There isn’t much more to say. The end of this part of the story is a bit of an anti-climax. Ralph cinched up the backpack and began to climb. When he got about twenty feet up, less than half way, he slowed down. It looked like he might have made it but he did a simple and very sane thing.
He looked down.
That was it. He looked down to the forest floor below and noticed what a long way it was. A cat might survive a fall like that unscathed, but probably not a human. As he started backing down the stout vine, Sue moaned loud enough for Ralph to hear.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” was all he could say. Tears filled her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.
“I knew it was a long shot,” Sue sighed. Ralph walked slowly, dejectedly back to Sue’s house where we had a few of her famous lemon bars before he took off.
It was bittersweet for me. I was so glad that Ralph retreated back down the vine. Nothing against Sue’s cat. It would be a terrible way to die – starving to death or simply get too weak to hang on and tumble to the ground, almost certainly to its death.
Time passed. I hadn’t spoken to Sue for a week or so. I figured Star was a goner. When Sue called, I was amazed by how chipper she sounded. “You won’t believe it,” she gushed. “It was so simple. I feel guilty about not thinking about it sooner.”
“What happened, Sue? Is Star OK?”
I called the fire and rescue department not really thinking they could do anything. She was so far out in the woods. No ladder could reach her anyway. But the guy who answered is a pole climber for the electric company.”
“He climbs utility poles for a living with those spiky things on his boots and a big wide belt.”
“Well, what happened? Is Star OK?” I asked impatiently.
“Hang on, hang on. The guy, his name is Tom, came over with his climbing equipment. He put a backpack on just like Ralph. Same plan. He was going to climb up, put Star in the backpack and climb back down.”
“Well?!” more impatience on my part. See, I thought the whole backpack thing wouldn’t work. I could not imagine Star, or any cat, terrified or not, allowing itself to be stuffed into a backpack, and a guy fifty or sixty feet in the air would not be in a position to chase her down a branch.
“Well, when he got up to Star he managed to grab her by the scruff of the neck.”
“Really. But then when Tom was going to put her into the backpack… she jumped. She just jumped.”
“Ouch,” I said. “That was really high up.”
“But she’s OK,” Sue almost screamed. “She was stunned for a few seconds, but do you know what she did? After falling all that way to the ground?”
“What did she do?”
“She ran away. She just got up and ran away.”
“Oh Sue. I am so glad. Unbelievable that she could survive that fall.”
“Let me just say that my prayers were answered. The thought of Star starving up there was just too much for me to handle. Now I just hope that she shows up again.”
“She will, Sue. I am really happy for you.”
Sure enough, Star did come home to Sue’s. She was skinny too. She was always a little thin but when I came over about a week later, Star was a stick-thin bag of cat bones.
Gradually, she fattened up a little. Sue had her front claws removed to make sure that she didn’t get trapped in any too-high trees. But it wasn’t long though before she was at it again.
First it was the little hardwoods in front of Sue’s house. I went out to Sue’s one evening and had to get the eight foot step ladder out of the shed to reach her and bring her down. How in the world could she do that with no front claws? I asked Sue why she even let her out. Why not just have Star as a house cat for her own good?
Well, cats need their freedom she’d said. Cats need fresh air, they need to exercise and move around to stay healthy. Sue was also under the impression that with her front claws removed, Star wouldn’t be able to climb any really tall trees any more.
After a couple months Star went missing and we never saw her again. Sue wasn’t as upset as I thought she might be. “It was her destiny,” she said on one cold winter night. It was the same thing I’d said to Ralph back in the woods. “She was a climber from the beginning and I guess she climbed to the very end.”
I pictured her out on a limb somewhere – far away from where humans could hear. I imagined her crying her cat cry until she ran out of breath, ran out of strength. Maybe her skeleton is still on a high branch of a tree in Brown County still, her skeleton bleached white, her bony claws still clinging to the bark of an ancient tree.
I have long since moved away from Greasy Creek Road in Bean Blossom, Indiana. Sue and I still exchange Christmas cards. We haven’t spoken in years. But our cards to each other are more like letters. We exchange news in brief.
And she always signs
and the cats