Here is a story of a girl, a lost cat and the light that brings him home.
A Light in the Wilderness
There was once a family who lived in a small farmhouse that bordered a wide and expansive forest. They had a small yard with old apple trees and a vegetable garden in the summer. They also had a tall oak tree that had a swing for their children Peter and Monica. Peter was 10 years old and little Monica was 5. They loved their yard, the swing, the apple trees for climbing and indeed the forest. Peter often roamed about the forest near his house and built stick forts for himself, while Monica preferred the edge of the their yard making little nature soups and potions.
There favorite play, however, was with their dog Rex. He was a short and swift blue healer dog who loved to fetch and dash around the yard back and forth between children. Peter and Monica invented all sorts of games for both of them to play with Rex. In time though, Peter wanted to take Rex on walks through the woods or down the road to his friend Hampton’s house – and Monica was often left alone. She did not like that and began to ask her parents if perhaps she could have her own dog.
Her parents were quite clear that they did not want to get another dog, but they said they would consider a cat. This excited Monica, but there was one condition,
“The cat would need to stay inside.” Said her mother, “House cats and forests do not mix – there are too many dangers in the forest for a little cat. Besides we love our chipmunks and our birds and a cat would certainly upset that.”
Monica was still enthusiastic about getting a cat. She imagined all sorts of games she could play with the cat as well as the cat’s soft feel at night in her bed.
So after a few weeks, in the middle of summer, they found a kitten. It was a kitten from the Humane Society that they had visited one day. The kitten was one of three kittens who had already been adopted. They said that kittens are adopted quickly so they should choose right away if they were interested. Monica’s parents looked at each other and said yes. They named the cat Star because of a star shaped blaze on his forehead.
Star came home and the whole family attended him at all times, giving him lots of pets and kisses and holding him close. Rex was nervous about the kitten at first but it didn’t take long for the dog to warm up to Star and soon they were sleeping together on Rex’s mat.
Star, for his part, was very happy. He loved the attention. He loved the food. He loved the house. But there was one thing he did not love. He didn’t like it at all actually, and that was when the others would go outside and leave him inside. He would crawl up to a window and look out and see everyone playing and running around and working in the yard including the dog Rex and he would feel very lonely. Little Star could not figure out why he wasn’t allowed to join them and he would mew and mew and paw the window calling “Let me come too!”
Monica noticed this and often asked if he could come outside but her mother reminded her of their deal – the cat must stay inside.
“Besides” said her mother, “Star will get used to it and eventually stop asking.”
The problem was that Star did not stop asking. Every day whenever someone would go outside, Star would go to the window and start to mew piteously and incessantly. Whoever remained inside would have to listen to all the crying and in time that became increasingly difficult.
And then, in late summer when Star was no longer small but a full sized cat, they decided to try an experiment. They decided to let Star out for a little while – but only when they were all outside too. They would show Star the boundaries and maybe – hopefully, Star would honor them like Rex their dog did. They tried it and joyfully watched as the black and white cat roamed about sniffing the ground and the air.
“He’s so happy!” called Monica following him around. They kept the first visit short and it seemed like Star was happy. But the next day, he was at the window again and wanted out. When he finally was let out, he ran around the yard and tried to get involved with a game of fetch with Rex. Monica laughed and laughed.
This continued into the Autumn, and by then they were leaving him outside longer and longer and even on his own. They always brought him in well before dark, however, because the dangers of the forest were mostly only dangers at night. Bobcats, fishers and owls were the creatures to avoid and they did their hunting at night.
And then, one day a snow storm blew in and started dropping inches of snow on the ground. Peter and Monica got on their snow suits and took Rex outside to enjoy it. It was white white white everywhere. They ran around and got out their sleds and made snow angels. Star came outside as well and joyfully started playing as well. They played and played until it started getting late and they went inside. They called Star to join them but he wasn’t there. They called again – no Star. They walked around the house and then around the yard – there was no Star. They looked for the next hour until it was dark and then their father looked around with a flashlight – he couldn’t find him. Then they went inside to hope he would return soon.
Now, I should say right now that Star did not meet up with a fisher or an owl or a bobcat. Star was not hurt – but he was, in fact, lost. He went deep into the woods and with all the snow on the ground, he did not know where to go or how to return home. So Star, even though he was not hurt, he was lost in the woods at night with snow falling rapidly around him. This was a problem to be sure.
But before I say what happened next, I should tell you a bit about why he was so deep in the forest in the first place.
And to do that I need to tell you about a little fairy named Glimmer who lived along with Monica and her family in the little farmhouse next to the woods.
Glimmer was a brownie – a special kind of fairy that tends to watch over animals – and especially animals that live with or around people. Brownies love cats and dogs and horses and cows and sheep mostly because they hold a special place in the world. These animals are models and teachers for people who may have distanced themselves from the natural world. Bears and lions and wolves may inspire and excite people, but it is the dogs and cats who show people how to enjoy a breeze and feel of grass and the thrill of falling snow. So Brownies respect this impulse and wish to help it by guiding the cats and dogs. They whisper in their ears to keep them from harm or to show them something secret and special like a lost slipper or a misplaced earring. They help the animals help the people they live with.
Glimmer was such a brownie. He was originally from the forest’s edge where he worked with squirrels – animals that are not pets or farm animals, but always close to people – and when the family got a dog – Rex – he started tending to Rex as well.
When Star arrived, Glimmer was particularly excited. He could see in Star a love of the natural world – the wind, the rain, the snow, the trees – all of it. But he also saw a love of the family – especially the boy and girl. Glimmer could see that Star would be a true model and teacher for this family – and they would learn a great deal from the little cat.
But Glimmer could also see something else in Star – something very common in housecats but also something that could occasionally get them into trouble. Star had a wild side. Inside the little black and white cat was something of a wild cat that wanted to roam the woods and hunt for its dinner – just like the bobcats that lived in that particular forest. Glimmer knew that he would always be able to whisper kind advice to Star and that most of the time Star would listen. But he also knew that if Star ever allowed himself to be wild, he would stop listening to Glimmer’s advice – and Glimmer would not be able to help.
Well, this is what happened on that snowy night. Star felt his wildness bubble up and instead of tempering it and letting himself only feel the wildness – he acted on it. This was not the first time Star ever did this – oh no. There had been a number of times when Star saw a chipmunk poking its head out of stone wall or a chick-a-dee balancing on a mock-orange branch and he felt the wildness sweep over him. He would crouch and creep and then run with all his might at the creature. Then the chipmunk would hide or the chick-a-dee would fly off and that would be that.
This time, however, things did not end of that way. The snow had confused everything in the natural world. Smells changed, markers were covered in snow – everything looked the same and squirrels and chipmunks and birds and other creatures had to adjust to the change. So what happened was this:
There was a chipmunk – a small but swift chipmunk, who lived a ways into the forest but who was caught near the house when the snow started to fall. The chipmunk was foraging for birdseed in the farmhouse garage and had gathered a sizeable amount when she saw Star. She would normally have disappeared in one of the many escape holes around but now she couldn’t see any of them – so she just ran. She ran and ran as fast as she could into the forest. Star very quickly followed. The chipmunk would occasionally dive into a pile of snow to hide and Star would sift around looking for the little creature and then out the chipmunk would run to start it all over again.
This happened again and again until both the chipmunk and Star got deeper and deeper into the forest and their tracks were slowly covered over by more snow.
All this time Glimmer was trying to whisper to Star – “You are getting lost, turn back, turn back” but Star could not hear him. He was lost in his wildness – all he could see was the chipmunk – all he could think about was catching her.
This continued until Star was so deep in the forest he could not hear Monica or Peter or their father’s call. He was so focused on catching the chipmunk that he did not notice that the sun was setting and it was quickly getting dark. And then, in the blink of an eye, Star saw the chipmunk and he knew he could catch her. She was at the base of a thick tree with no snow around. But right before Star pounced, there was a break in the clouds and the moonlight shone through. A bright silvery light washed over the snow and for a moment Star was dazzled by all the light.
In that moment of surprise, the wildness slipped away from him – only for a instant and Glimmer was able to whisper, “Look around you. This is the wilderness. This is where wild things live.”
Then Star looked around. The moonlight showed a forest he had never seen. He fully realized he was lost and didn’t even know which direction to go to find his home. It was quiet. It was still. And then the moon covered over again and it was dark. Star did not know what to do. Then he heard a little scurrying sound and remembered that he had been chasing a chipmunk. He looked down and saw that the chipmunk had disappeared. He wondered if the sound was the same chipmunk running away – but now he had no interest in following. The wildness was gone and replaced with longing. Longing for home.
In the silence Glimmer whispered into Stars ears, “Follow her”.
Star felt a rush of fear and wondered if he shouldn’t find a place to hide – a place that was safe within the wilderness. Then he felt Glimmer’s words, “Follow her”.
Star heard the scurrying again and took a step. Then he took another step. The snow felt cold and the wind made his skin tighten. He took more steps and looked up. Ahead he saw some tracks. Star followed, trotting now behind.
The tracks would occasionally disappear under the snow but then reappear ahead so Star could follow. They took him around thick white pine trees and under several fallen branches and tangled thicket. Star hopped over logs and rocks and in time he could see a light ahead.
It looked like something magical, like a beacon or a light to help travelers find their way. It looked like, well – a star.
The cat picked up his pace and started running faster and faster toward the light. After a few moments he could make out the shape of a house and the deep color of the front door. The light was a porch light and there standing underneath it was Monica. She was bundled up in winter clothes with a small flashlight calling,
“Star! Star! Come home Star, Come home!” Her voice sounded so sad – so frightened that Star called out with all his might to her. He called out a loud cry to her to let her know that he was back, that he was safe, that he was home.
She heard the cry and looked with wide eyes toward the sound. She moved out of the light toward the sound of the cry and soft footsteps.
“Star? Star? Is that you?” Then the happy cat, the relieved cat, the grateful cat dashed over to the little girl, who then scooped him up and held him tight.
“Oh Star, Star – you’re back – you came back! I was scared – I was scared you got hurt!”
Star suddenly thought of the chipmunk and how he had almost caught her. He remembered how he was led to safety – how the voice, the sound and the tracks led him home – and he twisted to see if he could see something in the forest. He hoped he could see something – the chipmunk? Or was the voice something else – so he could shout out “thank you” but it was only darkness. Only his own footprints.
Monica took him inside and he opened to the warmth and sweet smells. He was fed and cuddled and brought upstairs to Monica’s bed. He snuggled with her on her pillow as she cooed how happy she was that he came back and that he was safe.
And Star felt a lot of things in that moment. He felt happy. He felt warm. He felt safe. But most of all, he felt gratitude. And he let out a soft mew of thanks. Thanks to the little chipmunk tracks that led him out of the wilderness, thanks to the little voice who encouraged him to follow, and thanks to the little girl who had waited for him the whole time.