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Hardcover: 0-345-42302-X, $24.95
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Avebury wild road photo
Wild road at Avebury

WILD ROADS by Gabriel King

You may not realize it, but animal highways probably run right past your door. These highways are everywhere, hidden from the human eye, a wholly separate dimension, channeling the natural energies of the world like arteries around a body. Only animals can see them. Only animals can use them. They may mark old territorial routes or simply provide easy access between a number of venues. Ancient peoples, being closer, then, to the animal state, sensed their presence and built their monuments at locus points along the way.

Cats know them as wild roads.

It was the felidae who first made them.

I first stumbled on the existence of wild roads when I moved out into the countryside west of London with my Burmilla (half Burmese-half Chinchilla--the whole breed the result of a curious accident), a daft creature with the embarrassing pedigree name of Wychwynd Kojak, but known more affectionately (and often in irritation) as Iggy (for the composer of The Idiot). Iggy had never been allowed to roam outside. He was a housecat: city traffic just outside the door was a threat to any cat's safety, and Iggy was just too stupid to be trusted with such perils. The very first night I had him, he broke his foot skidding around the polished wooden floor; then knocked himself unconscious by running full-tilt into the coffee table a week later. He stuffed himself up the chimney one morning (through a small Victorian fireplace with a springback iron cover: once inside, the cover snapped shut and he was trapped). Released, with runnels of soot running from his nose and eyes, he immediately tried to reinsert himself. You could see why I might not trust him anywhere with greater potential for disaster.

He appeared to become more sensible as he got older. Once in gentler rural surroundings, it was only fair to let him out into the enclosed garden behind the cottage. Bathed in sunlight, full of dancing butterflies and scented flowers, it seemed as safe an introduction to the outside world as you could wish. Iggy wasn't convinced, though: he howled, ran away from the butterflies, hid under the flowers, quivered in terror.

I remember turning my head for a moment, my attention caught by the tiny shape of a wren flying into the big old sitka; and when I looked back Iggy had vanished, completely and utterly. There were walls and high fences all round the garden, but not a sound had I heard.

As the worldly-wise alleycat Mousebreath says in the book to young Tag--also, curiously, a somewhat inept Burmilla--"Yer sticks out rather." A bright silver cat is fairly conspicuous, except in snow. In the height of summer in a small, walled garden, it is hard to misplace a Burmilla. I looked everywhere. There was absolutely no sign of him.

He was missing for three days. I was in despair. Then, just before midnight on the third night, he returned. His coat was matted and tangled with goosegrass and burrs and bits of bramble. He was ravenous. And there was a whole new look--a look of alert confidence, a certain savage wisdom--in his eye.

Iggy had discovered the wild roads.

His life--and mine--would never be the same again.

--Gabriel King