will do is stand on the sidewalk trying to put a garbage bag over it to get it in your trunk. The bag won’t fit, so a woman running a convenience store will run out and give you a larger one. Another man passing by will help you put it in the trunk. You will be grateful; restored faith in people teaches you things.
Watched pot never boils, you hear your mother say. So you put the house out, and walk away. Discovering a small face peeking out a little later, you realize that love comes in many forms, but it always teaches you things.