Curiosity can save the cat, by Cassie McClure


A flat, smooth trail runs along the Rio Grande, which is usually dry this time of year. The trail may be part of a longer loop, but we hiked it as an out and back and ended up returning with an extra passenger found along the way.

Since I have been cycling, I have argued with anyone who will accept the offer to accompany me. I am slow, I assure them. I don’t like hills. I like to stop for a coffee. This approach leads to some takers.

My friend hadn’t ridden a bike for a few years. Our pace allowed us a pleasant and meandering conversation. At one point, after mentioning a play date, she dropped a line about how she and her daughters would love a cat because they enjoyed mine and missed the one who died after a desert encounter with something bigger. What stopped her wasn’t necessarily the desert shaking her home, but a big, heavy Labrador she suspected didn’t like a kitten.

I heard the howl on the first pass over a section of trail. I wish I had taken my bird watcher friends on a few outings then. They could have told me it was a southern blue-tipped warbler or something equally fanciful.

(Note: I made up this bird description, but it turns out there’s a blue-winged warbler that looks like a bee and lives in the shrubbery.)

We kept driving, turned around and came back. The howl was just as pronounced the second time, and I slowed down to look down into the riverbed. I dropped my bike and told my friend one of those lines that could be the point in a horror movie where everything starts to go wrong, and the main character jokes that those are famous last words like me.

“Do you want to go find out what it is?” I said.

The movement out of the thicket was immediate as we jumped along the bank. She was trapped on one of the islands in the middle of the river and came out almost immediately, trying to join us. It would have been easy, but this little ball of gray fur must have been a little below where the sewage treatment plant discharges the effluent. It wasn’t enough to fill the river, but it was enough like an ocean for this little kitten.

We cooed. We clicked. The kitten fell from the branches and tried to reach me as I searched for paths around the water. Then I made a decision. I sighed, wading through the water, the mud rising to my ankles and seeping into my shoes as I stretched my hand out into the dark brush. I didn’t want to think about what else could be in the dark, then I realized I was right next to a wasp’s nest.

It took me a few tries until I tapped the Graceless Screamer on a branch and did my best to mimic an arcade claw. My friend had taken off her sweater as I turned to suck my feet out of the mud. I presented him with the award with a “Here’s your cat.”

(Note: his daughters love the kitten. The verdict may still be on the Labrador.)

My friend debated holding the cat and backtracking, but even on the adrenaline I knew it wasn’t a good idea. She waited on a bench for me to take the queue back to the parking lot. While I was away, people from the trail stopped to chat with her. Others had heard the howl and also wondered what it was. Their curiosity had not got the better of them.

I’m not a hero, and I’m not even really a cat person. I have a cat, but I also have Cat People friends, and I don’t have that level of dedication. All I did was be someone who took a few minutes to investigate a situation and tried to make the world a little better.

Some days when you’re in the mud and getting close to the wasps, it’s just the little things that could mean huge things to others. Let’s find them.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and die-hard Oxford Comma fan. She can be contacted at [email protected] To learn more about Cassie McClure and read stories from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: MitomViet on Pixabay