This is an account of an actual event from 1984 through the eyes of one of the cats I have loved. Spring weather on my recent trip to Pennsylvania reminded me of it.
Sebastian and Spencer bounded out of the house and onto the deck. They had sat by the window after their naps, longing to get out, and finally, their humans had come home to free them. How grand it was to finally be outside. The sun’s light had already heated up the deck so that it felt hot on Sebastian’s feet which surprised him. He sniffed the air. Someone was cooking out. After the long winter of being stuck indoors due to the snow and ice, this unusually warm, upstate New York spring day was a gift. Sebastian was not going to waste it.
Spencer bounded up a tree while Sebastian watched and wondered if he should follow, or find his own tree to ascend. Bird! Squirrel! How he had missed his woodland creatures. The squirrel ran up the same tree where Spencer was, taunting him with her twitching tail, and then vaulted from the swaying branch to the adjacent tree. “Wow, Spencer, did you see that?” Sebastian admired the aerial skills of the squirrel.
“I can do that, too!” Spencer called down.
“No way! You’ll get hurt.”
“No, I won’t. Watch me.” And watch, Sebastian did, as he strained to see Spencer’s red fur amidst the light green of the trees’ leaves that were just beginning to bud. Before Sebastian could cry out another warning, Spencer had made it out to the end of a branch, or as far out as it would bear his weight without dropping the ginger cat like a stone. The eight-pound cat indeed made it sway mightily and Sebastian watched in horrified fascination as it sagged lower and lower. At any moment he just knew it would snap back and fling his brother into the air like a slingshot. However, Spencer jumped just as the branch was starting its upsweep, and made it to a branch on the tree where the squirrel awaited, nattering her annoyance with the silly cat.
“See, Sebastian, I did it. Now you come on up and do the same.” His heavy breathing and startled face told Sebastian that it was not as wonderful as he was trying to make it, but then he heard the baiting words. “You’re not gonna be a fraidy cat, are you?”
Being a fraidy cat was on par with wearing the canine cone of shame they often saw on their neighbor dog, Becky, who had an obvious mental illness–she bit her itching skin until it bled. Sebastian knew he could not risk becoming known in the neighborhood animal circuit as a fraidy cat. Hence, he sprang across the yard to one of the trees that served as a boundary along the back of his human’s property, while eyeing a squirrel’s nest near the top of the oak. “Watch me, Spencer. I’m gonna scare the willies outta that squirrel.” Sebastian began his climb, digging his claws into the tree trunk while keeping his eye on the nest. “Huh, huh, huh, huh.” His breath began to be labored. My, it was hot, so hot!
He saw Spencer watching him from below. “What’s the matter ‘Bastian? Eat too many kitty snacks that are slowing you down?”
Sebastian moved carefully from the trunk to the branch below the squirrel nest. He tried to be quiet, but his breathing had now become a full pant. He had never been so hot. As he tried to reach up to the branch above, he lost his balance and began to fall. “Eyowl!” he screamed as he fell, but instinctively flipped in the air so he would land on his feet. THUMP! His descent was broken when he crashed onto one of the lower branches of the oak, belly first. He now hung there with his head down one side of the branch and his bottom down the other, not unlike a dish towel hung on a drying rack. “Huh, huh, huh,” he panted and tried to call out for help, while at the same time attempting to maneuver his paws onto the branch so he could dig his claws in for purchase and pull himself up. It was burning hot, his panting becoming more necessary to try to cool himself. This was a very uncatly predicament. What could he do? He knew his breathing was becoming more shallow as his weight settled his lungs into the branch. “Meyowl, meyowl.” No one could hear him.
He hung there, rag-like for at least one of his nine lives, fearing it would be his last one. Where was Spencer? Just as his eyes began to lose focus, Sebastian’s human Daddy appeared below him, gently calling him as he set up the ladder of his salvation. His female mommy stood nearby looking concerned but laughing at his predicament. She held the gloating Spencer in her arms.
Human feet up the ladder. Panting cat pulled from the feline grim reaper.
Sebastian and Spencer were thereafter “indoor” cats, never to climb trees again. However, in his dreams, which were many in his 15 hours of sleep per day, Sebastian still climbed trees and was never, ever a fraidy cat.