Yesterday's sky turned milky at mid-afternoon and by dusk low clouds obscured the mountains. Ragged, wind-blown gaps hinted of new snow in the high country. Downstairs it was too dark to read but I tried anyway: Cormac McCarthy -- The Crossing. The dogs asleep, the windows had been closed against the chill. I faced a view of the stone walkway, a fringe of trees, and then the steep drop-off to the meadow. Mid-sentence, I paused in my reading and glanced up.
What impulse caused me to look out the window at the precise moment that the creature became visible? Did I somehow detect the motion outside, a sixth sense despite my apparent concentration on the printed page? Did my unconscious mind hear the muffled slap of paw on rock, the sigh of an exhale?
With my outward eye I saw, beyond the window, a blond body: at first I thought it was a moose calf or a summer mule deer. But the motion was wrong: jerky and yet sinewy. The dominant movement resembled that of a snake: a light brown snake floating in the air just on the other side of the window glass. I traced the s-curve of the snake's body backwards from its shivering black tip and discovered a muscular haunch, a leg, a belly and a bowed back. The hump of the shoulders. A slim, graceful neck. A head somehow smaller than expected topped by two ears tipped with black as if the creature's extremities defined the shadow of its identity.
I was on my feet now, drawn without thought toward the window, in the same way that the mountain lion on the other side of the glass was drawn toward the cistern and the gap in the trees that leads down to the meadow. The cat's body moved like liquid, like the scudding clouds that veiled the mountains, like a wraith. Like a force of nature, silent and immutable.
I wanted to freeze time. I wanted to take in every detail of the lithe body on the other side of the window. I wanted the muscles in the big cat to somehow lock in place so that I could indelibly engrave every contour, every whisker, every twitch of that black-tipped snake of a tail into my permanent memory, to create a mental snapshot that I could return to in a year -- or ten or twenty -- and then assert with firm precision: "Yes, that was it: when the cat walked the muscles in the shoulders rolled backwards and that made his back bow slightly and his haunches lower. But the tail: that seemed like another creature's entirely, one that existed in its own universe of physics and physicality -- no coordination with the rest of the body, like something that had been added on later, an afterthought. Or as if it was possessed by some demon."
But time did not freeze. In a second -- or maybe two or three -- five steps at the most, the mountain lion reached the opening in the trees by the cistern. Without a backward glance, the sleek tan body slid below the lip of the hillside, and the cat was gone.
Outside later, I searched for signs: some physical evidence of the big cat's passage. The drizzle-stained rocks of the walkway held their secrets intact, the damp grass mute. I returned to my chair, to my book and my view, but could no longer read. I told myself that an experience like the one I'd just lived is the best way to appreciate nature: my presence did not affect the outcome in any discernable way. I observed but was as anonymous as an empty window.
But even as I congratulated myself for a successful sighting, in my heart I acknowledged my weakness. Despite my best intentions, despite my training as a naturalist and my ecological consciousness, as I watched the lion I was powerless before my most primal urges. When the puma stalked past my window, I wanted that wild creature to acknowledge me. I wanted him to turn those green almond eyes toward me, to meet my blue ones with a gaze that spoke of the taste of fresh blood and fear and death and the love of the chase. I wanted to look inside of the cat's predator's soul and see myself.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources