I recently had the honor of having a short story, titled “Cats Don’t Belong in the Desert,” accepted for Fantasia Divinity Publishing’s anthology titled Isolation. (https://www.amazon.com/Isolation-Amber-Simpson-ebook/dp/B07YN6VZH1) aEven though the story is fiction, I wanted to use the theme to capture how I have felt since I’ve moved to New Mexico.
I knew right away what the setting had to be.
And, like the cat in my story, I don’t belong in the desert, either.
Granted, as an introvert, I’m always on the fringes of society somewhat.
But the isolation I’ve encountered in the desert is completely different than that of my introverted alone time.
Some people love it. Despite the jokes about New Mexico being the “Land of Entrapment,” most of the residents here can’t imagine living anywhere else.
But I find it unsettling.
Everything is brown. It’s the rare building that’s painted anything other than the adobe shade of brown. I could reference a visual parallel to the colour, but it’s a crude one.
Sometimes there’s flowers in someone’s yard, but the landscape is just so stark. The lush greens and vivid flora and fauna that were a staple of my home state of Florida are replaced by dust and a blinding white sun. There’s no gentleness here. I discovered that the people that live here seem to reflect the same unyielding starkness. I’ve been here since 2015 and have not made one friend.
And the wind, when it picks up and starts blowing dust everywhere? The cry it makes, especially when it keens and wails through the window or in between buildings is the stuff of nightmares. I kept waking up, thinking there was a child or an animal being hurt. Even during the day, the wind unsettles me. And I love the wind and the storms of the Florida coastal environment. But this is so different. It’s like the wind is clawing at me, getting into my psyche, and telling me I absolutely don’t belong here.
I was woken up one evening, and I heard this noise that I can’t even describe. It was like a whole team of wailing, tormented ghosts. I can sleep through anything, usually, but this sound was the most unsettling noise I’d ever heard in my life. I knew it wasn’t the ghosts I compared the noise too, but when it continued, it sounded like someone was doing something terribly cruel to a million cats, all at once.
It was the most heartbreaking sound, especially for this animal lover.
Months later, I discovered the sounds were a whole pack of coyotes, passing through the property of the place I had been staying at that evening.
In some ways, this state reminds me of one of the stereotypes about the British and their dogs. New Mexico is a dog state. Although the dogs I’ve encountered don’t seem to be cared for too well. Left to run loose is one thing if you have a big English estate, but letting them run around to the extent they are routinely crossing highways, interstates, and busy thoroughfares is another.
And cats fare even worse under New Mexico’s laissez faire approach to the care and welfare of animals.
Not even the animal services as run by the sheriff’s office is invested in stray cats. (Or horses, but that’s a whole other battle I’m trying to fight).
So many cats had been dumped in my neighborhood. Luckily, I had an alternative to the local shelter, who refused to take a stray cat. Another local cat shelter took the cat, to my relief.
But the cats continued to show up. Even two tiny kittens were left to run around, abandoned by a person who lived in the area.
Even the local animal shelter was very hands off when I was trying to locate the owner of two TNR ferals before I became their caretaker.
As it turns out, at least one of the microchips was registered to that very same shelter.
I tried not to take any of the domestic cats in, though. I was already taking care of the two outdoor ferals on top of nursing my two beloved indoor elder cats during the end stages of their life. And I did not have the money to take on the care of any more pets.
Finally I fought the local shelter and they began taking in the cats that had been dumped in the area.
And a puppy that had been dumped.
Then I faced the heartbreaking loss of my two remaining cats. I was more alone than ever here in New Mexico. I thought I was alienated before, but when Cricket and Lettuce died, I was just so, so lost and adrift. (I still am, actually.) They were my warm fires in this stark, cold, unfeeling desert environment.
Then this calico showed up on my wildlife camera. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you can check out Moon Pie’s full story. (moon pie’s blog address).
No way was I going to have another cat. But I agreed to socialize her with the promise of a neighbor who would supply food and cover the costs. And help me place her when she was ready for adoption. But, though the initial vet costs were covered, with the help of a local shelter’s low-cost spay and neuter program (Thanks, Espanola Valley Humane Society, for providing help when I kept hitting roadblocks/encountering resistance from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.), this individual was also resistant in helping me find her a suitable home, even though this person had a lot more local acquaintances than I did.
So, unfortunately, after a failed trial run with another foster/potential adopter, I had to adopt the calico, whom I continued to socialize.
She was the antithesis of everything I welcome in a cat—I’m more of the older, mellow, senior cat, the ones that nobody wants to adopt and who have been in the shelter for way too long. This calico was only five years old; a temperamental, hyper, spaz of a cat.
But she helped me feel not so isolated here in New Mexico, far from the comfort of the ocean and rains. I still miss my Cricket and Lettuce so much, but now I have a new roommate in my too-quiet place.
A best friend, finally, here in the hostile desert, where I, like the cat in my story, don’t belong. And, someday soon, we will return to the welcoming ocean. We will be home, Moon Pie and I.
(P.S. The two ferals are healthy and ready to start a new happy chapter in their life as well, after they had been abandoned in the local area, and are no longer at the mercy of the cold, coyote- and bear-filled streets. The irony is that, even though I reached out to both animal services and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter multiple times for their assistance in finding their previous owner—help that was less than forthcoming—the recent microchip scan showed that at least one of the cats was registered to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.)