She was showing her husband the Christmas presents for the family.
“And this one is for Lisa and Richie, do you think they’ll like it?”
Looking out the back window he answered without turning
“They’ll love it.”
There was still so much left to attend to and it was only two days before Christmas. She was in her element, serious shopping with a purpose. She showed him the stocking stuffers for their children. The stockings were everyone’s favorites. She even found a stocking for Peaches. The pet store had created a cat’s dream come true, filling the stocking with catnip, and assorted toys. The favorite had been a small mouse made of yarn wrapped around a small piece of Styrofoam, with a long tail of yellow yarn. Peaches played with it for hours, walking proudly around the house with it hanging out of his mouth.
Peaches was a behemoth at 14 pounds. When I held him with his front paws and huge head resting on my shoulder, I would hold his hind legs below my waist and feel his weight. This cat would survive out in the woods. He was a beautiful orange tabby with green eyes. Literally, the pick of the liter, he was strong and handsome. Peaches was an inside cat, sleeping and eating in the comfort of our home. However, he spent much of the day outside, exploring the woods. Peaches was the king of the yard.
“Did you see Peaches today? I haven’t seen him and he always comes home for dinner, I’m worried.”
The children were worried, but filled with Christmas cheer and looked hopefully at the stocking for Peaches; hanging from the hearth along with the rest of the family’s and just knew he would be back soon. I was concerned, he had never failed to come home at night and this was day two. He was in trouble and I needed to find him. I pictured him out in the woods, having survived a run in with a raccoon or a coyote, but beat up pretty bad. I imagined he had crawled under a log or a found and crevice in a large rock to hide in, and waited until he was strong enough to leave. I had to find him.
Christmas morning came and the girls had opened all of their presents with the usual joy and excitement. Saving the stockings for last, as was our tradition, we felt the absence of Peaches and worried that he was lost in the woods forever. We were finished and left Peach’s stocking hanging with the unopened presents and the new yellow yarn mouse, in hopes of his return. The girls went up to get ready, we had two hours to get ready and go to Uncles Richie’s for Christmas Day Dinner. Just two hours and I typically cleaned up the mess and drank coffee waiting for the girls to put on their new outfits. This year I had a mission, I had to find Peaches. It had snowed on Christmas Eve, which looked beautiful but in my mind I knew it meant that if he had any chance of survival I had to find him now.
I quickly dressed to search the woods, determined to find what log he had found refuge under. I had sweatpants on and I put my Gore-Tex ski pants on over them. I had three layers of sweatshirts and jackets, the top layer being a hooded jacket. I wore the hood up and tied securely to prevent tics from falling on my neck as I searched through the woods for Peaches.
The woods behind my house were typical New England woods. Hilly, rocky, dead fall, rotted tree trunks, and prickly vines making an almost impenetrable barrier. I pushed through the underbrush, up craggy hills and down small gullies. I went all the way to “Castle Rock”. This is a natural formation of small boulders that the girls thought looked like a castle; it offered a view of the hills off to the west. The Last time we were here it was with Uncle Roy. I looked into the small cave like nooks formed by the tumbled rock formation, placed haphazardly where a glacier had left them a million years ago.
Skunks, opossums, coyotes and fox lived in these woods. The red foxes sometimes walked boldly right through our yard. The coyotes were harder to spot, but they were there. At 14 pounds Peaches had a fair chance against any of these critters, however, if wounded he would try to find a hole to hide in. I literally crawled on hands and knees up and down snow covered hills and the craggy woods, looking for any sign. Under the brush and leaning tree limbs,
My wife called from the upstairs window off our bedroom,
“Mike, you better hurry, Richie’s expects us at noon”.
I followed a deer trail, looking for all signs of orange fur, blood, anything, I found deer scat a patted down place in the brush were the deer had slept, but nothing of Peaches. Heavily perspired I sat forlornly on a rock having scoured the entire three or four acres carefully, knowing I had looked under every bush, inside every hole I didn’t know what next, so I started again, increasing my search area to across the street. I crawled up the hill behind my neighbor’s home. I could hear the sounds of their Christmas morning, excited children, ripping paper, tired parents, and their big dog. Perhaps the dog had gotten him. I checked the freshly fallen snow for paw prints or any sign of a confrontation, nothing.
“Mike, lets go, what are you doing”?
His wife angrily called out the window again.
“Nothing, I’ll be right in”.
Not wanting to remind anyone that Peaches was still missing.
Sitting on the ground he had all but given up. Reflecting quietly on the sad beauty of this morning. The stillness was interrupted by birds. At first one large crow, then many appeared. He hated the crows, eaters of garbage and carrion piercing the day with their harsh cawing. They created a raucous cacophony that could not be ignored. He looked up into the trees. The Tress had long lost there leaves, except for the Oaks. There dead brown leaves stubbornly hung on, refusing to fall and rot. Through the brown of the tree trunks, the brown and orange of the dead leaves he spotted the birds at the top of one of the oaks. Staring in disbelief, he saw what looked like the hind quarters of an orange cat, sticking out to the tree, 20 feet up. Moving closer, trying to scare the crows away he was able to see that an ancient oak, apparently hit by lightening had split sharply leaving a clean sharp vee about twenty feet in the air. In this vee, he saw Peaches. Apparently Peaches had scaled the tree, perhaps to avoid a coyote, and became wedged into the vee. He imagined as Peaches struggled to get free, he wedged himself tighter into the vee until he was constricted, unable to breathe he must have suffocated.
“Get lost you bastards, leave him alone”.
“Mike, what are you doing? We’ve got to go”.
“Be right there”.
He couldn’t let his family know the horrible fate that had befallen Peaches, not on Christmas Day. And I was thinking, “How am I going to get him out of that vee? I can’t go to Richie’s and leave him there.” How could I concentrate and enjoy a Christmas feast, knowing that the evil crows would fight over his carcass. Peaches deserved better. I scrambled up the hill and into my garage. I took my extension ladder apart, not thinking I could carry both sections through the thick woods down the hill to the base of the deadly tree. I hurriedly rammed my way back using the ladder to clear a path. It took some time to find a stable purchase for the ladder feet, it was a bit wobble, but up I went. At first I was disgusted at the thought of touching the dead animal. He was cold and lifeless a horrible likeness of the onetime king of the yard. Reaching over my head, the body was just in my reach. He was wedged in so tightly I could not pull him out. No wonder he had suffocated. The tree had split cleanly in half, as if a huge ax had sliced it. Not knowing what to do I tied a rope around his hind quarters and tied a rock around the other end of the rope. I swung the rock and launched over a large branch, higher than Peaches. I tried to gently pull up, lifting him out of the vee. No use, disgusted I eventually pulled harder and harder until I pulled with all my weight, still He could not be budged.
“Mike, this is it, I’m leaving without you”.
“One minute, I’ll be right there”.
I ran back to the garage for more tools.
“I won’t leave you Peaches, not for those crows”.
He deserved at least a certain amount of dignity in death, not to be pecked at by crows at the top of a tree, he was my boy. I took the other half of the ladder and a three prong claw rake shovel and a sack. I made my way back to the tree, reassembled the extension ladder and raised it until it was higher than Peaches. I climbed up the precariously balanced ladder, moving recklessly fast. Looking down upon the ruined Peaches I tried to find some solace in that he must have suffocated in minutes. At least he hadn’t lain there for days, waiting in vain for me to come rescue him. But still I could not get my hand in the vee to grab him. In his struggles he had wedged himself so deeply in the vee that my hand could not fit in and close around his body to pull him out. I had to take the three prong claw rack and pull him out by his head and his tail, lifting evenly up so as to wedge one half of his body. No wonder he suffocated, how sad, looking for safety finding a trap. I finally pulled his ruined, beautiful body out of the tree and lowered him to the forest floor wit the rope still tightly cinched around his legs. I put him in the sack and trudged on pack to my yard. At the every end of my yard, at the edge of the forest I had built a fire pit for our camp fires. It was built in front of a boulder which formed a natural wind break. Behind this boulder where we met to have fun and share a family fire I would bury this favorite pet. I was able to dig a small depression behind the rock and laid the sack in it. I said a prayer and placed many large rocks over the shallow grave in order to keep the coyotes from digging him up.
I put my tools in the garage, perspired exhausted and deeply saddened I went into the house to shower. My wife looked at me at first angrily ready to rebuke my tardiness. Upon seeing my expression she asked what was wrong,
“Did you find Peaches? “
I told her the story but decided not to tell the children about it right yet. Let them enjoy Christmas, still with hope that Peaches would come home and open his stocking and find the yellow tailed yarn mouse.