It took a few second for the orange ball of fuzz to come into focus, revealing the two beady eyes and a half dozen whiskers that belonged to Titan (kitten #3). But how was Titan floating in mid-air? Looking just beyond the floating kitten was an utterly delighted and ear to ear grin that belonged to Shana who had stated, adamantly, before going to bed that she did not, under any circumstances, want to be woken up before 7am. I looked at my watch. It was 6.
Shana, Maya, Magnolia (Maggie), Kailey and Colton had all spent the night on the trampoline. After a few tussles (“Colton! Move! You are in my foot space!”) and a couple of stumbling barefoot trips through the darkness to go pee in the bushes, they mostly settled down. I do believe Shana would have slept longer were it not for the kittens. Being terribly allergic, Michelle does not allow any animals into the house. The kittens, all nine of them; who have been named Tana, Jobi, Titan, Amaria, Ace, Somey, Swirls, Milvin and Burrito; eagerly took to the addition of human bodies to their territory and, starting when they all woke up around 4am, went about pouncing, biting, fighting and tumbling around and over and under any and every sleeping being (including the dogs). In part, this was pay back for the night before when the assembled herd of children had merrily spent an hour corralling and releasing and corralling and releasing all nine (the task being to make sure they’d secured all of them) until a blearly eyed Michelle finally told all of them it was time for bed. Clearly the rest of the children were more dedicated to their sleep than Shana, but I too found it impossible, once my eyes were open, to resist the sea of furry flags that bobbed and waved through the un-mown grass as the kitten tackled bugs and toes with abandon.
Three of the kittens came from under someone’s sink at a mobile home park, the proprietor of which simply handed the box of three week-old kittens to Michelle and walked off. (Michelle fed them every four hours for four weeks.) I have no idea where the other six came from. She assured me that most of them have homes, but from the looks of it, there is lots of work for cats at the ranch. The three grown cats that live there eat a bite or two of the food Michelle puts out for them, but they clearly prefer to hunt for their dinner. The mice and ground squirrels are so abundant that they often don’t bother to eat what they kill. Upon walking into the barn later that morning, Lauren (age 13), pulled me aside and with a look of dread told me not to go into the tack room. Moments before she’d turned on the light to find an odd collection of rodent body parts and had trouble stomaching the sight.
Colton, Michelle’s son, is much more accustomed to the predatory activity of the ranch felines. There are many highlights at the ranch, but if the girls were forced to choses, I’d guess that the highest of the highlights would be time on the horses riding in the arena. Separated from the highway by a ridge, down a dead end road; there are no motorcycles, no trash trucks, no blaring radios. The arena is covered. There are no dressage queens who expect the children to have perfect behavior and perfect control; no one intent on lunging a spastic three year-old in the middle of five riders. Besides the peace and quiet, the girls have the arena to themselves and they can go around and around and around to their hearts content. Kailey likes to ride, as does three year-old Maddi (Michelle’s youngest), but Colton has to find other ways to amuse himself. He has the run of the ranch and sometimes plays in front of the house, sometimes at the barn and often just rides his bike as fast as he can between house, barn and arena, spewing gravel as he goes. This morning he’d left the bike at the barn and had, instead, attached himself of a bucket that he was staring intently into as he wandered and weaved his way in the general direction of the arena. Michelle must have felt obligated to warn me. She frowned and said, “I asked him if he wanted me to put water in his bucket. He said that he didn’t. He’s using the bucket to collect dead things.” Colton was now near enough for me to see into the bucket. With a big smile, he proudly held up his bucket for me to see the pair of dispatched ground squirrels sitting at the bottom of it.
The girls rode for another half an hour, untacked the horses, packed up their gear and piled into the truck (to head home). Colton was still transfixed by his treasure of carcasses. When he finally takes biology, I suspect that anatomy will be his strong suit.