Cats and Books

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Seasonal Visitors

A cat is not just for Christmas... sometimes they turn up on Boxing Day. It lurks in my mind that it is traditional for a lost kitten to arrive on the doorstep at Christmas. We had one this year, but not a kitten, and this one was hand-delivered to us by a neighbour – stray cat plus their big dog was not a good mix, and they assumed it was our ginger cat. We'll look after it... Just what we needed, an elderly stray cat, and it got me thinking about our many seasonal visitors, the arrivals and departures which we often barely notice.

The chain of thought moves from a stray ginger cat, to our ginger cat, currently to be found asleep on the bed... which is odd. I know it doesn't sound odd, but Ginge is an outdoor cat who we rarely saw over the summer. She would turn up for breakfast, for supper, and might say a brief hello as she moved from one shady spot to another, but now the winter is here, she is increasingly in the house, sleeping somewhere warm. It was a change which crept up on us slowly, until the day we commented that Ginge was around more often...

From there, I wondered just how many months is it since the swallows left? How long have we had the starling murmurations? Everything changes here as the seasons roll, and the changes slide by without notice until it has all happened. The trees drop their leaves, but that's just autumn, that's the big change, and because of the wind here, autumn can be abrupt – green trees one day, bare branches the next. The whole pattern of the wild-life (and the domestic ones) shifts with the year, but it does it when we're not looking.

When we lived in Reading, it was easy not to notice the seasonal changes, especially in the winter where we would be out to work before dawn, back after dusk. But down here in Cornwall, it ought to be obvious, and still it proves easy to not notice.

The swallows go in late summer, but not instantly. They gather on the overhead power lines, a few of them squabble in one of our stables as they get the last brood of the summer prepped and primed for the long migration flight, and over a space of days and weeks the number peaks and declines. So we do notice the swallows, but it is as if they sneak out a side-door and you just don't notice that their going, just that they have gone.

It's the same with the starlings – we are under the 'flight path' for their evening and morning commute between the roost and the feeding grounds. Tens, even hundreds of thousands of them. Their passage generally coincides with the daily routine of letting the chickens out or putting them away for the night, but again, they build up slowly through the autumn and trail away into the spring. What we have noticed is the starlings who hang around when the sheep are being fed, hoping to swipe a few sheep-nuts or beet pellets.

We get something similar with the chicken feed – a small, mixed band of birds who turn up morning and evening to see what they can swipe – sparrows, finches, a robin and our ever-present crows. It is only just becoming noticeable due to the mild autumn this year, but the morning audience is there, just waiting for the pesky human to push off so that they can grab whatever the chickens leave. In past winters, when the weather has been harsh, I put the grain out and walk away for a few minutes before unleashing the hens, just to give the sparrows a chance.

So here we are, just past the shortest day, and I find myself struggling to remember the many seasonal visitors that have already left, or yet to arrive. Our oca crop is just ripe for lifting, the elaeagnus have shed their berries and most of their leaves, and there was the first appearance of the robin this morning, watching me very closely until I walked away...

The cycle is about ready to start again – perhaps this year, I will notice them as they arrive, but probably not.

As for our stray ginger feline – we lodged him with our vet whilst we tried to trace his owner. Our own cats meant he couldn't stay with us without a major chorus of hissing and wailing but... he looks like an elderly cat, so hard to re-home if we can't find his owner. We haven't really had the conversation properly, just skirted around it, but if we can't find him a home, how would we look after him here? No chance. No way. But he did have a lovely purr... and then to our great relief, his owners contacted the vet.

The animals come and go, but what we notice is when they are here, not the arrival and departure. And, of course, we notice when they have more of the bed than we do.