Hugh Mohrlock


“Great Scott! Look at the cats” I said in a stage whisper. 


“They’re kittens”, Jean whispered back. 


“Or skinny cats” I replied.


They were indeed three small, underfed cats, seated in a row on our motor home couch.  I had opened the door to carry our first load of clothing to our cabin.  The cats squirmed past me as soon as I opened the door and immediately took up places on the couch, making themselves at home. 


I took my load of clothes to the cabin and hung them in the wardrobe.  Upon my return I gathered up a second load from the hanging locker and hung them on the side-view mirror.  Jeanie came out with a small suitcase.  I removed the cats one by one, as Jeanie each time quickly closed the door behind me.


We were on an Elderhostel at a dude ranch near Moab, Utah on the Colorado River.  We were to do some hiking and exploring at Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, both within a short drive from the ranch.  This was our fifth Elderhostel within the last six weeks. We were pushing the season in this high country where winter comes early.    


The schedule called for us to stay in log cabins located in a cluster near the main ranch house.  We arrived early Sunday morning. Registration was not until 3:00pm, so we visited the ranch house. The proprietor told us to pick out whichever cabin we wanted and return to tell him which we chose.  We decided on the largest one, which had four bedrooms. It would be great fun to enjoy the company of three other couples for the next week.  We chose the north side bedroom that was located directly off the open beamed living room.  The other three rooms were located off a hallway on the south side of the living room.


When we entered the cabin, swish, through the door scurried the three cats.  Each took a position in what looked like their favorite chairs.

Like in the motor home , they sat at attention staring straight ahead like three skinny statues.  Skinny, because they probably survived only on guest handouts and any mice they caught around the barn.


They were adorable, but we didn’t want them in the cabin.  We put them out. Each time we opened the door to go to our motor home, or return, the cats would follow.  They would silently slip through a slightly opened door and immediately jump onto chairs in the cabin or the sofa in the motor home.


We put our clothes away, and inspected the cabin more closely.  A stone fireplace with a long mantle and wood storage areas on either side dominated the south wall.  Gray native stones were arranged in a rough and uneven manner to emphasize the rustic décor.  There was an old iron wagon wheel chandelier hanging from the open beam rafters. Tan monks-cloth drapes hung from wrought iron rods.  Several braided rag rugs were on the floor. The largest was placed under a large wrought iron table located near one of the couches in the room.


We arrived early enough to meet some of the people who had not yet departed from the previous one-week stay.  They had attended a seminar of Local River Rafting Guides and Trail Guides. The Green River and the Colorado River join just 30 miles south of the ranch, making this a convenient location for their seminar. The meeting of the guides was normally the last event hosted at the end of the season. There had been such a huge demand to accommodate Elderhostels that the ranch scheduled this extra week.


 Fall was in the air.  All the leaves were off the trees. The sun was warm and comfortable, but in the shade the soil was frozen, and light puffs of snow had drifted along rocks and fences.  I noticed a pile of neatly stacked firewood outside our bedroom window. The logs were lightly covered with drifted snow and ice formed by the melting snow running off the roof.  Winter was not far away.


The cats had been put outside. We sat in the living room, resting from our overnight drive and enjoying the warm and rustic atmosphere.  As we sat there, I had this “brilliant” idea. I would build a fire so the cabin would be warm and friendly for the three couples, soon to arrive. There

was no wood by the fireplace, but there was a pile of newspapers and some kindling wood.  I went outside to pick out a few logs. Most were frozen together. I managed to break a few loose and knock off most of the snow.  Of course, each time I entered the cabin carrying logs, the cats dashed back into the living room. I would catch each one and put him outside.  Were they going to follow me everywhere?


After again getting the cats outside, I proceeded to make a fire, placing newspaper in the fireplace and piling kindling wood on top.  The newspaper began smoldering before I lit a match. There were still hot coals in the fireplace left by the previous guests. The kindling wood began smoking. The living room was filling with smoke. Someone had closed the damper!


I reached up the chimney to open the damper when the wood burst into flames. I drew back my arm fast enough to avoid getting burned.

There was no way I could open that damper without a tool. I grabbed the hook stored in the usual rack of shovels and fireplace tools. I hooked it on the damper arm and pulled. Damn!  The hook pulled out of the wooden handle and fell in the fire. Smoke was filling the room.


Suddenly the fire alarm in the rafters began screeching.  I dashed to the heavy wrought iron table, and pushed and tugged it with all my strength. Finally I got it under the alarm.  Jeanie rushed to the nearest window, and opened it…. In charged the cats. 


 I climbed on the table, barely able to reach the alarm. I pulled out the battery. Jeanie opened all the living room windows. "What the Hell, the cats are in already.” she said in resignation as she flung open the front door.


Now that the alarm was off I could focus my attention once more to the fireplace. I took the shovel out of the stand. Deftly avoiding the flames,

I made several attempts to keep a hold on the damper with the shovel. Finally I pulled the damper open with the side of the shovel.  


“Are we on Candid Camera?” I asked.  We both started laughing and sat down on the couch holding our sides.

“We have got to clear out this place before the others arrive.”  I said. We went to each bedroom and opened all the windows.  The kindling wood was burning well, and the smoke was clearing.  I put some of the smaller logs on, and before long we had a roaring fire.


We once more put out the cats and sat down on the couch to rest and recall the frustrating experience, bursting into laughter at the thought of each little episode. It was impossible to recall how many times we had put out the cats.


 We had just regained our composure when the first couple arrived. As they opened the door, in came the cats, unnoticed by the new arrivals, and took up their position.  “Oh, what a cozy cabin”, she exclaimed “and such a wonderful fire. Honey; look at the adorable kittens! “


“Skinny cats”, I said under my breath.


 “Yes, Isn’t it lovely”, Jeanie replied, holding back a laugh.


They dropped their bags by a chair and sat down to rest and get acquainted. I explained about the cats and how we had put them out numerous times.  She said she enjoyed having them in the cabin, so I didn’t attempt to put them outside again.


This charming couple was from Laguna Niguel, and after this Elderhostel they were going to their condo in Park City to ski for several weeks. We had engaged in small talk for only a few minutes when three maids arrived at the door.  The prior residents of our cabin had checked out late, and the maids were anxious to get started. They had to clean all the cabins in preparation for the arrival of some forty Elderhostels. The head maid removed the cats and politely reminded us, “You can’t have cats in the cabin because some guests are allergic to cats.”


“I am well aware of that” I advised her. “I have removed them many times. Look at my sweater. There are pulled spots all over it. They stick like Velcro whenever I hold one. Frankly, I’m tired of the job.”


One of the maids took the cats outside and put them in her car.

For the next five days we became well acquainted with the other three couples in the cabin. We enjoyed their company immensely. There were many stories we shared each evening around the fire. Best of all,  there were no cats. 


One evening after several glasses of wine, we cooked up the idea to share our cabin with the other hostelers. Ours was the largest cabin and had by far the largest living room and dining room.  The dining room looked like a place for feeding the ranch hands.  In the middle of the room stood two long bare wooden picnic tables and benches to match, unfinished and weathered, like they spent lots of time outdoors. Yes, we would have a party in this big room!


The next day we invited everyone over for a “cocktail party” that evening. We prepared a shopping list: boxes of white, blush and red wine, sausages, various cheeses and several types of crackers.  One of the ranch hands picked up the items in town during the day while we were in class. He arrived in the late afternoon, and the girls set things out on the large tables with paper napkins, plastic wineglasses and plastic flat ware.  They improvised buffet tables of sorts The men removed the heavy benches to the back porch.


Most of the hostelers knew our cabin location, because the spa was located to the rear and down the hill.  A flight of a dozen steps down the hill lead to a building housing the spa and shower.  Every evening we would observe folks leaving the steaming spa and head for their cabins. It’s amazing just how fast old folks can move dressed only in bathing suits and sandals in freezing temperatures.


The party was going well.  The wine was flowing. Everyone was having fun. Suddenly, in the front door came a late arrival.  She was wearing a shimmering dinner dress. She was draped with three cats.  “Look what I found.” she exclaimed.  “They were up near the main building and ran to follow me.  Aren’t they the sweetest things you ever saw ?”


 “Oh, no” I murmured to myself.  The cats immediately jumped from her arms and each took up positions on the furniture.  Since the chairs were occupied, they clung to the top of the chair backs.  They appeared uneasy surrounded by a crowd of noisy people.

“Oh, get them out of here.  I’m allergic to cats,” one lady shouted. 


“Yes, we must get them out.  The maids advised us not to let them in the cabin”, I said with some consternation.


 As one person reached to grab a cat, all three jumped to the floor and started evasive action around the guests’ legs.  Soon all the merry wine drinkers were making a game of chasing the cats. As they stumbled around and bumped into each other the cats made easy work of avoiding them. 


One of the hired hands arrived to see how the party was going and if we needed anything.  I told him we were doing just fine, but we needed help removing the cats.  I was afraid someone was going to be hurt by colliding with a fellow cat chaser.


In short order he captured and removed them from the cabin. The party continued on to the late hours.


“Oh Lord,” Jeanie whispered to me “let that be the last time!” And it was. A day later we headed for home.


I said triumphantly, as we travelled down the road, “We gave those cats a good fight, but you must admit in the end they won.  They are still at the ranch to hassle the next guests, if they don’t starve before Spring”


“Let’s call it a draw”, Jeanie replied.


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