Red fox hunting voles. Photo by Elizabeth M. Highsmith, Flickr.

We lived in Highlands, NC, in the late eighties in a wonderful mountain home on three acres. Our yard backed up to the Nantahala National Forest. Ours was a small community, well out of town with only seven homes including ours. We were the only year-round residents. The other owners were all summer folks who appeared in March or April and were gone by November.

It was a wonderful time and place for us and our two children. We loved being the only family there in the winter. Our second-floor kitchen had large windows that looked out over the back yard. When you have no close neighbors, only forest, you don’t need window covering. We saw wonderful sunsets and fall foliage over the surrounding mountains. A family of gray fox often came to a tree stump where I left food. They did not seem to mind the floodlights I had installed. We even saw an occasional black bear and wild turkeys.

The best times were when it snowed. I don’t mean a dusting. We could count on several good 6- to 10-inch snowfalls each year. If you’re prepared, which we were, they were welcome. If the roads were plowed, all good; if not, they would soon be.

I remember one blowing snow when my son was about four. He wanted to call his granddad in South Carolina. He had just said “Papa, it’s snowing,” when the wind changed direction and he said, “Now it’s snowing backwards.”

The Minus kids circa late 1980s.

With young children and plenty of room, pets were a must. We had a jewel of a dog named Pretty Girl. She was a shelter dog–part Golden, part Collie. That’s her in the background behind our kids who are now 36 and 32.

Cats on the other hand were a different story. Our little community was set well back on a dark stretch of mountain road. It seemed to be an inviting place for people to dump unwanted kittens. Many cats ended up at our house. The kids and my wife welcomed them all, but we were not about to have a house full of cats, so they were relegated to our woodshed and cookhouse where we fed them. Every now and then one or two would earn the right to become house cats and were given names. As is their nature, none seemed to give up their wandering-hunter ways and still spent a lot of time outside.

As they say on TV today, “you may find the following disturbing”.

The high mountains and National Forest are full of predators. Coyote, fox, owls, and bobcats are all capable of taking a full-grown cat, and consider cats an easy-to-catch delicacy. Many cats just disappeared. It was not like finding a pet killed on the road–they just disappeared. The kids seem to accept that. Other cats would appear, or a new litter came most springs.

On the other hand, one October Pretty Girl disappeared. She was too big to be taken by a predator, including black bear who are scared of dogs. We searched– looked everywhere. She was getting older so maybe she had just gone off in the forest to die.

Then, several days later, she came slowly walking down our driveway, thin and hungry, but tail wagging.

A month or so went by and one of the homeowners came back for Thanksgiving. Soon the owner was at our house saying his garage had been broken into through a window. Had we seen or heard anything?

Bobcat catching winged prey. Source: United States Fish & Wildlife Service.

Upon more investigation it was obvious no one has broken in, but something had broken out. The broken window glass was on the outside–not the inside. With more investigation, we found some of Pretty Girl’s hair on the broken window.

We concluded that Pretty Girl had been visiting and fell asleep in their garage. The door was closed, locked and off the owners went to Atlanta leaving her locked in.

There was no water in the garage. A bag of bird seed had been ripped open. Not much to eat. There was a table inside below the broken window. Evidently Pretty Girl stood it as long as she could, then took a running jump onto the table, and, with her head, broke through the window.

She lived for several more years, but had severe seizures that the vet said came from the blow to her head.

Hang on to your memories and share them.

There is a song lyric that goes something like this– “memories are times that we borrowed to spend when we get to tomorrow.” I always loved that.

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