The Perrrfect Tree

by: Les Blackwell

He was curled up on some double braided lines that had been thrown carelessly on the deck, with his tail covering his nose, perhaps to keep it warm but more likely to keep as much of the smells of yesterday’s ancient fish, diesel fumes, and malodorous bilge water smells from penetrating the interior of his dark, cold and wet as well as sensitive nose. Wadsworth was a young gray cat with incredibly soft short fur who was not happy.

The gill net fishing boat rocked back and forth at the dock, the sea gulls shrieked at him from above, it was misting and he was all wet, and his stomach was hungry....Wadsworth was definitely unhappy. Reaching his front paws forward and leaning backwards he stretched and then with an easy leap reached the gunnels and then down to the dock. So on this early dank fall day, Wadsworth headed down the dock and up the ramp to terra firma.

Ralph, the wharfinger, was looking out his office window and watched the young cat move with an easy grace up the ramp. Ralph had a cat, Stumpy, who at the moment was nowhere to be seen which was good for Wadsworth who was stoking up on Stumpy’s food dish.

“Hey, Ralph! Ya got a new cat?”

Responding to Dana, one of the boat owners going to check on his boat, Ralph yelled back. “He just showed up on my doorstep. Came somewhere off a boat. Is he yours?”

Wadsworth wasn’t about to linger. Living with the wharfinger would only be slightly better then on a fishing boat. He would still be too near the smells, the sounds of the working docks, those annoying seagulls and the damp salty air. Then there was the constant pounding of halyards against the aluminum masts. There must be a better place for me in this world thought the cat.

Wadsworth walked across the large parking lot skirting the empty spaces but going close to the parked cars and trucks. Every once in a while, he would stop under a big wheeled truck, staying out of the rain, and just looked around through the gray mist. With a shake of his fur coat, Wadsworth continued on until he had crossed a road and a dirty railroad yard. There was a large warehouse building, not much used, but it did have a place for railroad workers to sit and have some coffee between times when they would cobble up freight trains going either north or south.

Without looking back the young cat walked up a small hill toward the town. There were buildings, more parking lots, cars going to and fro and noisy smelly buses. And bicycles! They would come silently from behind almost running him down....on the streets and on the sidewalks. Bicycles and fishing boats began to compete in his mind as things he could do without. As he passed a Deli, a buxom lady saw him and came to the entry door with a small bowl of fish stew.

Wadsworth sauntered over to the offering, sniffed, then turned his back to it, sat down and began to wash his face. First the left paw which he licked and then rubbed his face--then the right paw was licked and that side of his face was washed. Although hungry, he had had all the fish he would ever consume, thank you. And then he continued on his way.

It took several days before Wadsworth wandered through the neighborhood of homes. The further he went the less he smelled the salt air and he exchanged seagulls for crows and Jays. Wadsworth walked for several days, eating at stray cat dishes on back porches, lightly sleeping in car ports and children’s play houses--but mostly on the move to find a place for himself where he could be happy.

One day as Wadsworth prowled a back yard looking for food he came upon a large board on board cedar six foot fence that lined the back yard. From a convenient low branch to the top of the fence the gray cat made his way and looking from the vantage point of the fence, Wadsworth saw the most beautiful sight that he had encountered in his entire journey. He was looking at the display yard of Bakerview Nursery.

What a sight! As he sat on the fence he could see piles of bark to roll in, all different sizes of pots to jump in and out of, a whole sawdust pile to scratch, there were many bushes and small trees to hide under, display tables in the sun and in the center of it all was a display of a waterfall gurgling down over rocks that drained into a lazy pool full of gold fish. To the right were raised beds of flowers with many walkways throughout the display. It was the perfect place.

The next morning when the display store was opened, Wadsworth walked in with his tail held high. Here were gardening displays, tools, seeds and in one corner a pile of new burlap to be used in wrapping roots of plants. Wadsworth tried the burlap for comfort, turned around twice and curled up with his tail over his nose--for warmth. When he awoke some time later someone had put down a plate of food--turkey and gravy. Not a fish bone to be seen. Now this was what he had been looking for--he had found a home away from the port.

For the next few weeks Wadsworth played and enjoyed Bakerview Nursery. He played in the pots, jumped and made of mess of the bark dust and hid under bushes to jump out to surprise customers. When customers wanted gardening tools, the exquisite gray cat walked ahead of them with his tail up to show them the way. If the customers needed holiday wreaths Wadsworth went and scratched on the display post to show them where they were. And when staff went home at night, Wadsworth would sit and rest by the pool and watch the goldfish before jumping in the bark dust and making another mess. It was the good life.

One day a large truck backed into the parking lot by the front door of the nursery and began to unload Christmas Trees. All sorts of trees, Douglas Fir, Norway Spruce, Virginia Pine and some Fraser Fir. Wadsworth was on top of the trees, he was in the truck, he even rode a tree as the two delivery guys unloaded it to the display stands. There were four foot trees, five foot, six feet and even several that were eighteen feet tall. It was an impressive array of Christmas trees and Wadsworth was quite pleased with himself and his new play area--he would have fun showing customers the right tree for them. It would be a busy holiday season.

It was several weeks before Christmas and all through the nursery holiday stock was flying off the shelves. Outdoor lights were almost sold out and there was precious few Poinsettia plants left on the display rack. The selection of Christmas trees was dwindling rapidly--already the condo/apartment crowd had snapped up all the four foot trees. Not a one left.

Wadsworth was checking out the tree stock when an old, somewhat rusted pickup diesel truck drove up to the front parking lot. Wadsworth slunk down and watch it drive up and a low unexplained growl came from his throat. His fur stood out and his whiskers were all at attention. With his belly to the ground Wadsworth oozed to under a bush where he could watch with slitted eyes. Another growl, low and deep inside.

Wadsworth could smell the salt air and all those long ago boat smells from the port coming from the truck and in the back, a large fish net from a bow picker with more hated smells. Wadsworth growled again.

A young couple with a daughter emerged from the pickup. “Mom, can I look for a Christmas Tree?” said the little girl. But it was Dad that answered. From under a bush, Wadsworth saw the man get down on his knees and he reached out for his daughter in a hug, “Honey, I told you before we left to come here that we can’t have a Christmas tree on our sailboat--it’s only a thirty-four foot Beneteau and even if we could get a small tree if we put it in the salon you wouldn’t be able to go forward to your Vee berth.” “Do you understand, Nora?”

There was a nod of the small head, a shake of some dark curls over her eye and a small tear but she understood. It is so hard to be young and not be able to participate in all the delights of the season. There would be presents to be sure but no tree for Christmas morning. That is how it was when you lived with your parents on a sailboat.

WELL NOW! Wadsworth had heard all of this from his vantage of being under the bush near the front door. And he was a professional nursery cat now. As Lori and Mark went inside to find a wreath to put on the bow of their boat for the season, Wadsworth galvanized himself into action. Bad smells and memories were behind him. He would find Nora a tree.

But the four footers were all gone. You could cut the top of a six footer but it wouldn’t look very good. And then Wadsworth thought of the solution. He immediately went into the store, found the man and rubbed up against his leg. Hard. But Mark was looking at a string of lights that would work on 12 volt, just right for the boat electrical system. Perhaps he could make an outline of a tree using the mast and shrouds. It wouldn’t be like a real tree but it might do.....

“CAT, get off my feet!” Wadsworth was doing all he could to get his attention. He had the real answer. The cat even threw in some purring as he rubbed against the pant legs. Still, Mark did not respond to the cat. This was going to be a difficult sell thought Wadsworth.

“I think this wreath and string of lights will be all,” he said to Lesley and Lynn, the sale clerks who proceeded to ring up the sale.

Wadsworth was beside himself. He even tried scratching on Mark’s pant leg, very unethical behavior for a professional sales cat. “Very interesting cat you have here.” “Enough small talk and politeness,” conjured Wadsworth and with an easy grace jumped on the sales counter and almost without stopping jumped on Mark’s shoulder. “Daddy, that cat really loves you,” giggled Nora.

Both Lynn and Lesley were aghast. “That cat has never done that before--here, let me get him down,” said Lesley, as she reached for the cat. “No, no, no, don’t worry. I like cats,” responded Mark as he rubbed his cheek against the soft fur of Wadsworth side. “This is cool, let him stay and I’ll look around the store a bit more.” “YEEEESSSS,” thought Wadsworth. “Okay, now go this way. Keep going!”

As cat and man moved about the display area, they moved toward double glass doors leading to a cooler area for specialized plants. Wadsworth was leaning, purring, kneading of Mark’s shoulders and practically pushing his face into Mark’s to aim him in the right direction. In this cooler display were the bonsai plants, small Japanese styled trees that were exceptionally small. All were in small and not very deep pots common to this ancient hobby. And all needed special daily care. And there on the entry display table for the bonsai plants was a perfectly formed Douglas fir only eighteen inches high. It was a miniature Christmas Tree that Mole and Rat would have appreciated. And the pot was broad and heavy in just the right balance for the little tree. It wouldn’t slide no matter how rough the water might get in the marina.

Wadsworth jumped down onto the table right next to the little bonsai tree and proceeded to wash his face. Maybe the tail could use a little cleaning as well. But he kept purring.

“Hey, Lori, come over here. Maybe this would work. Look at this little Christmas tree.” Lynn had followed the man with the cat on his shoulder concerned as to what might happen and was quite relieved when she saw Wadsworth jump to the table. “That is a bonsai plant and it has been in training for three years--it’s very young. But I suspect it might do for a short time on your boat. Both Lynn and Lesley had been sailors at one time. “After Christmas you might want to sell it to a collector or plant it somewhere.“

“Lori, what do you think? We could plant it after New Years on the other side of the wharfinger office--that place needs some sprucing up. And we could decorate the tree each Christmas to come.” “Nora, would you like a little Christmas tree for the salon table, Honey.” Nora’s smile was the answer and at the same time she picked up Wadsworth in her arms and rubbed her nose in his side, such soft gray fur. She hugged him and softly said in his fur, “Thank you, Kitten, Thank you.” “Oh for heaven’s sake,” thought Wadsworth, and he wiggled free from Nora’s arms and jumped to the floor. “It’s time for me to check on the goldfish.”

As Wadsworth looked around he saw he still had several eight foot trees to sell and those big eighteen footers. They wouldn’t be a problem--a church or hotel would take them. Yes, it had been a busy season but it was good one. As the pickup truck from the marina pulled away, Wadsworth could see Nora sitting between her parents holding on to her new perrrrfect Christmas tree. Then Wadsworth washed his face one more time.


Merry Christmas to all and to all happy sailing


Les Blackwell
cc: The Perrrfect Three
2011 Christmas Holiday
Bellingham, WA 98225