Sunday, June 19, 2011

Night prowlers and day petters

Every ranch has its cat. Rock Bottom Ranch is home to three: Titan, Teton, and Cecil. They entertain children, keep the ranchers safe from mice, and threaten native songbird populations. (The dark side of domestic cats has been scientifically documented. Hence, I contend that the ranch should cap its population at three.)

The cats show remarkable tolerance for the visiting children who cannot resist the urge to pet—sometimes en masse. Quite recently, one child held Titan in her lap, while six other hands stroked his fur, and one poked his eye, by accident. The cat didn't flinch, as tolerant as a father lion at play with cubs. Titan seems to have accepted such handling as part of his routine, as natural as climbing fences or stalking birds in the wetland.

In the woodlands beyond the ranch, other cats lurk. Titan's big relatives. They walk silent as shadow; they see us but remain unseen. They observe the ranch and our animals, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting. We kept a few domestic geese at the ranch, until the bobcat found them. Before dark, we must lock the goats inside, for cougars are on the prowl. Living with predators is part of ranch life. We protect our livestock as best we can.

Over a year ago in winter, snow covered the mountain peaks, and the foliage upon them. In search of exposed greenery, an elk ventured downhill, to the valley. He found Rock Bottom Ranch, and its goat pasture. He set to munch, beside his fellow ungulates. Enamored with the luscious grasses, the elk stayed in the pasture--perhaps until a little too late. A cougar leapt from out of hiding; her claws and jaws delivered a swift end to the elk. He became sustenance for the cat and her cub.

Of all terrestrial animals, cats seem the most graceful. Humans are awed by their elegance, stealth, athleticism. They populate our stories and art, and we name countless sports teams in their honor.

I present from my sketchbook a lynx and an imaginary beast which looks sort of feline. I have not yet had the privilege of so close a view of a wild lynx... it is based on photos. I had one close encounter with a cougar in Oregon. That story is for another day.

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