Wildlife, pt. 2

We’ve been out here on the farm for nigh on three months now. As I’ve previously written, time passes strangely here; due to the fact that we’ve put a temporary kibosh on visitors (b/c holy cow, will you look at that covid spike??), one day is much like the next. This was one of my childhood fears, I guess – that I’d eventually live a life filled with routine – and I’m surprised, again, to find that it’s not too bad.

However, some things have happened. In no particular order, here they are.

1.

Kelly the stoop kitten made her slow way into the house, being kept first in the temporary airlock of my office overnight, then in the morning herded into a carrier and carted half-willingly to the vet. Zeke, the additional stoop cat who showed up one night and walked in as if knowing we’d take her, came along. We are now up to four house cats. As Miles said the other night, “If it weren’t for the pandemic, we’d never have met Kelly,” so perhaps all of this is for the best. (It isn’t, but we can pretend.)

They now, vaccinated and de-uterused, have their routines. Kelly and Zeke have an aura of gratitude about them that is missing from our entitled-ass first cats, Ed and Bernard. While Kelly and Zeke wait patiently on various soft surfaces in the morning, Ed and Bernard stalk onto the bed, growling, until we wake up. They don’t do this at completely horrible times, but their methodology leaves something to be desired – Ed in particular has taken to stalking my water glass and batting at it, occasionally tipping it over, until I wake up to let him outside.

Kelly and Zeke, on the other hand, meow gently at me and look up with an expression of enormous gratitude. Kelly in particular likes making tiny biscuits with her soft claws. Miles and I have come up with a song for them, as well as a backstory, in which she is some ancient, vengeful thing reincarnated as a street kitten in order to learn patience.

It’s been a long pandemic.

2.

Miles’s car died unexpectedly while we were getting gas. We sat helplessly at the pump for a while. The battery charger lent us by the attendant was not, in the end, full of charge. Plus there was a gas truck pulled up right in front of the car, making a jump difficult.

It was a nice day, and his birthday, so we were able to laugh. Eventually he went out to try for help, but the elderly man who’d just come to the other pump didn’t quite know how to jump a car. (Which made me feel okay; I’m 31 and don’t know how, and he was, like, 86.) The man was willing to try, despite his wife having loudly thrown him under the bus — “Aw, nah, he doesn’t know how to do that,” she said — and then another car pulled up.

Dear reader, it was the town’s mechanic, the same man who has worked on Miles’s car for years. Within four minutes, we were on the road.

3.

In a similar vein: because of how many cats we now own, the town vet and I are on a first-name, relaxed, casual email-and-texting basis.

4.

Our errand on the car-death day was to get a Christmas tree. It was Miles’s birthday but he said that he didn’t mind, which I appreciated, because knowing what I now know, there is no way in hell I could have done it myself, or quickly.

We drove fifteen minutes to the Christmas tree farm, which was so big that its entrance was not immediately apparent. Having grown up accustomed to the full-service suburban Christmas tree lot, I expected to be greeted and shown to a yard full of roped-in trees, then yammered at while I tried to guess which one stood the best chance of making it to the end of the month.

No.

“Do you have a saw?” the sprightly young woman said.

We did not.

“Here,” she said. “Just come back when you find the right one!”

Reader, there’s no way I could have predicted exactly how large this farm was. We drove for what seemed like miles, squinting past a giant family of trees – more like an extended family, as some had long needles, some short. Otherwise, what was the difference? We didn’t know. We aren’t tree people. The only problem was that all the normal-sized ones seemed to be gone.

Eventually we settled on a blue spruce. The sawing itself was not so bad, but getting it into the car sure was. It’s currently in our living room, and this thing could murder us all if it fell down, as it continually threatens to do. It looks just great with the Wal-Mart baubles I got. As my friend Kat said, “That is a political-rotunda-sized tree.”

We counted its rings as the last sinew of bark fell. Sixteen years, this tree has waited for us. I was a freshman in high school when it was planted. And now look at it, ready to be murdered by a cat — again.

“Eight feet!” yelled the seven-year-old boy who showed up with a hunk of PVC pipe to measure it through the windows of our car. We weren’t so sure it was, but can you really question a child? Even a hustler child?

5.

I didn’t expect to be looking for snakes while I picked out a Christmas tree, but I was. Last Saturday, we went for a drive and were directed to the ruins of an actual castle. I thought “castle” was overstating it, but when we arrived, it was pretty accurate. The building in question was an 1880s McMansion built out of rock by a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent. Shortly after its construction, the Dakota justifiably burnt it to the ground. Now, you can clamber around on its ruins, totally unsupervised.

Standing on the ramparts, Miles and I smiled at each other, the prairie wind blowing our hair. “What a fun and strange turn this day has taken!” we said.

And then I said, “Why, what a very big snake there is down there! Just where we stepped!”

It was the final week of November – snake-sleeping season, I foolishly thought. But not for the biggest diamond-patterned dude ever, I’d say five feet long (though who knows how big it was; judging by the tree, I’m bad at estimating sizes), snaking his snaky way up in our footsteps.

VERY not cool, greater MN. The farm is guaranteed snake-free – it’s far from water, which seems to be what draws them – but it still hasn’t stopped me from side-eyeing branches for weeks.

We can’t decide if I’m a snake magnet, or if they’ve always been hanging out around Miles and he just hasn’t noticed before getting together with me, the snake-phobe. Either way, this is literally the third hike we’ve had interrupted, and it is IRKSOME… though I suppose that we, humans, are the colonizers, and the snakes are just doing the equivalent of burning down our ugly mansions.

6.

I went out to throw away the garbage the other night, and found two sweet kittens underneath the bin, waiting to be fed.

And then I heard meows.

And then their dad showed up.

And then their mother did.

That’s the news from the farm, where all the wet food has been eaten and the seasonal affective disorder is being controlled via copious use of the happy lamp. Stay safe, everyone, and please come vibe with us when this is all through!

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