Other Doors
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Other Doors

Leo

Cats

Leo and the Star-Nosed Mole

When we first found Leo, huddled in the bushes outside of a restaurant, flea-ridden and mangy, yet still pink-nosed with youth, I wanted to name him Shanti, which means peace. He jumped out of the hedge straight into my arms, as if to say, “take me home and be my mommy.” And, so we did take him home. He had apparently been living out of the dumpster (obvious by what would be his life-long terror of the trash-truck on Wednesdays — I can only speculate on what happened there) and had had to fend for himself for who knows how long.

So, we ensconced him in my yoga room and watched him inhale three cans of Fancy Feast while he purred up a storm, fleas jumping off in every direction. He appeared to be a little fluffy angel. But, the moment we let him out to meet the other kitties, several days later, my husband proclaimed, “that cat is not a Shanti!”

Leo’s integration took a while. But, he did, eventually find his groove here. Leo and Kitzl, a cat made more of ebony fluff than anything else, and Naranca, my sweet-as-honey orange boy tabby, used to sit, poised in the sunset glow around one of the many “mole holes” dotting our backyard. Like three buddies gathered together over an evening beer, they bonded over the “hunt.”

But, moles are elusive. Although they inhabit a warren of tunnels running beneath our neighborhood, you rarely ever see them. The mole population under our feet far exceeds the human population here. And yet, we do tend to think that we have the right to own and control the land above their heads because we pay the mortgage and property taxes. But how many moles, really, comprehend or care about the concept of money? To them, our elaborate landscapes are tender munchies.

Nasturtium, a favorite of the moles

Instead of the actual moles, what you see are the remains of a rose bush — everything above-ground intact but with curling brown leaves and droopy blooms. All that was below was a gourmet meal for Mr. Mole. Or you might see a pyramid of dirt piled up like a termite mound right where your nasturtiums used to spill over the stepping stones to puddle into the lettuce patch. Or perhaps, your rainbow chard starts to droop and lose its color because it is no longer rooted in the earth.

But, rarely do you ever see the actual critter who wrought this devastation.

Three times now, in the twenty years I have lived here, have I seen one.

I try to cohabitate with the moles. I won’t harm them. I just attempt to discourage them from eating my produce and flowers. So, I have “solar molars,” subterranean devices which vibrate at a frequency supposedly intolerable to moles. And I have kitties who will actually pee down a mole hole in frustration because they can’t ever catch one of the little guys. They will wait patiently for hours by an entrance to the “other world” below. Appearing to be dozing in the sunshine, they will snap suddenly awake at the tiniest movement from that entrance to Mordor!

Perhaps it is not surprising that I don’t see them more often. But, I do know that they are here. I am currently “down” five rose bushes.

So, the first time I laid eyes on a mole was when I stepped out of the French door into the side garden, where the kale and swiss chard sprout towards the sky in glorious fountains of green shot through with red veins. And, up against the side of the house, stood a little creature with an overly-long snout ending in star-shaped nostrils. His fur did not look at all like I thought it would, for a creature who inhabited a world made of dirt. He was silky, like a little mink. And Leo had him cornered.

The mole sat up on his haunches, his snout pointing right at Leo, although I knew that he was blind, as all moles are. But, he sensed us. He knew we were there, and that he was lost in another world, a world in which his particular set of senses did not serve him well.

The two of them batted at each other, like the clash of the titans, without ever actually touching one another.

The mole screamed. I am sure that is what he did. His mouth was open, and his chest puffed out, and I knew he was screaming at the top of his little lungs.

But, I could not hear him.

He speaks a different language — a language beyond our perceivable range of pitch. His family, tucked away within the earth, might have heard him. But, they could not really comprehend what was happening in that “other dimension” — the world above ground. They could do little to help him now.

Leo did seem to be able to hear him though. As if there was an invisible barrier, he paused about a foot away from that little critter, who now stood there, with flailing arms, screaming that unworldly scream. But, Leo seemed unwilling to go any closer to this elusive creature whom he had been stalking for years now. That scream got him.

Or maybe it was the claws, long and sharp, curved like a rapier’s sword. Suited for digging in the earth, those claws were strong and scary.

And so, Leo stood back, looking at me and looking at the mole, as if to say, “what do we do now?”

He had just achieved a major life goal, like a yogi perfecting a handstand. He had caught a mole.

But, his life hadn’t really changed. Once he caught it, he was a little unsure of why he wanted it in the first place.

And so — please don’t tell my neighbors — I donned a thick pair of gardening gloves, scooped up our little blind visitor, and deposited him back down the mole hole, into the world in which he belonged.

I guess I will need to buy another rose bush!

(In memory of Leo, who was our little love for fifteen years)

Erika Burkhalter is a yogi, neurophilosopher, cat-mom, photographer, and lover of travel and nature, spreading her love and amazement for Mother Earth’s glories, one photo, poem or story at a time. (MS Neuropsychology, MA Yoga Studies).

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Photo and poem ©Erika Burkhalter. All rights reserved.

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Erika Burkhalter

Photographer, yogi, cat-mom, lover of travel and nature, spreading amazement for Mother Earth, one photo, poem or story at a time. (MA Yoga, MS Neuropsychology)