As the wooden screen door slammed shut behind me I had a feeling that this would be an unusual day. At that time I lived in a small old house that was in a rural area in central New England. I shared the house with several friends. Although the old house had a porch that was close to the road, we had a backyard of several thousand acres of field, forest, and apple orchard.
There was an old cart path that led directly from the back door to the woods. The cart path passed through an area of young hardwood forest where gray birch and poplar were being supplanted by sugar maples, red maples, and ash. The trees were generally pole size, meaning 4-7 inches in diameter and less than 30 feet tall. The May sunlight could easily filter through the small leaves that had just opened on most of the trees and little dark shadows could be seen flittering all over the path that climbed the hill before me. After an eighth of a mile or so the path led to a large field. The field had horses grazing in it the previous year and was not completely overgrown. A few sections of brambles and areas of dense goldenrod gave the field a wild, unruly appearance. There was a large island of red cedars in the middle of the field that prevented you from seeing all the way to the other side. On this day the cedars waved in the wind as the breeze blew from west to east.
I thought I might travel west with my nose into the wind. It would displace my scent from wildlife and it would cool me as I climbed the steep open field. I followed a muddy horse trail that cut diagonally across the field to the north and west. It was easy travelling with the exception of a few areas that had exposed cobble. This rock was smooth and round; likely evidence of sand and gravel underneath the topsoil where a kame terrace was positioned as the last great glacier receded some 12,000 years ago.
It was one of those nearly perfect days. Birds were singing. The sky was blue with a few huge white clouds. And everything appeared green. May green I call it; a very light and peaceful green. New leaves along the hedgerows, new grasses and new herbaceous plants all were colored that wonderful May green.
I moved slowly. The hill was steep. I was not in any hurry given I had no real destination. But most of all I did not want to work up a sweat. Human odor can be smelled by many animals at great distances and even with the wind in my face I did not want to sacrifice a wildlife siting because I was in a hurry to go nowhere.
On the western edge of the field there was an old stone wall. About five or six wild apple trees shaded the wall. Here the gray mottled schist and gneiss rocks were neatly piled and partially covered with moss and lichen. It made a wonderful sitting place out of the warm sun underneath the shade of the wild apple trees. On the other side of the wall was an old mowing. It had not been cut for hay in a few years. Last years grass was laid on its side by the winter’s snow. This years green grass seemed to be having no trouble finding its way through the yellow and brown dead vegetation in search of sun light.
I decided to sit under one of the apple trees. Although there was no panoramic view where you could see for miles, I was content to gaze across the old field that was behind me in search of wildlife sign in the dense vegetation to the south and east.
I was sleepy. I had worked late the previous night at my evening job. I saw no harm in closing my eyes for a little rest, and so I did.
A little while later, I have no idea exactly how long a period of time had passed, I opened my sleepy eyes. The sun was a bit higher in the sky and I thought about an hour might have passed. I stretch my arms towards the sky in hopes it would wake me up. I looked between my wide spread fingers above my head and could see the bright blue sky looking back at me. I was staring up at the sky, really thinking about nothing in particular, when I heard a slight growling noise on the other side of the stone wall.
The noise sounded like it was close. I was slightly alarmed but reasoned there was really not much to be afraid of in these parts. At this point I slowly repositioned myself so that I was on my hands and knees. I tried to peer over the wall but it was slightly too high. I knew if I would have to slowly stand up if there was any chance of seeing where the growling was coming from. I grabbed the apple tree for support and raised myself slowly off the ground. I was nearly to my full height when I saw a shadow just on the other side of the stone wall.
The shadow was not discernable. The shadow looked like a soft black form in the shape of a couching animal. I leaned forward holding on to the apple tree. I still could only see the shadow. I leaned forward a little more. There, immediately on the other side of the wall, I could see a tawny spotted bobcat looking directly up at me.
I’m sure my eyes were as large as saucers. I stared at him, and the cat stared back. The cat just sat there looking straight up at me. Several moments passed. I started to talk to the cat. At the first sound of my voice the bobcat bounded across the field. It stood on the other side of the field at the edge of a thick area of small white pines. It turned to face me and watched me for only a few seconds before it disappeared into the woods like a dream escaping my consciousness at the first sign of waking.
For one brief moment I had looked at a bobcat at a distance of about 4 feet. I don’t know if the bobcat was resting there when I arrived, or I was resting there when it arrived but I could not have gotten any closer. As the cat bounded away I could feel adrenaline rushing through my veins. When it stood on the other side checking me out I felt as though I had just won the lottery. Peak experiences like this are rare. Relishing the moment is necessary to preserve it in my memory.
And now it is 35 years later. I still wander the woods in search of new adventures. The bobcats are still there. I do not see them often but I sense their presence. I see their scat, and sometimes I find what I think is a sunning spot that they use on a south facing ledge. I am sure they see me twenty or more times against the few times I have encountered them.
I know the bobcats are watching as I ramble about the woods and I wonder what they think as I disappear into the shadows of the woods that they call home.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in May 2009.