Mo was our cat, and at the last minute as Anna was leaving Hopi, he leapt out of the car. Anna was tired, expectant and preoccupied. She wanted to get that cat, but it wasn’t her priority and in the end she didn’t have it in her. She was thinking of other things. She camped by the culverts for a full six hours trying to lure him, but when all was said and done, it was all she could give and so she got on her way.
The book always made me so sad when I was little. To think of the little girl marooned all alone by herself on that island. Left to raise herself into an uncertain future. Even then I wanted to reach out to her. I wanted her to be safe.
Some would say it’s stupid to travel halfway across the country to rescue a scared and bewildered animal. But such as it was. Someone, someone in this wide world has to do it. Otherwise, what really are we here for?
So I climbed into the car and drove 15 hours straight back to Arizona. I spent 30 hours up at Hopi. I found the life that we had built there completely dismembered and gone. The ramada had been ripped to the ground, the gardens dug up, the fencing tore down. There was nothing left of our life there.
I spent the weekend combing that empty neighborhood for the cat. I crawled through mud and across tumbleweeds, caking my chest in bull heads, peering through both ends of filthy culverts. I called out again and again for a white kitten.
And in the while, I learned a little about animal ways. How when they get scared they hide and they dig in for dear life. How we have favorite spots and they nurture us and give us comfort. I found the culvert ends where he crouched in the soft mud leaving hieroglyphs of paw prints. And where he would eat, and the puddles from which he would lap his water. I found two dead birds at the stoop of Pearish’s porch. He was still hunting, and he wanted to please, he wanted to remain connected with humans, with us, and show he was still present.
He was independent and well good enough to fend for himself. Most creatures do. For those of us still standing, it’s what’s allowed us to survive for near forever.
But he was so scared. Too scared to even come out and face me and an uncertain future. Too scared of retribution and fear of what may happen.
In the end we were saved by a Hopi security man. He had spent weeks watching him on the hospital security cameras. His watchful eyes are what saved us.
He was the one who saw him and alerted me to the fenced parking lot where Mo was sequestered.
I climbed the fence with a can of sardines. Again and again he bolted from me. So I lay on the hot pavement and I spoke to him.
I was so proud of him, I said. He had survived for all this time nearly all on his own. He was a mighty animal, fierce and independent, and smart enough to live. But there were some things he did not know, I told him. Winter was coming. And his family was never coming back. And if he stayed here, if he was too afraid to join us, then here he would die.
It was a long way to our new home. I told him that it would not be easy. That this journey would feel to him excruciating and endlessly long, but that Mango the dog and the other cats and the chickens and all of us had already made it. It was just he alone that had stayed here. And our life here was no more. Most people had already left and decamped for other places. The birds themselves would soon be flown, and the mice that he hunted and fed on would soon be burrowed deep in the ground. Come to me. Please, I asked. Please. Trust me. It will all be okay. It will all be alright.
He walked and nuzzled against my arm. And I grabbed him. Loving him so much I gripped him to my chest, and carried him in a near death lock strong enough to defy the sink of his teeth and his clawing scratches.