Watchers

 

It sits silently on a two-foot-high tree stump, its long-muzzled head pivoting left and right. I hike over the hilltop and there it is, staring at me, and since he is a young herder dog, I am leery of going forward. He could take me down.

Hello, I say, but the youngster, whose lifeless tail makes no indication of mood, doesn’t make a sound, just stares. And so I walk slowly, passing him, looking over my shoulder, and already he is focused on the road behind me. Is he a stray? Is he restrained in some way? Is he just high on life and fearless?

The road slopes down toward the river. I drop below sight of the handsome dog. But I keep looking behind me—he is a herder after all.

On the LaVista trail, I hear a birdsong pattern: “ree, ree; ree, ree.” I imitate the pattern by whistling, and instantly the bird responds. We call and respond back and forth four or five times: “Ree, ree; ree, ree.” But I can’t see the respondent, and I don’t know the song.

On down the curving hill I walk. “Ree, ree; ree, ree,” into my right ear. The singer, whatever it is, is following me, watching me from high in the treetops, luring me with a song that is clearly not over. Then higher up the slope in the thick forest, a blue jay calls, and then it adds: “Ree, ree; ree, ree.” My chorus friend answers the jay, and now we are a trio. Two blue jays are hopping from tree to tree and singing with me and watching me.

Yesterday, lawnmowing day. I push the mower across the backyard, and then I see Bunny, the surviving rabbit of three siblings. He pops out of the snowbush and watches me and nibbles wild violets. I try not to anthropomorphize him—he needs to stay wild—but we meet face to face often. I stand and talk to him. He doesn’t find me boring.

Yesterday, Bunny sits in my path and watches. I turn off the mower. Bunny, I scold, Bunny begone. I turn the mower back on, and finally he hops across the yard into the weed patch where the ribbon snakes den up in winter.

Two nights ago. I need Cheez-its. I walk outside in the dark and circle left toward the carport, intending to drive to the local convenience store. And I stop. Sitting on top of the car is a large shadowy creature, its ears pointy and long. It sits perfectly still this shadow, as something inanimate. It watches me.

A noise comes from the woods, and the creature turns its head and shoulders sideways. It is a feline—many times larger than Scout the cat, is this wild, calm, lithe dark shadow. Its head turns back towards me.

What is any animal doing on the top of my car? But there it is: Shadow, nonplussed, watcher. I take one step forward, and the bobcat simultaneously stands and leaps backward, landing far ahead of the car. It jumps my six-foot-high fence and vanishes.

I look up into the starlit sky, the cat shadow gone like disappearing ink. Venus chases the half-moon. A plane high and silent passes east to west.

I watch.

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