Jul 29 2012

Cat Tails & Cat Tales

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I love big, exotic cats, which is probably why these guys rule the roost in our house:

My Bengal babies may not be big (they're the size of a domestic), but they do have the wild & exotic Asian Leopard Cat in their lineage. Red boy is Macho; sister (behind) is Niña. Click to enlarge.

My love of all things “big cat” is probably also why, when I realized a bobcat was walking under our breezeway, I ran toward it (with camera in tow), instead of away from it.

This large bobcat (approx. 25-30 lbs.) has visited frequently, as well as marked our French doors. A mother & baby also visited this month. Click to enlarge.

So – let’s back up to how this ‘big cat’ obsession grew legs (so to speak). My feline love affair came to life when my five-year-old fingers stroked the underside of a stray tuxedo cat’s reverberating chin. That was Bubbles, who was followed over the years by Underdog, Tabby, Putt Putt, Obie, Fatty Boy and Chloe. But as I began to grow, my cat-fatuation also grew from a purr to a roar, and I began to love all things tiger. My first apartment was adorned with images of White, Bengal and Siberian tigers, then lynxes, snow leopards, jaguars and cheetahs.

So when I moved to rural Arizona, you can bet I was enthralled to think that mountain lions – our biggest cat in North America – roamed the desert countryside near my home. And you can imagine I also was a bit heartbroken when one was struck by a car a quarter mile from our house.

We have yet to capture a wild mountain lion on film with our trail camera, though I have seen lots of LARGE prints on the property. I took this image at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. Click to enlarge.

This year, we’ve heard all kinds of reports of additional mountain lion sightings very close to our home: another, tragically, killed in the same spot near the highway; one spotted right behind the train trestle by our house; and another across the road behind our neighbors’ home.

My dream come true, right? Yes. And no.

I love these big cats and can’t fully explain my excitement at knowing that we share the land with them. BUT as many of you know, I’ve also grown to love desert trail running and for two years have set off nearly every day on remote trails up and down the very wash where big cats have been seen of late (I’ve learned this area is likely a corridor frequented as they move from mountain range to mountain range in search of mates).

As my running shoes have pounded the dust over the past few years, I have been armed only with … well, my legs and a cell phone.

Look at that tail and the size of those paws! Photo courtesy of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Digital Library - by Rhonda Spencer. Click to enlarge.

With the emergence of these cat sightings, I started to wonder whether the “ignorance is bliss” idiom held more meaning than I cared to consider. Did I really need to step back and reassess my running habits (beyond the collapsible billy club I soon began carrying like a track baton. Can anyone say “false sense of security?”)?

This How to Handle a Cougar Encounter article gave me my answer:

Jogging in cougar country is verboten: Mountain lions do not actively engage in human hunting, but cats live for the thrill of the chase. Act like a cougar’s prey and you risk discovering the mountain lion’s predatory instincts.

Yep. Time for a new game plan. I shared my cat tales of woe with anyone who would listen (I seriously was depressed at the thought of not running outdoors because I have never been a fan of treadmill running). I happily learned that neighbor and friend, Kathy, was interested in running as well. Score – because the buddy system is one of the recommendations for jogging in mountain lion country (safety in numbers).

So, we’ve been running together on some remote roads – plus, we discovered a few alternatives:

This abandoned dirt track (once part of a now-defunct middle school) is a town away – a 24-mile roundtrip – BUT it is gated and safer, right next to the school district’s maintenance shop. Click to enlarge.

Another friend, Roxanne, alerted me to this dirt track circling an abandoned soccer field right in MY little town. (Yes, the theme of abandonment is common in these tiny, once-thriving but now economically depressed mining towns). Click to enlarge.

I’ve never been a fan of running in circles, but these track-running adaptations have made room for a new discovery that feeds another of my passions – reading. Come again, you say?

Audiobooks! Yes, glorious audiobooks. Because the tracks are fenced, I can run with earbuds (This was something I NEVER did during solitary remote runs. It was always far more important to ‘hear’ any animals I might have startled. I have come upon many a javelina and her offspring, coyotes, rattlers and even stray dogs).

Want to know the other wonderful discovery resulting from this cautionary cat tale? A renewed appreciation for the treadmill. Yes, you can crank up the text size on your Kindle, allowing for simultaneous reading and running. I might never have discovered this kill-two-birds-with-one-stone solution if not for Twitter friend and author Kelly Hitchcock’s article about the benefits of doubling up on reading and exercise. Audiobooks were her idea, too (she has lots of other suggestions in her article).

For Writers, Readers: My big cat conundrum taught me a great deal about problem solving – and that, sometimes, when you’re aiming for one solution, you can be blessed by two. Hooray outdoor exercise. Hooray safety. Hooray reading. (I guess that’s three).

Writers– Often we have to change course, come up with a new plan – be more adaptable overall – and find new solutions to plot, character, and pacing problems in our work (similar to my running complication). How has your adaptability benefitted you, your story, your success as an author?

Readers – Have you ever tried the reading-exercise combo? Does it work for you? What other workout equipment is conducive to simultaneous reading? What other ways do you squeeze in reading time?


40 Responses to “Cat Tails & Cat Tales”

  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    oh wow, Oh Wow, OH WOW! on all counts – story and substantiating photographs.

    I’m sitting here barefooted now because you blew my socks off!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Ha ha. You are so sweet. Blowing your socks off – that’s my aim, Laurie.

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Ever since I first heard about the mountain lions near your house, I’ve had my heart in my throat — as you know. Terrifying. So I’m very glad you came up with some safter alternatives. I’ve used audio books before, and am a big fan of that. And I’m very glad to you gave me the idea to read on the Kindle while I’m on cardio machines! Really passes the time while multi-tasking! (I love the photo of your Bengals, beautiful!)

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think all of this discovery leads to a very good argument for the purchase of additional indoor cardio equipment, does it not?

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  • avatar Beth Hoffman Says:

    What a fabulous and fascinating post! And your bengals are so regal and gorgeous.

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    Amazing photos as always!

    I don’t really like exercising indoors on a machine, but if I have to do it, recorded books are a lifesaver. They’re also great distractions when I have to do mindless chores like housework. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    What a FABULOUS idea to use audiobooks during housework. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  • avatar Jenny Alexander Says:

    I love this article! As a writer, I used to think of my adaptability as a lack of focus, and worry that writing all sorts of different things – fiction, non fiction, articles – for different ages of reader meant I wasn’t building a coherent ‘brand’ – but my agent told me that in the current market versatility is a Good Thing – it means you have a fall-back if one publication-stream dries up.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I agree with you 100% and wish I had that kind of ‘genre’ diversity. As with most things in life, it seems a degree of adaptability, versatility and flexibility is a GOOD thing. Wishing you luck with your publishing endeavors!

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  • avatar Shakirah Dawud Says:

    I’ve always been a cat-lover, myself. When I was little I knew people thought I was dreaming a bit too big when I told them I wanted a tiger as a pet, but I told them anyway.

    I’m glad you’ve found a source of contentment in your changed routine, Melissa. I like to think I’m adaptable as a person and as a writer, and I think being contented with changing habits or plans usually comes from being determined to find a loophole so that even though I’m forced to change, I’m still me.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Ahh… yet another thing we have in common (our big cat dreams)! Here’s to the continued finding of those loopholes that allow us to be ourselves even when change is necessary (Loved the way you articulated that thought!)

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Gorgeous photos! You are one brave chick, Melissa. I don’t know if I could continue running in the desert if I knew what was lurking about. Thanks for the tips on combinig reading and exercise. They’ll come in handy when I hit the elliptical. 🙂

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Well, I know the same things are lurking in your neck of the woods. Though walking, it seems, makes you a little less appealing of a morsel for a mt. lion. Hope the elliptical reading goes well I need one of those machines next.

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  • avatar Janice Leagra Says:

    Melissa, if I had seen that bobcat standing in my path, I would have had to immediately turn around, go back to my house, and change my pants. Guess it’s a good thing I don’t live in Arizona. Seriously, though, it is a beautiful cat (and so are your domestic kitties).

    One thing’s for certain — you’re determined and brave, two traits that come in handy for a writer (and, I presume, any resident of your town).

    Regarding adaptability, it’s essential for me as a mom who’s a writer, particularly because my little guy has special needs. He requires a lot of my attention when he’s home. I have to make the most of my time when he’s in school. I get about four good, straight writing hours a day. I try really hard to make sure I don’t waste that time. I’m not always successful (see my most recent blog post on this very subject).

    Reading and exercise? Hmm…does turning the pages vigorously count?

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I laughed out loud at your comment about changing your pants. I STILL am. Isn’t he GORGEOUS, though? I admit there was a bit of a tense moment when I saw he was angrily flicking his tail. Turns out, he was just scared, because he then low-crawled down the driveway (funny to see the exact same mannerisms in these big cats as our house cats when they’re scared).

    Yes, I would agree that determination and bravery are key to writing, aren’t they (not sure I’ve mastered either)? I admire your commitment to your writing and the four-hour “time wisely spent” mantra. That’s something I don’t always succeed at either.

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  • avatar Country Wife Says:

    the buddy system is the best! we have ML to think of here, but the other day, we came face-to-face with a badger. they don’t sound back compared to a ML, but they are vicious creatures. I was sooo thankful I didn’t have Tobi with me that day.

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    Melissa Reply:

    How ironic … our neighbors just told us they saw a badger down by the river two days ago. I’ve suspected for a few months that one is living on our property (where I found a giant hole). So we have that in common with your SD critters as well. And, yes, I’ve heard they are NASTY. Thank GOODNESS Tobi wasn’t with you.

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  • avatar Lori Parker Says:

    I know that cat!!! I snapped a picture of Sir Kitty at the Sonoran Desert Museum just as he yawned… Ahem, those teeth would have set you on a running track toot sweet.

    As for adaptability, ummm, does realizing I have to kill off the MC’s father count as adaptable? All in the name of motive, baby. =)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Isn’t the Sonoran Desert Museum fabulous? Though I got close to our resident bobcat (he’s been casing the joint for years — peeing on the French doors to let us know, in no uncertain terms, this is HIS house) — I’d rather NOT get that close to SIR KITTY of the mt. lion variety. Just close enough for pics would be cool.

    Ha ha. YEP – that’s my definition of adaptability, too. Kill him off if you have to! I hope the WIP is rocking and rollin’!

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  • avatar Kelly Hitchcock (@KellyHitchcock) Says:

    Thanks for the shoutout! I am reading at least twice as much as I did when I was only into Luddite paperbacks. Though I am more of dog person, I am definitely a multi-tasker 🙂

    And yep – audiobooks for vacuuming and putting away laundry is a lifesaver.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You’ve totally changed my workout routine and helped me make lemons into lemonade. I can’t thank you enough. So – any suggestions on where to find moderately priced audiobooks? They are SO darn expensive! Seems to me they’re even more expensive than hardcover books.

    And I agree: my reading has definitely doubled. I mean – thirty to forty minutes on the treadmill a few times a week, the same with an audiobook … look at the DAMAGE I can do ;-). Now if I add in the vacuuming and laundry, we are set!

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    Kelly Hitchcock (@KellyHitchcock) Reply:

    I never buy audiobooks for that very reason – so pricy! Most local libraries use Overdrive, a digital content provider for public libraries. I check out their audiobooks and download them via an app on my iPod Touch, but there are lots of supported devices. It’s not the greatest user experience, but it works!

    And now you’ve given me a new idea for a blog post! 😛

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  • avatar Mary Says:

    Terrific photos, Melissa!
    I listened to audio books for years while exercising at the gym. I never bought any, but checked them out of the local library. Also while doing mindless housework or driving across the state. I was never able to read books, as I ended up not pushing myself enough on the exercise. Recently I bought a used treadmill cheap and built a treadmill desk to use when I’m writing or otherwise on the computer. Not really for the exercise, more as an alternative to sitting.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, I can see how reading would get in the way of the ‘push’ with exercise. I’m currently aiming for a ‘fat-burn’ heart rate, so the Kindle is still working on the treadmill since I’m not going 100 MPH. I’ve GOT to see a picture of this treadmill desk! I’m so curious/interested!Thanks for stopping by.

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer Says:

    Melissa, I love you but I do prefer the panting dog to the purring cat. I am an animal person but every since we had two inbred cats when I was growing up, I sort of shy away.

    However, I am enthralled whenever I go to the zoo. The big cats ARE amazing. AND I also exercise with audiobooks. My husband teases me at the gym when we are lifting and he asks me something. I pause my book, roll my eyes, and then huff at him. He thinks I’m a total nerd. Between my audiobooks and my iPad, my workouts fly by. Nerds rule. (I use OneClickDigital app for my iPhone–works with my local library!)

    And if I really loved kitties, yours would be on the top of my “What I Would Snuggle” list.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Really? Stinky dogs over cats? (You know it’s scientifically proven that cats have twice as many neurons as dogs, making them the smarter animal? Ha ha)… I like dogs, too, though. Furry critters … I adore them all.

    LOVE that you read audiobooks as the gym. Thanks for the insight about various audio book options. I’ll get this figured out. Right now I have a giant boxed set of CDs for The Art of Fielding and have no clue how to get them into my iPhone to LISTEN to. Ha ha. Hubby to the rescue!

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  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    Your Bengal kitties are beautiful! And your post on exercise and writing is timely. I seem to have a constant struggle to balance the two. When I’m deep into writing, I don’t want to interrupt the flow. But then the aches and pains set in and reach a level I can’t concentrate on the writing. Keeping the exercise balance pays off in the end. And adaptability is always a win.

    Brave you. I’ve never been a runner. Love to walk and hike in the great outdoors, but not sure I would feel as comfortable with mountain lions feeling so neighborly.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I was never a runner, either … until I started running on trails out in the boonies :-). And I, too, LOVE hiking. The “runner as prey” part is what worries me most! Hiking the same areas, oddly, doesn’t bother me – maybe because I have a stick and feel I’m less likely to be perceived as prey?

    I agree with you about the flow-exercise conundrum. When you’re in the groove with writing, it’s hard to pull away for ANYTHING. But I find, personally, that my mind is so much more alert when I’m exercising!

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    You are SO brave. Even the pictures scare the crap out of me. I know I’ve said that before about some of your other pictures. It’s true in all cases. You’re made of tough stuff.

    Adaptability . . . I kind of adapted from fiction to non-fiction. And after all that . . . I sort of wonder if fiction is a wiser choice as I’m getting a little tired of defending my opinion of things (parenting things, Jewish things, etc.) Maybe I’d like to go back to making things up???

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    Melissa Reply:

    Compared to my two neighbor buddies (Roxanne, the Annie Oakley of the 21st Century; and Kathy, who could wrangle a mountain lion with her bare hands), I’m a wimp!

    Re: fiction or non-fiction: I still think fiction is WAY harder (even if you CAN make things up). Truly the most challenging kind of writing I’ve personally ever done.

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  • avatar Suzie Ivy Says:

    Love your babies! I’ve begun taking notes while on my treadmill. Balancing work, writing, and exercise wasn’t working. I’m probably the only person who can read them but I’ve managed a couple of blog posts this way. I also love to read and the time flies making me feel less guilty for indulging my need for books when I should be writing. I am sorry you aren’t running outdoors in the wild but relieved you’re playing it safe. I don’t believe you and I are known for that 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Well – that’s all that counts: that YOU can read your notes! Have you tried an audio recorder to take your notes? I do that on the treadmill (i.e. if I’m reading on my Kindle and like a passage or a way the author handled something, I’ll set my iPhone right up in front of me and use the recorder function to take some verbal notes!)

    Can’t wait till you can come visit down here – when it gets a bit cooler!

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    So first of all, must say that I love the cat photos. I’ve come to really appreciate cats (both big and small) more since having my own. Second, your post is timely as I had an experience recently with one of my writing pieces where I had to stop and reevaluate. Essentially I was bent on publishing my children’s book but I was getting no where with it. I had a conversation with an agent last week who said, “Why not put it away and start new?” I had never thought to give myself permission to do that. It was a freeing experience too.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Those decisions are tough, aren’t they Leah: when it comes to shelving a project for awhile — or indefinitely… but I also agree that it’s freeing and leaves more room for creativity. Hope the new project is going well!

    And let’s hear it for cats :-).

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Melissa, your kittens are adorable! I so miss having a cat. (My dad had a pet Bob Cat growing up in Conn…isn’t that so cool? Can you just imagine?) I’d settle for just a regular cat, but alas, I’m now alergic 🙁
    I hope you never come across a mountain lion on your runs – that would truly be terrifying! My husband once had one stalk him and a friend while they were golfing. It scared them silly. But at least they had clubs in their hands. Needless to say, they got in their cart and left pronto.
    I’ve read on my treadmill for years. It’s one of the perks/compensations for an otherwise boring experience. But I usually just read in bed, or out back on the patio (or sneaking a book in my lap at work). I don’t know why it has never occured to me to listen to a book while walking, but it seems like a great idea, so thanks for this post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh my gosh.. So jealous. A pet bobcat! Wow. Your hubby’s mt. lion-stalking story gave me shivers, though.

    I thought the same thing: ‘why has it never occurred to me, all these different ways I could be reading?’ I’ve recently gotten audio books from the library and am loving the new addition to my reading repertoire. Still enjoying the treadmill reading, too. How are you feeling these days, Cynthia?

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    This post made my heart swell. I don’t know how to describe it either, but I share your love and awe of big cats, and I admit I’m a little jealous that you live in their land. It is sad about the jogging, although you seem to have come up with a happy ending. I’ve been meaning to try audiobooks for a long time, but my library never seems to have the books I want available when I want them. I like this concept though; maybe I will give it another try with a little more planning ahead.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, that does seem to be the downfall: being able to get THE audiobooks you want from the library. I will take what I can get if it allows me to ‘read’ more books in a year!

    Thank you for sharing my affinity for kitties domestic and wild :-).

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  • avatar Nichole Bernier Says:

    I’d love to hear about your thoughts on listening to audiobooks while running… I’ve only recently begun listening to audiobooks for long drives while touring for my own book, and I have mixed feelings about it. I miss seeing the words on the page, letting the sentences soak in on my own timetable, and when foreign words, names and cities are read, I feel a loss of seeing the way they’re spelled on the page. I miss not being able to glance back easily a page or two. And now that my own book has just been made into an audiobook, I find the syntax and rhythm startling. What have you listened to on audio so far?

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    Melissa Reply:

    I confess that I, too, prefer words on the page (and by that I mean it in its truest sense: ink and paper) to any other form of reading. I am very much a tactile and visual reader in the same way you are. I also enjoy analyzing/studying books for craft, which requires lots of flipping back and forth (something an audiobook doesn’t allow, and an e-book doesn’t do well either).

    So I’ve devised my own system for choosing which medium seems appropriate for the book/my goals. Books (new releases) I want to study are paper/ink; books for quick entertainment are ebook (for treadmill reading; because even the fact that I am running is a bit distracting, and I can’t savor the very things you mention OR take notes); and, finally, the classics (or books published five to 10 years ago that I just haven’t gotten to) are reserved for audiobook. I figure refreshers on the classics and ‘older’ notables can’t hurt :-). Plus, most libraries carry all the classics, so they’re free.

    The one thing I DO like about audiobooks is the trip down memory lane that they offer. I remember, in elementary school, that my favorite part of the day was story time, or going to the library where Mrs. Wilson would read to us. So, in that way, I feel I’m reverting back to childhood when I have earbuds sticking out of the side of my head.

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