By Jennifer Burns
May 5, 2022
It was Friday afternoon. The 3rd and 4th grade class and I were leaving the building for our daily nature walk. There was still a hint of winter, so all of us were still sporting winter coats, fleece or heavy hooded sweatshirts. The sky was clouded in gray, but the sun was shining. My students were giddy with the chatter and giggles that signified the last block of the school day and end of our week. We had left a little later than anticipated, so rather than heading towards Fishers Island’s South Beach, Race Point or The Bluff, I decided that we would go to the Eastern side of Silver Eel Cove.
Michele Murphy (fellow teacher) accompanied my students Izzy, Owen, Charles, Maia, and Cyllus. Earlier in the week, Maia had told us that her young tiger striped tabby kitten Tesla had gotten out of the house. It had been four days, and her family had yet to find her. Maia was upset but hopeful Tesla would turn up.
Fishers Island has a flourishing population of coyotes so the owners of pets take care to keep the smaller ones indoors. Even so I wondered whether we might stumble upon Maia’s kitten. Of course I did not mention this to the class or anyone else for that matter, thinking that it was only a slight possibility.
Owen, Maia and Charles scampered ahead; Michele and I followed; Cyllus and Izzy lingered deep in discussion of imagined worlds. We made our way along Silver Eel Cove. We could smell a lower tide. As we crossed the road a large red-tailed hawk flew into the surrounding trees behind us and disappeared.
We all walked the narrow footpath past an osprey nest and upon a bluff that overlooked Silver Eel Cove. We looked for signs of an osprey but saw only a plastic bag fluttering in the sticks and twigs of the nest. We made our way through the path narrowed by briars, other thorny shrubs and magnolia bushes. The visibility was so good we could make out the Dumplings, Flat Hammock and both the New London and Ledge Lights.
I looked at my watch and called out, “All right, time to start walking back.”
We walked back down the path to the road. The students stopped and started, grouped up and scattered like starlings. Rather than returning the way we came, I pointed to a path that joined this road and the main road that led to the school.
And that is when we heard it – a loud manic meowing. The students called out, “It sounds like a cat!” Then the same hawk we had seen earlier swooped past us onto a tree. All of us stopped and looked up at another tree ten yards or so from the hawk. “That’s Tesla,” Maia yelled. “That’s Tesla!”
The meowing continued. Michele and I moved closer to the thin branch where Tesla perched. It was precarious, this petrified kitten with arched back, fur on end, hawk staring it down. The hawk watched; the students beckoned, “here kitty, kitty, kitty.” Tesla was yowling as Michele and I approached her.
Tesla went from all fours to hanging by her forepaws then dropping to the ground. Michele and I crouched in hope that one of us might grab her.
Maia slowly approached her kitten calling, “Tesla, Tesla, Tesla.”
Michele and I continued trying to encircle the terrified Tesla. Suddenly she bolted between my legs. Maia rushed to scoop her kitten and hold her tight.
Kitten and girl were together again! “Mrs. Burns, can I take her home?”
“Yes,” I yelled. “Let’s go.”
Maia led the way embracing her kitten while I texted her mom Yaritza, who teaches at the school, to share the news.
As Maia delivered Tesla inside, her mom called in disbelief. Maia kept shaking.
“You look like you need a hug Maia,” I said, and she wrapped her arms around me, squeezing and trembling.
We walked back the way we had come and took turns exclaiming about the turn of events. Michele and I locked eyes in silent recognition of what might have been had we arrived seconds later.
We walked into the school. By the time we reached the 3rd and 4th grade cubbies Yaritza was holding her daughter’s face in her hands. Both of them were crying. I walked towards them and, we embraced.
Was it fate, providence, or a series of coincidences? You decide. I do know that one Fishers Island family is happy to be reunited with their kitten. I also know that for moments five students and their teachers experienced the unexpected.