Thursday, June 17, 2004

cool cat blues

last week i was up very late on a school night, finishing a story, which i filed just before 3 a.m. it was about as quiet as it ever gets in the canyon, and i was enjoying the silence while staring out the window past my laptop screen, thinking it was time to unwind, and how fast could i get to sleep when my brain was still in high gear?

the office window looks north. the view is partly of the empty lot next door and the street that runs right past our house, just a strip of two-lane blacktop illuminated by a couple of streetlights, and the tree-shadowed outlines of parked cars lined up along the eastern curb. nearer, really maybe two feet from the window, is the top of the slanted cinderblock wall that keeps the hillside from tumbling onto our house; it tapers from a height of maybe 12 feet in the corner of the back patio, down to the ground along the north side of the house.

so, i was zoning out, staring at the street and waiting for the silence to be broken by the inevitable passing car, when suddenly something obscured my view. a dark furry outline -- what was that? this had happened once before, me seeing a black shadow passing by the window late at night, and i thought at the time it was a coyote walking down the wall. this time, however, the shape stopped for a moment to look in the same direction i had been looking. i distinctly saw the outline of a large feline head; i thought, "oh, a cat," and then did a double-take, b/c no mere housecat could be that big. i couldn't see any more details b/c the light was on in the office, and my computer screen was throwing a lot of light too. but then the figure moved on, and i got that same impression of slightly shaggy fur passing by my window.

it was a bobcat! a neighbor had recently mentioned to oosoul that someone just south of us had seen a bobcat, but that was hard to believe. our side of the street is more isolated, as our house sits in a tract of otherwise undeveloped land (there are a couple of houses not far north of us, but they're completely hidden by land and trees); there's not another house on our side of the street for about an eighth of a mile, maybe more. but bobcats do live in the canyons, although they are rare. the recent sighting of a mountain lion in griffith park has created quite a stir, but no one seems to have noticed bob the cat, and i hope it stays that way.

i started thinking about this creature, so stealthy in the middle of the night. was it a boy or a girl? had i seen it before, when i thought it was a coyote? when i ponder it now, that explanation makes more sense. i can imagine a coyote walking along that wall, but it seems better suited to a cat. cats are creatures of routine; it's quite likely that the bobcat has made our wall a routine pathway. also, does the bobcat have a family? is it alone? why does it hang out in our neighborhood? i've lived in the canyon a long time and never seen one 'til now. and i have spotted a lot of different critters at all hours of the day and night.

my sister visited this weekend, and i took her up to mulholland for a drive/scenic viewing. we stopped at one spot that had a little chart of the canyon flora and fauna. a bobcat was on the list. but bobcats are unusual now, everywhere and anywhere. how strange to be a living member of a dying species. luckily for the bobcat, it doesn't think about these things, i suppose. but, in a moment of anthropomorphizing, i felt it must be a strangely solitary life, wandering the canyon in the dead of night. (hmmm ... but appealing.) you're sure to not meet up with too many humans at that time, although you also don't get the coyote smorgasbord of people's pets left out to do their business, never to be heard from again. i wonder what bobcats hunt in the middle of the night. possums, maybe? i doubt they take on coyotes ... i wonder if coyotes like to chase bobcats, like dogs chase cats?

it's strange, as well, b/c at various times over the years when i've been up late, i have sometimes thought i've heard something, and other times felt a weird presence, a sense of watchfulness, although not like i was being watched. i have an overactive imagination, so i usually just chalked it up to the wind or some little creature skittering into its den. once i found paw prints on an outside windowsill on the porch, which were probably raccoon or possum prints, not the bobcat, but it made me think of how bold all that wildlife out there is when we are asleep or unaware. at the same time, i like the sense of coexistence -- critters coming out at night, people coming out in day. but that's not really the way it is: we the people are forcing the critters into oblivion. i really enjoy the notion of this silent, secret nighttime world, a place i catch glimpses of now and then and feel privileged to have seen, like seeing the borrowers or leprechauns or something. the faerie world of canyon fauna. but there's a poignant element of permanent twilight in the mix, as the stealth is a necessary element of survival now, for creatures that once upon a time didn't have much to fear from anything.

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