Garden, Home, Nature

A Walk with Mr. Bell

Earlier today, the cat and I went for a walk around the yard under a gray late December sky. He’s an old boy, Mr. Bell, approaching 15. Fifteen cat years equals 76 human years various charts tell me so the old guy and I are in similar life stages right now, feeling our age but still eager to be out exploring.

I walk slowly down the east side of the house, scanning the wooded area ahead of me for deer, owls, turkeys. Over the years, I’ve seen the occasional fox, bobcat, and coyote but not usually at this time of day or this time of year. Those sightings have been early in the morning and later in the winter, when prolonged snow cover makes hunting difficult. I wonder if the owl will appear again this winter—it seemed to favor the big pine tree that sat in the northeast corner but was dying and felled this past spring. Now there’s just a stump surrounded by saplings. I hope the remaining tall conifers that mark the back boundary will provide owl refuge.

The ground is strewn with wet leaves. I step carefully, skirting around the swampy area where sump pump runoff has created a small wetlands. I look behind me. Bell is mincing along on the wet grass. He sees me pause and takes off at a run to thunder past me and then screech to a halt. Silly boy, I say.  

We continue on across the back of the yard. I pause a couple of times to watch the action in the undergrowth—lots of squirrels and robins around today. Mr. Bell nibbles on a small patch of catmint that escaped from one of the garden beds.

He butts my leg with his head then goes into full alert pose and stalks to the edge of the tree belt. What do you see? I ask and wander closer to where he stands in quivering anticipation. Phantom mice? Voles tunneling underground? An insect rattling the leaves? He holds his hunter’s stance for a short time then pounces, on nothing.

I admire his persistence, his total absorption in the sights, sounds, smells of the present moment. On Twitter this morning Irish farmer and writer Suzanna Crampton wrote that instead of New Year’s resolutions she chooses a word to live by for the year. I like this idea and, watching the cat, I tuck a few words away to think about: notice, present, awake, breathe.

I walk on, the ground hardened into uneven ruts under my feet. Dried brown stalks fill last summer’s garden beds; seed heads rattle in a slight breeze. There’s beauty here, I think, something pleasing in the mess and tangle, the detritus of summer.

Bell is still poking around in the underbrush but stops his exploration to follow me. I’m headed south down the western edge of the yard now, just at the point where my yard flows into the neighbor’s yard. Bell takes off at an ears’ back run into the neighbor’s yard and shimmies halfway up the wooden swing set post, his exuberant inner young cat briefly erupting.

He clings there for a few seconds then leaps off and trots over to the bed of pachysandra planted around their foundation where he hunkers down to wait and watch. I wander along the west side of my house on a tree root rutted path shaded by an old spruce then cross the driveway and head inside for a cup of tea.