Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Four-Handed Action on the Farm

The other day I stepped outside to witness an interesting scene involving all four of our “barn cats.”

Two of the cats “belong” to us -- that is to say, when Vera and I bought the farm we inherited them from the previous owners. Mo (mostly white with gray and beige spots) and Freckles (mostly gray with a few light brown streaks) both had lived here for many years before we arrived, having wandered over at some point after a neighbor had moved away.

There’d been a third cat -- Lily -- among that original group, too, but sadly she disappeared following a heavy storm early last year. We fear the coyotes whom we occasionally hear howling from the other side of the neighboring woods might have gotten her.

Mo (pictured above, lower left) and Freckles (upper left) we’ve gotten to know very well, and I’ve even taken Mo to the vet once although I’ve yet to catch Freckles to take her. More recently two other cats have begun to take up residence as well, although we consider both guests.

One of them, a black cat whom we unimaginatively call “Blackie” (lower right), we think came over from the farm to the south of us.

The other, a young orange-colored male who hasn’t been neutered, we know belongs the neighbors on our north side. But they have several other cats as well as about a half-dozen dogs, so we figure they aren’t missing him as much as they might otherwise.

The orange cat we typically call “Ballsy” (upper right) -- a reference both to his non-neutered status and the audacity he’s sometimes shown when pushing his way to help himself from the bowls of Mo or Freckles. In polite company, however, we call him “Bullseye,” a reference to the striking concentric light-colored circles drawn into his fur on both sides.

That’s the cast of characters, then -- Mo, Freckles, Blackie, and Ballsy -- making up the tableau I witnessed.

Blackie was underneath my car, his yellow eyes peering out with great alertness. He was watching Ballsy, positioned about ten feet away and hunched over, eyeing Blackie with just as much attention. Those two have scrapped now and then, and I’ve seen black tufts in the barn on several occasions suggesting that Ballsy has consistently gotten the better of it when they have.

I looked to the left and saw Mo sitting on the short brick wall bordering the driveway, looking back and forth between Ballsy and Blackie. Much more laid back than either in character -- in fact, I’ve seen Mo curled in sleep with Blackie before, and rubbing noses with Ballsy, too -- she seemed very interested though not nearly as concerned.

Meanwhile, up on the hill leading to the barn was Freckles, watching all three carefully. Freckles can be skittish and has been involved in loud chases with Blackie before. More than 25 feet away, she was in a position to watch it all play out without putting herself at any risk.

I marveled at the scene for a while, then finally walked up to the barn. Mo and Freckles -- for whom this is “home turf” -- followed me up, while Ballsy and Blackie continued their heads-up battle in the driveway for a while longer before Ballsy gave up and wandered off.

The scene made me think of a poker hand in which the cutoff has opened the action with a raise, and the button, small blind, and big blind are all still left to act.

With all four cats I could describe particular relationships between each pairing (who got along, who didn’t), and could even talk about how three of them tend to interact and treat each other when together.

But to have all four involved at once created a much more complicated dynamic, one harder to describe simply. Think of the button looking down to see a hand the strength of which makes it equally optimal to fold, call, or raise after the cutoff’s raise, with the particular tendencies and styles and stack sizes of all three opponents creating further variables to consider.

Anyhow, we’re probably going to be making a stand here pretty soon with regard both to Blackie and Ballsy and work on encouraging both to spend more time at their respective homes.

I mean, it’s much easier just dealing to Mo and Freckles and letting them play heads-up.

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