One Step Forward…

June 26, 2013

…several steps back.

This is not a happy post.

Last week I was so thrilled with my garden. I’d planted everything I’d ever wanted and a few things I’d not even heard of and it all looked lovely.

Now… sigh…

The Jacaranda looks like this

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The Golden Shower looks like this.

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Actually, you can’t tell what it looks like, because you can’t really see it in the picture. All you can see is the stake. But if you look really hard, you can see a dried up stick tied to the stake. Yeah – that’s my beautiful tree.

The gulmohar, which had no reason to fail, looks like this.
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Some callous *%&($*&^($*&6-ker went and pulled off all its leaves.

The hedge looks like this.
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Those spring-onion type things in the background are lilies which were a gift. I’ve just planted them – give it a day or two and then we’ll know whether they’re going to bloom or die.

Remember that hibiscus, one of the very first things we planted? It blessed us with half a dozen blooms in quick succession, then gave up the ghost and was as good as dead. I’d moved it from the back to the front some weeks ago, hoping it would revive in the direct sun, and it did perk up a bit and get a few new buds. But no flowers have come yet and now its leaves look like this.
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The grass is the worst of all. It looks like this.
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Now I’ll bet you’re thinking – hey, that actually looks quite nice, what on earth is she complaining about. I’ll tell you. It’s supposed to look like this.

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See the difference? Yeah, I know the first one looks a lot better, but see – that’s the mat approach. Ok, if you already know about grass, you can skip this part. But if you, like me a very short time ago, know nothing, read on. So grass can be planted in two or three ways. One is through seed – of which I know nothing. The other is through mat. Mat is usually used for Mexican grass, not Bermuda, and it’s really neat. You just unroll it and spread it out and you’re done. That’s what all the fancy apartment complexes and corporate complexes have. It’s low-maintenance, but takes a lot of water and needs a good dose of chemical pesticides to fix the termite problem it comes with. But Bermuda is known to be more drought tolerant than Mexican, so we didn’t really have a choice. And I’m not sure if Bermuda is ever done in mat, but it is conventionally done in this sapling format – which is why it should not look like the lush green thing in the first two pictures and it should look like the sparse balding thing in the picture above.

The thing is, we still don’t have a gardener. Actually, when we started to do the grass work, a man came knocking on our gate claiming to be a gardener and offering to do the work for us (for the paltry sum of Rs 1500). And Amit sent him away.

So I spent two hours working on planting grass myself and all I got for my efforts was a backache. It’s bloody slow work. Not to say it isn’t relaxing and peaceful and all that – it is. But all the same. We had these three extremely heavy and bulky sacks of grass in our driveway and the nursery we’d bought it from had adjured us very sternly to get it all done in less than 48 hours (while also assuring us that it was quite possible to do so on our own sans gardener). After two hours of tedious (I mean, peaceful and relaxing) work, I calculated that it would take about ten hours of work to get the whole swimming-pool area done. And that meant it would take me at least one week (and two weekends).

But what to do with the grass in the meantime?

I suggested to Amit that we lay it out with the earth sods face down and water it thoroughly and hope for the best. I’d done that with a bit of leftover grass from the initial planting so many months ago and the small patch seems to have happily taken root in our back yard right where it was dumped. Maybe this will take root too?

The thing is, this is not exactly a mat of grass, it’s more like big, uneven clumps of grass torn out of a field and bagged up and sent to us. So when we spread it out (which was itself a good 7 person-hours of hard work) it didn’t exactly give us a flat, level, Wimbledon kind of surface. It is all up and down and clumpy. And I’m not at all sure it’s even going to take root. What if it just withers up and dies? That’s a lot of money and one whole Sunday irretrievably down the drain.

On the other hand, what else could we have done? There’s no way I could have planted all that grass in one or two days. And if we’d just left it in the sack, it would surely have withered up and died.

And now that it’s there, lumpy or not, if it settles down and puts down roots, I don’t think I’m going to do anything more to it in the foreseeable future. The most I might do is to get some more grass and cover up the area I had so meticulously planted. Since it’s not exactly Wimbledon anyway.

Huh. Back to the drawing board. So much for the dream garden. That thumb of mine is still the wrong colour, it seems.

PS: I probably shouldn’t say this, because next week I might have to write its epitaph as well, but for now at least that king of my garden, the Java Cassia (apple blossom) is doing ok. Let’s hope it lasts.
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Time to Let Go (Already)

June 20, 2013

You know the sayings.

The hardest part of loving someone is letting them go.

And

If you love someone, let them go
If they come back to you…

Well, you know the rest of it, I’m sure.

Our latest baby, our darling kitten, all of one month old with us, and something less than ten weeks old in this world, has decided it is time to put our love to the test.

Her home is the cozy little cardboard carton in the beautiful ivory tower of our verandah. Ivory tower? Well, for a cat, maybe. It’s a luxurious abode, I assume, for a cat. There’s a plentiful supply of milk and chicken. There’s a litter box. There are toys – mainly things that roll but also one that hangs. There are chairs, often turned upside down (to keep them clean and dry) to jump over or hide under. There’s entertainment, in the form of four humans, two big, two small. Everything a cat could wish for, in fact. And also it’s a balcony – large enough, open, and yet still safe. There’s only one way in and out of this balcony/tower and that’s by this wonderful set of metal steps (see below; the ladder is gone, now). (Ok, there’s also a door into the house, but she’s not usually allowed to use that. Besides, what use is a door that only leads inside? Any self-respecting kitty needs a door that leads outside, right?)

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I was coaching kitty to get used to the metal steps. She doesn’t like them, and I suspect it’s because of the gaps between the metal slats. Our kitty is not very good at a number of things (if you bring a bowl of food out, she often doesn’t know where you’ve kept it unless you keep it right under her nose; she also can’t tell by smell which bowl is food and which is water; dogs can tell from a mile off), but she’s extremely adept at depth perception. Occasionally, she makes a mistake and lands somewhere in a jumble of limbs with a confused look on her face exactly like the look you see in comic strips, but for the most part, when it comes to depth perception and estimating distance, she’s an expert. So she sees these steps that are a good 10-12 feet above the ground, with only thin strips of metal separated by empty space and she sees us walk on that and thinks, I suppose, these people must be crazy. Half their weight is on that empty space 12 feet up from the ground!

So anyway, I was coaching her to use the steps, by placing her a few steps up or a few steps down and letting her find her way back. I was also getting her used to the great outdoors by carrying her down the steps and letting her loose in the garden. And then, on the weekend, we were all busy working in the garden downstairs and at one point we had returned kitty to her ivory tower upstairs, which was not to her liking at all. She went from one end of the balcony to the other, looking desperately for a way down. She even squeezed through a gap in the balcony railing and went and perched on those cement beams above the front verandah and looked hopefully for a way down from there – but to no avail.

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I didn’t get a photo of her on the cement beams, but that’s where she was.

By the time I was baking my gluten-free chocolate cake on Sunday morning, she’d had enough. She worked her way down all 20 metal-strip spiral steps and turned up meowing at the back door! Well done, girl! I’d expected it would take her another week or so to get there.

Anyway, once she’d figured out how to get down, there was no stopping her. Three times that day we returned her to her home – so that she could get some rest, that’s all – and every time she found her way back down in remarkably short order. She did nap once or twice, in the safety and comfort of her private haven, but as soon as she was done with that, she was back downstairs, prowling around, investigating her new, enlarged domain, checking out routes to the larger outdoors, and fighting imaginary battles with hapless dried leaves. She even went so far as to try to climb the saplings we’d planted and eat the leaves of the hedge plants.

Amit is worried. We now have the equivalent of an adolescent daughter on our hands. This one is pre-pubescent (as far as we know) but just as likely to get into trouble, albeit of other sorts. She still doesn’t know how to climb a tree, but if she has unfettered access to our garden, it means that she can also venture beyond the walls anytime she wants. It also means that if one careless fellow leaves the gate open, the street dogs will have carte blanche to come on in and make a quick snack of her, if she can’t run and climb fast enough. True she has discovered those cement beams above the front porch and I’m fairly certain no street dog can follow her there. But the question remains: can she get there before she gets eaten?

It’s a worrying thought, but we can’t do much about it. There are too many ways for her to get out of her ivory tower. There’s that mango tree, for instance. And as she grows, she will likely discover new routes that we haven’t even thought of. Cats will be free. What’s more, I believe, they should be free. Someone was telling me about a pet cat – a Persian – who, if the door to the outdoors is left open, stays indoors and looks outside at the trees and the sun and all with a puzzled and somewhat worried expression. Well, that’s not what I’d want for any pet of mine. Sandy needs to be on first name terms, in fact on intimate terms, with all the elements of nature and if survival depends on her being street smart and fleet of foot, then those are the skills she needs to develop. As her loving parents, we need to provide board, lodging, a safe haven when she needs it, and aside from that, we need to stand back and let her go. She’s growing wings, figuratively speaking, and we have to let her fly.

Thank god it’s just the cat and not yet the kids.

Even so, I never thought this day would come so soon! She’s still just a baby!
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Definitely Too Much

June 17, 2013

Or to put it another way, it never rains but it pours.

Come to think of it, it has been neither raining nor pouring on my garden, not in the last two weeks at least. But still. This weekend, it has poured in a different way.

Let’s start with the grass.

So the front part of the lawn had a concrete foundation. Not a good thing if you want to grow something there. Our poor grass was struggling, but there was no water to be had and not much nourishment either – since grass doesn’t seem to flourish on a diet of cement, dry or casted. So then we had these guys come and rip up our lawn and uproot our darling neem tree while they were at it. The neem tree has recovered nicely now, though its younger and weaker sibling is now much bigger and healthier. Anyhow, we were left with a hole in our lawn of some 15×20 sq ft dimension. Nice enough to be a swimming pool, if it had only been five feet or so deeper (and if we’d only had the water for it). Amit was dead against getting another contractor to come and lay the lawn, so we had no option but to do it ourselves. It wasn’t something that I was looking forward to. But Amit wasn’t letting any grass grow beneath his feet and he went and ordered first some 370 kgs of cocopeat, then one tonne (1000 kg) of compost. We had two back breaking sessions of emptying those, sequentially, into our swimming-pool-sized hole and were left with a substantial gap in the level of what was left of our lawn and this hole. So he ordered another tonne of compost.

Now it’s all very well to talk cavalierly about a tonne of compost, but do you know what this really is? It’s 20 fifty-kilo bags of powder so fine it might as well be ash. Fifty-kilo bags, I said – I know some people, adults, who weigh less than that. And there’s 20 of them in a tonne. And you have to spread this tonne of ash-like powder out over a 300-sq-ft hole in the ground. Not an easy task.

By the time we had that done, our horrible red-and-white cement dust laden swimming pool had turned into a rich, black layer of soil that looked good enough to eat. Now all we have to do is to get the grass.

The last layer of 1000 kilos of compost was done this Saturday morning. Tara had a table class at 10 (which, it turned out, was cancelled, but we didn’t know about that until Amit got there to drop her off). I had tennis at 6, as usual. By the time I got back and we were done with breakfast, it was 8 a.m. The first thing we did was to plant the jacaranda sapling we’d bought at Lalbagh last Sunday. We’d already planted the gulmohar last weekend, but it was dark by then, so we’d left the jacaranda in its bag for an entire week. Luckily, the soil outside the gate was not too bad, so Amit got the digging done in about 10 minutes and in less than half an hour, the deed was done. Now we have the born-again neem tree, a gulmohar, and a jacaranda outside the gate, leaving precious little space for me to park my car.

Then we had a coffee break and got down to the back-breaking and extremely dusty work of laying out the one tonne of compost. I had developed a neat technique of emptying out the powder such that you didn’t need to do a lot of raking to spread it out. So Amit lugged the 50-kilo sacks into place and went off to become respectable and take Tara for her putative table class, while I cut the sacks open and poured them out. By 10.30-ish, I was done.

But that was just the beginning of my day.

In the parts of the lawn where the grass had grown, it had grown tall and lush. It now needed a haircut – and a real cut, not just a trim. But we didn’t have the necessary equipment – viz a lawn mower. Last weekend, I took the initiative and made a couple of phone calls and then made a quick visit to a showroom and put down an advance, and on Thursday it was delivered. It’s nothing like the fat old lawn mowers of 20 (or is it 30) years ago. It’s small and sleek and yellow and – of course – electric. I’d done a test run of the machine when it was delivered, but now it was time to give all parts of the lawn the cropping they so desperately needed. Thankfully, it wasn’t too difficult lugging the vehicle down into the basement and out into the basement garden. By noon, I was done with all the mowing.

Then I got on to raking leaves and stuff, planting stakes for some of the saplings that needed them, tying the bougainvillea into a slightly neater assemblage, and watering everything. By the time I’d put away all the implements – spades, scissors, pump, hose pipe, lawn mower, rope, and assorted other stuff – it was 1 p.m. and I was filthy. And exhausted.

But it was a big day. I’d finally got two of the four trees on my wishlist planted, and I’d finally given my lawn its very first haircut. I went to sleep feeling extremely satisfied with the state of affairs.

On Sunday, our neighbor had very sweetly volunteered to take Amit to a nursery where he could buy grass. They set out at 1 p.m., at which time I hadn’t even started making lunch. Amit had fortified himself with nothing more than a cup of coffee and a couple of pieces of gluten-free chocolate cake (which, of course, I’d somehow found the time to make). At this time, I had not done the grocery shopping and I had no idea what lunch was going to be, apart from the fact that it was going to have chicken in it. (In the end, it turned out to be chicken biriyani, as usual.)

After he’d left, I started cooking. I was done with the cooking and all set to eat when the calls and messages started pouring in. Does this look like what you’re looking for? What about that one? Is it a laburnum or a cassia? Can’t you recognize it from a picture of its leaves? Pink flowers? Yellow flowers? And so on. At the end of it, over phone, What’s App, and email, we had settled on: a golden shower tree (cassia fistula); an apple blossom tree (cassia javanica); an ice cream creeper (antigonon leptopus); two hedge plants (names so far unknown to me); and, of course, the grass.

Actually, I’m thrilled beyond words. I’d thought I wouldn’t have too much trouble getting the golden shower tree, because it’s very common in Bangalore. But the java cassia is rare here, so I wasn’t very optimistic. In any case, multiple visits to Lalbagh had drawn a blank on both accounts. As for the ice cream creeper, I’ve never heard of it or seen it here. I know of it only because it used to adorn the walls in my maternal grandmother’s house and that was in Chandigarh. I actually thought I might have to buy it online.

All the trees – gulmohar, jacaranda, golden shower, and java cassia, have been on my wishlist ever since I began to dream about the garden we’d have in this new home of ours. The ice cream creeper was a later entrant, but no less dear. The grass I’d always been determined to have, despite what seemed like an uphill battle to get it going. The hedge had been an impulse desire, something I’d seen very effectively done elsewhere and thought, vaguely, that it might be nice. I’d hoped to get some of the elements of my garden together in this monsoon season, but I’d resigned myself to a long and potentially fruitless wait to complete the list.

And now, all of a sudden, in the space of one week, I have all of them right in front of my eyes. It’s almost too good to be true.

Planting is tiring hard work. Amit did almost all of the digging, but even so. By the time we had our two trees, dozen hedge plants, and sweet little ice cream creeper planted, my body was aching from top to toe. And we haven’t even started on the grass yet. The swimming pool is still rich black compost awaiting a layer of red soil, and the trees are all just saplings, little babies that sway perilously in the breeze looking as though they might snap in the middle at any moment. But in my mind, I see it all 20 years from today – a lush expanse of green underfoot and overhead, punctuated by red, yellow, purple, and pink flowers in the trees, with flashes of pink, orange, purple, and white from the bougainvillea and a wash of pink from the ice cream creeper below. Some day, all going well, my garden will look like that.

Right now, however, it looks like this.

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The freshly mowed lawn, with the swimming pool of compost at the end.

If you think that black stuff doesn’t look so nice, let me remind you, this is how it used to look.
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That white stuff there is cement dust.

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The newly-planted hedge.

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Java Cassia – the one which will eventually grow into an enormous tree with pink flowers, if I’m very, very patient.

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Golden shower or golden chain or Indian laburnum or what’s actually supposed to be called Cassia Fistula – yellow flowers and it flowers even when it’s quite small, so hopefully I only have to wait four or five years.

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The jacaranda, outside the wall – purple flowers, some day.

_MG_1803The gulmohar with the neem tree in the background, both outside the wall. No parking space here.

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The ice cream creeper, antigonon leptopus. It should have a riot of pretty little pink flowers. My aunt has warned me that it grows like a weed and will be springing up all over the place in no time. Doesn’t look like much right now, though, does it? The kids are going to be disappointed with this one – they expect it to grow ice cream (and who can blame them?).

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And this one is a bit of a surprise. It was a geranium when we planted it months ago. Then we went off on vacation and nobody watered it for a week or so and all the other flowering plants in its neighborhood died. This one looked pretty much dead too. But I kept on watering it and what do you know – it now has flowers!

And finally, here’s what the trees are going to look like 20 years from now (these photos courtesy the internet).

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Something Smells Dead

June 6, 2013

There’s been a new addition to our family – a four-legged addition. Anyone who knows me might conclude that it’s a dog, but they’d be wrong. It’s a creature that purrs and meows, sometimes at the same time.

That’s right, a cat, or, to be precise, a kitten. And yes, she’s absolutely adorable.

After the rat problem we had been wondering if we could entice a stray cat to adopt us. Adopting a kitten wasn’t part of the plan, for two reasons. One, we didn’t know where to get one; and two, kittens are too small to attack rats. They do grow up, of course, as has been pointed out by various people, but it takes time. So we discussed and debated, but the sleek black cat that we sometimes saw in our back yard didn’t seem very interested in adopting us, so it was all for nought.

Then one evening, while I was immersed in my laptop sitting in the car parked outside the tennis court waiting for the kids to get done with their tennis class, Tara came running up to me. “There are kittens there,” she said with much excitement.

Sure enough, the tennis coach had taken the bunch of kids over to inspect a cardboard carton that was populated by two kittens and a cat.

I’d have thought the cat might be all protective and fierce about her kittens. After all, this was the same creature that I’d seen running at full speed across the ground, chasing a full-grown mongrel street dog – a sight that had made my eyes pop and my jaw drop at the time. Of course that made perfect sense now. It was just surprising that the same cat was so zen about a bunch of kids and a couple of adults hanging around talking to her kittens. I tickled her under the ear and she purred happily, while her babies hung back and eyed me suspiciously.

Well, I didn’t waste any time. I told the tennis coach that I wanted them kittens, both of them. Trouble was, I couldn’t take them home right away. For one thing, I hadn’t thought this through and I hadn’t even discussed it with my better half in the recent past. For another, even if he agreed, as I was sure he would (especially after he took one look at them, they were so damn cute) I still had to figure out where we were going to keep them, and how, and what we were going to feed them, and where they were going to pee and poop and all that stuff. Besides, even I took them anyway, how was I going to get them home? I blithely proposed that Mrini and Tara could hold one each on their laps for the drive, but, much to my surprise, they were horrified at the suggestion.

So I told coach I’d be back in the morning to take the babies home.

That evening, as we discussed it, I had a few misgivings. Was I doing the right thing, tearing the babies away from their mother? Were they too young? Maybe they needed their mother for a while longer yet.

But fate took the matter out of our hands. The next morning, when I went to the tennis court, I saw some movement near the kittens’ home and thought nothing of it. Coach assured me the kittens were there, though whether one, two, or three he wasn’t sure. I played. Then I finished and waited. Taking our kittens home was to be a family affair. Amit was to come by bus, bringing the kids in tow, and we would all drive back home together in my car, Amit driving, me holding the kittens. I’d thought about it a bit and decided to wear a thick pair of track pants (instead of the lovely, light, Nike shorts I usually wear), in case the kittens wanted to scratch me to bits. I expected placid and terrified kittens, but you never know. I had also brought along a large, thick rag – in case they wanted to puke.

While waiting for Amit and the kids to arrive, I went to check out the situation. The box was there, where it had been just 12 hours ago. One kitten was there, crouched right at the back, eyeing me warily, baring his tiny fangs and snarling rather piteously. Of the other kitten (or kittens) and the mother there was no sign.

Amit and the kids came and we waited and looked around and asked around, but nobody was telling us anything useful. In fact, nobody could know except for the caretaker, because when I went home the evening before, he was the only person left there. And of course, he was now conveniently not to be seen. Somebody said that the other kitten had been given to the meat stall nearby, whether as pet or forager or fuel I don’t know and would rather not speculate. But where was the cat? It’s not easy to give away an adult street cat, however amenable she might be to having her ears tickled.

Well, there was no choice now. If the cat and other kitten had gone, we had to take this one little fellow home. Otherwise, in no time, she would die of starvation or thirst (or illness or loneliness), if she didn’t get eaten by a street dog, first.

So we got into the car with Sandy on my lap and drove home. She was very quiet during the entire drive, hardly using her fangs or claws at all. She was shivering a lot, from fear I suppose.

And the rest, as they say, is history.
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Now, three weeks on, if she deigns to sit in our laps at all, she purrs loudly and bites and scratches our hands mercilessly. The rest of the time, she expects us to play with her nonstop – running, jumping, skipping, hopping games. If we go inside and leave her alone in the large balcony that is currently her entire kingdom, she eyes us accusingly. And when we go out to meet her later, she comes running towards us, happy as a puppy, bleating like a lamb. Where, I ask you, is that famous feline independence and arrogance?

At least she’s a quick learner. She doesn’t appear to have grown significantly bigger in three weeks, but she has learnt to jump – both up and down. At first, she was tentative about jumping off our laps. Now? She jumps up onto the parapet – not directly, I think, but probably by hopping up on top of the living room skylights, first. She walks along the narrow edge of the planters’ pots, which have no plants, only rainwater. She leans over the edge to peer through the leaves of the mango tree into the garden below, while we watch with heart-in-mouth. She hops off nonchalantly, on to the sloping glass skylight, and then slides down it with elan.

The steps that lead from the balcony to the ground floor are a tight spiral of thin metal slats. She doesn’t like them one bit. I want to encourage her to expand her territory, so I’ve been training her to negotiate the steps. Yesterday, I carried her to the bottom of the steps (while she protested lustily), then deposited her on the third step from the ground. After considering the matter gravely, she figured out how to get down. I made her practice it several times, increasing the height to five steps. She performed admirably. Today, I changed things around a little. I perched her one step up from the balcony. Oh, boy, she hated that. She knows, I think, that she’s a long, long way from the ground and falling down is not something she wants to do. She can’t slip through the metal slats, but she doesn’t trust them one bit. And rightly so. There is a vertical gap between the steps that she can easily slip through. Well, she managed to get down one step without slipping through, and then she gingerly managed the slatted walkway (less than 2 ft long) to get onto terra firma as it were, but she didn’t like it at all.
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(That ladder you see there in the picture is gone now. So the steps are the only way up and down – until she figures out an innovative solution of her own.)

A few days after Sandy came home, while I was sitting in the dining room, I heard loud meowing. Sandy’s meowing is thin and feeble to say the least – not usually audible in the dining room. I went to see and guess what? Not one, not two, but three whole cats were prowling around the boundary wall of our back yard. One was the jet black cat, the other two were grey. I thought the grey ones looked somewhat younger. They got into a fenced off area and seemed hesitant about their ability to get out of it – though the black cat leapt out as fluently as if she did this sort of thing every day, which she probably did, for all I know. I don’t, obviously, know much about the social lives of cats, but since I’d just read up a whole lot about the social lives of primates thanks to my archaeology course, I quickly arrived at the conclusion that these three cats must be related females, probably a mom with two daughters. Not that the two grey cats looked anything like the black, but never mind that.

We were both a little worried about whether these cats might attack Sandy. I thought not – they might scrap over food, but surely they wouldn’t be interested in killing her. She was no threat to them. All the same, I googled it, and was relieved to find that several websites said cats would most likely just stay out of each other’s way, if they could. The one case where tom cats might kill off infants so they could mate with the females didn’t apply, so we should be ok.

That night, I was sitting in the balcony playing with Sandy when I suddenly realized there was a grey cat sitting on the steps eyeing us silently. I got quite a shock. How long had the creature been sitting there? I watched it for a few minutes to see what it wanted to do, and only gradually did I realize that it wasn’t alone – there was its possible sibling, sitting one step lower, staring at us equally silently.

Well, if they’d wanted to fight with our kitten, they’d have done so by now. I pointed them out to Sandy, but she either didn’t see them, or didn’t care.

Oh, I know – maybe they’re male cats and are waiting for Sandy to grow up. We’d better have her fixed soon, before we get more cats than we’d bargained for.

Time flies when you’re having fun, right? Well, it’s been flying all right. I put some food out for Sandy three or four times a day, sometimes she gobbles it up, sometimes she ignores it. But any time of day or night, she’s ready to play. We brought her into the house one night, because it was pouring cats and dogs outside, and she proceeded to jump all over us and scratch our legs and chew our hair for 90 minutes non-stop before I gave up and put her out again. If she gave me a baleful or accusatory look that time, I have to say I didn’t notice it.

As far as toilet training goes, it’s been unbelievably easy. We bought a plastic tub and put some coco peat in it, and she’s been using it happily ever since. She doesn’t seem to mind that the cocopeat is fairly wet, having got a solid drenching in the rain over the past couple of weeks. I do change it every other day or so, but even the fresh cocopeat is wet – we keep the sack outdoors and the entire thing got soaked.

Of course, even with the high entertainment value, I haven’t forgotten the reason we got a cat in the first place. She’s supposed to catch those rats, remember? I’ve had various discussions in which skepticism has been expressed about whether this particular cat is ever going to be able to kill a rat. First, she hasn’t had the appropriate training from her mother. All she’s got is me, and I’m no good at killing rats. Second, she’s got much too comfortable a life right now. Food four times a day. A nice cozy box with a blanket to curl up in (alright, it’s actually a discarded curtain, but so what?). Four crazy humans to play with. Who needs to go after rats, right?

I’m a bit skeptical myself. On the one hand, an animal has instincts, right? If its instincts say, go kill rats, that’s your job in the world, then it should jolly well go kill rats, right? As a child, I had three dogs as siblings (well, I had a sister, too, but she didn’t kill any rats). Two of the dogs were pretty good at killing rats. (The third was pedigreed, so she was pretty much a write-off, but she made up for it by being sweet.) So this cat should have rat-killing instincts, right?

On the other hand, though, she’s female. Boys will go kill rats just to have fun, but girls are too sweet for that. If she’s fed and entertained and pampered, I’m not sure she has sufficient motivation to even venture downstairs to rat territory. Why wouldn’t she just curl up, lick her chops, purr, and go to sleep? I’m sure that’s what I would do in her place. Ok, fine, that’s not sweet, that’s just disgustingly lazy, but so what? Nature is like that right? – don’t go spend a lot of energy doing patently risky (and yucky) stuff unless you really have to. Right?

kitty

Right.

Maybe it’s different for cats, though. I don’t know. What I do know is that, early this morning, as I sat playing with kitty and she sat purring contentedly while she scratched my hands to bits, I smelt something dead.

At first I thought – oh, that’s the famous stink of cat pee that the websites warn you about. But a casual glance in the direction of her litter box made me think twice. Actually, I must confess, I don’t know what cat poop looks like. You can’t see it when it’s smothered in cocopeat. I have a notion that it should be pellets, like goat dung. What I saw in her litter box was like a squishy lump of something, about the size of a small frog. That couldn’t possibly have come out of the cat! It was covered in cocopeat, but I fancied it had the shape of a small frog. I don’t know how a small frog could possibly have got onto our balcony, but I didn’t want to think about that. Whatever it was, it was smelling very dead. I wrinkled up my nose, scooped it up with a garden spade, and tossed it on to the compost heap that is slowly growing into a mountain in the back yard.

So, the kitten can kill! I can’t think of any other way something dead wound up in her litter box. Why she chose to put it there, I don’t really know, but clearly at least the girl has some instincts left. Hah! Those rats had better watch out now.


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