Three months ago, I moved into a new house on the other side of Bolivar. Two months ago, I planted a humble herb garden on the deck. 

One month ago, I apparently did something wrong and watched recently as our cilantro stayed short and pale green and our bell peppers grew wrinkly and stunted like the lungs in an anti-smoking ad. 

The thyme, though, seemed to be a resounding victory for my fledgling green thumb. Where our other plants stayed short, it grew 3 feet or taller, sprouting broad leaves at the end of long stalks. 

If that sounds at all uncharacteristic of an adult thyme plant, it’s because it is. Whatever weed I’ve been carefully tending to and bragging to my colleagues about for several months apparently isn’t thyme. A basic Google search by my fiancee cleared up what I should have known by the second time I picked off a leaf and held it to my nose, inhaling to try to find any inherent herb aroma. Thankfully, it never found its way into any dishes. 

With a small tug, the imposter plant came out of the dirt, roots and all, and was tossed past the edge of the yard where the other weeds go. 

•••

We’ve also got a new guest on the homefront. A cat, initially suspected of belonging to a neighbor, has been hanging around the house. 

I like him, certainly not enough to take him in, but enough that the cat and I exchange a pleasant “hello” most mornings when I pass him while he’s sitting on top of our trash cans. I’ll never offer him food, but he doesn’t seem to be hungry, either. 

I talked with the neighbor about him. He’s not theirs, they said, and he’s been keeping close because they have female indoor cats. 

The neighbors have their own name for him, but I’ve been calling him Maurice in reference to the central character in the Steve Miller Band’s song, “The Joker.”

Maurice is a free spirit, out looking for his next meal and doing his best to impress future partners. 

Watching his attempts to woo the neighbor cats has been pretty entertaining. He’ll peek through the window to see if he’s got an audience, then do his best to climb a sapling or catch a hummingbird. I’ve only ever seen him comically fail at both. But, he always picks himself up and glances over, as if to say, “Hey ladies, did you see that?”

Maurice is a lover. But, he’s also a fighter — a notched right ear bears the story of battles previously fought. I’ve also got a number of scars, mostly from bicycle wrecks and one incident with a chainsaw, so I’ve got an appreciation for the look he’s giving off. 

He’s also not unlike Wilson W. Wilson, Tim Allen’s neighbor in “Home Improvement,” who’s always happy to talk from his side of the fence. 

While I worked on my pickup in the driveway the other day, Maurice sat about 10 feet away, not intruding, just observing. 

That’s really what I’m looking for in my first experience renting a homestead. In this scenario, I get most of entertainment of having a pet, but none of the responsibility. Another catchy tune might fit our relationship even better, given some conditions. 

“Like a good neighbor, Maurice is (over) there.”

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