Sitting at the table by the open sliding door on Thursday my attention was caught by Willow's activities in the cat yard.. She was intent on something--body tensed, nose to the ground.
My first thought was that she had spied some beetle-bug lumbering through the patchy grass.
She began pawing determinedly, flinging soil and blades of new grass aside.
Several times when gardening I have disturbed moles who were living in a warren of tunnels just beneath the soil. It seemed likely that Willow was hearing and feeling the subterrainean perambulations of a mole.
Rain showers overnight left the yard a bit soggy, and the small depression which Willow had created had become a puddle by Friday morning.
While several of the cats reclined on the step or stretched out on the heat pump to bird-watch, Willow hurried to check out her sand pit.
As I watched, she dabbled first one paw then the other in the water.
Rearing up, she came down with both front paws, splat--squarely into the puddle.
Wilbur, attracted by his sister's intensity, lumbered over to inspect.
Willow's white front feet are dark with mud.
Wilbur jostles his sister aside and has a good rootle in the puddle--up to his catly elbow in muddy water.
I wonder if the puddle is situated directly above the mole's best bedroom and is the 'roof' leaking from all this poking?
Both cats now had muddy feet and moved into the damp grass where they had a bit of a
Red boots were a staple of my country childhood.
Puddles were likewise a common after effect of New England weather.
Walking during a shower the puddles ahead dimple and ripple with the plash of falling rain.
When the sun comes out suddenly the blue sky and the trees overhead are reflected, lop-sided and out of kilter in the brown water.
Something about a puddle beckons--if one's boots are sturdy, why detour around that alluring temporary body of water?
Thinking today of puddles, I was reminded of a woman I knew more than thirty years ago.
Merle was a southern gal--born and raised in the deep south.
During the three years that our family lived in Massachusetts, we attended the church where Merle was a long time member. Several times she invited us home with her for dinner.
Merle's cooking was as southern as her manner of speech; slices of potato crisped in a deep fryer, regal cakes dripping with frosting.
Nearing 70, she was bouncy and talkative, her dark eyes merry behind her thick spectacles.
Over time, I learned bits of her story.
A country girl, Merle had married young--the first time.
She told of picnics and impromptu parties, good times with other young couples of the neighborhood.
Merle loved her boyish husband, loved making a home.
Several years went by and most of their friends produced a baby or two.
Merle had no child and doctors were vague as to the reason.
Her husband, as though needing to prove the fault was not his, 'took up' with a younger girl who promptly became pregnant.
A Merle, put it, remembering wryly, "She and her baby needed him and his name more than I did!"
She moved north after the divorce, acquired some practical nursing skills. Eventually she married again, a widower and was drawn into his large family.
By the time I met her, the second husband had passed away and she had found herself a third companion, another widower, again older than herself.
Their household was a strange one.
Her husband, Rich, had a middle-aged son, who had been struck down by a passing automobile as a small boy. The resulting head injury had left him 'simple'--able to converse and work at undemanding tasks, but unable to live on his own.
As well, Merle had taken on the care of her late second husband's grand-daughter--a girl now13 or 14, born into a family of perfectly normal siblings; a girl who was both mentally and physically impaired.
"Her parents couldn't care for her," stated Merle, with some indignation. "They were going to put her in a 'home'. I've had her since she was a toddler."
The poor girl was a constant care, messy, mischevious, non-verbal, but given to noisy cawing outbursts.
Rich was 'hard of hearing' and had grown testy with it. His son had to be directed in each small task.
Merle took it all in stride, cheerful, funny, chipper as a sparrow.
Once when we were at her home in the springtime there had been an overnight rain.
After lunch, with the girl put in bed, Rich and his son tucked up in the livingroom, Merle kicked off her houseshoes, and waving a dimissive hand at the sink piled with dishes, thrust her feet into a pair of boots that stood by the back door.
"Come and see my flowers," she ordered, and led the way through the woodshed and out to the yard which shimmered, green and damp in afternoon sunshine.
We walked past clumps of iris, a peony, bowed with the weight of raindrops. An astilbe, in full bloom was her pride.
I picked my way carefully through the damp grass. Merle set her booted feet down with deliberate splats, apparently relishing each squelchy footstep.
She was, as usual, talking non-stop, her bright eyes sparkling.
At the edge of the gravel drive, puddles shone.
Without missing a beat in her story, Merle strode into the deepest one, stood stomping her feet up and down, sending water flying.
Her tale coming to an end, she grinned engagingly and gave a couple of energetic hops through the puddle.
"I've always loved to come out after a rain," she said. "I love puddles. Maybe I've just never grown up!"