“Well, I have to say I’ve seen dogs on leashes out here before, but I’ve never — ever — seen a cat on a leash here — or, come to think of it, a cat on a leash ever!” This is what a kind park ranger said as Andy and I approached with Lysander, our rescue kitten, sitting atop my hiking pack. Ly’s little neck was stretched forward so much that his head bounced with each step and his front paws curled over my shoulders to grip tighter as we walked towards Virginia’s High Bridge.
“He is an unusual cat,” we told the ranger, explaining that this was Ly’s first long-distance drive, along with first mountain outing. Keen to stick his head out car windows and go on walks in the city, Ly now found the fresh air, lack of moving vans and skateboards, and dense trees all new. That’s because Andy and I had been back and forth over the past five years as to whether Ly should even join us on our hikes.
This weekend, simply put, I won.
“Let me know how he gets on when you come back!” and the ranger smiled the most friendly smile before stretching out his arms, welcoming us to the bridge. “And thanks for coming to visit!”
Promising to return with details, we continued over the white crushed limestone path. With each step, Ly’s excitement grew in his eyes as he refused to break his vision from ahead. Greedily he took rapid sniffs to inhale the mountain air before he gripped my shoulders more as if unable to contain his energy.
“Maybe he wants to walk now?” I asked Andy and so we placed our sweet son on the ground — the dry autumn leaves crunching under the weight of his his paws.With hesitant steps, Lysander moved forward only to pause and sink low as bicycles whooshed past and here, he would look upward to seek Andy’s and my encouragement.
“Good boy! Good boy!” I purred to him, bending to cover his soft body in kisses as he pushed his face into mine then rubbed his shoulders and body along my legs in appreciation. Some cats are motivated by treats or whatever else — Ly’s sole desire though is for affection.
As we praised our son, the few people that passed owed, awed, and laughed at finding a kitten on the trail. Some snuck pictures as we walked but others asked from a distance if they could get a photo of our courageous son. “I just have to show my wife that this does exist — That this is real!” one man said before explaining that he and his wife tried frequently to get their cats into harnesses only for them to slouch to the ground unmoving. Meanwhile, Ly took gentle steps forward before bounding in large leaps towards the trees to sniff the ground.
“Not today, bug,” Andy told Ly, wrapping his arms around our fierce lion to carry him towards the bridge, but Ly’s loud mews pleaded to return to the ground, which caused Andy to stop and lower our son once more. Andy normally calls this “Ly’s temper-tantrums” — when he screams to go outside on walks by standing in the echoing door entryway or noses the treat box with anguished meows until given a little dessert — and I’m always beckoned not to give in . . . but today Ly had his father wrapped around his little furry paw. On the ground again and presented with the decision of where to go and what to do, the moment must have been overwhelming and so Ly plopped his tiny belly onto the grass to happily munch the blades. “No, bug — You know you can’t do that,” Andy told him, bending to re-collect him and so our hike to the bridge picked back up.
I should say here our journey to the High Bridge is not technically a ‘hike.’ There is a trail around and leading up to the bridge — one that is thirty-one miles long that we do hope to do — but because this was our boy’s first mountain adventure, we wanted Ly to feel brave and accomplished so we chose instead to park close to the structure to walk only the length of the bridge and back.
Even though the wooden bridge is only 2,400 feet long, it is described as “majestic” — and I have to say, I agree. Impressively, it is one of the longest recreational bridges in America and the longest in Virginia. Further facts for you, too: The bridge is a registered Virginia Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. This is due to the fact that it was built in 1853 then damaged during the Civil War when the Confederate army set fire to the structure. They wanted to burn the bridge down to prevent the Union soldiers from pursuing them. Luckily, Union soldiers saved the bridge . . . and then they marched their way to the Confederates who ended up surrendering. (Want more bridge history? Visit Farmville’s site!)
Today, the bridge provides a gorgeous view of the area as it stands 125 feet above the Appomattox River, which in my mind only meant taking in those colorful autumn leaves I ached to see.
And this view did far from disappoint.
Maybe it is because we haven’t been able to hike much recently or maybe it is because the view from the High Bridge is simply that astounding, but I cannot remember the last time I was able to capture autumn’s raw beauty at its prime.
Undoubtably, this season is the time to visit the bridge — though a strong argument could be made for winter when the snowflakes fall over the land and so hopefully, too, we will be there then. Still, Ly seemed impressed with our ‘hike’ and all it had to offer — Shortly after walking onto the bridge, he asked to get down again before pausing to take in the area and setting forth in proud strides with tail high.
Ly has been a curious boy from the start so I breathed a sigh of relief that the walkway was surrounded by this chain-link guard . . .
because our kitten did occasionally desire to push his bitty nose through the metal for a better view and sniff.
Other times, the moment would become too much and he would ask to be picked back up . . . and when I say ‘asked,’ I do mean asked! We’ve taught him to “be sweet,” which is when he stretches his little paws as far up our legs as possible — reaching towards our waist — until we bend to lift him. I have to say, too, every time this happens, my heart melts because Ly’s appreciation and love is so visible in how he acts.And so this is how our journey went — alternating between holding our freeloading kitten while also letting him explore when he implored.
Moving to take a look over the edge, I wondered if our boy knew how high he was and so I found myself imitating him, peering over and below, too . . .
The heights did not seem to faze him though but what did upset him was the wind in his fur and so he would grumble with squinted eyes each time the wind picked up ever so slightly. Setting his feet on the wood again, our willful Lysander aimed to go head back in the direction we had come because he knew that way, he was confident with that course. Vision set and determination in his heart, Ly lifted his tail again as he strutted but if Andy delayed — even for one moment — our kitten would pull and tug against his leash showing clear agitation towards Andy for not moving fast enough.
“Ly says that we can only walk where we’ve been,” Andy translated, rolling his eyes in sarcasm while smiling. Go figure, this meant I had to be the one to speak reason to our son.
“Ly,” I told him, crouching beside his little body. “If you keep walking only the way you’ve been, you will never get anywhere new. We have to keep going, boy” and so with squeaks of unhappiness, Ly was Andy hoisted to his shoulder once more.
Essentially the take-away from this story is that I think we’ve totally mastered parenting.With a forlorn and bit of a grumpy little face, Ly realized his complaints went upon deaf ears and this caused him to give up and us to keep moving forward together . . . Ly’s interest was quick to return, and so he leaned as far as he could ahead of Andy in an effort to point the way.
“Maybe we can walk the bridge there and back . . . then re-walk the bridge there and back so that he can feel uber confident!” I joked as we reached one end. Here, Ly’s earlier thoughts of returning the opposite way disappeared with the realization that leaves and grass and ground were tangible once more . . .
and so our boy romped and hopped, sniffed and ate (or tried to eat), and darted and waited every place he could . . . until a group of bicyclists zoomed past. Ly’s earlier blissful attitude quickly disappeared as the cyclists — who had been gaining speed before they reached us — came to a sudden halt with the sole goal of skidding on the path.
“Let’s head back,” I said as Ly became alert and nervous. Content to be a freeloader again, it was now my turn to hold our boy as he remained staring with wide eyes at the cyclist until they disappeared.But Ly is a brave kitten and so after a few paces, he wanted to return to the ground — sometimes only to people-watch but all times to seek praise for his courage.The walk back went faster than the walk there, proving Ly adapts easily to new situations. Within minutes we had about half the bridge left, and this is when Lysander’s energy brimmed. Refusing to be picked up any longer, he was determined to run and so I sprinted ahead, calling his name while he dashed to catch up . . .then we would gallop together until he would come to an abrupt stop and that’s when I would scoop him up to whisper words of affections in his ears . . .
But the river was approaching again, which meant we were nearing the end of our hike . . . and so we walked to a little cut-away — The three of us pausing to look out. Ly, sitting calmly then turning to peer through the metal diamonds . . .while Andy and I, holding hands while looking at the length of the wooden structure . . .and I couldn’t help but smile. Ly had conquered his first hike and was so successful that already I had blooming thoughts in my mind of what mountains we would cross next.
As if reading my mind, I heard Andy’s voice: “He did great, you know.” He had turned to me, and I knew this took a large amount of pride for him to admit. “I honestly did not think he would be this great — He surprised me. He really surprised me.” Then he paused and with the more genuine tone said, “I’m glad we took him out.”
In that moment, I wanted to explain that life is full of surprises and that from Day One, Lysander has surprised me — that I knew he would do well because we wanted him to do well and if given a chance, all animals can flourish too . . .
but sometimes moments seem to grand and too wonderful for words and so I merely leaned my head on his shoulder.
“Thank you,” I said back. “I agree completely.”
And with that, Ly’s first hike was finished. As a reward, we placed him under the burning leaves of trees to hop and sniff one last time before we walked back to the car, Ly in our arms.
“So how’d he do?!” The same park ranger greeted us with eager interest, standing immediately from his chair as we approached.
“He got a little scared towards the end when there were more people on bikes, but overall — He did better than I expected” and Andy puffed with pride at his report.
“That’s wonderful!” the ranger exclaimed. “Thank you again for coming out!”
Waving goodbye, we returned to our car only to learn Ly was done with being cuddled and carried. Seeking refuge in my footwell, he stretched over Andy’s flannel and took one heavy sigh before sleeping the entire hour-ride back home . . .and, I’m not going to lie, I fell asleep too as Andrew drove. Knowing Ly was comfy and happy and exhausted in only the way a large adventure tires the soul — all felt calm and right in the world.
Sure, there is more going on now than there has been in years and sure, that is super stressful and scary . . . but for a moment — for an afternoon — Andy and I were able to escape it all and simply take our cat . . . on a leash . . . for a walk . . . in the mountains . . .
* * * * *
Be on the look-out for more hikes with Ly . . . and who knows? Maybe even a camp one of these days . . .
For more on how Ly learned to be an extraordinary cat, read “Meet Ly: Our Unique Dog-Like Cat Who Walks on a Leash, Knows Tricks, and More!” (Coming soon)