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Curiosity Can Save the Cat


A flat, smooth trail runs alongside the Rio Grande, which is mostly dry at this time of the year. The trail can be part of a longer loop, but we rode it as an out-and-back and ended up returning with an extra passenger found along the way.

Since I'm biking, I'm wrangling everyone who will take me up on the offer to go with me. I am slow, I assure them. I do not enjoy hills. I do enjoy stopping for coffee. This approach leads to some takers.

My friend hadn't been on a bike in a few years. Our pace allowed us a pleasant, meandering chat. At one point, after mentioning a playdate, she dropped a line about how she and her daughters would love a cat because they enjoyed mine and missed the one that had died after an encounter in the desert with something larger. What stopped her wasn't necessarily the desert buffeting her house but a large, lumbering Labrador she suspected might not take kindly to a kitten.

I heard the yowl on the first pass through a section of trail. I wished then that I had taken my birding friends up on some outings. They could have told me it was a southern blue-tipped warbler or something similarly fancy-sounding.

(Note: I made up that bird description, but it turns out there is a blue-winged warbler that sounds like a bee and lives in shrubland.)

We kept riding, hit a turnaround and came back. The yowl was just as pronounced the second time around, and I slowed to look into the riverbed. I dropped my bike and announced to my friend one of those lines that could be the point in a horror movie where it all starts to go poorly, and the main character jokes about it being famous last words like I did.

"Want to go find out what it is?" I said.

Movement out of the thicket was immediate as we jumped down the bank. She was trapped on one of the islands in the middle of the river and came out nearly immediately, trying to get to us. It would have been easy, but this little grey ball of fur had to be a little ways down from where the wastewater treatment plant releases effluent. It wasn't enough to fill the river, but it was enough of an ocean for that little kitten.

We cooed. We clicked. The kitten fell off branches and tried to get to me as I scouted for ways around the water. Then I made a decision. I sighed, I clomped through the water, the mud rose up to my ankles and seeped into my shoes as I stretched my hand into the dark brush. I didn't want to think about what else might be in the darkness, then realized I was right next to a wasp nest.

It took a couple of tries until I pawed the yowler ungracefully onto a branch and did my best imitation of an arcade claw. My friend had taken off her sweater as I turned to suck my feet out of the muck. I handed her the prize with a "Here's your cat."

(Note: Her daughters adore the kitten. The verdict may still be out on the Labrador.)

My friend debated holding the cat and riding back, but even high on adrenaline I knew that wasn't a great idea. She waited on a bench for me to haul tail back to the parking lot. While I was gone, people from the trail stopped to chat with her. Others had heard the yowling and wondered what it was, too. Their curiosity hadn't gotten the better of them.

I'm not a hero, and I'm not even really a cat person. I have a cat, but I also have Cat People friends, and I do not have that level of dedication. All I was doing was being someone who took a few minutes to investigate a situation and tried to make the world a smidgen better.

Some days when you're in the mud and getting close to the wasps, it's just about the small things that could have a giant meaning for others. Let's go find those.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com.