It snowed in the night. While we were sleeping, it snuck up on us as the world held its breath. We woke to a new monochrome morning, the air electric with the possibility of a day unspoilt. There’s something regenerative about a covering of snow – somehow it erases yesterday, leaving a fresh canvas to mark with tracks. And tracks there were. A polka-dotted trail of prints left by our soft-hearted, firm pawed, slightly dimwitted tomcat as he had earlier forged a path across the roof, off to carry out his daily inspection of his extensive lands.
This time last year, BMO and his sister Bellatrix (Trixie) were gracious enough to decide that we have the privilege of being their humans. “BeeMo” was the result of an 8 year old’s naming decision, the culmination of a fortnight spent compiling a flip chart of potential identities for the tiny black ball of chaos and his sister, rescued from the streets and adopted with glee by us all, condemned as we had been to a temporary feline hiatus. Since then, BMO and his 8 year old have been inextricably linked by a combination of dogged persistence (the 8 year old), inexhaustible patience (the cat) and Dreamies (also known as ‘cat crack’).
This time last year, it was easy. BMO was a tiny black ball of crazy with no interest in the outdoors, happy sleeping between us on the pillows at night. This year though, he’s started to wander further afield. First came the late nights, although I convinced myself that was just because he was ignoring the call and hiding out in the garage or the orchard. Then last week, I spotted our practically-challenged black devil at the bottom of the hill. Quite definitely not in the garage or the orchard and quite obviously most comfortable with that eventuality. I resisted the urge to bolt out of the car, scoop him up and lock him inside forever. He’s not an ‘inside-cat’ after all, and to restrict him for protection would, by equal measure, diminish him. Besides, knowing the great big gallumping oaf, ill could just as easily befall him in the confines of home … he has been known to fall off things and run into doors. Even if that isn’t his destiny, I was moved to ask myself what I was protecting him from. So instead, I drove on and waited on tenter hooks until his eager face appeared at the bedroom window, much to my relief.
This morning though, on a day so full of possibilities, he had left us tracks. Tracks that beckoned seductively, whispering, ‘Follow us’.
This was how we had ended up here, gazing downwards on a snow-covered road, bedecked in all manner of thermally-assistive clothing, following the siren’s call of the little black indentations in the snow. Tracking something is a strange mix of meditation and serendipity. Before long, we had fractionated, the 8 year old lured away by pheasant tracks, the loping traces of a rabbit and once, the memory of a fox in the crystalline carpet. I stuck with BMO though, eager to see if following the ghost of his passing could give me insight into the life he had that was no longer mine. He zig-zagged, marking his territory with a capricious freedom, drifting from one interest to another until I lost his tracks under a hedgerow in a patch of meltwater where his world became private once more.
I turned around to call back to everyone, to tell them that we’d followed as far as we could, that we’d have to let him go here into his own world. In that instant, as I looked back up the hill towards a small child bundled up in brightly coloured woollens, scooping up snow with abandon and launching it skywards with a cry of delight, I realised it wasn’t really the cat I was tracking.
I read somewhere recently, that having a child is like taking one of your vital organs out and letting it live on the outside, spending the rest of your life with a deep-rooted fear for it as it will always be integral to your survival. That resonated. Just as the cat spread his paws and outgrew the garden, so too will his 8 year old. In September, there will be new schools and new challenges, buses, distance and freedom. We are not raising an ‘inside-child’. BMO needs the sights, scents and secrets of the outdoor world and our daughter needs no less.
Looking back along the path we’ve walked, there’s another set of tracks interspersed with the prints that have led us this far, those of a small person stepping out in the world. Maybe one day, these will be what we have to follow. But not this morning. This morning I scoop up my own handful of possibilities, run back up the hill and throw it high with laughter.