Well, that would certainly explain the sudden scarcity of medium-sized rodents around here.
Before we get too far along, let me confess an act — an in-act, actually (inactually?) — of idiocy. Normally I’m within arm’s reach of a camera. That has allowed me to capture many fleeting moments I would have missed otherwise. But this time I didn’t make a picture.
Glancing out the kitchen door one evening last week, about dusk, I saw a large-ish tawny-gray cat a few feet from the back porch. It stood dead still, the way cats do when they have their eye on something.
Cats aren’t a huge problem around here, but they are a problem. At the end of semesters the cat population out in the country grows (as does the population of dogs standing in the road, looking puzzled). I’m sure that students who treat their college pets the way they treated their banged-up Ikea-knockoff desks, by getting rid of them, think they’re being humane in returning the dogs and cats to the wild whence they apparently believe they came. The result is dead cats in the road and a nontrivial population of feral ones in the woods. I have a neighbor who has some semi-domesticated cats that spend a lot of time getting into trouble at my house.
So cats, even fairly robust ones, are not an unusual sight. This is compounded by something having recently dug up many of the plants on my back porch. It has become customary here for me to holler at cats that don’t keep a respectful distance. They usually head forthwith to other locales.
When I saw the big cat last week, instead of grabbing a camera I banged on the glass of the door to get the cat to scat. The cat glanced over, as if bored. Hmmm, I thought. Its tail is mighty short. But despite its size and diminished tail it had what appeared to be normal house-cat features: a longish face, long legs, and so on. I looked at it for a few more seconds and loudly opened the door. The creature bounded away into the woods. It was only then that I saw the tufts of fur at the top of its ears.
Bobcat? Maybe, though it had no pattern, its legs and body were long, and its color wasn’t at all reddish. Might it have been a hybrid between a domestic cat and a bobcat? There are stranger things; it would not instantly come to mind to breed donkeys and horses, but that’s how we get mules and hinnies. I looked up the literature on the subject, and the prevailing view is that house cats and bobcats don’t usually mix, though there are many anecdotes suggesting that it sometimes happens.
I don’t know which is correct. Maybe there’s a lot of variation among bobcats. Perhaps someone cast out a descendant of a Maine coon cat, though that wouldn’t explain the short tail and short hair. If I’d bothered to turn around and grab my camera, there would at least be some evidence of the critter’s peculiar appearance and size. But no — I thought only of chasing the thing away. My bad, as they say. I’m hoping it will come back and pose, the way the deer and turkeys always seem to do and in keeping with cats’ reputation.
As I’ve considered this — it really has weighed more heavily than you’d think — I’ve made another observation: Last year this place was teeming with squirrels and chipmunks, both of which do irritating things in the garden and elsewhere. But this year, not a one. I haven’t seen a squirrel here all season, nor a chipmunk.
So no matter its lineage, the big cat I saw may have made its mark.
As has — this is entirely unrelated — Doug Phillips of Lancaster, formerly of Athens. A couple of weeks ago I wrote in this space about the quirky, beloved, and feared Gravely tractor. The expected round of email messages arrived, with anecdotes some of which were charming and some not. If you want to spark a conversation, say you have a Gravely.
Wrote Phillips, “I am a Gravely collector and read your article. May want to keep the ole Gravely and put an ice cream maker on the front like I did. Sure is better to make ice cream on a hot day than work with it!”
You’re kidding, I thought. I wrote him back, and he sent a picture, which I include here with his permission. Was it actually attached to the power take-off, the shaft at the front that drives mowing decks and other attachments? “Yes, connected to pto, 15 quart. I made it, not Gravely. Have 5 gallon on front of my riding Gravely.” Amazing and ingenious. I wonder what would have happened had Gravely marketed such an accessory?
I’m thinking that it might not have worked out all that well, with kids running up to running Gravelys. which were not and are not the safest things to play around, except when they’re making ice cream and maybe not even then. (The story of 4-year-old me dashing up to the — non-Gravely — riding mower and the subsequent reattachment of my left big toe will await another day.)
Gravely owners are inventive souls. I have no doubt that if Gravely had manufactured and marketed an ice cream maker, I would last week have gotten a note from Doug Phillips or someone like him, talking about how he had made the system complete by attaching an exhaust-powered calliope.