Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On the Way Home from the Vet

Dr. Wallace speaks quietly as he examines Fuzz. He turns the gray tiger cat’s head back, lifting a lip to check the teeth for plaque. Raven - my sleek, black, beauty - waits calmly beneath my stroking hand for her turn. As always on these visits to the vet, I am proud of them both. Not many cats would endure so peaceably this probing on a cold steel table.

I glance out the lilac-framed window at the gravel drive bordered by a split rail fence, an overgrown swamp beyond. It is lovely here; if I were a cat, I’d join Fuzz and Raven in purring. “They’ll do that when they’re nervous as well,” says the doctor. Really? Contentment and anxiety expressed via the same soothing rumble?

After their examinations, the cats slide into their carriers without fuss. I pick up some free samples of cat food, then head out the door and crunch over the gravel to the car. “We’re going on a little field trip before we go home,” I say to the cats. Unmoved, they gaze through the bars of their cages with green, unblinking, eyes.

I take a detour down Orchard Lane, so narrow as to grant only one car passage. Lavender lilacs brush the car as I pass with windows open, breathing in the scent. The rocking chairs on the porch of a roadside farmhouse call for a sit, but no one is home. Slowly I drive past barns and orchards, enjoying this drive through a vestige of the town’s farming history. The dairy industry has collapsed and developers lust over these flat fields where cows used to graze.

As I round the corner and head down Sport Hill Road, horses browse on hay in a muddy pasture. Just down the way, spiked black staves encircle the ancient gravestones of Union Cemetery across the road from a pond encircled by woodlands. A subdivision of twenty ten-bedroom houses is planned for that wooded property. What will the White Lady, the legendary ghost known to drift about the cemetery, make of trundling yellow bulldozers growling and tearing at the earth near her domain?

The cats are quiet as I drive and ruminate.

The town is characterized by stonewalls, spring gardens, colonial homes and woods re-established since the clearing of Connecticut ended, since the water company purchased thousands of acres of land to protect their reservoirs. I turn left on North Park and pass through Maple Row Farm. Rows of balsam and Douglas fir roll away to either side, left to peaceful growth until the Christmas shoppers descend.

I backtrack in order to pick up some eggs. Joe is in the yard, pulling up weeds, serenaded by the gentle clucks of his hens and the occasional crow of a bossy rooster.

“Your daughter was here yesterday,” he tells me, straightening up, weeds hanging limp from his hand. He peers through his spectacles from under a hat worn low on his brow. Mutton chop sideburns cup a face browned by outdoor work.

“She did? We’ll have a good supply then. I saw the empty carton on the counter and Dave had a half dozen eggs boiled and cooling in the sink, so I figured we were out.”

“She bought two dozen.”

“Well, I’ll get a dozen anyway. We’ll eat ‘em.”

The door to Joe’s basement is unlocked. Assorted tools, paint cans, and stacks of newspaper share space with empty egg cartons and a refrigerator. I open the refrigerator door and select a carton marked “$2.00 – Please Return” in red magic marker. I leave the money in a cigar box that holds some change and a few singles. I love this honor system. It makes me sad to remember that, once, someone stole Joe’s egg money.

Joe goes back to his weeding as I turn the car around. I call endearments to the chickens as I pass their cages: the white furry hen that looks more like an animal than fowl, the full-breasted henna brown nester, the soft-cooing quail, the banty roosters. On some days, they are free to peck about, but when I spot a man walking by, straining to control two German shepherds, I’m glad the birds are caged this afternoon.

I drive past the police station, town hall, and library, and then up the hill, where farm fields border the road. The new elementary school, completed less than a year ago, is set back to the left. I’d worried about the effect of the construction on this old road lined with maple-shaded stone walls, but sometimes things work out right. Gambrel barn roofs and a silo house classrooms and an auditorium and, but for the parking lots, it would not be surprising to see cows munching grass in the playing fields.

Fuzz and Raven are silent in their plastic caves on the floor of the car as we draw closer to our house. The two cages are face-to-face so the cats can see each other, and perhaps they are calm because they know the pattern of these rare trips: into the vehicle, onto a cold shiny surface, pricks and prods, the hum of the engine and then, home again.