Awhile back, Bonnie was standing in the kitchen watching Brian rub his fat orange face against a chair leg.

“It’s going to be too sad when they’re not around any more,” she said.

The fact is, despite her exasperations when Brian digs into the doorframe to signal his demand to come inside, or when Panda finds ways to occupy the exact spots where Bonnie plans to step, she likes having the cats around.

And these two have been around for more than 10 years — quite awhile for cats at our house.

Before them, cats just disappeared.

They got hit by cars, we believed, or possibly eaten by fishers, one of which chased Panda hell-for-leather across the deck one night last summer. Evidence of the traffic-death theory turned up one morning before we had Brian and Panda when I was taking a morning walk on truck-barreling Route 9. In front of the horse farm I spotted a dead body on the roadside. Soon it was clear the body was a cat’s, and I began feeling bad for the family that had lost her. A few steps more revealed the bereaved family was ours. Lying there with her uniformly gunmetal gray fur was Macy. I brought her body back and buried it in the cat plot in the woods. She was about 2 years old, very long-lived for our house.

Why have Brian and Panda lasted so long, you might be wondering, while others didn’t? The answer is: a complex character named Mojo.

When the skinny, short-haired, buff-tan kitten soon to be named Mojo came into the house, Macy was “catriarch,” extremely intelligent. But it was soon clear that Mojo, though physically weak, had intellectual abilities in the range of Poe’s cat, who could open a latched door. She’d tag along with me on the driveway, which snakes up and down through woods for about 500 feet, to get the mail and newspaper. It’s not unusual, in my experience, for some cats to go for walks almost like a dog. But Mojo’s persistence got me pondering possibilities. Since we were pretty sure most of our cats were ending up as roadkill, I wondered if I could teach Mojo to stay out of the road.

So about two-thirds of the way up the driveway, whenever I heard a vehicle roaring toward us, I stopped cold in my tracks and waited for it to pass. Mojo stopped with me. Within a week or two, she was beating me to the alert. Long story short, we never saw her near the road.

Mojo, in a word, learned to treat the top of the driveway as a boundary. I ran this story past a veterinarian once, and he said it did not surprise him, because cats get attached to routines. In one experiment, cats would go hungry when their food dish was moved from their routine path and placed in a different, but still accessible place nearby.

Anyway, after Macy’s death we got Brian, whom, of course, Mojo resented and spit at for months. Along the way, a funny thing happened. Brian learned the road boundary routine from Mojo. He has never been seen nearer than about 25 feet from the road.

By a series of unfortunate events a year or so later, we came into a black-and-white epsilon-minus semi-moron individual known eventually as Panda because of his markings. He’s not a mean cat. But he may have been genetically engineered to aggravate humans; we don’t know. He almost never understands what’s happening. He sleeps in front of the stairs or in front of the satellite TV box, obstructing the signal. He almost always waits until someone has settled into a chair before scratching to be let in. He tries to occupy the same space as walking humans, unfazed by natural laws involving gravity and mass. Once, having all the rest of the house to walk in, he stepped directly on my swollen, bandaged toe.

But despite his intellectual shortcomings, he learned the road boundary routine too. The skill Mojo learned has preserved Brian and Panda for more than 10 years.

What happened to Mojo, you might be wondering.

Well, when Panda landed with us at the age of about 6 months, he immediately disrupted the truce between Brian, who could not be bothered, and Mojo, who in her pariahhood had turned neurotic. Mojo tried to deal with Panda by doubling down on the hissing bitchiness she had practiced on Brian, who, I stress, could not be bothered. Soon Panda discovered that Mojo’s defensiveness stemmed from her relatively weak musclement, stopped paying attention to her spit-warnings, and ran her off the premises.

Maybe she finally got hit by a car, you might be thinking, and maybe she did, eventually. But I doubt it. About three months later she showed up in the backyard again. We let her in and fed her, and she was extremely glad to see us. But Panda wasn’t having it. The last time I saw Mojo, she was streaking into the woods with Panda on her heels. Brian was sleeping on the deck by the tomato plants, unperturbed.

It will be sad when they’re gone, whenever that will be.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods.” You can contact him at [email protected]. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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