Chapter Forty-Two: Sharing Camp

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at symbios@condortales.com and I'll email you a copy.

The first pet at Camp was a puppy that soon died of distemper. It was replaced by Cabrito, the goat (Chapter Six). Sally then acquired a beagle, Bonita ("Bonnie") Ruff Ruff. Bonnie lived until some time in the 1950s, when Sally was in high school. Early on, Sally had cats (Winken, Blinken, and Nod). After that, Camp was pet-free until we brought Dixie, the cat, in 1990.

Dixie, named after Dixville Notch because daughter Sara though Dixie's coat resembled the rock patterns seen there, came to us as a very small feral kitten. A young friend found her in a blackberry patch, apparently on her own although obviously very young. She was in pretty bad shape, under weight, with fleas and ringworm, but with veterinarian help and a little love she came through it all. Probably because of her feral beginnings, she was always a "scairdy-cat." She dearly loved Sally and me, and liked being close to us, including crawling into our beds to sleep at night. However, no one else could get near her. She wasn't aggressive, but so defensive that our vet wore leather gloves when examining her. She ran and hid at the slightest change in her environment.

From the start, she was a good traveler. When she was very small, and we flew between Oregon and Massachusetts, she slept in a carry case that would fit under the airplane seat in front of us. When we drove cross country, she would crawl into her "cave" (a fabric half-igloo) on the back seat, and happily sleep all day. She lived with us at Camp until 2002.

In 2004, a new cat-member of the family, Sadie, made her first New England visit. Like Dixie, Sadie was a rescue animal, but she came to us the more conventional way, through the humane society. She was clearly a two-person cat from the start, but she was a pretty laid-back character, and could tolerate almost anybody or any circumstance. Unlike Dixie, who clearly needed to be very close to us, Sadie was more typical cat, enjoying a lap or a nap near us, but eschewing any greater intimacy. Like Dixie, she was a good traveler, adapting well to long car trips and motel rooms.

Both cats were good companions and great fun to have with us at Camp. It was interesting to watch and compare their behavior, particularly their reaction to animals outside. Here are a few journal notes on Dixie.

Saturday 2 July 1994 - The ravens were around almost all day, croaking and screaming. There were probably 3 of them, but I was only positive of two. Dixie didn't seem to like their noise.

Sunday 3 July 1994 - The ravens were whooping it up again today. When we walked up to Faulkenham's, there were six of them in the middle of the road, croaking and squawking; later, they came down and sat in the maple trees around Camp, and made so much noise that Dixie went under the bed for awhile.

Monday 29 August 1994 - Sally spotted a cow moose up at the cellar hole. We watched her browse on the willows for awhile, then move over past the bird feeder (nuzzling the feeder, and possibly eating a little highbush and beech on the way - we couldn't be positive from our vantage point). She systematically stripped the little willows in the upper garden, moved back through the cellar hole, and on down the field. At 1850 she was still down in the newly-cut part of the field below the hawthorn; it looked like she might be eating meadow-sweet, as well as stripping leaves off bigger trees. It came back later, for awhile.

Dixie didn't like the moose. When she first saw it, she growled; as it came closer to the cabin, she retreated halfway upstairs. The second time, she sensed it or smelled it before we knew it was back. We know she didn't see it - she was on the floor on the opposite side of the room - but she growled and got upstairs in a hurry.

Saturday 17 June 1995 - At 2140 as I was reading, Dixie let out a fierce growl and raced across the room. She jumped onto Da’s window and then leapt upstairs. Just after that I heard a crash out by the shed. I grabbed a big light and shined it out the little window. The ice chest had been knocked over. Then I saw a bear just below me. It wandered away, stopping to check out the truck on its way up toward the spring. Dixie does make a good watch dog.

Tuesday 20 June 1995 - About 0615, Dixie, who was on the window by the ladder, growled and went quickly upstairs. I rolled over to go back to sleep and then decided to get up. As I did I saw a cow moose on the lawn. She was thin and had a pronounced limp - seemed to favor the left front hoof. She slowly ambled off down the field. Lesson - if Dixie growls, look! So far she has only growled at moose and the bear. She watches the raccoon, but stays quiet.

Monday 3 August 1998 - Just at dusk, I was standing by the screen door holding Dixie, when a snowshoe hare came running in the logging road and came directly to our doorstep. Dixie was quite excited. I thought that the rabbit had gone away, but Dixie stayed at the door and meowed plaintively. On the third yowl, the rabbit came out near the doorstep from behind (or under) the house, sat for a minute, then hopped down the outhouse path.

Wednesday 28 June 2000 - At breakfast time, Sally saw a snowshoe hare run across the lawn and under the house. It eventually came out by the porch step, and went off down the outhouse path. It repeated the exercise in the evening. We see snowshoes around the house regularly [including under the house], but neither one of us could remember seeing one out on the lawn [although they surely must go there].

Thursday 29 June 2000 - The snowshoe hare was back at the house in the evening, eating around the doorstep, while Dixie and Sally watched and played the radio for him.

Monday 17 July 2000 - The snowshoe rabbit continues to feed by our front door every few days. Dixie sits and watches attentively from just inside the screen door, and doesn’t seem to bother it at all. When she knows the rabbit is around, but it hasn’t appeared yet, she lets out the most plaintive whining you ever heard. Sally says that it is the same sound she makes when there is another cat outside our house in Gresham.

Dixie also had a meadow vole keep her company for a half-hour or so, today. It fed [on grass] in the open area just beyond the doorstep. It must have known she was there - she certainly knew the vole was there.

* * *

Sadie reacted similarly to Dixie in some cases, but quite differently in others. Her initial reaction to a moose was very Dixie-ish, but then she changed her tune. All in all, she was more likely to be curious, than to be scared about animals outside.

Wednesday 19 May 2004 - Sadie had her first close encounter of the moose kind. She was in front of the screen door, and suddenly went on point. A small bull moose (with spikes) came up the path from the (new) outhouse, stood in front of the door, walked by the car, and finally chewed vegetation at our driveway before wandering out the road. Sadie ran under the bed.

Saturday 22 May 2004 - Sadie had her first snowshoe hare encounter. It didn’t come near the screen door, but she spotted it out near the car, and raced back and forth between the door and the window, trying to keep it in sight.

Tuesday 25 May 2004 - We had a visiting moose this morning, a small cow. Sadie stayed out in the open and watched it for the ten minutes or so that it was around.

Thursday 27 May 2004 - Sadie spends hours standing (yes, standing - on her hind legs) at the windows, watching the hummingbirds feed nearby.

Tuesday 22 June 2004 - There was a bull moose in the field in the evening, very large and with a heavy body. Its antlers were still fairly small. In contrast to Dixie, who would have growled and run away, Sadie came right up in the window and watched him.

Saturday 10 July 2004 - Lots of bird use in the red elderberries now - waxwings, rose-breasts, veeries, white-throats, robins - also a red squirrel or two. Sadie loves to sit in Da’s window or the refrigerator window, to watch them eating just a few yards away from her.

Tuesday 11 July 2006 – We have a house vole this year – actually, a dooryard vole. It (a meadow vole) seems to be living in one of the concrete block that support the house just outside our door. Sally first saw it a couple days ago, and Sadie and I watched it for quite awhile today as it ate grass beside our porch step.

Friday 29 June 2007 – Sadie had a good ten minutes or so, watching a meadow vole nibbling grass right at the edge of the front step.

Monday 13 August 2007 – Around 0700 two moose (last year’s twins? – a bull and a cow) came up the field, and eventually went on out our road. Within five minutes or so, two more moose (both small bulls) came up the field. They wandered around just north of the house for ten minutes or so, then headed back down to the Glades.

Sadie is an interesting cat. Whenever a moose or large mammal came around, Dixie would give her "veterinarian’s growl," and head for cover. Sadie is unafraid. Today, when the first two moose came near the house, she sat in the window and watched them. The second two came as close and stayed longer, but she just ignored them, and didn’t come anywhere near a window. [I got some pretty good pictures of Sadie and the moose observing one another.]


* * *

The indoor adventures of the cats were entertaining, also. One year, when Dixie was with us, we had an invasion of garter snakes. We don't know why they came into the cabin that particular year. (I don't recall any other years they were inside, although they were always common outdoors), but there were a number of them. Garter snakes are harmless, of course, and we seldom saw a mouse while they were around. Nevertheless, and poisonous or not, it is always a little disconcerting to have a two-foot snake appear under your feet (or on your bed!). Dixie was very good about detecting snake movements, then cornering them until we could remove them from the house.

Dixie's big thing was mouse hunting. We always had a few white-footed mice in the cabin; sometimes, there were quite a few. Dixie would prowl all night, often catching but seldom killing her prey. It could get pretty noisy.

Monday 19 June 1995 - (Sally's notes) Last night was interesting. When I got up at 0130 I heard a noise. I shone the big light and saw a raccoon on the bird feeder. I had put a little seed in yesterday. The light seemed to help him see what he was doing. I won’t put out feed again. I went back to bed while Dixie prowled. All of a sudden there was a clatter as she pounced on something. I shone the light on her. She was on Sandy’s bed with a mouse in her mouth. She looked puzzled about what to do next. I put on the lamp and found a can for her to drop it in. She dropped it on the bed and it ran away. She did, too, but lost it.

I was just about to put the lamp out when there was a loud crash over by Dixie’s food. As I went over, I discovered the cat litter shovel on the foot of my bed and books on the floor. I guess the mouse went up over the books, knocked them down and one hit the shovel and flipped it up onto the bed. It was 0230 before I got the lamp out and quite a while after that when I got back to sleep. It was very warm.

Tuesday 4 July 1995 - Busy night - Dixie was mousing, chasing but not killing, and we were awake off and on as she crashed around and/or tried to deliver mice (mouse, probably) to Sally. We didn’t really get fully to sleep until morning. Slept until after 0800, leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs.

Monday 5 June 2000 - A little comic relief in the night: the mice eat Dixie’s food if we leave it unprotected, so for the last couple years we’ve been putting it near us on the table at night. We put a lid on it. She semi-wakes us up a couple times each night. We take the lid off, she eats a little bit, we put the top back on, and we all continue to sleep.

That solved the problem until this year, but the mice had started to come up on the table and gnaw at the rubber lid. They hadn’t actually got into the food, but they have shredded the edge of the lid, we hear the gnawing, and we really don’t like them that close to our heads. Tonight, I put my tee shirt over the food dish to further discourage the mice. I’m sure it did, since they couldn’t get very near the dish, but it created a further hurdle for us and Dixie. The first time she woke me up, I was with it enough to remove the shirt, take the lid off, hold the dish up for her, let her eat, put the lid back on, put the shirt back on top, and go back to sleep.

The second time, all went well up to the holding the bowl for her to eat. Then I fell asleep and tipped the dish over on my sleeping bag. I spent the next semi-conscious five minutes picking kibble out of the bedding. I eventually got the lid back on the bowl, covered it with my shirt, and went back to sleep. As far as I know, I didn’t have any creatures - large or small - in my sleeping bag with me, after that.

Sunday 11 June 2000 - The mice have been going crazy in the house this spring, getting into everything including Dixie’s food, even when we put it up on the table next to us. We put a rubber cover on the dish as we had last year, only taking it off to feed her, but the mice have been chewing the rubber. Lately, we’ve started putting a glass bowl over her bowl, which keeps the mice from feeding, but doesn’t keep them off the table. Finally, we decided we had to trap some of them, even though we don’t like to kill them. In the past four days, we’ve killed eight, and the nights have gotten quite a bit quieter.

* * *

Sadie never had to contend with snakes in the house, and she seemed only marginally interested in chasing mice. The interest and skill she developed was one we could have done without: catching bats. Bats would occasionally get into our "upstairs," but if we were careful to keep the entry hatch shut, they seldom got down into our living area. However, upstairs was part of Sadie's "living area."

Sunday 29 August 2004 - I don’t think I mentioned that, about a week ago, Sadie caught a bat. We heard a big crash upstairs, and assume she leaped and caught it in flight. She carried it around downstairs for awhile but then lost it. We never found it, so assume it went back upstairs.

Wednesday 8 September 2004 - Sadie caught a bat (looked like a big brown) in the night and carried it downstairs, where it got away. It kept us up for 45 minutes or so, while we tried to get it either out the front door or back upstairs. It eventually disappeared and Sadie lost interest, so we assumed it went somewhere other than downstairs. That’s the second bat she’s caught (we know she got the first one on the wing), so we shut the loft door so she can’t go up there. It’s not a problem we ever had with Dixie. [Later: We tried all sorts of ways of keeping Sadie from going upstairs, but she kept finding places to squeeze through. We never discouraged her.]

Monday 18 July 2005 - I forgot to mention that Sadie caught a big brown bat yesterday, her first of the year.

Monday 1 August 2005 - We had a rough second half of the night. Sadie brought another bat downstairs around 0400. It got away and flew around the house, while she crashed around after it. I got the screen door open, and it apparently exited. We both eventually got back to sleep, but it was a little sticky and uncomfortable, so we were pretty beat when we finally got up at 0800.

Tuesday 2 August 2005 - We spent most of the day sealing up the routes that Sadie uses to get upstairs. The bat catching is getting out of hand, both for our distress and her safety.

Saturday 20 August 2005 - We spent some of the morning trying to further Sadie-proof the routes upstairs. Our work of last week has kept her from getting all the way upstairs by her old routes, but she is getting on top of the windows, looking for new ways up. We put up more screening to keep her off the windows. (Getting on the windows is unsafe, regardless of whether she finds a way upstairs from them, or not.)

Sunday 21 August 2005 - We’d had a hectic late night (because Sadie found a new way upstairs, and we feared bat-retrieving), and got a late start in the morning.

* * *

Sadie is still with us here in Oregon in 2018; she is getting to be an old-timer (like us), and only dreams of bats and moose, now. We lost Dixie in 2004 at Camp, in conditions that still make me sad.

Saturday 15 June 2002 - Dixie is obviously having more and more trouble with her hindquarters. It’s been getting worse since winter, and we’ve been putting boxes all over for her to use as steps. But even these are getting a lot harder. She often just stands and looks puzzled, tries a time or two, and finally makes it. Today was by far the worst, and it seems like she’s having some pain, too, when we touch her just wrong. It’s sad to watch.

Sunday 16 June 2002 - We were indoors all day, trying to keep Dixie comfortable. She slept a lot of the day, and didn’t even try to climb up on anything. She’d walk up to the boxes we’ve put for her as steps, just look puzzled and walk away. She is not in constant pain, but several times when she shifted her position she cried out terribly. How to break a friend’s heart!

Monday 17 June 2002 - We had been especially worried about Dixie last night, because we were afraid that she would get in bed with one of us and hurt herself like she had the previous night. After not climbing anything all day, she made it up to the top of Sally’s closet, where she usually sleeps in her “cave” (fabric half-igloo). She slept in it all night, and only came down when I got up about 0700.

Obviously, Dixie was in need of a veterinarian, but that's not easy in the North Country. People like their pets, but it just seems to be an accepted fact that cats will eventually be killed by coyotes or run over by log trucks, and don't need any special care. There was a vet in Gorham in 1990 who treated small animals, but that office had long since closed. The nearest vet who would even look at cats was in Lancaster. Our local friends didn't think much of him, but we didn't have a choice.

We made arrangements to take Dixie to the vet in Lancaster. She was really suspicious of her carrying case, and hid behind the stove. It took almost a half-hour to get her into the carrying box, during which time she was very frightened, hurting badly, and angry. I hurt her several times, even though we were being as careful as we could. Once she was in her case, she settled down and we never heard another sound from her. There didn't seem to be any question that she was in really bad shape.

We had expected the vet to examine her, tell us what was wrong, then make a decision about what to do. Instead, he took her in the back room, and a few minutes later brought out our dead friend. He hadn't even checked her over, just gassed her. We assumed her problem was an illness, rather than an injury, but we never knew.

We brought her back home, with only a detour to the post office, and I dug a hole north of the house, and buried her immediately in her “cave.” I felt I had to get that done as soon as possible. Now, I’m sitting here feeling a little empty. Peace to you, Dixie - my best pal!

Dix



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