At the farm we generate at least a few animal stories every year. That would be appropriate given our out of town location that is both woodsy and wide open and of course wild. There are a lot of observations—such as that the pair of fawns along the driveway is certainly growing up quickly; all their spots are already gone. Or those darn hawks; they have been flying around for months now shrieking and sounding a lot like gulls at a far off beach. Or it has sure been nice to have joyful Madeleine around this summer for relocating the occasional snakes that have appeared; her technique with the reptiles twining around her arm is much friendlier than one of us grim-faced with a shovel in hand. Only every now and then do observations turn into stories.

Not all of our animal stories involve native wild animals. As in a lot of rural areas a surprising number of cats inhabit this locale. While hunting for deer quietly ensconced in deer stands which are like tree houses or are metal tower arrangements with a platform up near the top, hunters often report seeing more cats than deer. Cats can have a very negative influence on the song bird population which is already under challenge in rural areas from shrinking habitat (think of disappearing fence lines) and resurgent raptors. Where do all these cats come from? We haven't seen any authoritative studies, but a lot of people around here think they are continually dumped on us by city and townsfolk believing that their no longer cherished pets might salvage some kind of life, perhaps as mousers on somebody's farm.

It is an early December morning. Thus far winter has not really appeared, still the mornings are frosty and there have been snow squalls and periods of cold with bitter winds. As Nancy replenishes the display of festive branches (the kind that give an outdoor Christmas/Winter container needed height and maybe texture and color, too), she hears a cat's 'meow, meow.' Before she can determine where the sound is coming from, she feels a persistent caress of her right leg just above her boot top. She looks down at the cute upturned face of a calico cat, its tawny and black patches smartly splotched with milky white. Nancy asks pleasantly, 'And where did your come from?' to which the cat warmly gushes, 'meow, meow, meow.'

As the day unfolds the cat hangs around meowing and brushing against stationary legs. It so closely follows Nancy that she is afraid she will accidentally step on it. Just before dusk Karen, the Farm's prime wreath and roping maker appears. Not only is Karen highly skilled with conifer branches (and a myriad of other artistic endeavors) she loves cats, has cats and cat-loving friends. The year before, when another cute feline appeared, Karen quickly found it a new home. As she gets down to clipping Fraser Fir tips, she begins thinking about adoptees for the cat.

The next morning dawns cloudy and rainy. From where Nancy is working on some big arrangements for a commercial customer in wood stove heated Acorn Hall, she suddenly spies the calico cat tracking prey in the rain garden area. Amazingly, despite being 'declawed' the cat seems to have captured a mouse.

Later on Karen reports that she has fed the cat and so far there are 'no takers.' By midafternoon the cat is back with Nancy, chatty and affectionate as before. Mary, the seamstress who creates so many of the Farm's lovely textiles (table runners, towels, aprons to name a few) drives in, then arms loaded with newly constructed merchandise, ponderously negotiates her way on to the porch and up to the south door of the Big Barn. Mary is a genuine character, grizzled, mobility-impaired, yet the creator of delicate objects, some so colorful and cute that they can almost fly. For years she was a traveling hospice nurse before nearly being killed in a terrible auto accident. Though her manner is often gruff with a husky voice to match, she is truly a sweet soul with a designer's eye and deft fingers. She is also a cat owner. The cute calico approaches Mary meowing and brushing Mary's swollen, permanently injured leg. As Nancy relates the cat's tale Mary looks pensive. She is thinking of a friend and neighbor whose long time calico companion recently died.

Before the copious number of Mary's newest offerings can be attractively added to the displays in the Big Barn, Mary is calling. Yes her friend's calico curiosity has been piqued and a get-acquainted meeting has been scheduled for tomorrow.

Grabbing a clip board with the new orders for pine products, Nancy trudges over to see Karen in Greenhouse Number 6. Sniffing the ultimate 'up North' pine scent from all the cut Fraser, balsam and white pine in process, Nancy walks over to Karen who is constructing a wreath on one of the wreath crimping machines. The cat is sitting on the table where stacks of clipped Fraser tips repose. Nancy updates Karen about new orders and then tells her about Mary's friend who wants the cat. Almost in response to the conversation the animal jumps from the table into Nancy's arms and rests its head on her shoulder like a baby. What an unbelievable cat.

Mary and her friend arrive around noon of the following day. The friend falls in love with the cat in about thirty seconds. And we thought that was the end of the story; a kind of feline version of Holly and Ivy right at Redbud Creek Farm.

But we heard from Mary's friend the other day and there are a few post scripts. Initially the cat is named Chatty Cathy, an apropos moniker but… After further consideration the cat is named the more alluring Pandora. One hopes the boxes opened in this lady's life are bringing happiness.

Finally there was a semi significant complication in Pandora's adoption. Mary's friend takes the cat to her veterinarian for a checkup and shots. The doctor announces that there is a little issue. Oh, not a health problem exactly—it seems this cast-off cat possesses a pet microchip through which the vet can obtain all the contact information of the pet's original owner. These pet microchips are about the size of a grain of rice and are inserted via a special syringe beneath the pet's skin in the area between the shoulder blades. Pandora's new owner is in a bit of shock as the vet calls the original owner and leaves a message on their phone answering machine, a new version of The Cat Comes Back in digital. As the hours and days passed with no word from the party who paid $50 (less if the procedure was included with other services like 'declawing') plus the annual $17.50 registration fee to have their verbal and affectionate calico cat digitally branded, Mary's friend got to feeling better. I would love to know the story of how the cat came to the Farm and it intrigues me that Pandora likely carries the key just beneath her tri-color fur.

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