What first came to mind when you saw this photo? Disgust? Curiosity? A sense of loss? Maybe a hint of sadness?
What analysis did you perform when studying the photo’s subject? Perhaps you thought, “Oh my! A dead bird!” Perhaps you then took a closer look and tried to identify it, asking yourself, “Is it a sparrow? No, wait…a finch! A female finch!”
Perhaps that’s as far as you went before moving on. Perhaps you thought it too mundane or grotesque to contemplate further.
Or perhaps, like me, you wondered about its story.
Perhaps you wondered how the bird arrived, dead, at my back doorstep. Did it fly into the door? Hmm…Maybe. But birds fly into that door every day evading hawks and other predators, and they usually live to tell about it. Me? I think someone placed there.
I think it was an offering.
Ewww! What kind of cretin would do such a terrible thing, placing a dead bird on my doorstep in order to shock and disgust me on my next excursion outside?
Or maybe it wasn’t a cretin at all. Maybe it was meant to appease, rather than to disgust, its human discoverer. And my list of “suspects” has been narrowed down to one: This female tabby cat.
This kitty has recently starting hanging out in our yard, where she munches on catnip, hunts birds, and courts the Tomcats of the block.
She is a relatively new visitor to my backyard. We usually see an increase in the number of feral cats during the winter: We have nooks that serve as perfect feline hiding places, away from the cold. We lack dogs. We have a catnip patch by our fence. And, perhaps, most importantly (for this story, anyway), we are a haven for tasty birds. We feed them every day, and every day we have hundreds of doves, sparrows, finches, blackbirds, juncos, and other wild birds come and feast in our yard. They, in turn, become a feast for the neighborhood cats.
This was actually the second such offering left in this exact spot in less than a week. I dismissed the first as an accidental demise, but the second appearance pretty much proved that there was purpose behind these temporary graves. And both times, by the next day, the little carcass was gone.
She was probably hungry when she caught the birds, but left them where we’d find them so that we could have first dibs, only returning to eat the prey after she was assured that we hadn’t accepted the gift. Why would she do this? Maybe because she knows it’s our territory, and she’s hunting on it; a sort of “thank you” for letting her borrow from (what I’m sure in her mind) is our happy hunting ground.
But over the years we’ve had dozens of cats catch birds in our yard, yet leave us nothing but feathers and bloody bird legs. Why would this case be different?
Perhaps it is because we are more to her than mere rulers of cat paradise. Perhaps this isn’t our first encounter, and she is connected to us in ways that surpass mere territory.
In other words, the story behind the bird left at our doorstep may not be finished yet.
About a year-and-a-half ago, a kitten followed us during one of our evening walks. She mewed at us from across the street, and ran over to catch up to us. There were other walkers out in the mild weather, but for some reason she saw something unique in us. Did we smell like cats? Did we have the look of suckers? I don’t know. But it was clear she’d made up her mind: We were going to be her people.
Here is the kitten we briefly fostered. She was about four months at the time. Doesn’t she look like the kitty who now visits our yard?
We brought her home. I checked for lost kitten postings that matched her description; there were none. I brought her in to the vet to make sure she was healthy. (She was given a clean bill, but I and three of my cats ended up with ringworm a couple of weeks later. I suspect she was the culprit!) We allowed her to integrate with our cats, and surprisingly, they all got along. She would cuddle with them when they allowed it, but she was also independent enough to play or sleep alone. She demanded very little; she was the easiest kitten I have ever taken care of. There was no doubt that she thought she’d found Home.
We fostered her until we could bring her in to be adopted by someone else. We already had four cats, and there simply wasn’t room for another. (One of the four has chronic health problems as it is, and he requires a lot of extra TLC.) I bravely accepted the fact that I could not give into temptation and keep her, and I thought I was doing well until I took her to the adoption center one Saturday.
She had behaved beautifully in the car on the way to the vet, and tolerated the needles and prodding very well. I hadn’t anticipated that the ride to the adoption center would be completely different. She fought from the minute I put her in the carrying case. She even bit my finger and drew blood. She bit one of the attendants at the adoption center, and was able to wriggle herself free before being put in her assigned cage. Despite my attempts to steel myself against any attachments, I began crying like a sniveling baby in the middle of the adoption center.
The kitten clearly knew what was happening: I wasn’t going to be her forever home after all. And I was leaving her open to the vagaries of chance to see who would take her to their house—this time against her will. That I had violated the connection we had shared was too great for either of us to bear without a surrender to our fear and sadness.
She found a new “home” that day. I never saw her again. I never knew who had adopted her. I wished I did, and there are plenty of days I wished it were me.
Now, more than a year later, this young but fully-grown cat starts visiting our yard and leaving us presents. I can’t say for sure, but I’d say the resemblance is too striking to ignore. I’d say that the kitten who followed us home one night has followed us back home—somehow—again. Only this time the arrangement is tentative. She honors us with first dibs on her catch, but she’ll never let us catch her again. When I try to go outside to greet her, she turns and runs at top speed.
She trusted us once; she won’t make that mistake again.
Do you see stories lurking behind the everyday? Does your imagination take flight when you sense a mystery behind something that others might pass by without a second thought—or, in this case, recoiling from in uncomfortable avoidance? I’d love to hear about your experience crafting a story from a momentary encounter such as this one.