The Season of Cats, Embroidery, and
Copyright 2015 by Kay Harper
was supposed to be a day trip. We wanted to experience the legendary
Napa Valley to sample some of the native grape. Sample we did! After
several winery stops, we ended up at the Rutherford.
find a place here,” I whispered. Will smiled and squeezed my
a tall, elegant woman waltzed up. “Hello,” her
breathy and low. “I couldn’t help but overhear. If
take Lakoya Road straight up the mountain, you’ll come to
rustic cabins. Ask for Moo and Del. Tell them Samantha sent
you.” Then, she was swept away by the well-heeled crowd.
and Del? Sounds like cows, I thought. We’re supposed to ask
a couple of cows? We looked at each other with
what-have-we-got-to-lose grins, gulped the last of our wine and
headed for the car.
road was steep as it climbed through the gnarled woods. I sat shotgun
in Will’s Malibu, knees tucked under my
to the mystery woman’s word, we found the rural village
near the mountain top. About twenty tiny cabins peaked out from under
an umbrella of trees, but we saw no people. Silence wrapped itself
around us as we got out of the car. Spotting slight movement I
whispered, “Look! It’s cats and kittens. Just look
of felines of every shape, color and size were giving us the
once-over—as if to say, “This is our territory. We
to see if you fit in.”
didn’t take long to locate the office. A crooked Manager sign
hung on its fading yellow door of a tiny cabin. As we approached, the
door flew open to reveal a husky man with greased back gray hair and
tattoos running up and down his sun-burned arms. His smile was warm
Name’s Del!” He reached for Will’s hand.
this here’s Moo,” he said, referring to the
redhead who had stumbled out behind him.
run the place,” Moo added with a toothy grin and a puff on
cigarette. “You wanna look around?”
met a woman named Samantha at the Rutherford. She said you might have
a cabin available.” Will spoke hesitantly—his eyes
focused on the ground.
Real tall?” Moo leaned in and yelled at Will like she thought
he might be deaf.
I said quickly, hoping to get her attention off of shy Will. Moo
stood back with her hands on her hips, looked over at me and let out
a big, “Woo-Hoo! She’s a real sweetie. Nita,
sister, lived up here last year while her big ol’ house was
getting’ remodeled. Sam come to visit a good bit. You know,
she’s one of them oddball types—a rich‘n,
real friendly. Don’t see that much these days. Yep, sweet
steered us toward a quaint little cabin. “And
sweet, this here number 17 is a honey.” As he opened the
we could see the pot-belly stove sitting in a miniature living
room-kitchen. Beyond it was a bedroom and bath. The place was
all them windas great?” asked Moo.
the forest surrounding us, we’d be living in a tree house!
and I looked at each other and grinned. So, we pooled our resources
and rented the place for the summer.
found an old telephone pole out in the woods and was soon busy tap,
tap, tapping at the side of the cabin—chiseling away at a
pole he was determined to finish by summer’s end.
I played a Mother Earthy part. With blackberries I found on my daily
walks I produced jars of jam that we slathered on loaves of my
one of these berry-gathering hikes, I found what appeared to have
been an abandoned open-air church. It had split log pews that
surrounded a cross and campfire. Who had worshipped here? I would
never know, but I assumed it was sacred ground. It was the
inspiration for one of my favorite pastimes—the measured
stitches of colorful embroidery pieces. I painstakingly sewed a
circle in yellow, then a rainbow colored lightning bolt split the
sunny ring in two.
wasn’t the only one drawn to this sanctuary. When they
keeping a discriminating eye on village visitors, the cats and
kittens followed me to the church camp and congregated—draped
on the log-pews. They were a snobby bunch. Only occasionally they
came my way to bat at the balls of thread I threw out to them.
day I walked deep into the woods to this place—toting my
and thread. The activity kept me company, but I could feel my
emotions sinking a little more each day. Soon I felt dangerously
outside of myself. My mood was disconnected from my activity. The
self I had always been was fading, and I didn’t know how to
stop it. Then one day I took out my embroidery to examine it, and I
saw the picture had changed. Instead of lightning running through the
sun, I now saw two profiles.
I knew I was splintering away from being a happy-go-lucky artist, and
it scared me. My mood would tumble down, and then scramble back up
from one day to the next. No telling where my emotions would take me from
morning to night.
snapped at my heels as I fought off believing in the persona Will
had blanketed over me. In response to my ups and downs, he began to
call me Sybil—after the title character of a movie about a
schizophrenic. Sybil’s behavior could only be described as
ka-ray-zee! Now I was frantic. Have I unwittingly stitched a symbol
of my emotional duality?
a call from my mime teacher, Noel, saved the day. “You know
the documentary?” He talked so fast I struggled to keep up. Will
was a beginning filmmaker, and had produced a short film about
unique teaching techniques. “I want you to do some narration
for it. Can you come to The City next week?”
be delighted!” I gushed—so grateful to have
artistic substance in my life again.
listened to my voice play back in the studio. I was proud of the work
I’d done. Noel, the teacher, was pleased, too. The film rolled in
front of us, and everything seemed to fit.
Will did not agree. “The integrity of the film has been
compromised,” he snapped. “This film is supposed to
silent except for brief musical interludes. I mean, it’s a
about a MIME, for God’s sake.” He looked at me
accusingly, and stomped out of the room.
didn’t say anything in my defense right then, but
purist attitude hurt me deeply. The next day I walked in the woods
and stopped at the church. This time I had no embroidery to distract
the quiet, I was able to admit that things between Will and me had
not been going well, and that, secretly, I’d been looking for
next evening Will and I stood on the edge of the mountain at sunset,
surveying the multi-colored splendor of the valley below. I knew what
I had to say, but feared my words would cut through the night,
slicing the serenity in two. I waited for the shiver of hesitation to
pass, but suddenly my reluctance was overtaken by an instinct to
leaving.” My words rang out as the moon began to rise.
had enough vacation. It’s time to get back to work.
going back to school.” At the time, I had no idea what
I would attend, but it seemed like a reasonable thing to say.
think Will agreed. He was gracious and good-natured about it. A few
days later, we made our way down Lakoya Mountain for the last time,
drove back to civilization and went our separate ways.
used to say, “Some things you do for a season.
wanna miss any of those seasons, ‘cause they might not ever
I never quite understood what he meant back then.
But now I do. Because when I think back on the time I spent with Will
in that tiny mountain village, sometime between then and now,
become allergic to cats. I don’t embroider anymore, and I
haven’t made a single, solitary jar of blackberry jam since
that amazing summer high up over Napa Valley with its sweeping mosaic
design. Now that was a season!
of the message.)
Story list and biography for Kay
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher