Gone Feral

The joy of a holiday gathering for our family was clouded by the rapidly fading health of a long-time pet. Alfalfa, a loveable old housecat that resided at the Franklin residence for a dozen years, succumbed to an illness that required one last visit to the veterinarian– on December 24th.

Nine Mile Run

Alf’s burial out on Sand Hill (on Franklin property) was a sad affair for all who said farewell beneath the snowy evergreens and poplar trees. But the Sand Hill ground, where the pets have been interred through the many years that we’ve inhabited this place, was originally the home of woodchucks and, more recently, of red foxes. The canine pups have been a pleasure to observe, especially in spring when they romp around their dens beneath the poplar trees.

red fox den

Anyhow, the old cat got buried with our human rites applied, and snowfall added an appropriate touch to the holiday atmosphere. Next day, when I walked up to the site, I saw the usual fox tracks in the mud and snow, plus something new. I’ve had bobcat on the mind ever since Leighanne observed a wild cat in our backyard last September.

Pawprint of a bobcat. Cats will sometimes appropriate used dens.

I had no idea that a bob might also include our sandy site for a home while making its rounds through hill and hollow. I discovered paw prints of a wild cat that had obviously been using a couple of dens appropriated by the red fox family. And the primary bob location was only 10 to 15 feet away from the undisturbed burial site of our domestic friend, Alfalfa.

Sand Hill, Bobcat Motel…

I could write the whole thing off as frivolous Winter Solstice/New Year sentiment, but there might be more to this than meets the eye initially. We’ve got a Sand Hill burial site where the dog and felines go in their last hours, a place where rabbits, ‘chucks and deer have laid their heads, and where the foxes and a bobcat currently reside. There we laid an old cat to his rest, and soon a vigorous bob came out for a night of hunting. Pretty cool, me thought…

Fox print… Note the toe-nail marks… Bobcats/housecats walk with nails retracted….

Gone feral. Cat to cat, and dog to fox/coyote/wolf. The transformations never stop, of course. I feel them when I take my social self to the woods and waters of the trout. The world of nature steps inside my solitude, and the spirit of a bobcat stalks the winter hills.

a Nine Mile brown…

a winter tail, a quick return…

Tater, the new homestead kitty, peeps out from the “bobcat den”…

Rocky Raccoon observes the Nine Mile angler…

Nine Mile Run

Celtic salmon made the Christmas run…

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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16 Responses to Gone Feral

  1. Jet Eliot says:

    Really enjoyed your rambles today, my friend. I love the magic of a snowfall that reveals the prints of our secret wilderness friend– give us clues, expose the spirits if we are quiet and listen and observe. Hoping your new year is blessed with reflections and delights, and more wonderful words.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Farewell, Alfafa, and hello to Tater.
    Sentiment? I don’t think so – another sign how there are all kinds of connections running from the past through to the future – wild and spirited stuff!
    A wonderful collection of photographs here, from the tracks to the raccoon, and you’ve got me missing the snow…
    Thanks, Walt, and here’s to a Happy New Year, full of outdoor excitement.

  3. Dr. G says:

    Doc, really sorry to hear about your Alfalfa. My Strider boy (who once visited Bootleg Hollow) passed away on Christmas Eve day 18 years ago. Still miss him. Best to you and L in 2019, Gator.

    • Thanks much, Doc. I remember Strider very well, the way he bounded around the backyard here with frisbees in the air. To pass on a Christmas Eve is damn difficult for everyone who was close, as you know so well. Man, he lived a good long life! Our best wishes to you, pal, and to J. for a healthy & musical 2019.

  4. Brent says:

    There’s an elegiac note here, especially to your last paragraph. A strangely fitting final tribute to a kitty who epitomized domestic indolence, but who must have (like all of us) had an element of the primitive stashed away. RIP, Poopers, and may your memory be carried on in the wild and in the house alike.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Sorry to learn of Alfalfa’s passing and the lousy timing of it, Walt. Glad to learn that the “cat spirit” is being carried on by Tater, with some help from their wild brethren. Here’s to new adventures in 2019.
    P.S. How do you like the book?

    • We’ll carry on, Bob. Thanks and happy new year!
      Grass Flats is an interesting account of early-day ornithology in western PA. I like the local history aspect and the outdoor realism but, admittedly, the shotgun is a heavy-handed instrument, and the graphic record of gathering specimens can be depressing as hell, especially with regard to the collection of waterfowl and birds of prey. But Simpson knew his birds, and the shooting of subjects is the way they did it at the turning of the century. It was symptomatic of the mass destruction of the natural world occurring then. The ornithologist, Simpson, even collected one of the last living passenger pigeons in the Warren area, a specimen that wound up in the Audubon museum in Jamestown, NY. I’m looking forward to the reading of the warblers and other songbirds in the area at the time.
      Thanks again!

  6. Ross says:

    enjoyed your post Walt. Sorry for your loss; our animal family members do weave their lives into ours. Pretty cool the bobcat track find. Happy New Year to you and yours.

  7. Hey, thank you, Ross. Glad you enjoyed, and I hope the holiday season continues to be a good one for you & the family. Happy trails in the New Year, and looking forward to crossing tracks with you soon.

  8. loydtruss says:

    Sad for all family members when a beloved pet is lost sorry to hear of Alfalfa’s death.
    I remember coon hunting as a boy and our Redbone Hounds treeing a bobcat at times instead of a coon. The bobcat was much more cunning than the coon, it could jump from tree limbs at times and elude the dogs. We never bagged a bobcat. Thanks for sharing

  9. JZ says:

    Sorry to hear about your Alfalfa Walt. I have a warm spot in my heart for cats. I own two of them and both are quite old. they still spend the nights outside hunting and bring back presents. Holly, the oldest I got back in 2002. Found her as a young kitten hiding out in a groundhog hole behind an electric fence that held back horses and cattle. Scared for her, I coaxed her out with tuna across the barbwire and had quickly fallen for her. I named her Ginger, because of her color. The second 2 years later, is Holly, found as a kitten at the same Amish farm. Christmas time season was upon us and her fur glistened like the snow in the woods, thus her name.I would imagine wild cats gets eaten by hawks and get rundown by roadside travelers often. These two are lucky, they both have a strong survival sense. Sometimes they are gone for days, although not typical anymore, but always make there way back finding peace, love and a warm spirit inside. I feel for your loss Walt, you made his life more special I’m sure.

    • Thank you, JZ. You are doing well with Holly and Ginger, a couple of older cats you’ve saved from the prospect of doom, and they’ve been wonderful pets. I never used to be a cat person (mostly because the outdoor variety kill far too many birds) but my wife and daughter (especially) taught me how to have fun with indoor cats and to really like their individual characters. Now that our two long-time housecats have died of old age, we’ve replaced them with a couple of kittens adopted from the animal shelter. Bundles of energy, with charm… Thanks again, and Happy New Year!

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