Sunday, May 27, 2012


Mama Kitty was little more than a kitten herself when she first appeared in our backyard.  We thought at first that she was a stray, but it turned out she was our neighbor's new cat.  But she didn't know anything about whose yard was whose, so she spent a lot of time growing up in our backyard.  She used to stalk my husband and jump out from behind things at him.  She would sit still for hours just watching the birds at our backyard feeder.  Then she grew up and became a magnet for all the tom cats on the block.  And that is why her name is now Mama Kitty.

Mama Kitty
But Durham is no place for kittens.  From her first two litters, none of Mama Kitty's babies have survived.  It's too sad to talk about that.  Though she is smart, and a survivor, Mama Kitty just wasn't able to protect her kittens from all the dangers they face here in a busy city, and our neighbor, though kind, let them fend for themselves.  So I decided that I could not sit by and watch a third batch of kittens not survive.  I was delighted when Mama Kitty chose to have her third batch of kittens in our backyard.  C and I were the first to see them, before their eyes were even open all the way.  But the tom cats started prowling around again, and Mama Kitty kept moving the kittens around.  Fearful for their safety, C and I decided we had to intervene.

When we found where Mama Kitty had stashed them, we took the kittens and put them inside our screened-in back porch.  We let Mama Kitty come and go in order to keep feeding them.  Now I am happy to report that they are big and strong and healthy.  They are full of energy, and I don't think our back porch can contain them much longer!  My allergies can't be restrained much longer, either.  I've been on drugs all month, because I'm actually really allergic to cats!

Now they need homes.  They are 8 weeks old and weaned and litter-box trained, and ready to go out into the world.  As much as we will miss them, C and I know that these kittens are ready to be adopted, and it will be much better for them to go to good homes with people who can take better care of them than our neighbor will.  So, do you want a kitten or two?

Gray Kitten

The fattest and fuzziest of the kittens is the gray one.  He might have been the first-born, because he used to be the biggest and most curious.  Now some of his brothers have longer legs than he does, but he still loves to gallop back and forth across the porch at top speed.  He loves to climb and play.  I love it when he starts running around playing and gets all puffed up.  He acts all tough, but when you pet him he loves to roll over onto his back and have his belly scratched.  He has a funny mew that sometimes sounds like a little bark.  He's probably going to be a gorgeous tabby gray like his mother when he grows up.  He tends to growl at the other kittens when he eats, but it's all just show.  He's a sweetheart.
Tiger & White Kitten

The tabby and white one is very sweet, too.  His fur is white with beautiful brown striped spots.  This picture I took of him was from when he was playing and, like the little gray kitten, got all puffed up and energized.  It's hard to take good pictures of these kittens, because they are always playing and jumping up and down like popcorn!  One of his favorite games is to play in a cardboard box.  Do not invest in cat toys, because all they want is something they can get inside, claw at, and jump in and out of.  

Black & White Kitten
The black and white spotted kitten is going to be a nice lap cat.  When we first caught the kittens, C called him "Volt" because he would spit and spark like a live wire.  Now he is the complete opposite.  He is super energetic and plays like crazy, but he is always happy to curl up in a lap and fall asleep purring.  And he started out as the runt, but now he has beautiful long legs, which will probably help him to be a good hunter.  Also, he has a black spot on his back that is shaped like a heart!
White Kitten

The little whitish cream colored kitten is the only female.  She has faint gray tabby stripes on her ears and tail and paws, which will probably darken as she gets older.  She meows a lot!  Just like a girl.  But she is also a fearless climber, and loves to just jump onto something (a leg, even) and climb it to the top.

All of these kittens would make adorable pets!  My mom is probably going to adopt the white girl kitten, and foster the rest until they find homes.  But please tell me if you want one (or two!)  I'm really going to miss them, but I'll breathe so much better (both literally and figuratively) when they all find happy loving homes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


From the title of this post, you can tell there won't be a happy ending.  Well, let me tell the story.

Back in the fall, when I was hard at work clearing out dead leaves and underbrush from the backyard, preparing the garden for it's winter nap, and planning next year's crop of vegetables and flowers, I came across two very unusual papery pods.  I knew what they were: praying mantis cocoons.  Well, I don't know if cocoon is the right word, but I recognized them because once years before, I'd found a very similar one and brought it into the house.  Months later about a million praying mantises emerged and I had to catch them all and put them outside into the yard.

These cocoons looked good, and I thought I'd like to see them hatch, so I put them in a glass terrarium on the back porch, and covered it with fine screen.  I'll watch it every day, I thought, and when they hatch, I'll set them free in the garden to eat the pesty bugs.

All through the winter I checked them, looking carefully to see any signs of insect life.  I knew I had a duty to them, and a responsibility to Nature.  But time passed and my patience was unrewarded.  Spring came, it seemed, and nothing happened when I thought it would.  I wondered if the cocoons were defective in some way.  Then I got distracted and busy and you know how things go.

This morning I looked in the terrarium and saw millions of little tiny dead praying mantises.  Then I was overcome by the worst feeling I've ever had.  I killed them.  If not for my interference, because of greedy curiosity, they (or at least most of them) would be roaming free in the backyard, growing large and eating mosquitoes and all kinds of other things.  Instead, they are all dead, desiccated.  They must have hatched a week or so ago, and I completely missed it.  Maybe even one day of not checking had been enough to kill them--they were so small--I could hardly distinguish them from the dried debris in the bottom of the terrarium.

Crying from the injustice of it all, and from utter self-disgust, I poured my heart out to C.  He tried his best to console me.  Life is like that, he said.  Good intentions sometimes have horrible results.  Life isn't fair, and life is fragile.  He told me about the first time he realized it.  A tiny mole was lost trying to cross a busy road.  He saw it die, and cried--a little boy seeing death for the first time.  "It was just a tiny thing, and all it wanted to do was get off the road, but it couldn't.  Why?" he cried to his father.

"They're just insects, acting on pure instinct.  They don't even know that you killed them or even that they were killed."

"But how can I make amends?" I begged of C, wanting somehow to make the wretchedness go away.  "I don't know," he said.  "You don't have to.  It's all going to be okay."

"I'm fostering orphaned kittens," I said.  "We've put birdseed out all winter, and put up birdhouses.  We let the birds have all the blueberries and grapes, even!"  Maybe, I thought, these good interferences with nature could somehow balance out my terrible mistake.  And maybe they will, if there is even some balance that can be struck.  I suppose it would be impossible to live a life of complete non-interference and neutrality with nature.  I step on insects all the time without even knowing.  I scare squirrels away from the bird feeder.  I pull up weeds and put insect repellent on my body and on my plants.  C pours boiling water on the fire-ant colonies that he finds.  I live in a house, in a town, and drive on roads--all of which displace nature.  And yet, nature carries on.  Despite my best efforts, there will probably still be praying mantises in the garden this year, as there always are.  And a bluebird family will nest in the bluebird box, and a possum will eat the cat food we set out for the kittens, and the black-eyed susans will not overtake the yard because I will pull them up in the places where they crowd my dahlias.  If I am the master of my domain, and a steward of the earth, I will take a lesson from life.  But I will still be sad about what I've done.