Category Archives: Appalachian Trail

Posts about the Trail, before and after

Magnificent Max

Max disappeared. My beautiful, affectionate, feral cat. It’s four weeks now and I have tried to write about it many times. If I can’t finish this tonight, I won’t try again.

He came to me in 2009, not long after I adopted Annie. A friend has a feral colony behind her business and Max was dropped off there. I stopped by for totally innocent reasons and she said, “Oh, you have to meet the new kitten. I can’t put him outside yet, he’s too little. Wouldn’t you like a friend for Annie?”

I turned to see the tiny tuxedo kitten in the huge carrier behind me. I stooped down and said “Hello, there.” Max looked up at me with enormous black eyes as I scooped him in my arms. He trotted up my arm and looked me full in the eyes again. Then he licked my nose. He stared at me and I said softly to my friend, “Oh, you bitch.”

When I got home, I casually sat the carrier on the floor, opened the door and said, “You have a new friend, Annie.” Then I walked away and began quietly folding laundry, watching the interaction. I never thought Annie would do anything to hurt him, but I kept a watchful eye. Annie jumped on top of the carrier and peered over the door. Max (as he had become on the way home) scampered out of the carrier and spotted Annie above him. Gleefully he turned over on his back and began pawing the air, inviting her to join him to play. Annie watched for a moment, as if trying to decide what the heck this thing was. Finally, she jumped down beside him and sniffed him all over. Max loved it. He batted at her legs, jumped on her head, purring loudly the whole time. Annie eventually calmed him down with a thorough washing. They fell asleep together on the floor in front of his carrier. The toys my friend had sent home are still here. Annie plays with them all the time. Max, once he discovered the outdoors…and real prey…completely lost interest.

That first month the weather was warm and Annie took complete guardianship of Max. I suppose she felt she had no choice; he never left her side. He jumped on her head, he gnawed on her ears, he washed her in return while she was washing him. She taught him all the things his own mother never had the chance to teach him.

One afternoon I heard Annie’s cry for me to come look (any pet owner will tell you there is definite language between animals and their owners.) When I stepped outside the screen door onto the front porch, I saw Max standing on the sidewalk at the bottom of the steps, his little face completely obscured by a Painted Lady butterfly. Annie mewed and walked up and down beside Max, obviously proud of her student. I approached Max, who was strutting with Annie. He growled, and I stopped, trying not to burst out laughing.

“OK, OK, I’m not going to take it away!” I stepped closer and Max darted down the sidewalk and under the car. Annie stayed with me, continuing to purr and coo. I looked under the car and was greeted with more growling. I went back to the steps and sat with Annie, petting her and telling her what a bang-up job she was doing with Max. Eventually, Max came out (the butterfly gone, of course) and sauntered up the sidewalk to the steps. Annie washed him and finally they dropped off to sleep on the porch, sun on their fur.

Max and Annie presented me with all manner of mice, moles and voles. I never worried about unwanted guests in my house. No, I wasn’t very happy with the “live shows” they sometimes brought inside but I also understood this was their way. They are predators and no matter how domesticated any animal is, the wildness is always there. I gritted my teeth and hid under my blanket until it was over.

Annie and Max were mates, friends, hunting partners, even though they often split up to do their own thing.  They slept together on the deck outside, the sun shining on their fur. They napped on the bed, on the floor while I was painting, on my computer (whether I was using it or not), on the hood of the car. Frequently, Annie hissed and batted Max when he got too rough. He never cared. He kept right on jumping out at her from doors, moving over to her food bowl when he’d emptied his. Annie never did manage to teach him manners in that area. She just moved to the side and watched him. When he finished, she checked to see if he’d left her anything. I saw all this and happily gave her another helping. Frankly, I prefer that to squabbling over food. Max grew to over 20 pounds, easily twice Annie’s size. And he was all muscle.

I took Annie to my friend’s house when I went on the trail. Max ran off and I couldn’t catch him. Annie was much more domesticated than Max ever was. Max had me and Annie and never cared about anyone else. I tried several times before I left to find him. My landlord watched out for him and promised to feed him if he saw him. That was the one thing I always felt guilty about. I left because everything was in place and I honestly thought Max would be cared for by the man who he had seen (even though my landlord hardly ever saw Max) ever since he had come to live with me. When I came home, so did Max. He was clean, healthy and well-muscled. All the time I had been gone Max had taken care of himself, and obviously never ventured far from home. It was probably the most profound moment of my life when I opened the door the night I came home and heard Max’s cry. It was raining, he was wet and he and Annie and I had a tearful, wet reunion. We barely slept that night, the 3 of us. Max kept waking me up kneading my shoulders with his huge saber like claws. I didn’t care that it hurt. I cried every time I woke up. Annie and Max washed each other, and me. I promised them both I would never leave again.

I have been waiting for weeks now. I have waked in the middle of the night, thinking I heard his cry at the door. I jump up but there’s no Max. Annie has been edgy, eating more than usual, coming in at all hours. It’s been better the past week; she seems to be settling down. Maybe she has looked everywhere she knows to look.

Whatever has happened, I know this: Max was a healthy, happy creature. He was magnificent, my Max. He was strong and beautiful. He loved me. Sometimes, he jumped up in my lap and simply gazed at me, unblinking. I felt he was communicating with me. When I was writing, or reading, or working on an art project I would look up and see Max watching me. His gaze was always steady and calm. Max loved me, and I felt it.

Max was feral, the wild in him would not be denied, not by me or anyone else. He loved me, but he was wild. Because I knew this about him, I let him be who he was. No matter what has happened, Max lived a strong, happy life. I have many regrets, allowing Max to be who he was is not one of them.

Still, every morning I think, Today. Maybe Max will come home today.   

Grateful

My feet are healing well and I’m going to start a new assignment next week. Being a CNA doesn’t pay much, but I can always find work. The work itself isn’t perceived as valuable; the pay reflects that. But I know I’m needed, and most of the time the people I’m actually helping are glad to see me.

My friends here have been so supportive and kind since I got back that I know I made the right decision. My generous friend Susan, who is giving me a safe, comfortable and stress-free environment to heal, has reminded me of that, urging me to not feel guilty or responsible for the damage to my feet. She suggested that holding on to that kind of guilt and misplaced responsibility actually holds the damage in, arrests the healing process. We know, all of us, that what we tell ourselves is the truth becomes the truth. She pointed out the folly in my continued thinking that I had damaged my body, even if I didn’t mean to. What I need ed to be thinking, and saying, was that I was healing my body. Such a simple thing. And so profound.

So here it is. I am healing myself, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I am grateful for this opportunity to concentrate on the healing process, on being present in that process. Thank you, Susan, for being kind enough to help me help myself. Oh! And for letting me spend time with Harmony. I miss my animals so much. It’s one of the things that caused me such personal pain on the Trail. Being here, with Harmony, has help me relax and appreciate the present, relieved the stress of trying to figure out what I’m going to do. Harmony has accepted me completely, just as I am, and that warmth does more good than any pill from the doctor.

My landlord has welcomed me back and is looking forward to my return once I have a regular work schedule. He says we’ll worry about rent after he gets back from a trip up North in a couple of weeks. I can pick up Annie and take her back home. Max will come home, he assures me.

It’s hard for me to understand the generosity of the people I have in my life now. My brother and his wife, Susan, my landlord, Richard, Donna at Common Ground, so many people here who are welcoming me home. It’s hard for me to grasp that this is home, but it is true. I haven’t been so sick for a place, for certain people, in my life. When I came back, the familiar streets were unchanged and indifferent. I felt I could look down and find my last footprint and simply step into it. Life would continue with or without me, but the footprint was there for me to step into and begin moving again. Oh, it’s good to be home!