Spook Says Early Fall
Cat’s in the cradle and silver moon
August 25th 2021
We have a cat named Spook. She’s ten years old and looks to be a medium-sized black cat until you pick her up. That’s when you realize she’s mostly fluff. There’s maybe four pounds of cat inside that black cloud. When she feels like it, she’s a very sweet-natured, affectionate little kitty.
That’s when she feels like it. Much of the time, she’s just plain nuts.
I got my first inkling of this when she was a year old, in late spring. I walked in the bedroom where she was curled up at the foot of the bed. She jumped to her feet, an expression of clear horror on her face, and scrambled under the bed.
I started at the hole in the air where she had been. “What the hell did I do to you, cat?” I grumbled. I didn’t think much of it. It was evening, and most of our cats sometimes get the “evening crazies” where they dash madly about the house and swat at no-see-ums. Kittens—which Spook still was at the time—are particularly susceptible to this. So I just shook my head and muttered “cats.” I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve done that.
Only evening crazies only last for 15 or 20 minutes and the cat calms down and curls up and goes to sleep. Spook stayed out of sight the rest of the evening. And the next day. And the day after that. When I did see her, she fled.
My wife reported the same behavior. And the first time we held the back door open for an indecisive other cat to come in or out, she would see an opportunity and dash past.
We didn’t worry about that too much. The yard is fenced, there are a dozen hidey-holes where a cat can escape any would-be predators, and she had survived basic training by the fierce and terrible Mac, our feisty old orange tom who didn’t take shit from any coyote or raccoon foolish enough to cross his path.
She would hide, and when we let one of the other animals in or out, she would make a mad dash. That would usually be the only time we would see her.
Even though she acted like were were hungry ogres who lived only to feast on cats, we knew she was around, even though she otherwise stayed invisible, and we usually didn’t know if she was in or out. I sometimes thought of her as Schrödinger’s Joke.
But there were times when none of the others were in transit, and we had no reason to open the back door. In which case, she would stand as far away as she could while maintaining line-of-sight eye contact, and wait for one of us to open the door for her. Except at first she wouldn’t work herself up to approaching while we were looking right at her, and we both would end up frustrated.
I finally figured it out, which was amazing when you consider that I am under the considerable handicap of being a human being, a balding monkey if you will. I had to Avert My Gaze. If she wanted out, I had to gaze longingly at the back fence while she worked up the courage to make a wild dash past me. If she wanted in, she would wait at the bottom of the steps while I memorized the features of our stove at the other end of the kitchen, until a puff of air near my shins told me she was in.
Then, one crisp October night, I was typing at my computer and heard a meep. I glanced down, and there was Spook! She reared up and put a paw up on my knee, gave me a direct look, and meeped again. I very slowly reached down, and she gently head-butted my hand. It was the first time I had been allowed to touch her since that night in April. I got up and she scrambled back, but I was only going to check her food. She had to be starving to dare approach me, I reasoned.
Nope. Food supply was fine. And I went to the door and averted my gaze, and she didn’t take me up on the offer. She just wanted to say hi.
After that, she was a normal cat, if a bit timid. She even let me pick her up to examine her. We had come to think of her as a peripheral cat, a semi-feral who came in only to eat. She was in remarkably good shape, considering. She even let me run a brush over her and put some flea stuff on her neck.
At least once a day she would come in just to say hi. She loved having her tail tugged and would strop back and forth, waving it invitingly.
Then, one spring morning, she stared at me in abject horror, and made an insane dash for it. She had just SEEN me eat breakfast, and I hardly ever eat cats right after a meal. Trying to lose weight, you know.
And just like that, we were back in frenzied paranoia mode.
Until six months later, when she reverted to affectionate little house kitty.
The pattern became clear. She would revert to Spooky Spook when the nighttime lows were reliably above freezing and the last of the snow had melted. She would become Warm and Fuzzy Spook when the frost was on the pumpkin. Her affection for us was measured in Fahrenheit.
Normally we’re deep in Schrödinger’s Joke mode this time of year. When it’s baseball season, you don’t see Spook, or if she has to be seen, she doesn’t like it. This past year we added an enclosed front porch with a cat-sized portal next to the screen door and a cat flap in the bedroom window facing onto the porch. It didn’t take her long to figure out the implications. Unbridled access, inside and out! We usually didn’t see much of her in the summer. Now we barely saw her at all. The one good look I got at her was last month, one morning when I went out on the porch to read the news. A neighbor came by on the streets with her corgis. Now, the corgis aren’t a particular threat. Or any threat. Neither could manage three miles an hour with a tailwind, they liked cats, and what’s more, they were on a leash. Just a pair of nice old dogs.
Nonetheless the simultaneous appearance of me and the dogs threw the two cats that happened to be in the front yard into wild panic. TK, our Korat, darted for the porch. She understands that humans mean safety. Spook, who knows better, dashed for the large lilac bush that is her summer home. Both were staring at the affably harmless dogs with deep loathing, fear and disgust as they ran.
It was so quick it nearly didn’t happen at all. Showing uncharacteristic wisdom, I decided it didn’t happen. Cats know when you’re laughing at them, and they can be vindictive. The corgis and their owners were clearly enjoying the show. No head-strops for them. Not from those two particular cats.
So last night I was in bed, doing some reading before going to sleep. I felt a cat jump up on the bed behind me and absently reached back to scritch kitty ears. After decades of cat exposure, I can reach back without even looking and accurately scritch between the ears. The cats agree that it’s my most useful, indeed only useful talent.
I figured it was TK. She likes to be hand-fed kitty crunchy treats. Spoiled rotten. I petted along her back. Not TK. Korats have thick, short pelts, silver and grey. This felt more like cotton candy, only not sticky.
I rolled over and blinked in amazement. It was Spook, not only letting me touch her, but inviting me to pull her tail! I glanced at the thermometer. It might go below 50 that night, but only a little. Frost was not in the forecast.
She let me pet her, which served as a thinly-disguised opportunity to check her weight, her pelt, and check for any injuries or tender spots. She seemed fine. She jumped down and trotted off to the kitchen to see if we had done anything lately to justify our existence.
But it’s only August. Schrödinger’s Joke isn’t supposed to be Warm and Fuzzy for two more months!
It can only mean one thing: an early fall. Frost is rare in the California mountains in August, but not unheard of. Rain is also seldom seen. But something has persuaded Spook that I am preferable to the Lilac Bush.
So I am bracing for an early fall. I would prefer not to see frost for another six weeks because backyard garden, but early rains in this fiery and smoky year would be cause for deep ecstasy.
Spook probably knows. But that is cat knowledge, and us balding monkeys are not worthy.
Hope for rain.