Saturday, August 11, 2007


I generally don't just go out and look for animals to bring to the farm. They find me, through the agency of some human intermediary or, in some cases, by their own initiative.

Ambrosius, the Cat, is in the latter category.
Ambrosius started life as a member of a litter of barn cats at my friend R.'s horse barn down the street. Her barn cats lived a good life, well-fed, with plenty of mice to hunt and bales of hay to climb and sleep in. They were socialized to human contact, and received good veterinary care. What more could a cat want?
A Kingdom, evidently.
One day I was working in my garden when I heard a throaty, rich cat-voice in the weeds. Mrow! Mrowrow! Mrooooow! Mrw! A gangly, semi-long-hair young black cat strolled up to me, oozing self-confidence.

I do not like noisy cats. I quickly recognized the intruder as one of R.'s crew, picked up the teenage beast, carried him down the street to the barn, and unceremoniously deposited him with his littermates.

The next day, I was working in my garden when I heard a throaty, rich cat-voice in the weeds. Mrow! Mrowrow! Mrooooow! Mrw!

I called R. "Your blankety noisy cat is back. Come get him, please." And she did, embarrassed that he had strayed from her place and was making a nuisance of himself.

The next day, I was working in my garden when I heard a throaty, rich cat-voice in the weeds. Mrow! Mrowrow! Mrooooow! Mrw!

"IF ONLY YOU WOULD BE QUIET, YOU COULD STAY!" I shouted at him, most annoyed.

From that moment on, he was quiet. And the Cat King of Pinwheel Farm.

My nephew was staying with me at the time, and he picked the name Ambrosius, based on a dog in David Bowie's movie Labyrinth. It had a regal sound that fitted the self-possessed young cat, and it stuck. (I'll have to watch the movie again sometime...I saw it when it first came out many years ago, but don't remember the dog.) When the time came, I had him neutered.

Ambrosius is a remarkable cat. In winter, he is richly long-haired; in summer he sheds out to short, sleek, very fine body hair while still carrying a luxurious plume-like tail. His tummy fur is even finer, ever so slightly grey, and falls into curly ringlets...the curliest fur I've ever seen on a cat. He is meticulous about grooming, and is very good at tearing burs and mats out of his fur.

Ambrosius is very people-oriented. He is also a perching cat. He walks up to me and puts his front paws--broad and furry in any season--on my thigh (he is a large, though not heavy, cat). This is his signal that he wants UP. UP like a toddler--I pick him up under the armpits, and he confidently lets himself be lifted to my shoulder, where he settles in and ride around while I do chores. Frequently he'll step off onto the top of a fencepost as I go through a gate, and survey my work from that vantage point. When I'm working in the garden, of course like any cat he'll come roll in the dirt where I'm planting tiny seeds. But he'll also, if ignored, suddenly leap to my hunched shoulders or back, and sit there quite comfortably while I work. He clearly considers himself to be my Supervisor on the farm.

He posted himself on one cat-loving friend's ample bosom while she was visiting, and stayed there for several hours, to her delight, while she worked her spinning wheel unperturbed.

For many years, his winter habit was to spend a week or two off hunting (I presume) in the far fields of the farm, where I would meet him occasionally on my walks. Then he would appear at the door one day, fat and sleek, and politely ask to come sit by the fire. He would play house cat for a day or two (slipping out when I did chores to take care of necessary business), lounging by the wood stove, dining on what my family has always referred to as "crunchy-munchies" (dry cat food). Then he would wander off again for a week or two.

But during my sabbatical travels, the tenants at the farm spoiled Ambrosius. He quickly learned that scratching at a window- or door-screen usually meant he would be immediately let in the house, where who knows what pampering would ensue. When he wasn't let in, he kept scratching until they relented. So he proceeded to destroy all accessible screens. On my return, in hopes of being able to maintain functional screens again some day, new rules had to be set: he NEVER comes in the house. Hopefully this winter he will have been weaned from this destructive and expensive habit enough to be allowed some house privileges, at MY invitation and not his insistence.

Meanwhile, he's quite content outside. He's a terrific mouser, and also catches "pack rats" (actually "Hispid Cotton Rats" according to my mother, who studied mammology). So he's considered one of the farm's "working animals," and earns his keep many times over.

Altogether one of the finest Cats I've ever known, and I feel quite privileged to be in his service.

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