Saved from the Tree by the Cat by
50
(99 Stories)

Prompted By Close Calls

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People who know me well are aware of two “suitcases” in my emotional baggage: my love of my late Siamese mix cat Latté, and my anxiety about trees. Tall trees creaking in the wind make me especially nervous, to the point that this past fall, I begged my partner Dick to have a large tree near my home office window topped off, which he did. He insisted it was perfectly safe, but the scraping noises on my window and the rustle of the leaves left me unable to concentrate. Here’s why.

I looked into the back yard and saw my enormous oak tree whirling like a cocktail's swizzle stick, and then with a huge crack and boom, the tree split into three parts, from top to bottom.

In the late 1990s I owned a small house on a large lot on Oak Court in Menlo Park, California. I’d bought out my soon-to-be ex-husband from the house as part of the divorce and ended up with Latté, the little cat we’d gotten shortly before the breakup (he took the other cat). Latté was so named because she was milky white with coffee-colored points. She was my constant companion, because I worked at home, and now being broke, never went much of anywhere.

We lived with hand-me-down furniture from a friend’s garage. Any extra money I put into maintaining my stunning yard. The area was part of what had been a huge chicken ranch in the 1920s, and thus the soil was incredibly fertile. The back yard was full of beautiful trees, including a strawberry guava, East Coast chestnut, and black walnut. Most magnificent were the many live oaks, which were at least 60 years old, and in particular one enormous tree dead center in the yard. Each day in the spring I could hear the birds chirping and see them build nests in the trees.

Latté and I developed a weekday routine. About 8:30 in the morning I would start work, and if the weather was nice, often would sit outside on my back patio with my documents and pens (this was when a lot of my editing still was with red pen). Latté would watch from indoors behind the screen slider. In this area she had to be an indoor cat because of the families of raccoons that marauded as soon as it got dark. About 9:30, I would take a break to go inside and feed Latté her breakfast.

The winter of 1997 and spring of 1998 interrupted our routine and brought drama to the home, when during El Niño the creek down the street overflowed and I had three feet of water in the yard. (See my story Fish in the Street, Snakes under Glass for the details of what happened.) So when the sunny spring of 1999 came around, it was a pleasure, and Latté and I resumed our routine. One especially beautiful morning in May, at about 9:15, I was out on the patio as usual when I noticed that the wind seemed to have picked up, and the rustling sounds were suddenly louder.

Latté poked her claws through the screen and meowed loudly. I turned around and said, “Latté, watch your claws, and it’s not time for breakfast yet.” Five minutes later, same poking and meowing. “Oh, all right, here I come.” I gathered up my editing work, got her food, and put it in her dish in the kitchen, but instead of eating it, Latté went back to the patio screen. Following her, I looked into the back yard and saw my enormous oak tree whirling like a cocktail’s swizzle stick, and then with a huge crack and boom, the tree split into three parts, from top to bottom.

My yard was obliterated, turning into oak leaves. One third of the tree had fallen toward the house, its crown covering the patio and touching, but not breaking the slider doors. I heard a second crack, and about a third of the large black walnut tree, broken by the oak, came crashing down on the patio, right where I’d been sitting.

What had Latté sensed? I’ll never be sure, but at that moment she looked at me quizzically. My next door neighbor Kathy’s voice rang out. “Marian, are you OK?” “Yes,” I shouted, as I got outside to the patio and slithered my way through branches. One-third of the tree had broken my back fence and was leaning precariously against my back neighbor’s roof, and the last third had crashed through Kathy’s fence but missed all structures.

Kathy soon appeared. “Well, Marian, do you drink?”

“Not very much,” I replied.

“You might want to start now.”

When I got back into the house, I sat hugging Latté, and after about 20 minutes of deep breathing called my insurance company. Because the tree was leaning against a neighbor’s roof, they authorized emergency service that afternoon. At noon I took Kathy’s advice, found a half bottle of dessert wine, and took a glass out to the tree to wish it goodbye.

A couple of hours later a crew came by and started clearing and sawing. Oak trees in northern California have evolved in a dry climate, and the saturation of the soil from the last year’s El Niño had rotted the roots of my tree. It had disintegrated and died from the inside out. The crew sawed until dark, came back the next day, sawed for another 12 hours, and then rebalanced the injured black walnut tree. I ended up with a cord of oak wood in my side yard and a stump so large we decided to leave it as it was. Where there had been shade in the yard, there was now sunlight. Different, but very pretty.

From that time on I referred to Latté as the cat who saved my life. She lived a long life, and I never resented having to care for her when she became deaf and diabetic. She died of kidney failure in 2013, at age 19. By that time I’d had a number of tests and discovered I was allergic to cats, although I never had the standard symptoms, so I couldn’t have another cat. So as anxious as I am about trees, I’ll remember Latté with fondness and gratitude.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Oh, my goodness, Mare…being a pet lover, this story brought tears to my eyes. I was there with you in your tree-filled yard (live oak being my favorite tree — and what a gorgeous photo, by the way), with your precious Latté. Dogs, sure, but I wonder how many people have been saved by a cat! I didn’t know about your tree anxiety but I understand it — my mother would get very nervous when the wind kicked up, constantly peeking out the window at the very tall palm tree on our front lawn until she finally just had it removed.

    I’m so sorry for your loss of Latté, but how strange and interesting that you found out you’re actually allergic to cats! Thankfully you didn’t discover that before you got her or you wouldn’t have had 19 (!) years of loving each other.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Barb. The photo really looks like my tree before the incident! Animals are so intuitive, and Latte was super smart. When she was about 13 I began having a lot of immune system issues, and my docs recommended that I be allergy tested with the idea that by avoiding allergens I could calm my immune system down. Turns out I am allergic to cats most severely, as well as dogs and any furry animal, bird feathers, and 38 out of the 40 plants they tested. So I do what I can but refuse to live in a bubble, but cats in the house remain a no-no. I miss them!

  2. Suzy says:

    Wow, Marian, what a story! Usually people save cats from trees, not the other way around. But Latté unquestionably saved you from getting clobbered by that tree! Hope you gave her some kitty treats afterwards! I love your phrase about two “suitcases” in your emotional baggage. I may use that in the future, and I will credit you for it.

    • Marian says:

      That phrase just came to me, Suzy, and seemed so appropriate. I’ve heard of dogs saving people and wanted to give cats their due. Latte was treasured, even when she got so old and sick I had to inject her with insulin twice a day. She was a very intelligent cat and I always felt that she knew what was happening in my life. Could be a projection, but I like to think that.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Wow, Marian, this was quite a close call. Your description of the incident was so vivid that I could picture it in my head like a movie. I do believe animals have an instinct or sixth sense about impending danger. I wonder if a cat would make a good service animal, I had several and most seemed quite indifferent to me. I’ll have to ask my daughter, the vet, about that one. Latte was one special feline.

    • Marian says:

      Laurie, I do believe animals can sense things we humans can’t. Maybe Latte could hear or smell something beyond my range. Cats are notoriously individualistic, so some are really bonded to their people. Siamese tend to be one-person cats, and Latte, while only half, fit that bill. Would be interested to learn what your daughter says about how trainable cats are.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a story, Marian! Latté surely did have that great sense to call you and save you! What a precious animal and good that you only found out later that you are so allergic. We had cats for years, as my younger child absolutely loves them (and has one now out in San Jose). Our first was really intelligent, the second…well, not so much. We called her “the beauty queen”. But it was sad when each died.

    We had a similar situation with a large tree in our front year a few years ago, though it was healthy, just very tall. It had rained for several days and the roots were super-saturated. Then the wind picked up to storm force and it came down – falling across the street, bringing down power lines and fell into our neighbor’s yard. It fell into one of their trees which fell into the roof of their house, causing a gapping hole. The city removed the part that blocked the road. The neighbor took care of the part on their property. They came over to our house the next morning with their tree cutter. We weren’t clear what they were asking for. I’m not sure if they wanted our insurance to pay for their home repairs, they didn’t say that, but they were very upset. We were sympathetic, but it was clearly weather-related and it wasn’t our tree that had fallen into their roof, so aside from offering sympathy, I’m not sure what we were supposed to do. We had to ask several different people before we found someone who could dig up our huge rootball without destroying our low, stone wall, and cost us thousands of dollars. I haven’t seen the neighbors since. A bad situation all around.

    Very glad you came through yours unharmed.

    • Marian says:

      Well, Betsy, your story had a worse ending than mine. I feel really fortunate that my tree didn’t even graze my glass sliders and barely touched the neighbor’s roof. My next door neighbor had a big oak go down, and luckily they weren’t home when it happened. It didn’t hit any structures (could have destroyed my bedroom on that side of the house), but landed where their kids frequently played. I left a note on their door volunteering to be a witness if their insurance company needed one.

  5. Wonderful story with a wonderful
    twist Marian, it’s usually the pussycat who needs rescuing by the human!

    This cat lover has no doubt that Latte did indeed save your life!

    • Marian says:

      Glad you are a cat lover, Dana, and I appreciate the irony in the situation. Latte did get out of the house once and go up a tree, and it took some doing, and a tall ladder, to get her down. I struggled for about a half hour and decided to give it one more try before I called the fire department, but finally I grabbed her.

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