If you have a cat, a dog, a pet iguana, a patio pot with a tomato plant, an award winning rose, a few rows of potatoes or a million acres of wheat, sooner or later Nature will tap you on the shoulder and remind you of the facts. "Hey bud. We have a deal."
I was reminded of that today by our otherwise carefree barn cat, Sean. Sean can't read the fine print but he knows the terms of our agreement. Man says, "You are a barn cat. We hired you because rodents steal food, damage buildings, eat baby chicks make a mess generally and aren't contributing to the program here. You seem to be pretty good at hunting rodents, cat. Here's the deal. We'll give you enough food and health care to keep you strong and able. You'll be free to come and go as you please and use your talents at will to eat rats, mice, voles and whatever else comes your way. One more thing, we'll be clipping your junk." So cat looks at the deal and says, "Sweet. Feed me on schedule, don't act crazy and don't try to pick me up or turn me into one of your stupid, fat, house cats and I'm your barn cat." Sean is as free as Huckleberry Finn.
Last fall the fur trappers in our neighborhood legally set traps in the neighborhood. Trapping for furs goes on here as a traditional way of earning income sometimes for bounty and varmint control. I don't have much to say about it. But I do appreciate it when a trapper comes to me and lets me know his traps are out and we're good enough neighbors to exchange the courtesy of allowing trappers to work by asking them to keep traps away from our farm yard, kids and livestock. Seems rational enough. But Huck Finn can't read a map and Sean disappeared.
We were out in the barnyard in the morning 2 days later when Sean came home. He slunk weakly into the barnyard and made a dizzy beeline to safety in the hay loft. We were glad to see him and realized pretty fast he was in trouble. Panting, starving, one eye bulging out but ever so grateful to be home. He was bundled up, taken to the vet, tested and observed and then released home for care with a guess that maybe a glancing blow from a car on the road had nearly done him in.
A few days later a neighbor came by and mentioned that he'd found a cat in a trap in a neck hold and set him loose. Turns out it was Sean. The type of trap used and a neighbor gave him a chance. And when he was set free he came home.
Sean was let into the house for the first time ever and closed into the bathroom with everything he'd need to recover. He was patient with being confined. He was fed and loved and nursed back to health and was eventually more than happy to go back home to freedom in his barn.
Afterward, last winter, Sean would show up on the porch in the bitterest cold, visit and talk with us, take a bit of petting (Not too much because rubbing his fur pushed the warm air out of his coat) and then off he'd go to his lodgings in the hay loft. Sean lost the rounded tips of his ears to frost bite last winter. But he never asked to be let in the house. He knows the deal. Some day, if we're both lucky, Sean and I will retire. I suspect we'll both earn a spot by the fire and have no regrets. Until then, we both have work to do.
This is just a short story about a cat. It's also a story about all of us. We have a deal with Nature and Nature holds the stakes. We promise to care for and look after Nature in return for what we need and we take what we get. We're a wife and husband, nurturing the little lives we are given and as long as we recognize the terms of our survival all is well. But If we hold ourselves apart from Nature, if we forget that people spent 10,000 years negotiating a living and if we believe we cannot be held to account for ignoring the contract, we'll lose everything. Even a silly barn cat with squared ears knows the facts. He's free to come and go as he pleases. But he follows me everywhere. And I admire that little cat.