A few days ago I hinged and hung Dallas’s cat screen in the open dutch door of the barn. The purpose of this screen, made of scrap wood and welded wire, is to keep my barn cats safely in the barn at night.
This summer Freddie and Flossie learned to roam all over the farm. Wherever I went, they accompanied me like small dogs.
One or the other (most often Freddie) escorted me to feed the pigs. They walked me out to the cabin when I was de-cluttering the bunkhouse. They jumped into the truck bed to inspect my measurements before I sawed up boards on the tailgate. They supervised my painting and hammering. They oversaw my bulb planting. When I lay on the ground to bury fencing wire under gates I had to spit their waving tails out of my mouth.
Now in the fall their favorite thing is to help me put out hay in the pastures. My heart melts to see them trek from the barn, tails up, lifting their feet high, picking their way across the frosty grass, determined to reach me.
The goal is always to be petted. To make this easier they roll on the ground belly up, purring.
If I don’t immediately stop and bend down, they are not discouraged. They walk alongside my boots, pausing every yard or so to throw themselves on the ground in front of my feet. It appears as if they are suffering from a strange seizure disorder. More than once I have stepped on one accidentally, unable to see over a pile of hay. However they don’t hold a grudge. They are simply inviting my adoration.
Here is Freddie.
Aren’t I the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Purr.
See? A quick snap of the neck and I’ve flipped. Aren’t I wonderful? Don’t you love me? Purr, purr.
I do love him, very much. I am absolutely foolish about these cats. When David, my vet, was last at the farm I told him that Freddie and Flossie were the dearest, friendliest cats I’d ever known.
“I’m impressed that you’ve kept them alive for a year,” he replied.
I felt a chill. We have coyotes in our woods. Because I cut all the trees and erected electric (rather than wooden post and rail) fences, there is virtually no cover for a fleeing cat between the woods and the barn. There is nothing to climb. I am planting trees but those whips are currently about two feet tall.
In October D was leaving after hunting and saw two coyotes crossing the north pasture at dusk. A week later I watched a coyote munching windfalls under the apple tree in broad daylight at 4 PM. With the cold moving in, predators are hungrier and bolder.
My internet friend Jessika in Maine says that the only way she has found to keep her barn cats safe from coyotes is to lock them up at night. Last winter I locked the kittens in the barn tack room with a litter box. But they were babies then. Now they prefer to sleep in the hayloft. They lift their heads sleepily when I climb up to throw down the morning bales.
I can’t close the barn tightly until it’s about 0° F, because with all the livestock breathing all night — especially the sheep with damp fleeces — the trapped humidity is overpowering. It freezes in a thick rime on the ceiling and windows, and eventually melts to stream down the walls. Not healthy. So I shut the big front doors to keep the poultry in, and leave the dutch door open for air.
Thus the cat screen.
Freddie and Flossie do not appreciate having their freedom curtailed. Craftily I sit down in the open front doorway until they come running to climb on my knees and rub their heads under my chin. Then I bundle one under each arm like a tired toddler, carry them inside, and pull the big doors closed.
I pray I can keep them safe through another winter. I hope they will always be twining around my legs and throwing themselves under my feet to trip me, purring.