A Montana Tail

Chester came to us by way of adoption. By this I mean he sat on the road by our house in Wyoming watching me feed our old cat Leo and than one morning ,  he came over to our front door step and sat there and looked  up at me.  ” Hey lady I am adopting you.” He seemed to meow as I walked out our door to feed Leo.  And than he sauntered over and started eating out of the same food bowl as Leo.  And that is how Chester adopted us. He became part of the family and strangely enough Leo’s favorite buddy. They would sit for hours on our back deck, discussing the world in general, in cat talk I suppose. I sometimes wondered if our old cat Leo wasn’t schooling Chester on how to be a good cat and the best way to tease our dog Oscar. It was as if  the whole thing had been planned by the two cats because a year later, Leo our old cat left us  to go to cat heaven.

Chester traveled to Montana with us when we moved. He rode in his cage in the camper of our truck, all 350 miles, meowing at the top of his lungs.

” Let me ouuuuuut…..now!” he seemed to say.

 We tried to ignore it, but the more we ignored him the louder he got. Add to that the various stops at rest areas to let him do his duty. Chester was not a cat to be reckoned with so at each stop we  had a wild west cat rodeo in full view of other travelers. We dared not let him off the leash we had him on, because I am sure we would never have caught up with him as he high tailed it back to Wyoming.  Some  travelers chuckled and some were sympathetic, telling us stories of their travels with cat companions.  Needless to say Chester was as glad as we were when we finally reached our place in Montana.

Everyone kept telling us that Chester wouldn’t stay around in Montana.  They thought he just might go back to his old home in Wyoming. I ‘ve heard about animals doing that so I kept a close eye on Chester. But he didn’t stray.  He seemed to know that this was his new forever home with us. He was a little put out at first and each time I picked him up to pet him he hissed a bit. But soon he and I were sitting on the front patio watching the lazy clouds float by in the blue Montana sky. I was glad that Chester had decided to make Montana his home.

During the following year Chester became King of the Hay Bales. That was my Dad’s name for him. We had a large round bale haystack across the road from our house and Chester from day one decided that would be his home away from home.  On day two , he cleared that  stack out in five minutes flat. I saw  cats literally jumping off the bales and heading east.  And on the morning of day three, I looked out my front living room window and figured that Chester was now the King. He sat perched on the top bale surveying his kingdom and as I looked  a bit closer I could have sworn he had a Cheshire cat grin on his face.  All that was missing was his crown of gold! He seemed to own everything from our house back,which included about a hundred acres of grass and rocks. And of course the haystacks by the corrals.

Chester had his share of fights in Montana, and it didn’t surprise me, when I fed him one morning , to see a large scratch on his nose and a chunk of hair missing above his eye. There was also a rip in one ear. I mentioned this to my Dad later and he proceeded to tell me about Chester …King of the Hay Bales and his many fights to defend his position. Over the years he acquired the battle scars of a true warrior cat.

Chester had been declawed and neutered.We didn’t do that to him. We found him that way. We tried to keep Chester in the house as a house cat but Chester had his own agenda and apparently it didn’t include laying  by the window, getting fat, in the house surveying his kingdom. Chester was out to take over the farm kingdom. Even if it did mean he would have to acquire the scars of battle. I was worried that Chester would have the disadvantage but according to my Dad, Chester was one great fighter.He had apparently been carrying on a daily war with the neutered cat gang across the corral, my sister’s barn cats.

 “They scrap and roll about each morning out by the hay bales as I feed the cows,” my dad chuckled. ” They look like one of those old-time spinning wheels. All you can see is Chester’s long tail going round and round in a hissing, growling ball of yellow and gray or black fur and dust!”

Chester pretty much fought with the only two neutered cats on the place.  The tomcats ignored him because they were too busy chasing other (female) cats. The lady cats had nothing to do with him because as you guessed it, he just wasn’t handsome enough. 

 There was one cat Chester didn’t even mess with after the  first encounter. Gramma Cat! No one messed with Gramma cat. She had been on the farm so long, she had become a cat matriarch. Nobody and I mean no body messed with Gramma Cat. She chased dogs down the road  and beat up every stray cat that came on the place. She was one  tough cookie. But she and Chester seemed to have come to an agreement after she beat Chester up.  Gramma Cat had her territory which didn’t include the haystack and as long as Chester didn’t cross into her territory than everything was fine. Of course she could cross into Chester’s territory anytime and sit on the haystack.  Chester just let her be.

Chester pretty much made himself at home in Montana and so did I. He became  my cat appointed guardian. Because everywhere I went there was Chester waiting and watching and ready to walk home with me. And if I took a little too long visiting my Mom and Dad, across the yard, he would let me know by jumping up on the fence, where he perched until I went home.  If I left him behind there he was running along meowing and crying “Waiiiit…..wait for meeeeee!” And he even had my Dad and I looking all over the farm for a crying baby a couple of times. Because that is exactly what Chester sounded like when he was yowling.

Chester had his share of escapades in Montana. I am sure he encountered an eagle one day.  I was working in our house when we first moved in and I heard a cat yowling like crazy outside.  It sounded like a huge cat fight was going on. The only thing was it sounded like it was coming from over the roof of our house. Soon I heard a clunk on the roof in front of our house. I ran outside and found Chester crawling out from a small trench we had  dug, in front of the house, to bury our water line. And his tail seemed to be broken. I looked up just in time to see a golden eagle fly over. About that time Chester gave one great yowl and shot off for the shed. Chester went into hiding for a couple of days. He was the kind of cat that when he was hurt he would hole up somewhere for a few days and then he would come out and let me baby him. But he wasn’t a cat to be babied, too long. He was too tough for that. So soon he was back to his normal activity but his tail dragged around behind him for about a week. And of course no one touched it at all!

 After we had been in Montana for about three years Chester began to go on walk abouts. We had acquired two more cats from my dad and I think Chester figured  he was no longer needed and it was time for him to roam.  Or maybe he just realized there was a bigger world to conquer past the farm kingdom. What ever it was I would often come from town and see Chester down by the canal about a mile away chasing mice.  Or I would see him running across the field by the train tracks two miles away. I know some of the neighbors let him visit because they told me about a big yellow tabby that they fed every once in a while. And I know this is unbelievable, but I swear there was a house just three miles down the road that had all kinds of Chester look alike kittens running around.  Maybe he wasn’t neutered after all…

Chester always came home once a week to see me. And as the days, weeks and years progressed I could see that time was taking a toll on my Chester. He seemed to move a little slower and he was a little grayer around his temples. He didn’t have any new battle scars so I figured he was probably just lazing around enjoying life. He still loved to cuddle on my lap each time he saw me and he had acquired a soft spot for our little girl cat, I named Spit.  Often I would see them out in the field playing and jumping and wrestling. A few times he even took Spit on walk abouts with him. Six months later Spit had kittens. None of them looked like Chester but he used to come home and play with them as they started moving around.  And then he was off again.

Chester had  this strange way of getting from the canal to our house in record time when I saw him down there playing as I came home from town. Each time I passed him playing in the field down by the road or canal, I would stop and yell at him, “Go home Chester.” And by the time I pulled up to the house in the car, he would be sitting on the front step looking as if he had been there all along waiting for me. Either Chester was a pretty fast  running cat or he had discovered a black hole to time travel through.

 As the years passed Chester’s walk abouts became longer and longer and his visits became few and far between. In the fall of 2014 my King of the hay Bales came and visited me one last time. I knew that Chester was getting old and tired and he was moving slower. I had fixed him a house to stay in years earlier but he wasn’t a homebody. He was a nomad and a free spirit. There was no way I could keep Chester home when he had the taste of freedom. On that fall day I knew I would never see Chester again. He stayed on my lap for the longest time as we watched the leaves fall from the trees. I petted him softly as he purred quietly on my lap. “You’re not coming back to me this time are you, old man?” I asked as unbidden tears came to my eyes. Chester just looked up at me and purred loudly as if to say.” It’s my time.”  We sat for a little longer in silence and then Chester jumped off my lap and  slowly started his trek over the hill. I watched him go. Just as he topped the hill, he stopped and turned and looked at me as if to say goodbye. I whispered “Goodbye old friend.” And then he was gone.

Chester never came home again. I am sure he is in cat heaven somewhere going on a walk about or playing with Leo. Heck they might be sitting on a deck somewhere discussing cat life. Sometimes I look out at the top of the hill expecting Chester to come bounding over it or I look out my front window expecting to see King Chester sitting there surveying his kingdom on the round bale stack. And though he isn’t there his memory is and I know in my heart The King of the Hay Bales is sitting somewhere on a  haystack, surveying his kingdom and grinning that Cheshire cat grin.



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