My daughter and I were chatting in my kitchen when my friend Les, who was working outside, climbed the porch stairs, opened the screen door and said, quietly, “We’ve got a serious situation developing.” He glanced toward the North Gate’s eight-foot-high fence. We rushed to the window. There, sitting under the three-inch overhang on the twelve-foot-long plank that ran between each fence pillar, a chipmunk was munching a pumpkin seed in the warm sun. His snug home and its larder were just inside a gnawed opening in that high fence corner.
Just above him, gazing down from the pillar’s narrow, flat shelf, barely out of sight, Cat sat.
Not a whisker moved. His long, fluffy tail hung down, but did not twitch. He was stone.
The oblivious chipmunk was just six inches lower than Death.
It was stunning to watch the little guy happily nipping away the edges of his seed while savoring the last of the day’s warmth. He was so close, so close to perpetual winter.
“What should we do?” I gasped. Lisa rocked and watched, then said, quietly, “Oh, nothing, I think. My money’s on the chippie, Mom.”
I stared at the tableau. Chipmunks are incredibly quick. They always have a Plan. This little one was dining right next to his door. One chipmunk-sized stride away from it would bring oblivion.
He finished, wiped his whiskers, fluffed his fur, and closed his eyes. And somehow, perhaps from delicate shifts in the air, Cat’s ears and nose transmitted precisely what was happening.
Chippie sighed, savoring the seed’s lingering taste. He sunbathed for perhaps three awful minutes. Cat sat, yellow eyes locked onto where he knew the chipmunk was- so near, so incredibly near.
Teeny brown eyes popped open. Thoughtfully, Chippie looked around. Something- something didn’t feel quite right… (“Look UP!” I whispered.)
Hmmm. Should he shift away from the overhang and onto the fence’s high, wide boardwalk for even more warmth? It might be nice. His eyes searched for danger. His fur prickled slightly…
A careful survey…Nothing.
He closed his eyes again.
We tensed as Cat inched forward one millimeter. This was an astounding demonstration of the feline’s ability to ‘read’ his prey, without actually seeing him.
It was a curiously intimate moment.
Chippie’s eyes opened. Zip! He vanished into his house. Cat, still unable to actually see this, knew instantly. He rose slightly, but waited…waited… Pop! Out came the chipmunk again. Under his porch roof, in precisely the same place, he sunbathed while holding a seed in his cheek pouch to soften it.
Cat moved not one muscle. His control and concentration were absolute.
One minute later Chippie leisurely brought the softened seed forward toward his tiny incisors, trimmed the edges, and ate it.
Death’s laser-eyes bored into the wood, measuring. The Pounce had to be precise. One misstep and he’d probably forfeit the last of his nine lives.
Suddenly, Chippie skipped away from his sheltered porch. We gasped! But in that millisecond, his well-placed eyes saw the monster, and- too quickly for us to register- he reversed course and skittered into his home.
Cat sagged. Rats! He’d been made! On the faint chance he might be wrong he remained immobile a bit longer, hoping, but eventually conceded. Blinking eyes and twitching tail betrayed his immense frustration and disappointment. The exultant chip-chip of the triumphant, ‘munk,’ who’d exited his home from a ground-level door, mocked him.
Humiliated, Cat slowly turned his head to glare down at the laughing rodent in the Fairy Garden before carefully descending, his old body trembling with rage.
Next time, munk-dung. Next time.
We mopped our brows and cheered!
No showdown today…