Tammie and I took Heidi and Tony for a walk yesterday evening, about twilight. We have a few set routes that we use for dog walks, chosen to provide a decent overview of the neighborhood. The idea is that if either of the dogs ever gets loose, they’ll know enough about the neighborhood to be able to find their way back home.
One route leads up an access road that runs between the high school and the railroad tracks. It’s a funny little road — it was only built because of resident complaints. You see, the new high school was proposed about 5 years ago and the initial plan was for its campus to run flush up against the railroad right-of-way. The problem with this is that there’s a rail yard about a mile and a half north of the school, so trains are often blocking the nearby rail crossing for hours (despite the fact that it’s illegal for them to do so for more than a few minutes at a time.) Residents insisted that there be an access road constructed west of the railroad so that the neighborhood would at least have access to a bridged crossing a quarter mile further south.
Anyway, the road is a little weird in that it’s got the high school and environs on one side, and the (fenced off) rails on the other. The rail line has always been host to a very fascinating collection of urban (and not so) wildlife. In addition to the expected critters (squirrels, pigeons, woodchucks, stray cats and dogs, the occasional rabbit, small snakes), I’ve also on two occasions spotted foxes and some folks have even claimed to have sighted coyotes.
It was pretty dark by the time we walked onto the road, and most of the light cast is pretty diffuse, coming from the high school. We’d gone maybe 75 yards down the road when I saw two small animals bounding up the grassy area to our right. At first they looked to me like small rabbits, as they were moving pretty quickly and bouncing quite a bit as they did so. Before I could do much more than mention them to Tammie, four more animals came out of the vegetation on the other side of the road and came running straight at us. These were pretty quickly identifiable as kittens. Heidi, our older dog, got very, very excited, and nearly pulled Tammie, who was holding her leash, across the road. The kitten closest to Heidi arched its back and hissed. It couldn’t have weighed a pound, and I think its instincts kicked in when it realized it was looking at about 50 pounds of apopleptic german shepherd. Tony, meanwhile, was simply fascinated. He’s only a little over two months old, and pretty much reacts to every new experience by wanting to play.
We pressed on past the kitten gang, and laughed about how simultaneously cute and creepy the “ambush” was. I mean, yeah they were kittens, but they came up on us really quickly…
We didn’t see the mother cat anywhere nearby, and wondered what would cause an entire litter to travel in a pack like that. We figured it must have been hunger, which led us to the unpleasant conclusion that perhaps the mother was no longer around.
The mosquito exists to keep the mighty humble.