By Theresa Blume
When I was still shorter than mature corn stalks, climbing the ladder to the hayloft was an accomplishment that took me to a different world. As I stretched short legs to each wooden rung, I was extra cautious on the loose one, carefully balancing to prevent it from turning sideways. Once I got to the top, I used arm strength to pull myself up into the darkness onto flat wooden boards.
Thick, warm air and the smell of hay engulfed me with a lone stream of light coming from a peephole in the small door on the far wall. I loved to sit at that peephole for hours and watch the world without being noticed. From my perch people and animals looked like tiny toys in our yard.
I could find the newest nest of kittens hidden in the loft by carefully listening for their weak, high-pitched mewing. Dusty boards creaked, threatening to give way as I crept toward the sound. Real farmers never wore short pants, but my sisters and I did, which was a mistake in a loft filled with hay bales. My legs got scratched from dry straws sticking out of the bales. Like Indiana Jones I rose to the adventure of finding the treasure, ignoring scratches on my bare legs and creaking boards.
Unable to see through the darkness, I felt for the path between bales that the mother cat had used. I stretched my arm through cat-sized spaces in between bales, terrified that I might find a snake or wild raccoon, but I kept searching until I finally unearthed my treasure, a treasure that was alive as I felt the warm, downy-soft nest of wriggling kittens. My cold hand caused their little mews to grow louder, calling for help as they were touched by a human for the first time ever, but ever so gently I sheltered them with my hand like a hen with her chicks until the little noises quieted.
Meanwhile, radar hearing alerted the mother cat to the invasion of her nest. She silently crept up behind me, startling my already quickened heartbeat with her accusing meow. She squeezed into her nest, giving it a few sniffs and cleaning the kittens with her tongue. The still-blind kittens competed for mother’s attention until, satisfied with cleaning, she laid down and each little one found a mouthful at her bountiful milk feast. All mews subsided, replaced with the mother cat’s loud purring.
Making my exit, I made a mental note where the nest was, but inevitably the next day the nest would be gone. Mother cats were protective and smart, and each time we found a nest, they moved it to a new location until the babies were able to see and scamper around on their own.
Finding kittens was a priceless experience growing up on a farm. In this day of automatically spaying and neutering cats, finding kittens in a hayloft is as rare as any endangered treasure.