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The Whitehurst Diaries: Walking with Willis

Overturned cat dishes were a sign the possum had foraged, but that bit of mischief couldn't spoil the outset of a wonderful walk in the Big Creek Valley, in the company of Willis, with wonderful flora and fauna, now in early fall, in a Kentucky autumn's wonderful outburst of yellow beauty.
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By Sharon Whitehurst

I slid the switch on the A/C thermostat to "Off", listened as the unit rumbled to a stop, then walked through the small house opening windows and shutters to night air which at 10 pm on Saturday had cooled only slightly from the oppressive heat of the day.


Cicadas chirred lethargically. The gleam of the porch light showed overturned cat dishes strewn about the carport, indicating that the possum had already made a routine forage.

Daughter Gina and grandson Devin had trudged from their house in the dusty heat as the sun crawled westward. Now they had been collected by son-in-law Matt and the hum of conversation was stilled, the CD of bluegrass music finished.

I settled at my desk to read near the open window. Wilbur, the skittish rescue kitten plopped on the sill, one white paw splayed against the screen. His sociable little sister, Willow, teetered along the edge of the desk gazing at the shifting images on the computer screen, turning to demand my attention with the pat of a tiny imperious paw.

At midnight the quiet was ripped by a cacophony of chorused howls, yips, yelps: coyotes. The kittens bristled, the back of my neck prickled, as the feral voices rose, ebbed, rose again--always one lone cry drawn out beyond the fading of the canine choir.

With an instinct conjured from the archives of human response, I moved swiftly to the porch, strode to the edge of reassuring yellow light and bellowed, "GIT! Go away! Get out of here!"

Silence shivered into the dooryard, then a cicada rasped.It wasn't a good night for sleeping. I served breakfast before 7 to the indoor cats, crunched over the expanse of browned grass to the barn, Willis and Co at my heels, greeted by Pebbles' hearty urgings.

In the side room of the barn where Jim stores Pebbles' grain and bales of hay, the tall sturdy container of cat kibble had been smacked onto its side. Here too, the cat dishes were strewn.

With the animals fed and tended, camera in hand, I made a tour of the gardens and headed down the front field, the faithful Willis in tow.

We stopped by the ancient Old Timey Pear tree. Last year the crowded weight of ripening fruit burdened the branches. This spring the gallant old tree was just coming into blossom when a spell of cold and rainy weather put paid to this years crop. Last fall we cleared away broken branches. Old scars on the trunk give evidence of prunings over the decades.

Willis and I strolled toward the lower field where Jim has used a bulldozer to continue the clearing and clean up started by J.M. Shelley in 2009. Clumps of wildflowers glow yellow-gold, undaunted by disturbed soil or drought. [I searched through my wildflower books and online last autumn and again today without finding an absolute identification. I think one of the tickseed/coreopsis family--there are 28 identified varieties in North America.]

Willis swatted at the insects which whirred up from the weeds as he passed. He peered at a pattern of hoofprints in the dry ground, sniffed at small piles of deer scat.

Crows squawked, a small hawk circled, keening. Hoofbeats approached along the north road, a measured clop-clop as the first of four Amish buggies rumbled past, followed moments later by the echoing clip of a faster-paced horse.

A few more photos then a look around for Willis who has flattened his tweedy self in a becoming clump of the golden flowers. His mouth is slightly opened, panting, his wise amber eyes are mere slits.

"Home, Willis," I say, and he skitters ahead of me, tiger tail leading the way through the hazy heat of a Sunday morning. -Sharon Whitehurst


This story was posted on 2011-09-04 16:00:56
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The Whitehurst Diaries: Walking with Willis



2011-09-04 - Old Gradyville RD, Gradyville, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
Willis went and Willis, the knowing cat, understood, but had his own fall walk agenda on a pleasure amble through the farm on Big Creek Valley.

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