A Cat’s Garden

Well, it’s not mine.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY HEATHER GRAHAM

Sometimes in this lifetime, we meet a special soul,
Who fills our very essence, to almost overflow.
We drink the cup of friendship, it tastes like ruby wine,
And you know within your heart, this meeting was Divine.

—Lilaneyah

My cat Koko was such a soul. We were meant to be together. When Koko died, I felt lost. I went outside to walk in the garden.

Sitting stones, warmed by the sun, were empty.

Napping nests in grasses under the apple tree were empty.

No cat was meowing for me to open the rosegarden gate.

No cat wove among the wands of lavender.

I walked all of the Garden areas—down the barn road and along the flowerbeds. I passed through the front garden area, with the rhododendron bushes, then the side yard and azaleas, the big arching rosebushes in the cottage garden, the herb and vegetable gardens, and around to the compost area, where she loved to roll. I roamed past the manure pile that she’d inspect before she checked out the compost bins. I ended in the little orchard area where she climbed Asian pear trees, apple trees, and grapevines.

It was all so empty.

Now Socs is teaching me to start making the changes he wants.

The next morning I was about to repeat my walk, alone, when I heard a soft meow at my feet. I had forgotten about Socs, a magnificent Siamese cat we got as a feral kitten so emaciated he couldn’t even stand up. My husband came out and gave me a hug and kiss. Then he whispered in my ear, “Now it’s Socs’s turn,” and left.

What did he mean? Had I been so wrapped up with Koko over the years that the younger Socs didn’t get the attention he wanted? Then I realized that Socs, too, had been roaming areas looking for Koko, meowing at her absence, and lying in her beds waiting for her.

Confused, I started my garden walk. I was joined by a furry body with a 12-inch tail who walked beside me and talked to me. I made stops along the way as Koko and I always had. At these spots Socs, like Koko, sniffed some flowers, batted at others, rubbed against thorny canes, and took a short sit on a warm stone. But soon the walk changed: Socs took over.

He led us through the Joe Pye and into the lavender beds, over the warmed stone path and down the barn road, where he checked out the sandy area to see if someone had intruded into his territory. Satisfied, he looked over his shoulder at me and ambled toward the front of the house to bat at the snowball tree and weave among the rhodies. Then he took us up on the front porch for a bit of a sit and stared out at his world.

I sat by him and he rubbed his head against my arm. Then he jumped down to inspect the sweet woodruff at the base of an enormous cherry tree. Going around the corner of the house, Socs suddenly went into a jog—then through the azaleas by the playhouse, quickly to the cottage garden, and down its center walkway to sit on sun-warmed stones and watch any cows that happened by.

He turned his head to me and said something before heading to the greenhouse and compost area to check out the smells. Once again he looked at me, then headed for the grapevines and the small orchard trying, I think, to decide which tree to climb, one of Koko’s favorite activities.

I followed him to an Asian pear. “You like it, too, don’t you?” I said and rubbed his chin and ears. He mrrpped to me.

All told, we spent 45 minutes on our walk. It opened my eyes.

I found I still have my inspiration—a loving, inquisitive, playful, and talkative cat whose turn has indeed come to rule the roost. I discovered I don’t just have a garden: I have a cat’s garden, something every cat (with its person) can enjoy no matter the day or season. Fragrant flowers to sniff; bushes to sit or hide under; big pieces of sun-warmed sandstone to stretch out on; stone steps and pathways to traverse; and edible flowers and mint for grazing. Lavender and roses provide intoxicating fragrances and warm, sunny, places to hear birdsong and watch colorful dragonflies. All size and shapes of trees are thinned and trimmed for cats to climb.

This garden came about thanks to Koko, who over the past ten years designed it. How, you might ask? By repeatedly showing me what she liked and how she liked it—where she liked to sit or crawl. She’d play with certain types of grasses and certain heights of plants, and smell and nuzzle certain flowers. I simply translated her actions over the years into something for cats as well as myself. She, of course, had enormous patience with the limitations of my mind.

Now Socs is teaching me to start making the changes he wants. Fist Koko, then Socs—each cat in its time, enjoying a place of its choosing, a place to be enjoyed by both purrsons and persons. A place to inhale the wonders of a garden and to feel content every day. Yes, Koko died, but she isn’t gone. Her legacy, a most wonderful cat garden, is alive and flourishing.


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