Vegetables and feline fiefdoms

Sunshine is a yellow cat that walks alone, and all places belong to him. He is about half the size he thinks he is, but is still a big cat, and handsome if you like that kind of beauty. He owns a barn across the way, which he permits one of my neighbors to use, and from time to time he sallies to inspect his domain. It is true that Sunshine has it made, as we say, but not without some problems. I'm one of them.

When the snowbanks recede and I get to start the garden, Sunshine comes to make sure I'm doing everything to his liking, and his custom is to roll over on his back so I can press my foot lightly against his tawny belly and tickle him. He loves that. I tickle, and he purrs like a wounded Saab, and he squirms and rubs his back all over the place in token of his sincerity, and he looks up at me with soft green eyes loaded with love and gratitude. This recurs, almost every day, until the seeds are sprouted, but when Sunshine's rolling about endangers the carrots and beets I speak to him and we go on summer schedule. He is more careful, and walks between the rows.

This splendid rapport ends when I put up my electric fence around the sweetcorn - a device to deter the raccoons. It has been said that a cat who touches a hot stove will never again touch a stove, hot or cold. Sunshine is not so limited, and for the past four summers has come to touch my electric fence the first day it is operating. After each encounter, thus, Sunshine avoids my garden and regards me with disdain. I warn him, personally, each time, but he knows more than I do. So long as the fence is up and working, Sunshine, like the priest and the Levite, passeth by on the other side, and loves me not. I see him , and I call to him. ''Hey, Sunshine, you stupid cat!'' I call, and he cringes and skulks down the road with his tail at half-mast, exhibiting a consuming desire to have nothing whatever to do with me. The lesson I have learned from this is that an electric fence makes no particular distinction 'twixt raccoons and cats, and that while Sunshine is a special character, the fence wotteth not. So Sunshine and I have no communication from about the first of August to the middle of September, when the sweetcorn is finished and I take down the fence.

I like to see Sunshine discover this. He comes along in the salubrity of a bright morning, knowing he has paid the taxes and all's right with the world, but keeping well on the far side of the road for mistrust of me and dislike of my fence. He holds his head low in disrespectful attitude, indicating he knows me not and cares less. Then he lifts his head and does a double take. Behold! The fence is gone. Aha! But he is cautious and takes a few more steps before looking again.

Then he takes a good, lingering look, and is convinced. I can see the immediate change in his disposition. He makes no overture to me, but his tail flips up to full staff, his head comes up, and his step is jaunty as he paces off down over the hill toward the shore. He loves to hunt the saltwater shore, amongst the rockweed, the sea lavender, and the eelgrass. On the day the fence is first gone, he finishes with that, and comes back up the hill in stately dignity to resume his managerial duties at the barn, and he picks up where he left off back in August. He pauses to make of me, permitting me to rub his belly , and a fond relationship is established for the months ahead, or until the fence reappears. Meantime, he seems to forget about the fence and sets himself up for the next time.

My particular benefit from all this is the use of a good cat, an adornment to the entire periphery, and I don't have to own him or feed him. He suffices in every respect whereby I have need or use for a cat, and I have no expense. I am fond of Sunshine for that reason, and I assure him frequently that I am in deep distress about the annoying necessity of an electric fence. I tell him to be mad at the raccoons.

This fall Sunshine and I had just got back on the track when the duck season opened. He had gone down to hunt the shore, and as he scouted in the sea lavender some rude fellows stood up in the nearby bushes and discharged a number of shotguns over Sunshine's head at some mallards in the river. I saw Sunshine on his way home, a long yellow streak, and he is shy with me again. My fence, I guess, leads him to think I tried to kill him.

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