I've given up watching the weather for confirmation of when summer is turning to autumn (or straight to winter, as the case sometimes seems to be). Instead, I pay attention to the little four-legged forecasters that populate our farm.
I've written quite a few times about our burgeoning barn cat population. I don't have an accurate count on them at the moment, but suffice it to say it's a number that is too large and yet seems to regulate itself due to the natural dangers of barn cat life.
Up until the past few weeks, getting any sort of cat inventory would have been completely impossible. We know there are a number of the cats who are survivalists. They roam, day and night, hunting and caring for themselves. We might spot them across a field or in a tree row, but they rarely come in to the yard or visit the food dishes from early spring to fall. They are neither completely domesticated and friendly nor completely wild, and they certainly earn their keep in tamping down the number of mice, gophers and birds around the place.
Every night, my daughters make their high-pitched calls of "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty," when they go to feed, and they lock up whatever cats are willing to come in for protection. Some summer nights this year, the effort was abandoned as only a cat or two would be willing to come in. Such are the attractions of nights on the farm, I guess.
But there is an inverse relationship between the number of cats who come in at night and the temperature. So, in recent weeks as nights have gotten a bit colder, we're getting reacquainted with cats we haven't seen much since last winter.
But as the days have gotten chillier, Mossy has gotten progressively friendlier. She'd let the girls pick her up and hold her, begrudgingly at first and then, little by little, willingly. As her mama weaned her, we found she was getting a little skinny. So, we started bringing her into the house for a little extra food for a few minutes.
It's amazing how much more welcome she and the other cats find the comforts we offer them when the mercury drops.
I suppose humans aren't a lot different. As the seasons change, I find I don't have to drag my daughters in the house when it's time for playtime to end. And certainly as sun goes down earlier, my husband is more likely to quit working and come in for supper at a decent time. The light and warmth of home are more alluring when there is no light or warmth outside.
When spring returns, the cats will go back to their wild ways, and we likely will, too. But as we prepare for winter, the comforts of home seem awfully welcoming.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com or 701-595-0425.