The Bobcat I Saw (personal essay)

I like to hike Chase’s hill, the one that rises above his house and the Snake River. The gravel road is a steady incline, cut at an angle across the face of the rim rock so the lumbering spud trucks and hay swathers have a more gradual pull to the top. Today, like most days, I used my hike time to sort through all my thoughts. I was thinking about canning tomatoes. I learned to can after I married a farmer, but I hated canning. And though home-canned tomatoes tasted better, it was hard to justify the work when Del Monte tomatoes were so cheap at the store.

I was so deep in my tomato thoughts, the splash in the river didn’t startle me.  Past the rabbit brush and reeds I spotted two sets of long ears and almond-shaped eyes bobbing up and down in the river’s current, heading toward the island. Evidently, the deer had come out to swim and play.  Game was always more active in the fall when the temperatures were cooler.

I stopped and watched the deer a minute before I began my hike up the hill again. We hadn’t any rain to speak of since late spring, so the dirt on the road was like fine, bread flour wafting around the embedded cobbles. I watched my shoes trudge over and around the rocks when an image of my sister Lainey, popped into my head. I needed to call her. Lainey was twelve years younger than me, so we were a different generation.  That was no excuse for not staying in touch though. There’s something comforting about a sibling. They know you and you know them–no matter how far apart in age you are. You know them in familiar, genetic ways. How they use their hands and fingers as they talk, for example.  Just like mom does.  Just like I do.

Lainey’s expressive hands came to mind when I heard the unmistakable hiss of a bull snake laying on the road near me. I’d almost stepped on him. He was just a baby snake, but still he raised his head and flicked his tongue at me, indignant that I was so distracted I hadn’t noticed him. I felt like apologizing for my obtuseness. Of course the snake was important, but it was just that I hadn’t talked to my sister in so long.

I gave the little snake a wide berth, skirting the opposite side of the road where some straggly wild asters bloomed. As dry as it was, I was amazed anything had enough water to survive, much less bloom. I needed to remember to buy the November issue of Idaho Magazine. I’d written an article on the old practice of water witching, something a few men in our farming valley used to do to find water in the desert. I wanted to see how my article looked in print—how it read. Water witching seemed a fitting topic for the season of Halloween, but I wasn’t sure how religious or deeply superstitious readers might feel about the topic.

The trail curved some and when I rounded a bend I was surprised to see yet another wild animal.  This time a coyote was standing in the middle of the road. I thought it was a little strange to see so many creatures on one small hike.  There was something different about this coyote.  Then I realized it wasn’t a coyote at all.  Maybe it was a fox.  No, not a fox, but a very large cat.  I took a step back as I felt a tingle of both excitement and apprehension.  In front of me, two hundred or so feet, was a bobcat, or sometimes called a lynx.  The size of the cat and the sharp, tufted ears were a dead give-away.   I’d hiked the desert and canyons for years and though I’d heard about bobcat sightings, I’d never seen one myself. We stared at each other for several long seconds and then the cat lost interest and skittered up the rocky hill side.

Seeing a bobcat in the wild was a once in a life time experience–and I might have missed him entirely thinking about vegetables and relatives.  I needed to pay better attention when I hiked. I’d been so lost in thought, I was lost to the world also. And there was so much to see. So much to experience.

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