To preface this: Since January 2022, I have lived in a tiny village (~1200 people total) in a rural part of Vermont. Up ‘til then, I’d lived either in large metro areas or near them. This is significant, because in places like Indianapolis, you don’t get a whole lot of people just owning farm animals in their backyards. I mean, maybe a chicken or two, but that’s about it.
Then I bought a house in rural Vermont. I live down the street from a pasture where a local dairy farm grazes their cows. My neighbor’s chickens regularly roam free and into my yard (this doesn’t bother me, but my other neighbors seem peeved by it). I know the owners of a local beef farm, because they have a stall at the farmer’s market and I buy from them regularly.
But yesterday might actually have given me the single funniest, “this only happens in a rural farm town” story I’ve personally witnessed.
It starts at 8:30 in the morning. My weekend alarm goes off, but since I was up until 4 with revenge procrastination, I turn it off and roll over to go back to sleep. Typical Saturday morning in my house.
Until my cat, a big, chaos-craving orange by the name of Smudge, starts meowing in a way I’ve never heard him do before. I literally fly out of bed, because judging from the sound he’s making, I think he’s having a seizure or some major gastrointestinal issue, and I will need to rush him to the emergency vet. Before I can Superman myself down the stairs, though, Smudge trots up the stairs, calm and happy as you please, meowing at the top of his lungs. And then he rubs up against my legs, because of course he does. “Hi Mom! I just made noises that only a dying cat in deepest agony should make! How’s your morning so far?”
So I do the Cat Mom check-up (feeling his nose, which is both cold and wet, checking his gums, and gently pressing on his stomach to make sure he’s not in pain), and seeing that he’s perfectly fine, try to bring my heart rate back to normal and say, “Don’t do that, you idiot, you scared me half to death!” Realizing that I will not be able to go back to sleep, I decide to just go downstairs, make a pot of coffee, and get the day started.
Smudge continues to meow at the top of this lungs, which is irritating when he hasn’t just scared at least ten years off my life (to be blunt about it, Smudge has a meow loud and shrill enough to peel paint off the wall), and runs between the front window in the living room and the back window in the mud/laundry room. For over an hour. Until he sees me start to make breakfast, at which point, he jumps up on one of my dining chairs, curls up, and falls asleep. Because cat. (Also, he knows that if I’m walking around in the kitchen, I’m usually getting ready to eat; since he can’t sit on my lap while I’m eating, he likes to sit in the chair next to me.)
Now, remember how I said my neighbor’s chickens occasionally wander into my yard? This is what Smudge does when he sees them. Because he’s a cat and they’re birds, and he’s never been close enough to a chicken to realize just how big they are. So I figure that he’s seen the chickens and is angry that I won’t let him out to chase them, and don’t think too much about it.
Fast-forward a bit. It’s 10:30 a.m., and the mailman is in front of the house, doing his thing. I know this, because I can hear his van. That’s all normal. What’s a little out of the ordinary is the honking horn I hear in front of my house. Because in a town as small as this, everyone knows everyone else, and everyone knows when the mail gets dropped off on which roads. But it’s not a road rage, “GTFO my way!” honk. So I get up from my computer to investigate.
So, bite-size history lesson: My town was chartered during the Revolution, like a lot of small towns in New England. More importantly, most of the town’s current residents are the descendants of the town’s founders (again, not rare; small towns in New England aren’t known for being friendly to outsiders), and houses tend to be passed down from parent to child. I’m one of a tiny handful of people who didn’t grow up here, and probably one of five or so who moved here from out of state. Houses going up for sale in this town is rare, and it’s even rarer that someone from out of town buys them.¹
Last October, the house across the street from mine went up for sale. The story I heard from my next-door neighbor is that the owner’s son died from an overdose, and since the owner was getting on in years and the house needed more work than he was able or willing to do (including, allegedly, needing asbestos removed from the cellar), he just decided to sell and move. …I will say nothing of the fact that a house with fekkin asbestos sold for $250k, within days of being put on the market, because let’s be real, that’s just our reality. (For a point of comparison, I paid $130k for my house, and it’s got 99 problems, but asbestos ain’t one.²)
So I look out the window to see what all the honking is about. At first, I see nothing. Then, on my right, a pair of pigs comes into sight. Enormous pigs. They had to be at least 600 lbs each. And I suddenly understand Smudge’s noises and zoomies this morning. He’s never seen pigs before.
But then I think something else: What did Smudge think he was going to do with a pig if he got close to it?
To put a finer point on it: Smudge is orange. Orange cats, as some of you might know, have a reputation for being, well… Stupid. Sweet, playful, and affectionate, but stupid. It’s so prevalent that, a couple of years ago, a theory was passed around online, stating that all orange cats share one communal brain cell and that, when it’s not a certain cat’s turn with said brain cell, they will be magnificently stupid. r/OneOrangeBraincell is full of orange cats at their orange-est, with one of my recent favorites being the orange who ran into a window and then screamed at the window. (So basically, orange cats are a combination of glorious stupidity and toddler logic.)
Smudge is a bit of an exception to this rule. I’ve had orange cats my whole life, and while I can confirm that most of them are dumber than a post, Smudge often shows me proof that he has some brain cells of his own. He can solve any food puzzle I put in front of him, in about thirty minutes. He knows when his automatic feeder is supposed to go off, and, I’m convinced, he can count, because he will often skip meals until there’s two or three meals’ worth of food in his bowl, and then sit down and eat his fill from that. When I was having difficulty getting him to play last year, I took some advice from Jackson Galaxy and started giving Smudge a treat after each play session, and what did Smudge learn from that? Not “play is fun and I get a treat after!”, but “I can bat at the toy for five minutes and walk to the fridge, where Mom will give me a treat.” When I was being forced to go into the office three times a week, he knew when I was supposed to be home, and if I was even a minute late, I’d get an earful from him as soon as I walked in the door. He also recognizes my neighbors, and when he sees the ones he likes, he starts purring.
Finally, Smudge had his foster family absolutely convinced that he was almost deaf, to the point where, when I adopted him, they told me, “He’s pretty close to deaf, so you’ll have to work with that.” Yawl, this cat isn’t deaf. He’s not hard of hearing. I don’t even think he has any degree of hearing loss. Why do I think this? Because he absolutely hears his feeder filling, and he hears bags crinkling. Even when he doesn’t immediately run to his bowl, he always looks directly at it when it’s filling, because it makes a distinctive sound. If there’s a bag crinkling anywhere in the house, he will magically appear in front of you and start demanding treats. This cat is deaf like I’m six feet tall; in other words, in no way and by no stretch of the imagination.
So yeah, I have a smart boi. Who thinks he could take on a fully-grown pig. Actually, he thinks he can take on two fully-grown pigs.
(For those of you who might be wondering if Smudge’s noises yesterday were anything other than a response to seeing free-range bacon in the yard: He’s been eating and drinking and using his litter box normally. He’s also been getting his regular zoomies. He’s just a talkative cat, and he makes weird noises sometimes.)
¹This will change in the next few years. Vermont has what can generously be called an “ageing population”, and my town is no exception. I’m pretty sure that the only people on this street who are under 70 are myself and the people who just bought the house across from mine.
²Among them: There isn’t a single grounded outlet in the entire house. The foundation needs filled and sealed. I want to replace the nasty, smelly, expensive af oil furnace with a heat pump and split. The water heater is older than I am, and I want to replace it with a tankless heater. Most of the windows need replaced. And, most urgent of all, the driveway desperately needs paved. I’ve been through four mud seasons with a dirt driveway, and it suuuuuuuuuuucks, trying to get my Impreza out of that muck every spring.