Ralph. I think his name was Ralph. I only met him once, so it’s no wonder his name is a little unclear to me. I only really spoke with him for about five minutes, but those were among the longest five minutes of my life because – Ralph? – I thought he was going to die. Literally. Right in front of me. In those five minutes I tried to save his life. Maybe he just came to his senses.
Let me go back to the beginning.
My old friend Sue was a cat person. She probably liked dogs too, but she loved cats. During the years I knew her well, she always had six or eight cats. Some of her cats were lifers – she’d had them as kittens and they spent their entire lives with her. Others seemed to find Sue. They came from out of nowhere, stuck around for a while and took off. If they showed up at Sue’s she would feed them. They might stay for a few days or a few months and then wander off, never to be seen again.
I went to visit Sue once after one of her beloved cats died. I helped her wrap the cat in a beautiful flowered silk scarf. I dug the hole for her in the dense woods behind her house. I dug while she told me stories about the cat. She cried and spoke of how the cat had eased her loneliness. She cried as she told me about the cat’s habits. I dug. She cried.
While they stayed with Sue they got impeccable care. On her limited income those cats got visits to the vet, got spayed or neutered, the whole nine yards. She was not one of those Southern Indiana country people with a big bunch of animals that were never cared for. Her cats did not have fleas or ticks. When they got sick, they were cared for. She was a good pet owner.
One of Sue’s cats was especially close to her. Star was jet black with an irregular white spot on her chest. Sue said it looked like a star. It just looked like a white blob to me, an island of white in a sea of black.
I understand how special a cat can be. I prefer dogs myself. But I get how close humans and animals can be. Sue’s cat Star was her beloved. I’m not exaggerating. That’s how I could tell that Sue was beyond upset when she called me one afternoon in the late fall. There were tears in her voice. “It’s Star,” she cried. “She’s missing. She’s been gone for days.”
“She’s probably OK, Sue. You know how she wanders off sometimes.” It was true. Star was an adventurer. She had been gone for as long as a week before. Sue was inconsolable.
“It’s been too long, Tim. Could you help me find her?” I drove over and together we scouted her woods. After a good long time of walking farther and farther from her house, we heard a faint cry far in the distance. It sounded like a newborn baby. But Sue knew. “Star!”
We followed the soft sound deep into the woods. What we saw was frightening. In this dense forest the trees were quite tall. It was a mix of pines. One was taller than those around it. It reached at least 60 or 70 feet into the southern Indiana sky with vines trailing from the top. On the lowest branch of that tree, which was at least forty or fifty feet above the forest floor, sat Star – miserable, thin, bedraggled. Her tiny form was so high up that I was amazed any house cat could have climbed to that height.
She meowed miserably and pawed at the air when she heard Sue’s voice. We were far from any road and I couldn’t imagine any ladder high enough to reach the forest canopy.
Sue was crushed. Tears streaming down her face, she asked what we could do. Star meowed with renewed energy. It was misery hearing her yowl like that. Star was surely dying a slow, terrible death. If I could have put her out of her misery I would have. She was starving and the nights were getting frosty and cold. This wretched creature would perish within a week and her death would not be pretty.
I was most concerned with Sue’s pain. Tender-hearted and vulnerable, I knew that she would not eat or sleep until this situation was resolved and I could see no other resolution other than Star’s sad untimely death.
I urged her to go home, to carry on and to think about what we might do. She reluctantly left the forest with me, sobbing all the way back to her house.
The next day when I got home from school Sue called and said that she knew someone who was an extraordinary tree climber. She asked if I could meet her out at Star’s tree in the viney forest near her home. I got moving.
END OF PART ONE