Sometimes, though, our encounters with roaming furry creatures is anything but peaceful. Such was the case this past Sunday, as the four of us were quietly eating breakfast while the sun streamed in cheerfully through our kitchen window. (Well, three of us were quietly eating. I'll leave you to guess which one of us was talking excitedly and gesturing wildly about whatever fascinating thing had just come to mind. And no, Dad, it wasn't me!) Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something moving out from under the evergreens, so I looked up and announced casually, "Oh look, it's the little gray cat." The boys turned to look at the feline neighbour who sometimes comes to pay us a visit, and Will called out a friendly greeting to her in case she could hear us. It was a sweet little Sunday morning scene.
We noticed the squirrel at about the same time the cat did. He was scampering up the trunk of one of our majestic willow trees, and the flicking of his tail was an irresistible invitation for the little cat to start chasing him. "Oh no. Oh no. Oh NO!!" I murmured with increasing intensity as the cat raced towards the tree and started to reach her front paws up it, her eyes hungrily following the squirrel's every movement, her mind planning her next move. The squirrel turned to look down and then chattered at the cat from his safely higher spot, egging her on, and we watched a little anxiously as the feline disappeared out of sight around the back of the giant trunk.
"She's not going to climb the tree, is she?" someone asked in hopeful disbelief.
"Probably not," I said, trying to reassure myself as much as I was the boys. "That squirrel is too big for her, anyway."
But that feisty little cat was going to climb the tree. We couldn't see her; rather the tense scene played out in long morning shadows on the lawn as the cat leapt exuberantly from the ground and landed mid-way up the trunk where she paused, her lithe body reflected as an unmoving black knot in the centre of the tree. We all held our breath for a few seconds, waiting, waiting to see what would happen next....
Suddenly our kitchen erupted into shrieks and hollers as the cat scrambled upwards and into view at the fork of the tree, a long ways up from the ground. She was eye-level with the squirrel now; the only thing separating them was a thick off-shoot of the trunk. The squirrel gripped the wood over on his side of the branch, frozen in place and seemingly unsure whether he should run up or down to escape unharmed, and on her side, the cat made a few tentative swipes with her paw to see if she could reach her prize.
The boys and I (all three of us sensitive animal lovers) were worked into a frenzied fit by this point. We were terrified for the squirrel in his predicament, and genuinely worried that the cat was going to get herself stuck up in our tree. Things only got worse when the squirrel suddenly bolted upwards, and the cat sprung even higher into the branches to follow him. We paced wildly in front of the window, wringing our hands and yelling out frantic instructions to both creatures. A very stressed out Will even started shouting, "CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT! CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!!!"
And then suddenly everything was over as quickly as it had begun. The squirrel hastily scampered upwards into the highest reaches of the willow, the delicate branches swaying precariously as he went, and the cat had the good sense to realize she wasn't going to win this time. We all exhaled loudly as the cat gracefully exited the tree (thus making an actual phone call to the fire department unnecessary) and sauntered off nonchalantly back towards the evergreens.
There have been studies done that show nature helps the brain to relax, and that the great outdoors is very restorative for people. I'm a big believer in the importance of quality time spent in nature in our lives, but let me tell you that it took a good long time for our hearts to stop thumping frantically and our breathing to return to normal after that wild little episode. What we needed on Sunday was some quality time indoors, completely away from any windows that might shed light on any more natural drama, in order to make a full recovery.
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