As the winter passes and spring slowly unfolds in the back yard I’m remembering the years Cookie and I spent out there. Browsing photos I often encounter photos of her, including these from March 8, 2010, as the snow slowly melted after a series of heavy storms in February. Even though I shoveled paths into the snow it was weeks before it melted down to the soil, and at 17 Cookie finally found that walking on snow for any length of time was just too uncomfortable on her tiny tortie paws and she would wait on the deck or the steps for me. For some reason I never wrote the post I had intended to with these photos, so there’s no time like the present.
One day enough snow had melted that she decided to follow me around as I filled bird feeders and Cookie explored her strange new world. The most exciting thing, for Cookie and me at least, was the large branch from a neighbor’s tree that had snapped under the weight of the first heavy snowfall (I was watching that night and saw it fall), landing just next to the picnic table and leaning up on the fence and another of the neighbor’s trees. I didn’t mind it, and they didn’t come out to clear it away, so it became, so far, a permanent part of our back yard.
One of the most amazing things I always found about Cookie was her fearless curiosity. There was something new, she explored it—a box in the house, my art materials, a visitor, Cookie immediately and wholeheartedly acquainted herself with it.
Curiosity is legendarily a cat’s province, but a reason to consider this a little extra special in Cookie was that she always had difficulty walking just from weakness in her hind legs, likely from her early deprivation. Even when younger she couldn’t run or jump very high and while still young quit jumping altogether to climb step by step onto things. This never stopped her, and it didn’t even slow her down because she got herself everywhere she needed to go, and her ingenuity at finding a stepping stone path of different levels anywhere in the house to get anywhere she wanted to go is something I’ll always remember. She never complained, just happily made her way around things; as she grew older I surreptitiously added things she could step on in every room.
So I look at her on this log at the age of 17 with fine balance but without a whole lot of strength in those legs. She walked down the muddy path in the snow, met the branch and happily stepped up on it and looked around, took a few more steps up and looked again, then walked out as far as she dared, then walked back. She was also wise in knowing exactly how far she could go, literally, and still be able to get herself safely back to where she needed to be.
The branch fell at just the right time because the previous year she had been able to pull herself up onto the picnic bench, but it was an increasing struggle. The first thing the next spring the branch had fallen and I guess she thought it had been provided for her. She used it from then until just a few days before she died to both sit on, scratch on and step up onto the bench.
It’s just a tree branch, and I’m a cat. What’s the big deal? I’ll still be doing this years from now.
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