For the past couple of months, I've written on topics that I find disturbing: parenting methods that I feel are harmful, adult cosmetics marketed to pre-teen girls, a teacher being forced to resign for absurd reasons and a state representative who seems to primarily represent his own dingbat agendas.
I was pulling together a column about the debacle at National Public Radio when I happened to run into a nice man in the checkout line at my local grocery. He recognized me from my picture in The Times and we started chatting. He said, "I really enjoy your columns but I especially like the ones about cats and possums."
So NPR will have to wait. Guy with the goatee and the Braves cap in the 10-items-or-less line at Publix, this column is for you.
I don't need blooming daffodils or Bradford pear trees to let me know that winter is finally behind us. I know it's spring when my cat starts hunting again.
Last week, Sparky the Siamese brought in the first snake of springtime. There's nothing like a panicked, slithering reptile to herald the new season.
It wasn't much of a snake, only a little bigger than a worm, but just as I assume every gun is loaded, I assume every snake is a viper. So there was an adrenalin-filled moment involving a lot of shrieking and hyperventilating until my exasperated daughter nonchalantly picked it up and returned it to the great outdoors.
I have Kathy Mellette at North Hall Middle School to thank for Rachel's lack of queasiness when it comes to creepy crawly things. Kathy was the first female forestry graduate from Clemson and her science students are treated to a classroom filled with just about any creature that can live in a tank or a cage. This close proximity breeds familiarity and eventually fondness. So now, years later, Rachel is our go-to person for reptile- and amphibian-handling. I can't thank Kathy enough.
Although we have four cats, I think Sparky's the primary hunter. The others are too old or complacent. They're content to just sit back and chase whatever Sparky brings in. And he certainly doesn't disappoint.
He seems to operate on some sort of secret internal cat calendar. 2009 was the Year or the Ground Squirrel. 2010 was the Year of the Mole. And now, heaven help us all, upon us is the Year of the Snake.
During the ground squirrel spring, I had to borrow a humane trap to catch all of the little rodents that Sparky brought in. Since they were seldom injured, there was always a lot of frenzied dashing throughout the house involving all the cats, a 60-pound dog and, of course, the frantic victim. It looked like a scene from a Thurber short story.
Most times the squirrel would manage to run under the refrigerator or the credenza and then the waiting game would begin. Cats have enormous reserves of patience. They sit for hours waiting for their prey to make its move. They seemed to work in shifts; Sparky and Jack would keep watch for an hour or two and then Tovah and Louie would relieve them.
I usually managed to circumvent them with the trap. I became adept at positioning it so the critter could dart into it, lured by Velveeta cheese and peanut butter, before the cats could pounce. Once, I came home from work to find a ground squirrel in the trap, surrounded by four glittery-eyed cats, all licking their chops. I returned the squirrel to the wild and he appeared uninjured, but I suspect his little rodent family still remarks to one another that he doesn't seem quite the same since his big adventure.
The next year moles were the prey of choice. They weren't as lucky as the squirrels. Several times a week I'd find a dead one on the kitchen floor or in Sparky's favorite chair. They never showed any obvious trauma and the cats didn't seem to find them appetizing so I suppose they were the hapless victims of Sparky's version of Whac-a-Mole.
He also has managed to bring in birds from time to time. Here's a handy tip I learned from Georgia's Game and Fish Department: If a bird is flying around in your house, close the blinds, turn out the lights and open the door. He'll fly toward the light and off to freedom. It works every time.
And now we come to the Year of the Snake. As much as I love the convenience of a pet door, I think I've reached my limit. This weekend, I'm pulling the litter box out of the garage. From now on, if Sparky wants to bring a snake into the house, he's going to have to knock first.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman whose columns appear biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.