Not Worried About Next Meal
I wasn’t sure how long Jason and Rolley Len had been gone, but I knew it was at least two hours. Cason was napping inside as I sat on the porch at the camp. I watched the flames in the 500-gallon propane tank that had been converted into a fire pit. The sun was going down; the air was cooling. The flames were mesmerizing and the sounds of the pond were relaxing. Jason and Rolley Len should be back soon from one of the hunting houses sitting in the middle of a large pasture overlooking a green field.
A marine battery powered the 12-volt light bulbs, but just a few feet from the porch was darkness. I heard coyotes yipping and then bawling from a distance. When the coyotes continued to bray and the camp lights began to dim, I decided to move inside. I checked on Cason, and then started lighting candles in case the lights went out sooner than expected.
The camp sits near Big Swamp Creek in the swamps of rural Macon County and is 10 miles from the nearest house. When we stay there, it always makes me feel like I have gone back to the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder to her "Little House in the Big Woods." It is truly one of the best places we could take our children to learn about the importance of respecting nature and being able to live off the land rather than always relying on grocery stores.
When Jason and I take Rolley Len and Cason to the camp, I always think back to when my sister and I played outside year-round. My sister and I loved the Little House books and television show. Ingalls’ stories taught us a lot, and we loved playing pioneer. One year, we even built a log cabin with other kids in our neighborhood. We made our own thatch from pine needles and red mud, and took great pride in sealing the cracks and spaces between each log. It was only three-foot tall, but it had a door, a "porch" and was pretty cozy inside even when it was raining. Thirty years later, it is the same feeling I have at the hunting camp.
Not long after I went inside, the lights dimmed almost completely. I heard Jason and Rolley Len returning on the four-wheeler, and I thought about how he could tell where to drive in the darkness. Even without the moon and stars shining, he could use the tree lines to direct him. Once they got inside, Jason adjusted the battery and we had light again until bedtime.
We would have chicken wings, turnip greens, peas and cornbread for lunch the next day, so supper would be simple that night. Our New Year’s Eve meal would be hot dogs over the fire with s’mores for dessert. Full and tired we all went to bed early.
The next morning, I was the first to walk outside into the crisp morning. As I walked across the porch to look out across the pond, I heard an odd sound. It was almost like when a new mother thinks she hears a baby crying, but no baby is nearby. The muffled cry was coming from under the porch. The meow of a cat became louder until a young yellow kitty sprung from below onto the porch. I had left the door open, so Jason heard me gasp in surprise. He was as surprised as me that a cat was at the camp. Not only was the camp miles from anywhere and the temperature near freezing but just the night before I had heard the coyotes yelping nearby. How the cat made it through the night was hard to imagine.
The tom decided quickly that he wanted to share our food and shelter rather than make his own way in the woods. He was wild, but his instincts worked. He knew what he needed to do to survive. Like a baby, he curled up in the bed as if he belonged there. Ignorant of his milky moustache, he drank the kids’ cereal milk. With gusto, he attacked the chicken wings at lunch. The rest of the day he played with Rolley Len and Cason gently as though they already knew each other.
It wasn’t easy to get him into the truck for the ride home. The noise scared him and possibly reminded him of how he ended up in the woods. Several times he got spooked, and we almost had to leave him. Finally he settled in and fell asleep in the backseat between Rolley Len and Cason’s car seats.
My cat Charlie had died the year before at the age of 19, so Jason and I were in no hurry to replace him. We didn’t name our new guest for a few days because we thought he might return to wherever he first came from. Also, since he was a tomcat, we knew he might disappear for days or weeks at a time. After it looked like he wanted to stay with us, Rolley Len named him Torrine.
Since then, Torrine has become a welcome part of our family. Watching Rolley Len and Cason play with Torrine is always fun, especially when they chase our sheep through the pasture together. Having him at the house is a daily reminder to be thankful for the all the things we have including our most basic needs. Over the last year and a half, Torrine has survived bad weather and a snake’s bite, but Torrine no longer has to worry about where his next meal will come from or if he will become a coyote’s next meal.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.