Saturday, August 24, 2013

Los Animalitos

One of the things I find charming about the Spanish language is the tendency to call things in their diminutive form. When someone has to wait for you, it's only for a momentito; your friend quickly becomes Juancito; if he's short, he's a chaparrito; and even farmers in the interview window tell me they have animalitos on the ranch that turn out not to be herds of hamsters, but cattle, pigs or sheep. 

I'd like to dedicate this posting to our own animalitos, or as they're known now that we live in Mexico, Los Tigres del Norte. As you may already know, our own tigritos are senior kitties. Except for their time in our Bogota apartment (at 64 degrees and partly cloudy every day) and another year with all four seasons (hurricanes to snow to 97% humidity as appreciated from their small balcony in Virginia), the gatitos have lived in the mild and generally overcast Pacific Northwest all their life. So the past seven months in their little walled and lawned slice of the Chihuahua desert have been just what the veterinarian ordered for their furry selves. I'm fairly sure they think we've finally taken their suggestions and have retired to Arizona. After all, they can't see over the wall outside the neighborhood to the sandy, barren and tumbleweed-strewn lot across the street. They simply know the life of daily blue skies, a row of flowering bushes to lounge under, grass to chew on and then barf up on the rug, and two big umbrella trees for shade. They soak the sunny warmth deep into their bones and relish the cooler evenings when they can stay outside comfortably for more than ten minutes at a time. Even Toby, wearing what I think is a thick Norwegian Forest Cat coat, likes to stay out in the heat of the day until his black fur is hot to the touch. Too hot? Just come inside and stretch out on the cool, tile floors. Even Daphne's arthritic limp that has kept her off of a lot of furniture in recent years has seemed to have diminished.

Our garden also provides a steady stream of avian entertainment for them. In the mornings the ring-necked doves swoop down to peck at the lawn, and all day and evening at least four hummingbirds fight for dominance over our two feeders. They zip between our house and our neighbors' like Jedi fighters, squawking and buzzing, determined to keep each other away the sugar water feeders. They hover over the lounging cats, sometimes only feet from them, assessing the risk from all angles. There is no risk, trust me, and the little picaflores figure this out quickly and now pay them no mind. The cats were at first intrigued, no doubt driven by some long-lost hunting instinct, but promptly realized that there wasn't the slightest chance of catching one and now don't bother to even flick an ear their way. 

Hummingbird in action 

Having to stay off the table doesn't count when it's patio furniture

Daphne's evening lounge

Each morning after breakfast, they line up by the screen door asking to go out. (Side note: this whole screen door thing is a wonderful addition to our life that I'd like to share with my FS friends who live in places where screens aren't common, but bugs and iron-bar security doors are. Just buy a roll of screen fabric, you could probably order it online and have it sent to wherever you're posted. We just went to Lowe's - ah, border life. Then use your glue gun to attach it across the inside of your iron-bar security door. If the housing inspection folks don't like it when you move off to your next post, you can just peel it off. But really, who doesn't love a screen door? Let me answer this question: the cats don't like it. They loved the security gate because it was truly just one big built-in cat door they could pop through at will, and now they have to ask permission. And I should acknowledge the bumped noses and confused looks in the days after it was installed.) 

Yeah, they could hardly see the new screen either
Anyway, they go outside each morning to read the news of the neighborhood. Walking the perimeter, they each sniff out exactly which neighborhood cat had visited THEIR yard overnight. These interlopers skinny down the trees from the cats-only interstate system that is the grid of stone walls between each house. Unfortunately, there is an orange tabby male who brazenly sprayed directly onto our french doors, probably in full view of the Tabbies, one night. Daphne chased him up the tree once, so this was surely retaliation. One such visitor is not so unwelcome, however. There is a female fluffy tabby, we call her Stray Cat (imaginations are wonderful things), who Toby took a shine to. For a week after he first saw her, he waited under the tree each evening for her hopeful reappearance. Like a pre-teen with his first crush, he sat for hours with his neck craned to the top of the stone wall, head flicking left then right. "Did you hear that? I think someone's coming! Was that shadow moving? Is it her?" It was embarrassing. But like most crushes, it faded after a few weeks and now I think he's just not that into her. 

Nearly seven months into our life here and we still haven't seen a scorpion in the yard or the house (sound of knocking wood in background). The neighbors have seen them; our friends in neighborhoods nearby have had lots of them, but so far, we've been spared. I have a suspicion that Cats On Patrol have been keeping these arachnids from being attracted to our yard, but that notion in still just a theory. After all, if the scorpions saw how the Tabbies have treated the dozen or so large roaches that have meandered through the kitchen, they wouldn't be afraid to come on in either. The cats have taken a very diplomatic, UN-like posture towards the roaches: We are here merely to observe and report. We will simply follow you, observing your advancements, but we will neither harm nor hinder your existence in our house. Thanks guys; way to earn your kibble, eh?

So that's life as they know it for Los Tigritos. I'm sure they like it here (except for the thunder, that still sucks), and I'm also sure they Never Want Another Five Day Roadtrip Again. Flurries of activity in the morning, like when we're running behind and have to get ready for work quickly, or when I pulled out the suitcase last month, still cause instant hiding under the bed. Perhaps in 17 months they will have forgiven and forgotten when we have to pack up again and hit the road. (Yeah, I doubt it too.) But they love and trust us, and eventually they'll settle into their new tiny Roman apartment, or high-ceiling'ed Parisian pied-a-terre, if the assignment gods should bless us in such a way. 

Meanwhile, there is lawn to lounge in and a selection of couches to cover in fur. What more could an animalito want? 

Dodger enjoying desert retirement living

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