Neighborhood Cats

Does it always rain this much? I have never paid much attention before. Now I notice every day, while I calculate if my hill is too wet to stand on.

The neighborhood feral cat, whom we call Patches, watches me when I work. He stalks our woods, which certainly limits the hillside as bird habitat. Since I cleaned out the honeysuckle, however, his black and white patches are a visual bullhorn. He is still silent and sneaky, but no prey that avoids predators by sight would miss him. He is cautiously curious when I work, and circles me from a distance. Other feral and neighborhood cats show up, but Patches seems to have established ownership of this hill among the cat tribe.

Our own cats stay inside, and only hunt the odd lizard or spider who manages to get indoors. We made this decision after paying the bill to treat them for ringworm. I do not want to re-expose them and pay that bill again.

I had debated arranging our hill as an ideal space for birds of prey, but birds of prey sometimes eat cats, and this would not endear me to my cat-owning neighbors. Purist ideology and getting along with neighbors are mutually exclusive. So I have settled for snake habitat instead, which seems to be working. I have seen more (and bigger) rat snakes since I started my work. I will know for sure when the weather warms again. The local snakes eat many of the same prey as falcons and owls, but they do not attack cats.

I let the feral cats stay because they keep the raccoons from getting too confident. On a nuisance level, I’ll take a cat over a raccoon any day. Cats do not spread my garbage all over the drive or gnaw through my roof.

There may be eastern coyotes in the woods too, but I have never seen one. We sometimes hear a chorus of yips, and the kids found one deer carcass. We assume coyotes are back there, but the assumption remains unconfirmed. None of the neighbor’s cats are missing, so far as I know.

Every project is a compromise. I have decided to leave the hostas and the hellebores that grow on the shady side of the house, even though they are not native. They are well-established, they have not spread in the twelve years since I planted them, and very little else will grow in that total shade. So my urban hillside garden will also be a compromise with the cats. I do not see how it could realistically be otherwise.