Last summer Micro Scaredy got noticeably pregnant for the first time. I watched as her belly grew bigger and bigger over a three month period. Then one day I could tell she was no longer pregnant. But her kittens were nowhere in sight. She had the litter stashed in a secret nest somewhere in the Berkeley hills. I could tell Micro Scaredy was nursing the litter because she had the distended nipples. And she’d show up to my campsite for breakfast, but instead of hanging out like she used to do, she’d immediately leave after eating to get back to her litter. A friend of mine — another homeless camper — told me he spotted the nest for a short time, hidden in between these big rocks, near the Greek Theater, about a mile from my campsite.
Then, about three months after Micro Scaredy gave birth, a little black feral kitten wandered into my campsite one morning. After hiding off in the distance for some time, she finally mustered the courage to approach the cat food dish. I dubbed her Nano Scaredy — the fourth in the lineage, starting with Scaredy Cat, then Mini Scaredy, then Micro Scaredy, and now Nano Scaredy.
Nano Scaredy never quite trusted me. She would often hide behind a tree and watch me, like she was studying me, trying to figure out what I was. Friend or foe.
After about two weeks she started getting a little comfortable at my campsite. She was usually waiting for me when I woke up in the morning, and she’d often call out to me, meowing for her breakfast. And every now and then she’d even dare to curl up on my blankets for a nap after she ate breakfast. She let me pet her a couple of times. But usually she would run away if I tried to approach her.
I was just starting to make arrangements to take Nano Scaredy to the vet to get her fixed, when she disappeared. Mini Scaredy — the dominant cat of the tribe of feral cats — got into some kind of territorial conflict with Nano’s mother, Micro Scaredy. And ran Micro Scaredy off. And Nano Scaredy apparently went off with her, never to be seen again.
I always wondered how my feral cats handled living outside in the rain. On this day last year I got a little idea.
I was sleeping at my campsite and the rain caught me by surprise. It started at 4 AM and came down steadily for 3 hours. Not a heavy rain. But 2/10th of an inch. Which is a bit of water. My blankets all got soaked. And there were puddles of water all around my cardboard matting.
When the sun finally came up, I noticed two of my cats were sleeping peacefully on top of my blankets down by my feet. The rain hadn’t bothered them in the least. I think to some degree their top layer of fur acts as a rain-repellant. Their own built-in raincoat.
At any rate, this is the look Mini Scaredy gave me when she woke up that morning. Like, “Would you get your ass up out of that puddle and feed us our breakfast??” Ha ha.
Mini Scaredy has established herself as the alpha cat at the top of the feral cat hierarchy. By dint of her superior strength, athleticism, aggression and overall fighting ability.
And there’s really nothing I can do about it. These are wild animals after all, with their own inner-species society with it’s own unique rules and bi-laws. You can’t really “train” feral cats in the wild. Because they react to any attempts to “discipline” them — or any aggression directed at them — as a life-or-death attack on their personage.
So I just let the cats sort it out among themselves.
So this morning I fed Mini Scaredy — the ruling queen — her breakfast at my campsite.
Then I went down to the creek and fed Micro Scaredy — who Mini Scaredy banished from my campsite — her breakfast down there at her spot.
And then I fed Fatty — who’s been banished from the creek by Micro Scaredy — her breakfast at her spot about 30 yards down the trail from the creek.
And somewhere — even farther off in the distance — is Moo Cat at the bottom of the feral cat pecking order, waiting at her spot for me to bring her HER breakfast
It can get a little spooky sometimes, heading up the road to my campsite in the deep dark woods late at night every night. It’s one of the reasons I usually have the place all to myself. You never know who might be lurking about at that hour. People like me for instance.
Every now and then some stranger will confront me while I’m walking up the road at 2 in the morning. And that can get a little tense. A couple weeks ago I had a weird scene. I was walking up the road to my campsite. Mini Scaredy was waiting for me in the bushes, as usual. And she jumped out and started following me from behind as I walked up the road. About half way up the road, this car that was driving by suddenly stops in the middle of the road, right along side me, for no apparent reason. The guy gets out of his car and starts to approach me.
“What do you want!!” I said, with a sharp edge in my voice. I don’t like ANYBODY approaching me at two in the morning in the deep, dark hills.
“Is that cat all right?” he said.
“What??” I said.
I turned around and saw Mini Scaredy darting across the road. Apparently she had jumped in front of the guy’s car, so he was stopping to make sure he hadn’t hit her.
“Oh. Yeah. The cat is fine,” I said. “But thanks for stopping to check on it, cool cat.”
He got in his car and drove off. And me and Mini Scaredy continued on our way up the trail. And when we got to my campsite, I gave Mini Scaredy a long, stern lecture about the dangers of the road and the cars. Though I’m not sure how much of it she understood. English is her second language, after all.
You mothers that have to deal with a brood of brawling brats? You have my sympathies.
So yesterday morning Fatty was waiting about 20 yards down the trail, for me to bring her her breakfast. So I bring her a plate of food. But she doesn’t get to eat more than a couple bites before her arch-nemesis Mini Scaredy spots her and runs her down the trail and out of my campsite.
So that’s a waste of a can of cat food. Plus no breakfast for Fatty.
So this morning? Same scenario. Fatty waiting down the trail for her breakfast. And Mini Scaredy waiting on my blankets, ready to pounce on Fatty at the first move.
So I have to sneak down the hill from a back exit, circle around the perimeter of my entire campsite. Circle back up to the creek, where Fatty is waiting for me outside Mini Scaredy’s range (and wrath). And feed her her plate of food down there.
You know what they say. “A mother’s work is never done.”
Walking through the Berkeley campus last night on the way up to my campsite, I spotted this cat darting across the lawn and into the bushes. This shadowy blur in the night. I figured it was a feral cat. So I hung around for a bit to see if I could give it some food. But no sight of the cat, so I turned and headed back up towards the hills.
But then I heard the cat meowing at me. Which was weird. Feral cats are pretty stealthy and rarely approach strangers. So for a second I thought maybe it was one of my long-lost feral cats. Scaredy Cat or Mini Owl. Who recognized me from the past.
But no sign of the cat. So I turned and headed back up the hill.
But then, after I had gone across the campus and was headed further up the road, I heard the cat meowing again. It was following me. So I stopped and opened up a can of cat food, dumped it on the sidewalk, and then headed back up the road. And when I turned back to talk a look to see if the cat had made it to the food, there was indeed a cat there, nibbling at the food. It was MINI SCAREDY!! She took a few quick bites of the food and then followed me the rest of the way to my campsite (so that was a waste of a can of food).
I was surprised Mini Scaredy had ventured all the way down to the Berkeley campus. That’s at least a mile from my campsite. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. She’s the best hunter and the most adventurous and wide-ranging of my cats.
Mini Scaredy is one of those cats that LOVES to be petted. If she could get away with it she’d have me petting her all day long. Ha ha. And when she starts to reach ecstasy from the petting experience she rolls over on her back and rubs her back on my cardboard matting over and over with a big smile on her face as she stares up to the sky. And if I stop petting her she meows over and over which translates into English as “MORE!! MORE!! MORE!!” Ha ha.