I forcefully jammed the blade of my shovel into the pine needles. Ground frozen solid under the light snow cover, stopped the metal tool from going any deeper. Spotting a pine branch that had broken off the tree during a fall storm, I sadly told my daughter Tammie, “Maybe the ground under the branch isn’t frozen.”
My guess was correct. After moving the branch aside, the shovel bit into the earth. This time large tree roots three inches under the surface stopped me from digging any deeper.
Looking around again, I pointed to a place further away from the trees where another broken pine bough lay. Wiping my eyes, I suggested “Let’s try over there, maybe we’ll have better luck.”
Pushing the fallen branch aside and breaking off false elder bushes, I plunged the shovel into the exposed ground. This time the shovel dropped deeper into the earth. A few stones the size of large cucumbers had to be pried out of the hole and I chopped off roots as thick as my thumb. I stopped digging to tearfully ask, “Do you think this is large enough?”
Tammie shook her head and with a trembling voice advised, “I think you need to make it a little wider.”
After digging a few more minutes I stopped to wail, “Why does a person have to go through something like this so often in life?” Looking thoroughly miserable, Tammie shook her head and shrugged.
Reaching into a cardboard box we had with us, I lifted out Shadow, my two-and-a-half-year-old kitten and placed him on his side in the hole. Tammie and I cried as we pushed the pile of fresh soil into the hole on top of him.
Flicker, a tuxedo cat, was my first family pet. He came to live with us on the second day after we moved into the country home Arnie and I bought in 1979. He was a house cat who was free to roam the countryside whenever he wished. Barry, Oskar, Jonah and Louie succeeded him, all sharing my home while living the carefree life of indoor/outdoor country cats.
Through the years, two kittens that came to live in my home mysteriously disappeared. We never found out what happened to them. Five years ago, I took in a young cat that looked like a Siamese. One night a vehicle hit and killed him on the road that runs past my home. I figured that Basil became confused and frightened when fire trucks with lights flashing and sirens blaring had raced past my house hours before.
Still, when I decided to take another kitten into my home two and a half years ago, I decided to make him strictly a house cat. The traffic past my house has increased over the years and many of the cars drive as fast as on an interstate highway.
I succeeded at keeping Shadow in the house for two years. He was a rascal, always finding ways to get into trouble, breaking canning jars in the basement, chewing pipe insulation into confetti, carrying cable clip nails and shards of glass I missed in clean-ups into the upstairs entryway.
Six months ago, Shadow began to act as though he’d studied escape techniques under Houdini. Whenever the back door was opened even a crack, he turned into liquid fur and managed to disappear though it. While bringing groceries in from the car, he was often like his name; an indistinct shadow, barely noticed as he slipped away.
Though he was attracted to the outdoors, Shadow was also freaked out by it. His tail got huge as the hair on it puffed up and he skittered away from things that frightened him. After each escape, he would eventually return to the backdoor to be let in for cuddles, food and a warm box to sleep in.
Last Tuesday night Shadow didn’t return to the house. The next day we found him along the road near the bridge. I couldn’t help wondering if someone purposely swerved to hit him. I’ve seen motorists do that to snapping turtles who cross the road in the spring.
After all the fresh dirt was mounded on Shadow’s grave, Tammie and I stood silent for a few moments. I had loved Shadow, but my other cat, Louie would miss him more than anyone. He and Shadow had played together constantly. I thought about the night Shadow had died. When he didn’t come home, Louie had gone outside to look for him. Later, Louie returned to the house and crawled into his box. Uncharacteristically, he didn’t join Tammie and me later that night when we went out to search for Shadow. It was as if he knew.
In a nearby tree a chickadee sang as my sad, frozen heart began to melt.