Everyone Loves Mocha

Everyone Loves Mocha and Mocha Loves Everyone

Mocha playing in the dirt on the farm, Tulelake, Ca.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

It doesn't take much to fascinate Mocha and engage her playful side.

Mocha was a warm spirit that came up to all people as if they were old friends. Few strangers disappointed her. She travel in cars and started purring and running around the bed the minute we entered a motel room. She visited many homes on the road with me and she always went directly to the bedroom she was in when we last visited. The typical response from folks she first met was what beautiful eyes she had.

Mocha and the Bigga Housa in Klmath Falls, Oregon.  Photos by Anders Tomlinson

Mocha was a street cat living on the edge of wilderness & town.

I had watched Mocha, named for a color on the tip of her tail, crossing a busy dangerous street to the city dump for a year. She would pass through the back yard on her daily neighborhood rounds. It wasn’t until the first snow of 1999 that I realized she was sleeping on the cracked wooden cover to the geothermal well. There she was, a lump covered with snow with a belly heated by warm air from near the earth’s surface. Up to that moment we had acknowledged each other but kept our distance. If I approached she would hiss and run away.

When she had left on her daily search for food I took an old chair and placed it over the spot she was sleeping on. Later that afternoon she was asleep under the chair. Mocha now had a roof over her radiantly heated floor, a cat chateau was under construction. I noticed during the next storm that the prevailing winds blew snow into her face, she always slept facing south. I moved an old burn barrel to block the winds. Over the next couple of weeks carpeting and plastic sheets were added for insulation. From the kitchen window in the mornings I could see Mocha in her chateau.
The few times I approached her she hissed and ran away. I stopped approaching her. She had her place of refuge and I had mine.

Mocha looking at you, Klamath Falls. Oregon.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

This is the face I came to know and love.

That winter was a busy shooting season. I was gone on the road circumnavigating Upper Klamath Lake. Mocha continued to spend the nights and a great deal of the cold days in her chateau. I left the area for a seven week trip in Southern California. When I returned it was spring and Mocha was still using her chateau. After a couple of days of setting up new shoots I took a break and fell asleep on the backyard grass under a warm sun. I was awoken by Mocha staring at me nose to nose. I slowly got up and asked Mocha if she wanted a home for the rest of her life. If she did she should follow me into the house. She did. I opened the sliding glass door and she walked in. The floor was covered with my paintings on masonite panels. She navigated her way across the floor carefully avoiding stepping on any of my work. Mocha had a new home. For the many years that followed she would always walk around my paintings drying on the floor.

Mocha taking in the morning sun through a sliding glass door.  Tulelake, CA.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Morning sun through a sliding glass door is wonderful for an old cat.

A couple of cat people had remarked that Mocha had many elements of the wild in her being. She was large for a female and street-wild wise. One summer she may have been the only domesticated cat on Hill Road that hadn’t disappeared in predator claws: coyotes, bobcats or possibly eagles. Having seen her conduct her business on urban streets and rural farms I knew Mocha was a survivor.

Mocha strolling through the flowers, Tulelake, Ca.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Flowers are blooming, summer is near and Mocha explores her surroundings.

A large covey of resident California quail circled the farmhouse, or adjacent wild orchard, most of the year. Several times when they saw Mocha standing in the patio at the back of the house they would stop what they were doing and gathered up as a tight group which headed towards Mocha. She generally would sit there and watch the quail approach. They stopped in a half circle a couple feet from Mocha. Mocha looked at them, they looked at her, she wouldn’t move, they wouldn’t move… Ten, twenty, thirty seconds passed and then Mocha turned away and walked in the opposite direction. Normally the quail would return to scavenging. A couple of times they followed Mocha single file. At some point this would upset Mocha, she stopped, turn around and hissed. The quail would quickly scamper away from Mocha.

Only one other person witnessed this unusual behavior. We were sitting in the patio drinking beers on a Sunday afternoon. Mocha was walking along the pipe that separated a mint field and the farm’s driveway-parking lot. Mocha would never go far from the house and would always be visible. From the south a line of quail, in single file, quickly caught up to Mocha and followed her as she headed north towards the orchard. After ten or so seconds Mocha turned around, hissed and made it clear that she wanted to be left alone. My friend turned to me, ” when you told me that the quail would come up to Mocha as if she was their spiritual advisor I didn’t believe you. I have seen it with my own eyes. Amazing.”

Mocha with her tongue out, Klamath Falls, Oregon.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson

Mocha came into my life with her big eyes and tongue hanging out.

I knew very little about cats. I hadn’t had a pet in almost thirty years and those had been dogs. I had become friends with neighborhood cats over the years. I did not know what condition Mocha was in. All I knew was she had been living on the streets. My first thought was she had been in a car accident and had suffered brain damage. She didn’t behave like a cat. She would wait in hallways until I showed her what room to go into. One morning I noticed drops of blood coming out of her mouth after she ate. We went to a vet downtown near the post office. It was quickly determined that Mocha’s mouth was infected. The vet went out of her way to let me know I had taken in a very old cat. She said that Mocha’s eyes were a good indicator that she could be some 14 years old. She asked what I wanted to do. I asked what could be done. Her answer was that Mocha needed most of her teeth pulled. I asked if she would be able to eat and she responded yes.

Mocha returned later that afternoon for oral surgery. I was struck by how calm she was riding in a car. The surgery went well. Mocha was on pain killers. We went out into the backyard and she rolled around in the dirt. Her tongue no longer stuck out. She was pain free and enjoying it.

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©2011 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

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