When I first moved to Tucson, I lived in an old adobe near Stone and Grant, with two cats:
Mourek and Shmudla.
Then one night the neighbor girl, who dropped by from time to time to pet the cats and roller skate in my house (why else would I have hardwood floors?) showed up my
doorstep. She just rang the doorbell, passed me the cat, and disappeared! I was left holding a robust black-and-white shorthair with Charlie Chaplin markings.
"Okay," I said. "I'll give you food and water, but you can't stay in the house." So he curled up on the bedroom window sill and cried himself to sleep. I got up three times
in the night to make sure he was okay. Next morning, I tore the place apart looking for him, only to discover that he had taken refuge in the crawl space under the house.
He kept me company all day while I dug up the backyard, tossing and catching a clump of caliche, the white-and-black hardpan that's the bane of Tucson gardeners and
landscapers. The name — and the cat — stuck.
He continued to live in the crawl space under the house, until the first hot day of the summer. I raced home from work in 105° heat and he came staggering across the
driveway to greet me. I scooped him up, took him to the vet, got him all his shots and welcomed him into my home.
But Caliche was no house cat! Semi-feral, he hunted everything that moved in the backyard. And he'd draw blood if anybody tried to pet him. My brother-in-law Rob
discovered that he appreciated an ear rub. Okay, we'll start with that.
Years later, I learned that Caliche actually had a home — and a brother — in the house across the street. I don't know why he decided to live with me.
That might be his brother on the roof of the mud tent.
Wild as he was, Caliche loved to play games. His favorite was climbing up the prickly pear and pretending he was stuck on the garage roof.
I'd get a ladder and rescue him, and he'd climb right back up again.
Another favorite was hiding behind the fence, and then scaring the crap out of my by leaping sideways into the air when I came through the gate.
Caliche grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of stray cats, and as a youngster he was always getting in fights. There were many trips
to the vet to try to clear up a persistent eye infection from one of those encounters.
I often say that it was Caliche who taught me how to live in the desert.
Cool morning? Find a patch of sun, lie down and soak it up. Warm morning? Wrap yourself around a damp plant early in the day,
before you begin to feel overheated.
Caliche lived outside, even on the hottest days, taking up residence in the shade of an old sunfish sailboat, or, later, under an old dish antenna.
A refreshing dust bath! Dennis got in the habit of wiping him off with a paper towel when he came inside.
Now when I look back through his photos, I'm amazed to see that I mostly took photos of him sleeping. Maybe because he always looked so sweet and innocent when
he was asleep.
He would sleep in the most unlikely positions — tangled up in my purse strap ...
... with a paw over one eye ...
... tangled up in the Mexican blanket that served as a curtain at the mud tent.
For some reason, watching him sleep always made me happy.
Caliche at Work
Between naps, Caliche helped out around the office ...
... mostly by making sure I didn't take my work too seriously. The iMac was a great belly-warmer!
The PC was more challenging, but he made it work.
Caliche could fall asleep anywhere!
On a pile of books ...
... draped over my desktop printer ...
The New Place
Caliche mellowed a lot over the years, especially after we moved to the Brick Tent, where he had a big
fenced yard, a pond, and fewer cats competing for his territory.
He still spent most of his time sleeping outdoors, but there were a lot more choices now.
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He eventually stopped marking and turned into an affectionate lapcat who expected daily full-body massages.
Chronic infections from his street-fighting days eventually caused him to lose most of his
vision, but Caliche mapped his territory quite well and successfully navigated the house and yard.
He loved the backyard pond. It was his first stop on his morning rounds.
With his high-risk life style, I did not expect Caliche to live to be an old cat.
But when he did, of course, I thought he had somehow beaten the rap.
"J'aime les chats parceque j'aime ma maison. Et qu'ils en deviennent peu à peu l'âme visible." — Jean Cocteau.
Caliche was the soul of our home.
A bit like me, he was only partially domesticated.
As geriatric tomcats,
Shmudla and Caliche were often
at odds, fighting over the best chair, the patch of sun on the cedar chest, or who got to sit next to Dennis on the couch.
But when Shmudla died, I think it broke Caliche's heart.
He began losing weight, stopped going outside, and when we left home for a few days, he stopped eating.
Our house feels so empty now.