Marty, the Mount Washington summit cat, has been an elusive animal this week, slipping in and out of the Observatory staff quarters only to eat and use the litter box. Apparently he has a friend who stays in the State Park employee quarters, and that person is working this week, so Marty is spending much of his time next door, playing with a new toy, or maybe hiding from new summit volunteers.
I did manage to snap his photo after he one of the weather observers captured him yesterday for a brief appearance in an educational videoconference with a group of pre-school children.
Marty, the observers tell me, is extremely territorial, and defends his mountaintop kingdom against all other animals, especially dogs, who tend to slink away when confronted with his stare down and hiss. He even beat up a camel, back in 2009, when Josh the camel walked up the eight miles up the Auto Road with his handlers to stake a claim on being the first camel to climb Mount Washington. Marty didn’t hurt the camel, but in the showdown between the two, the camel backed off when confronted with Marty’s hiss and arched back.
Marty is the latest in a series of legendary summit cats at the Mount Washington Weather Observatory, going back to 1932, when the staff first brought in a stray cat to control the mice population. Marty, a Maine Coon, came to the mountain in 2008, from the North Conway Humane Society, after winning the first-ever Mount Washington Mascot Primary.
Winter is tough on Marty. His playground is reduced from anywhere he wants to explore to the building that houses the Observatory and the State Park facilities. For an indoor cat, this space is cavernous, with endless nooks and crannies to explore. For a mountain cat used to living free, the space, I imagine, feels cramped and claustrophobic. Marty gets anxious and irritates his fur and skin with excessive licking, so now, in the winter, he takes a mild steroid a few times a week to calm his cabin fever.
Former weather observer Brian Clark had a reputation of being the “cat whisperer” and took many wonderful photos of Marty during his time on the mountain; to see more of them, review his Accuweather blog entries, “All About Marty the Cat,” and “My Favorite Pictures Part 4 Summit Cats“.
I hope to get a few more photos of my own of Marty, but I’m a realist. I’m just another one of the legions of Marty fans on the mountain and around the globe (see the MWOB Facebook page, and the number of “likes” any shot of Marty garners). Maine Coons are usually people lovers, but Marty doesn’t cozy up to just anyone. This cat encounters a constantly changing set of visitors, both in his quarters and outdoors. Although the weather observers are a stable presence, they come and go in their one-week shifts, making it hard for a cat to bond with a best friend. But as I have been writing this entry, Marty has come out of hiding. After some slinking around, he cautiously hopped onto the couch where I am sitting. Now he is dozing on the cushion next to me, about a foot away. This is day three on the summit; maybe, just maybe, by the week’s end, Marty will call me a friend.
P.S. Later that night, while I was sitting on the couch and watching a movie, Marty settled in a step closer. I think I even heard him purring.