Weeks of waiting and then we see him, red fox in the mare’s pasture, his tail a rich plume of flame, fully suspended behind him. In no great hurry he wanders the perimeter, cub-like in his trust and why not? The mares care so little as to never lift their heads, the two of them intently grazing. Each blade and tuft leading to another, they make scraggly paths across the pasture, wet prints displacing the dew drizzled grass. In their eyes the solitary fox might be one of the red-tails lining the drive, waiting for the henhouse door to open and the feasting to begin—not their worry. He makes his way as they go theirs. It’s no wonder we lose track of time here, at the Claytor’s farm, every living thing making its slow way. The barn cats deliberately head in from hunting. They’ll stop for a dust bath in one of the dried clay swivets, luxuriously stretching, rolling the dust into their spines, shoulders and flanks. Though we hardly lavish attention on them, the cats wait for our return, the familiar car pulling down the long drive. And it’s not simply that we spin the top off the raccoon-proof container and fill a bowl with a spill of kibble. Often enough, the cat food is there on the open sill, waiting.
What the barn cats want from us is company, a near proximity. Perhaps it’s a defensive behavior, our stature and size keeping them safe while they eat. But each time, I am reminded of Homer’s lines about warriors at day’s end banishing the gore of day-long battles with a shared meal. “They reached out for the good things that lay at hand / and when they had put aside the desire for food and drink….” A fleeting communal moment. They’ll eat while we curry the horses, and the horses draw the length of a long summer day from fall-harvested sheaves of hay. The cats take turns, eating and waiting. Now and then, we reach up to scratch their none too gorgeous ears, nicked with trysts and stand-offs. The small calico is newly dominant. Harold, the mustard yellow male, must wait for her to finish before he can begin. Patiently he sits, legs straight as the pharaoh’s cat while she hunches forward grinding each cube of kibble with a deliberate, painstaking grace.