The Stone Cats of Orchard Hill


The suburbs are scary. I knew that going into our recent move, but as I’ve become reacquainted with a more suburban way of life, I’ve tuned into feelings of orderly desolation and alienation. No one seems to know or want to know their neighbors. It’s sad when human connection becomes bothersome. Walking down empty streets, minus an occasional passing car, I considered this notion of not wanting to bother anyone while trying to solve a mystery.

I had come to the streets of Orchid Hill looking for three cement cats I’d spotted on a “forced march” in the month of March. This walk, being recreational and practical, centered around a stop at the grocery store. Walking up Orchid Hill Way and Place, I spotted a trio of stone cats on brick mail boxes. We had stumbled on a street of cat enthusiasts. It still might not have even been interesting enough for a Portland Orbit post but one of the cat topped mail boxes stood in front of a yard full of cat figurines. Through the randomness of it all a pattern emerged. Neighbors found a way to express cat love and for a brief moment, with three families participating, a contagion almost became an outbreak. Then, it stopped. I was on a mission of curiosity to get answers. At the very least I’d be able to marvel at some neighbor’s shared celebration of cement cats.

For the Portland Orbit three of anything is enough for the makings of a blog post. It surely is as much a nod to cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller’s rule of the threes–always three rocks in the background of the Nancy cartoons, or none at all. Two of anything, that’s a couple, not as dynamic, adding a third always makes things interesting. When we’re talking cement cats perched on large brick mailboxes the interest also lies in what may have inspired this group effort.

My timing proved impeccable. As I wandered by one of the mail boxes the homeowner stepped out to check the mail. The man was willing to consider my question of why there were a trio of cat mailboxes in the neighborhood.

“I don’t know if we copied them or they copied us,” he responded. From the looks of it, the cats had been around for long time, long enough for anyone’s memory to remain foggy about their origins. The man paused to consider the unkempt nature of his cat statue which reflected his own grizzled state. “Maybe that can be for spring cleaning,” I offered. I asked him if he knew the other neighbors with cement cats but was told, “We don’t know the neighbors very well.”

Of course I missed the operative question but the man seemed to be in a rush to get his mail and get back inside. I’m sure a question about cat ownership would have been affirmed. I don’t know what cat lovers look like but it seemed like he must have had a live cat living at the house with a cement cat topped mailbox at some point. Since I was granted permission, I took photos and headed off to find the next cat.

Cat figurines dotting a meticulously mulched yard proved fascinating in the considering of the lore of the home being a mythical, or real!, cat lady residence. Not one to barge up to a front door blaring with No Solicitation signs, my Orbit exclusive had to happen in a more stealthy way. This catscaped yard was tasteful and subdued. Partnered with the cement mail box topper which may work better in a pet cemetery, the “catphilia” was genuinely felt. The only thing missing were actual cats roaming the premises.

The third cat portrayed a kind of proud puma look. Lying in repose, possibly painted blue at some point, the cat demonstrates a certain long-tailed swagger even while lying in wait for the mail person. Dogs on mail boxes would prove too aggressive or threatening to mail people. This cat has the right attitude. Chill for the bill.

Never one to have experienced cat fever, I got a sense of it from my excursion to Orchid Hill. My fevers have taken across many lands. These examples of cement sculpture are as entrancing and mysterious as any I’ve encountered, a far cry from the empty bird baths I encountered a couple of summers ago. In this case cement held these cats captive in a nap, a frolic with a ball, a contented smile and time.

 

 

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