But, that conversation was suddenly pierced by the sharp cries of two catbirds that had landed on the fence just outside our side bay window. They were cries of anger and alarm. Something was very wrong. The catbirds have a nest on the other side of our house, in our other neighbor's high bush. The catbird couple are extremely protective and will sound the alarm at anything with beak or teeth. And their alarm was on full volume, so loud that I couldn't hear my wife speak.
I went to the bay window and looked out. Just below the catbirds was Mama Cat, with something in her mouth.
Mama Cat is a very large feral cat (maybe 20 pounds) that lives in the window well of our neighbor's house. They built a flap entrance for her so that she can enter into a small wire enclosure in their basement to escape the winter's cold and the summer's heat. They provide water and food for her. They captured her once many years back after she dropped a litter of kittens in their back yard and had her spayed. It was the only time humans have ever touched her. She is as wild as the wind. Her tracks are found in the deepest snow in the coldest months, and she sleeps under the tall ornamental grass in my backyard from April to August. I respect her independence and freedom. I especially respect her claws.
At first, I thought Mama Cat was holding a mouse by the neck. But then she turned slightly to look up at the screaming catbirds.
"Trish," I said. "Mama Cat has the baby bunny."
For weeks, we had been watching a tiny bunny in our back yard at daybreak and dusk. It was so tiny, at first, that it looked like a chewing dot of fur. Slowly, over time, the dot was growing. It could move like a blur when we approached, although it usually ducked beneath the smallest plants, thinking we couldn't see it.
"Trish," I said, turning, thinking she couldn't hear me with the din of the catbirds. "Mama Cat has ...."
But Trish was gone, and I heard the back door slam.
"Oh shit," I said and ran.
When I reached the side of the house, my wife and Mama Cat were facing off.
"Drop it!" Trish said.
Mama Cat's instincts were on full throttle. She had made a kill. It had been a clean kill, probably with many hours of stalking and waiting to make that one fatal lunge. This was not your garden variety kitty. This was a wild animal that had survived God knows how many threats from enemies of all kinds. She was not about to be intimidated by a mere 5' 1.5" human.
"Trish," I said, coming up behind her. "It's too late. The bunny's dead."
"No it's not," she said. "I saw it move."
The rabbit hung from Mama Cat's mouth by its neck. Like its distant relatives on the African plains, Mama Cat had seized its prey by the throat and suffocated it.
"DROP IT," Trish screamed, rushing Mama Cat.
The catbirds flew with alarm into the air, and Mama Cat, trapped by a closed gate, leaped onto and over the fence to escape the charging woman. The bunny lay on the ground where she dropped it. Mama Cat had survived these many years by knowing when to fight and when to flee. And it was time to flee before the fury of this protective woman. The bunny was not Trish's child. It was not human and it was as wild as Mama Cat. But it was also helpless and young, and somewhere its mother was looking for it.
I looked at the lifeless body of the rabbit.
"It's dead," I said again. "It's too late to do anything."
Trish reached down and lifted up the body.
"I can feel its heart beating," she said quietly. "It's beating very fast."
The bunny didn't move in her hands. It didn't blink or struggle to get away from her.
Trish slowly laid the body in our garden. There was still no movement.
"Maybe it's neck is broken," I said.
"I'm going to stay with it," she said. "I don't want Mama Cat coming back and taking it."
I left Trish and the bunny in the back yard. Ever practical, I wondered what I would do with the dead body.
Twice I saw Mama Cat on the other side of the fence, staring into our back yard. I had the sense that she was calmly waiting for the human to go away so she could retrieve her prize.
Trish finally came inside.
"That was really nice of you," I said, "trying to save the bunny."
"It's gone," she said, washing her hands.
"Gone?" I said, confused. Had she already placed the body in a trash bag?
"It sat up after a while. I think it was in shock. Then, it got its feet under it and ran off into the neighbor's yard behind us where we always see it go."
I was stunned. I had written the bunny off. Twice.
"You saved a life today," I said. "That's incredible."
"I saw it move," Trish said and smiled. "I had to help it."
Over the last two days, I have thought repeatedly of Watership Down, one of my favorite books. Courage and persistance are the hallmarks of the rabbit characters in the novel. Against terrible odds, Hazel and Fiver and Bigwig and a host of others struggle to survive against many enemies.
At the conclusion of the book, Lord Frith says to El-ahrairah, a folk hero of the story: "All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed."
Add now add my wife, Trish, and her caring for the helpless and young to Lord Frith's blessings.
Copyright (2012) by James Hugh Comey