I got a new wheelchair battery a few weeks ago. There are actually two of what resemble car batteries. Medicare (and in turn, my supplemental insurance) pays for new batteries once a year; these are the third set I’ve had.
Though I haven’t conducted the kind of rigorous scientific testing to say this for sure, each set seems better than the last. And not only a bit better, miles better―in this case, quite literally.
I’ve been driving down our dirt road a lot more in the last couple weeks. I usually go on these outings alone. It's the only time I'm ever alone, out in the world. And I really enjoy it. It’s a quiet, peaceful place, and I stop often just to sit in the sun and stare at a tree, or a hawk, or to follow the path of a plane.
It’s a seasonal, hit or miss activity due to the massive variability of the road surface. In the winter and spring, the ice and mud make outings virtually impossible, and for much of this summer, heavy rains brought a washboard effect to the road. The ruts rattle the beds of passing trucks and do far worse on my solid-wheeled chair. They quickly overwhelm any sense of joy and bring only frustration.
But lately, our dirt road has been smooth! It was graded (stripped down and evened out with a specialized machine that resembles a large tractor or piece of construction equipment) over the summer and the flattening effect of passing vehicles seems to have taken control over the erosional effect of the rains.
I drove my joystick-operated wheelchair farther from home than ever before―nearly three miles, round trip. I would’ve gone farther, but the soft dirt and omnipresent tractor ruts of the tiny side-road I decided to explore gradually curbed my enthusiasm. Usually, battery range (and an understandably cautious outlook, knowing I could be helplessly stranded) is the limiting factor, but today, each time I looked down at the gauge, it appeared as it had when I started: full. Not one of the ten multicolored lights had faded as I arrived back at the house. Though, in part based on its extended charging time, I’d expected increased range over the previous battery, I don’t quite trust that gauge. It doesn’t seem to move in a linear manner; almost three miles up and down hills and bouncing over sections rocks had to take at least ten percent from the battery. Further testing may be conducted. Nevertheless, the improvement is obvious.
Lastly, just before the pig barn at the corner, past the hilltop cemetery I frequently visit, I met a cat. I’ve seen him once before, roaming in the driveway of the brick, 1810 Federal-style house on the corner. This time he lay near the edge of the road enjoying the sun. I’m told he (or maybe she, I’m not sure) is a barn cat, but he’s clearly well-fed and well-groomed―a house cat in appearance except for the bare neck.
I slowed, trying not to scare him as he watched me approach. I stopped by his side and reached over the arm of the chair as he rubbed his head against my hand and the chair. Because we were just above a blind curve, I slowly pulled forward while trying to coax my new cat friend to follow. I turned my chair to see him following at an aww-shucks, deliberate pace. As in, I’m doing this because I want to, not because you’re making me. I’m still in charge; you’ll have to wait.
I came to a safe spot beside the triangle-shaped patch-of-grass median on the corner, and resumed my claw-handed awkward petting as he purred loudly. He circled my chair several times and paused at the front, seemingly unsure of what to do with my protruding footrests. After properly sizing me up, he dug into my jeans (and my legs) with his claws and climbed into my lap. I laughed as he stood on my thighs and repeatedly jammed his forehead into my chin, face, and neck.
Trying (unsuccessfully) to ignore the possibility that my cat friend was infested with fleas or ticks (despite his well-groomed appearance), I marveled at the picture of this stray cat in my lap. I thought about flipping the power back on for the unparalleled novelty of riding down the road with a cat on my lap, but I knew he wouldn’t stand for that and would jump off―or maybe dig in. An old flat-fronted Isuzu box truck drove by, its driver sporting a smile and a wave, but there was no one else in sight. While I had access to my phone, I haven’t been able to take a selfie in about a decade. Like many things I see when I’m out by myself, I would’ve liked to capture that moment.
After five or so minutes, with mixed feelings, I’d had enough of the claws in my thighs. Almost as soon as I ushered him off, as he lay in the sand cleaning himself, an old couple came walking down the hill. My new pal approached them and the woman reached down and gave him some love as he encircled her ankles and cranked up his purr machine. I told them he’d just been on my lap, leaving out that I had thought I was special.
They only stayed for a minute and my pal came back to my side when they left. I sat with him a few minutes more and told him I had to go. I turned several times as I pulled away slowly; he followed with his signature walk, eventually stopping as I increased my speed. I thought I might see him on the way back, but where he went, I don’t know. I hope he jumps in my lap again in the future.