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.