I was sitting the other night, observing the constellations. Orion, normally the champion high in the northern night was cautiously riding the sky's western rim. Humidity filled the air and the moon had not yet risen. The unseasonably warm sunny day had turned into an unseasonably warm, yet very dark, early March night. Bathed in velvety blackness, the night revealed few shadows. All was silent. Danger and darkness seemed to loom everywhere providing an atmosphere of mystery and adventure for two young cats. As Lucy's surviving progeny, Crystal and Xena would tread together, far more fearlessly than they would ever tread alone. Tonight, for the first time in their young cat lives, they left the protection of Mother and struck out together, with me, to as yet undiscovered lands.
I had built up their trust in the mere months since their birth and I knew I could goad them into joining me in a grand adventure. Being the first out of their birthing box, Xena, the fearless explorer, usually led the way. Crystal, on the other hand, would timidly bring up the rear whining most of the way; ironic given she is the fiercer of the two, her fighting skills far surpassing her sister's. As we proceeded, my young companions were nervous but they were also prodded on by the thrill of doing something slightly forbidden. Our path led away from the cabin and down the hill, east toward the ridge. The tiny, single LED flashlight was the only thing keeping them from being smothered in the abysmal darkness. A sudden coyote’s cry required they crouch, silent and motionless, in the weeds until all threat of annihilation had passed. Staying within the protective circle of light emitted by the tiny bulb, they tentatively continued down the hill as we turned north toward the abandoned building site. Little remained of the preliminary construction except some concrete footing forms, a pile of weathered boards, and a lone porcelain throne. Still connected to the lagoon, open on all sides to the prevailing winds and to the sky above, this one small connection to civilization provided some comfort to my new, far simpler lifestyle. Flushing was accomplished by pouring water from a five gallon bucket straight down its throat.
As I observed the constellations, the moist night air enveloped me like a comfortable blanket and the breeze was quite pleasant. I found the experience to be much more inspirational than those endured in freezing temperatures. In fact, out here beyond the light pollution of the city and with the celestial vaults of heaven flung open above me, complete with its mosaic tapestry of twinkling stars it felt, well, spiritual. Spring was supposed to come early this year but four days of possible winter storms were being predicted to start the following morning. The impending sleet and snow made this pleasant night even more appreciated. I thought back to earlier in the day when the goal was to bring in enough fire wood to get through the cold about to descend. With no running water and wood as my sole source of heat, life has become more elemental. Was there enough wood, enough water, and enough food for the next few days? I relaxed as I knew there was, as is often the case in life, enough.
At the same time, however, far more important concerns were being addressed just a few dozen feet away. Crystal and Xena were totally present and completely engrossed in their biggest adventure ever. There were trenches, stacks of building materials, lumber and cinder blocks to explore. Strange new sounds punctuated the night air along with new smells that required thorough yet very careful examination. Suddenly, the worst possible thing that could ever happen did, the flashlight went out plunging them into total darkness! They immediately began wailing. Why had they dared to think they would ever be safe beyond their Mother's protective gaze? They must have been crazy to leave the cabin! How would they ever survive? Surely death would come next for what other fate did they deserve?
Having concluded the purpose of our sojourn, the light mercifully reappeared, saving them once again. We began retracing our steps back up the hill. At one point, Crystal became separated from the group. She found herself left behind and alone in the vast darkness. Her plaintive cries now reached a higher octave which required calling her name and providing the illuminative power of the single LED to act as a homing beacon to bring her safely again, within the light's protective circle. Finally, providence led them back to the cabin, back to the familiar, back to safety. What had begun as a spontaneous frolic had veered swiftly into very dangerous territory and they felt lucky to be alive. The danger had now passed but the lessons learned were those that come only from pursuing high adventure. Their dinner was unusually good that night and slumber came easily, illuminated as it was with vivid cat dreams. The seasons are changing here in the valley. New generations are exploring life for the first time in these Ozark hills.