The new Memorial Bridge beckons Slim, the wandering feline of Badger's Island
The new Memorial Bridge is open. At least, that’s how it appears, what with the ribbon-cutting ceremony on August 8, not to mention the heavy traffic that is now traveling that short stretch of Route 1 between Kittery and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But everyone on Badger’s Island knows it’s not really open, not officially anyway, until Slim christens it with his soft padded feet.
Slim, a tabby of indeterminate age, is the Badger’s Island cat, belonging to no one but watched over by all. He regularly roams the tiny island, which is where the Memorial Bridge touches down on the Maine side of the Piscataqua River, and drops in on his many two-legged friends who live and work there.
“I’ve known Slim since I moved to Badger’s Island in 2007,” says Sean Rooney, Slim’s closest human companion. At the time, Slim was residing (more or less) with the woman who had adopted him (more or less) from an animal shelter, and he quickly made Rooney’s apartment his home away from home. “When she moved, I became Slim’s person,” Rooney explains. He makes sure Slim gets fed, and in seasonable weather the cat comes and goes through Rooney’s open window. When there is a snowstorm, Rooney insists that Slim stay indoors, away from the snowplows clearing the island’s narrow roads.
Apparently, Slim has a few buddies in Portsmouth, too, because Rooney has been called to collect the sociable feline in the New Hampshire seaport on several occasions, typically late at night. Slim’s nocturnal wanderings were curtailed in February 2012, however, when demolition of the aging original Memorial Bridge began. Slim made the best of it, befriending the construction workers the same way he had befriended the bridge operators. Come summer, says Rooney, “I’d get home from work, grab a cold drink, and go down to the wharf to watch the construction, and he’d follow me. It’s a floating dock, just eight feet wide and it moves around a lot, but he has no fear.”
No fear, except perhaps a healthy regard for automobiles. Maybe Slim grew accustomed to the quiet on Badger’s Island during the year and a half that the bridge was under construction, because, as far as Rooney knows, the cat has yet to resume his late-night jaunts to Portsmouth. “It’s a very busy bridge, and he might be avoiding it for now,” Rooney says. “Inevitably, he will go across, and I will get a call from someone saying they found a cat wearing a collar with my phone number on it.”
Until then, the Memorial Bridge is enjoying a soft opening. — Virginia M. Wright
Photograph: Rich Beauchesne/Portsmouth Herald photo