Saturday, May 5, 2012

From one blade of grass to another

"Ah, life is glorious, isn't it?"

"well kid, it is, but it is dangerous, and fleeting. Enjoy it while it lasts, because it won't. I have seen many like you come and go."

"What do you mean?. Life is great. We sit out in the sun all day, get some water on us when that becomes necessary.
The people they love us. They love to look at us. We are glorious and green and they all want us."

"Well, all that is true, but I have seen many like you, and they are now gone. They fall into that trap of growing proud and strong, and then, one day, a mower comes along, and you are chopped off, and dead."

"That won't happen to me, I will grow so beautiful, they will only want to trim me."

"Five million of your friends said that last year, and now, here I sit, with you, and they.....are...done."

"So, what is your secret then?"

"Keep your head up. Pay attention. Watch out for the guy that owns this place. When he is around, hide down below some other blade. Let him get cut. Then sprout back up and make him desire you."

"Wow, that is great advice, thanks. Is that all there is to know?"

"Hardly. Stay away from those weed people. They will crowd you. They will suffocate you. And the owner doesn't like them. He will dig them up and kill them with sprays. If you are anywhere near them, you will be a casualty of their demise, their ultimate demise."

"Again, thanks. I never thought of that."

"There is so much you need to learn kid. We can talk again, if you survive the night. I heard from the blade of grass on the other side of the lawn that the owner is doing yard work this week. Better watch your back."

"I will".

"And grow deep roots, that is the only way you survive long term. I saw Moses part the red sea, and I will see Martians land on the train tracks over there one day. If you want to do the same, make a plan, and stick to it."

"I want to survive. I really do. I guess I thought my being glorious and green was enough. I thought they appreciated me. That I was special."

"You mean nothing to them. They can go to the store and get millions more, just like you. Where do you think you came from?"

"I never thought of that, I guess I just wasn't thinking. I wasn't using my head."

"Lay low kid. Weeds are stupid. They sprout up, and glorious and proud. The next thing you know, they dig them up..or spray pesticide on them. Idiots. They not only get themselves killed, but some of my best friends died because of them."

"Again, thanks."

"Remember one last thing. You think I am old and worn. I am not. I just appear that way. When the owner comes around, I make like I am just new, green, proud, bright and shiny. He looks at me, then he looks away. I have survived doing that forever."

Friday, May 4, 2012

A cat I called Sugar

When you train racehorses and hang around barns you see a lot of things that others don't. This story is not about all those crazy things or stories that I could tell you.  I will save those for another time.
Growing up I have always loved animals. All animals. But I had a phobia about cats for whatever reason. I always thought they would scratch and bite me. I even had dreams about it. I have been bitten by dogs,  which I have loved as long as I can remember,  but I have never had a dream about it. And I have never been scared of any dogs. I don't know where my cat phobia started but I avoided them at all cost when I was very young.
As the years went by I just seemed to encounter the odd cat here and there,  and as they all seemed friendly, I got over it. Cats are just like any other animal.  if you let them come to you they will be very friendly and loving. There are exceptions to that rule and those ones let you know to back away.
By the time I got my first "real" job running my Uncle's factory I had completely gotten over the cat phobia. I liked cats. Even loved cats. At that time I also had my dog Minnie, a big,  lovable black Labrador retriever, and she would come with me to the factory everyday. Sometimes she would follow me around,  while other times she would just lie around and sleep in my office. Minnie loved all things, no matter what. But she was enthusiastic and did not understand that other living things could be scared of her.
There were times in our backyard at home that Minnie would chase a cat just to play with them, corner them and then get scratched on the nose. Many a time she came back in the house with a bloody nose. That never stopped her from doing it again. She was just lovable and carefree like that.
In my Uncle's factory, they had an old cat they called Maria. The sweetest and most lovable cat you ever met. And very tame. Nothing fazed old Maria.  She would just make her way around the factory, and most times just lie around. She would stand up if you went to pet her,  but otherwise she was very quiet and old. She had to be 15 by the time I met her. Minnie,  being Minnie,  went right up to her and sniffed her out. Maria,  unlike most cats just lied there and let Minnie feel her out.  Minnie licked her on the nose and they were best friends. After a while,  Maria and Minnie hung out together in my office and I got to love cats after knowing Maria.
A few years later I began to train racehorses and my first stop was the barn of Joe Gasparro. I only knew of this place because a co worker of mine, Don Altman, knew Joe from way back. They were both in their 70s while I was barely 30. Joe was different. Very different. He kept the barn although there was no one using it for a few years. There was shit all over the place. Cob webs everywhere. Old junk and vehicles everywhere. When I brought my horses there to train I was the only tenant. Most of the time I was there by myself. Joe had some horses,  but they lived outside and didn't really need any care. He put one big bale of hay out for them and they ate that for weeks before he had to replace it. Other than that there was one cat,  they called her "Mama". In the days when that barn was full of tenants,  she had quite a few litters of kittens.  Hence her name.
Mama was also a very sweet loving cat. But she was scared of dogs.  Many a late night after I had worked all day and trained the horses until dark,  I would be alone in the barn. Just me, the horses, Minnie and Mama. Minnie would chase Mama but she could never catch her. Mama was older but she was very fast and she was not about to let Minnie or any other dog eat her. She had survived barn life where most cats maybe lasted a year or two. Mama was a very sweet cat, and when Minnie was not there she would also follow you everywhere and fall asleep on your lap.
After a few more stops I ended up at a barn just north of where I lived.  It was a good place to be, in that I knew a lot of the people there and cut down on my travel time. When I first arrived one thing was very plain. There was a lot of cats. More than thirty. The female ones were constantly becoming pregnant. There was also varying degrees of friendliness. Some cats were very friendly, others gave you the time of day but mostly because you fed them, while there were a few who were very feral and would not ever let you touch them.
I have always been the type who could relate to any animal and get them to come to me. There was one cat in the barn,  a cream colored female, who had lived longer than the average cat would at a barn. She was about 3 or 4 years old. She was pleasant enough but no one had ever touched her and she was very careful to make sure you never did. It was commonly held that no one would ever touch this cat. I maintained I would get her to sit on my lap while I petted her, which sounded like a pipe dream to everyone else.
Most barn cats have trouble staying clean and their coats become dirty..or matted..or unsightly. Not this cat. She was immaculate. It was as if she was a house cat and was brushed every two hours. Unlike many barn cats she was also very healthy and maintained a nice healthy weight.
About 3 or 4 months went by and still I had not touched her. She would come up close to me and it was clear she wanted to be friendly, but she was not trusting enough and had a fear of humans. Because I was very animal friendly,  she felt safe to live in my tack room, which really was just a stall. That is what we used for tack rooms. When I was in their tending to my equipment or feed, she just lay there, comfortable enough to just relax. But if I got too close to her, she got nervous and if I got within petting range she was set to scurry out of the room. She would never hiss or threaten you like some barn cats who didn't want to be handled would, but she definitely was not going to be handled.
As summer approached it was very hot and we got to sitting down more, both in the barn and outside in the shade. At times this cat, which I had now named Sugar because she was so sweet, would just about brush up against my leg. As long as I didn't touch her, she now had a comfort level to do that. At times I would have my hand inches from her back and she would not move. However as soon as I made the slightest contact she would still scurry off. This went on for about another month. Winter was now approaching and smart barn cats that stay alive learn to find warm blankets to sleep in at the barn. Sugar had learned it was okay to sleep in my tack room on two or three blankets. I never gave her a hard time like other guys in the barn who did not want the cats in their room or messing up the blankets.
Each morning I would see Sugar and she would now brush up against my leg. Still no contact with my hand,  but as I got closer now,  each time she would not shy away.  I knew it was a matter of time until she would let me pet her. Her guard was now down and she trusted me.
As I was sitting in my tack room one winter day, Sugar was rubbing against my leg and my hand was loosely on her back. She was not moving. All of a sudden, she just hopped on my lap and sat there. Complete trust. She let me pet her and she moved her head into my hand. The barriers were completely gone. The cat they said no one would ever touch was now friendly. Not with everyone, but with the ones she knew she could trust.
For weeks she was the friendliest and most loving cat in the barn. I went to race out of town for a few days and when I came back I noticed she wasn't around. I asked others what had happened to her,  but of course they didn't know.
Being that it is a barn any number or things could have happened. Hit by a car. Killed by a fox. Just run away. Anything could happen. Usually though, you would find a body somewhere. That never happened with her. About two weeks went by and I was cleaning my tack room and I lifted up my blankets, the ones I was not using.
Deep under the blankets I found Sugar. She had died about 2 weeks earlier. I suspect she froze to death. It was a sad ending after all we had been through to gain that trust.
The cat I called Sugar. At least she died having learned to trust. Many barn cats came and went over the time I trained horses. Many were friendly and nice, but she is really the only one I remember. She will never be forgotten. I hope,  wherever she is that she didn't forget me.