This week marked the 20th anniversay of the spill of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound. I was in the Arctic when that happened, preparing to go out on the sea ice with Eskimo whale hunters.
Even so, I wept when I heard the news.
What follows is the story of two cats, both of Cordova, Alaska, right in the heart of Prince William Sound: Phantom, who helped with the cleanup and paid the ultimate price. Cookie, who could not replace Phantom, but did step in to take over Phantom's duties on the fishing boat, the Belen C, and so made a place of her own.
Phantom was a good, seafaring cat with a good sea gut and good sea legs, but the Siamese suffered her mishaps. Once, as her people, Joe and Belen Cook, napped, Phantom slipped through an open porthole and plunged into the water. Awakened by the splash, Joe leaped up and grabbed his buoy hook, but before he could rescue her, Phantom swam to the other side and pulled herself back on board. Another time, a leaf came blowing by and Phantom leapt for it, but when she came down she discovered that there was no boat, but only sea, beneath her. This time, Joe fished her out with the hook.
After the March 24, 1989, oil spill of the Exxon Valdez, the Cooks set out in their boat to work on the cleanup. Often, they would pick workers up from the beach for transport elsewhere. The Cooks lined the boat with oil absorbent materials, required passengers to remove oily gear before boarding and did all they could to keep it clean. Adoring spill workers took Phantom upon their laps, stroked her, talked to her and were delighted when she talked back.
After the Cooks returned home to Cordova, Phantom fell suddenly ill during the day and, come night, died. The vet surmised that, somehow, the 13-year old cat had been poisoned by the spilled oil she had helped to clean.
In time, the Cooks set out in search of another Siamese female. After a visit to Belen’s mother in her Yaqui homeland of Mexico, they searched the Arizona classifieds and located a breeder in Cave Creek, a tiny enclave out in the wild desert.
The breeder informed the Cooks that she had only male kittens available and, before she would let one go, insisted upon giving the Cooks an intense, grilling, in-person interview to determine their worthiness. After the interview, the breeder was so pleased that she confessed to actually having two female kittens and would give the Cook’s first choice.
One sister was outgoing and friendly, lovable as can be. The other was shy and reclusive. Intent that it would have a good a home, Belen chose the later.
“Cookie” turned out to be a very gregarious, chatty cat, and a good sea cat, too – never has she taken a plunge off the boat.
Cookie gets what Cookie wants. Belen’s grandmother was up north doing laundry once, and Cookie harassed her mercilessly until she finally heated some clothes in the dryer and fashioned them into a nice, warm bed for the cat to lie upon.
Cookie loves to assist Joe when he works on his computer, but sometimes, Joe gets lazy and stops. Cookie then stands by the computer and meows until Joe gets back to work. Whenever jumbo shrimp leaves the fridge, Cookie dances and meows until she gets her 15 pieces.
I took these pictures of Cookie in August of 2002. I write of her in the present tense, but Cookie has gone now, to wherever it is that Phantom drifts.