Note from the author: The fifth paragraph in this column is rated PG13 for mild violence. If you are under 13 years old and not accompanied by an adult, please skip the fifth paragraph. What? No, young lady, I was not counting any of the dialogue as a paragraph. Go ahead and read the dialogue, just skip the fifth paragraph. What? Yes, this author's note is being counted as a paragraph. Um... well, if you find out that a certain mouse gets a boo-boo, then you read the wrong one. Hmmm. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't read any of this.
When an animal tilts its head and looks at you, you're probably doing something wrong. I got the head tilt from our new kitten, Jack. What was I doing? I was catching a mouse. Our two barn cats had their paws full with patrolling two huge barns, so we brought home some help. As an orphaned--and slightly overweight--tuxedo cat, Jack needed someone to show him how to catch a mouse. At the moment I got "the look" I had just caught the mouse by leaping on it from across the kitchen. One second the mouse was scurrying from behind the stove, and the next second it was in my hand. I had it by the tail and one back leg. Either I was really hungry or I've been living in the country too long, or both. And you're right: a mouse in my hand isn't safe. Don't worry, I donned a long welder's glove just for the occasion.
"Just like that!" I said, beaming at Jack and holding up the mouse.
"Meow!" he responded with his head tilted. It either meant "Right on, Dad!" or "Mice are gross, and you're deranged!" Jack's accent makes him difficult to understand sometimes.
His head remained tilted as I stood up. I picked Jack up with my free arm and carefully opened the door to the backyard. The mouse in my hand squirmed as I leaned over and placed Jack in the grass. I wiggled my gloved hand just enough to release the mouse's leg. He squirmed some more, now hanging only by his tail. I held the mouse out in front of Jack, his eyes widening and his tail swishing excitedly.
"Okay!" I shouted. "Get it!"
I let the mouse go in the grass, about 2 inches in front of Jack. Excited, I watched to see what Jack's strategy would be. Would he just pounce and devour, or would he toy with the mouse until it was exhausted and remorseful for contaminating our entire bread box? I watched Jack. Jack sat motionless and watched the mouse disappear around the back of the house. This wasn't the strategy I had in mind.
"Ahhh, Jack!" I said. "Come on, little man, I just showed you what to do!"
Macy, one of our seasoned barn cats, sauntered out from behind the house. The mouse was held firmly in her teeth. (What? No, I didn't ask the mouse for any identification. I'm assuming that it was the same mouse. You again? Didn't I tell you not to read this paragraph? I suppose it's too late now. What? No, no one else gets hurt in this column. Look, this is a column about a farm. Farms have mice, and they raise cats to catch the mice. Why? Well, partly because mice can contaminate the horse feed. Would you prefer this were a column about a horse that gets sick on contaminated feed? I thought not. Now where was I?) Okay. So, Macy sat near us in the grass and ate the mouse. She looked at Jack as if inviting him to lunch. Jack just flopped over in the grass and purred. I tilted my head and looked at him. I'm really not sure about his future as a barn cat. The sun was setting, so I carried Jack inside before his mostly black coat camouflaged him in the twilight.
The unsuccessful mouse-catching lesson was only a small part of a full day on the farm. Kimberly and I were starving, so we fixed one of our favorite fall dinners: potato-leek soup with grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Like good music and good stories, good food is meant to be shared. I can't send you a bowl of soup or a sandwich, but I can give you the recipes at the end of my column.
Our dog, Kit, waited patiently with big goo-goo eyes beside me at the table as we ate. I gave her a generous and crispy sandwich corner. Yes, the dog has me trained. Rewarding her tableside begging is probably bad parenting. But, I fixed the food, so I can share my food however I want, right? Kimberly and I were in heaven with our bellies full of soup and fat-fried sandwiches. We paid the barn a visit with the dogs and cats in tow. The horses were happy to get blanketed and fed. None of their hay or feed was fried in pork fat, but they seemed excited all the same. The dinner put me in such a good mood. I think I hugged all the horses, but I don't think that they were particularly moved by my sentimentality.