Granted, the story of my cat hardly seems thematically appropriate for a blog centered around swamps and summits with some stops in between. But Edmund Hillary Climber arrived in our lives 15 years or so ago from about 70 feet up a tree. I figure that qualifies.
Way back – when the girls were young and the dogs a year old, if that – we became aware that a scrawny dehydrated orange tabby cat had taken up residence in a very tall laurel oak tree that resided on the no man’s land between us and the back yards of two of our neighbors.
We tried to ignore his plaintive meows, presuming he’d find his way down. But he didn’t. That particular tree – which is no longer, having taken a massive hit during Hurricane Charlie -leaned at an odd angle, and the reams of Spanish moss that coated its trunk deterred any creature of normal intelligence from trying to make its way down.
It was probably a Sunday when we first became aware of him. Monday he was still in the tree, despite the repeated attempts of the girls to lure him down with tins of tuna. I found myself driving back home at lunch to see if there had been a breakthrough. Suit and high heels on, I climbed up on a stool, waving about a can of cat food, in the vain hope this would cause a descent.
By Wednesday I’d had enough. Didn’t fire departments assist with cat tree extraction? My assistant at the time was married to a firefighter and gave me the non emergency fire number. Sure enough, that morning they met us at our house, got their ladders out, scaled the tree and tried to lure the cat down, but to no avail.
Thursday he was still in the tree. By now I was worried. How long could an animal actually live in an oak tree 70 feet above ground with access only to condensation for water. Friday rolled around. It seemed to me there was no choice but another call to the fire department. J looked at me incredulously. “You cannot just keep calling the fire department to rescue a cat. There could be real fires.” He let it go that time but I truly belie
ve a third call to the fire department would have resulted in divorce.
The second set of fire department guys showed up. They told me they would try to get him down by spraying him with the fire hose and reminded me of the old fire fighters’ adage that you don’t find dead cats in trees. I asked about the ladders and they assured me they were not allowed to use ladders for cat rescues. I could hardly say that the first set of fire department cat rescuers had indeed put up the ladders!
Finally, by the next weekend, hunger and thirst must have become too much. Climber, as he became known, with the girls, I and a neighbor child watching, swung himself down the awkward facing trunk, through the banks of Spanish moss, and emerged on the ground, all in one piece.
After quickly christening him Edmund Hillary Climber H****, we kept him in the garage one night and took him off to the vet for shots the very next day.
He proceeded to live a full and I hope happy life for another 15 or so years. He was the smartest cat I’ve ever had. He could open any levered door. My favorite story involves an evening when – before we knew of his door opening propensities – we had gone to the Shakespeare festival one night with friends – without double locking the door. We returned home to find the dogs sitting on the porch, the front door wide open, a dead mole on our bedroom floor, and no sign of of Climber. After his night of partying, he appeared meowing at the front door, about 3 a.m.
He was a legend in the neighborhood. He thought he was more dog than cat. He went out with the dogs on their early morning walks, and if he felt they were being victimized he was more than willing to attack any dog in the neighborhood on behalf of his little pack.
The dogs and he would sniff around together, looking for some common prey. But Climber was frequently highly disappointed with their hunting skills and would swat them with his paws as they failed to live up to his expectations.
Mr. Climber, the stories are legion. We miss you. God speed.