©Bonnie McKeegan 2017
Last year I was out for a walk on the nature trail that is near our home. It’s a serene place, trailing through the tall trees with a shallow seasonal creek running close to it once or twice along the way. It had been raining steadily all morning but had stopped so I had ventured out for fresh air and to try to clear my grief-stricken mind. I didn’t care that it was muddy, I just really needed the refreshment. The temperature was comfortable for early Spring. What I saw that day still has my mind trying to figure out the nature of the beast.
Have you ever seen and/or heard a cat fight? You know, the kind that starts with blood-curdling yowling as they stare each other down, head crouched in front of the body that is fluffed as big as their fur will allow before the entanglement even begins? The battle to prove themselves the biggest, most fierce on the block or to prove they are most worthy of contributing to the next generation of the cat gene pool begins sometime long before the fur flies. They both know the battle for territory or the consummation that will lead to kittens will be both violent and painful.
Sometimes there is a sort of slow-motion dance they do circling but keeping equal distance from each other. Other times one cat turns to run and this is seen as the moment to attack, a moment of weakness. Either way, soon or later, with swift motion from one cat or the other starting the melee, the blood-curdling screeching, fur flying in a tumble of whirlwind gets going full bore. The engaging brawl can be heard blocks away. It can last seconds or even nearly a minute where you can only see a blurred ball of hairy tornado. Sometimes the two untangle from each other and resume the crouched growling posture to begin all over again. Other times the separation ends with one creature turning tail and running for safety. Usually chased by the other for a stretch.
Well, this was a cat fight like no other I’d ever seen or heard. Now, I’ve had cats all my life so I feel like I know something of the variety of temperaments. None I could ever categorize as evil though, they were merely nature’s gift to cat lovers in all their variety. Just to give you an idea about some of them here are a few I remember in particular. A fluffy tortoise shell long hair with golden speckles, flat faced with a snore and an avoidance of all other felines in the house; an all black big boy with a white star on his chest who died curled up on the seat of my dad’s Honda Goldwing; an orange tabby that liked to lick my feet – I know, weird huh?; a domestic short hair all gray with a white mustache who was always smiling; a cream Siamese cross with gray tips and a meoooow you could hear from upstairs who demanded more attention than my lover; and a few others with and without hunting prowess. They all had their personalities, loud or soft voices, favorite napping spots and individual opinions about guests. Oh, one other I especially adored, a big striped tabby who brought in a 13-inch baby rattlesnake through the kitchen cat door one day. It was dead but my reaction would not have told you that. He was proud of his job as my guardian.
So, as I was saying, I was walking along trying to breathe deep and exhale my emotional pain when I came upon two cats, on the side of the trail close to a shallow eddy in the creek. They were yowlin’ like they do and I had heard them for awhile by the time I had come around the curve. Just a moment after I came upon them the bigger cat, who was a scruffy orange tabby with streaks of white, lunged and got ahold of the other cat’s head in his mouth. That part happened so fast, as I’ve seen before, but instead of a big rumble the rest of it all happened very slowly, calculated, and deliberate.
The big orange, I’ll refer to him as “Big”, with his mouth stretched wide, almost completely around the other cat’s head from the top, lifted himself up like a lioness carrying her cub, and dragged his prey over to the water. He then proceeded to push his victim’s head under the water! Both of their heads went under for a second but the cat on top lifted himself just enough to be able to breathe and he exhaled with a snort.
At this point I was wondering if this was a dream? I was frozen as the big cat attempted to drown its victim seemingly without a fight! A few horrifying moments went by in my dreamlike state, when Big let go and walked away into the brush. The victim, whom I could see clearly under the water, had its eyes open, and stayed under for a bit, struggling to bring itself to the surface. I could see into its eyes and see death’s calling card. All at once I became unfrozen and with fluid motion sprang forward and reached for the poor soul. It couldn’t quite come up for breath but as I reached for its body it tried to claw me! Knowing this was just pure cat survival mode, I tried again, but still couldn’t get ahold of it. I took a step back trying to think quickly how I could save this wretched creature. I couldn’t bare seeing the agony of drowning in its eyes.
In that instant, against all odds it seemed, the feline actually pulled itself out and stopped breathing, laying there soggy wet stretched out on the shore, still looking at me with menace as if to say, “No way I am going to let you help me.” I could see that it was scrawny and a silvery gray that may have been beautiful before the ravages of some disease had withered away at its health.
I was still wondering if I had fallen through a rabbit hole when that mangy creature took a ragged breath or two then rolled onto its belly and dragged itself under the nearby bush. All I could think now was that it was crawling under the bush with the wish to die with dignity in privacy. But for some crazy reason I still thought I could help this near dead feline! I still had hope! So, fearing the pain but feeling I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least try one more time, I reached out to it, under the bush, thinking it needed life-saving breath and that possibly I could provide it.
Astonishingly, that poor, soggy, near drowned quarry pulled itself up and dragged itself even further away beyond my reach and out of my sight. I was left standing there, alone, in awe of the power of the drive for survival, or perhaps death with dignity, and stung by the rejection of my attempts to rescue. I don’t know if the creature survived or not. But clearly, it didn’t need or want my rescue and that part I understood abundantly for the first time in my life.
What, you ask, am I still trying to figure out? Well, it’s the part about Big. What in the world was that thing? Real CATS don’t act like that.
A week later I went to Urgent Care. My hand was bloated like a dead opossum lying on the side of the road for a week, before the vultures come. When the doctor walked into the room I was grateful for the usual “what happened?” question. Mostly for the chance to say something out loud to another human being about what I had seen but nervous she might think I was nuts.
When I told her the story, with what I thought was enough detail to express my dismay, her response was, “Wild cats are… well, wild you know.”
Maybe it had been a dream after all. But the shots sure didn’t feel like it.