The Bobcat and the Bear
So this bobcat casually walks past our house and down the driveway. And in that moment in which Ryan was unfortunately communing with our composting toilet, I looked up, saw the bobcat, and experienced a convention with god, bigfoot, and the mailman. Because you can’t encounter a bobcat with nothing but air between you and not reflect on your fragile mortality and the rare, almost mythical nature of the experience. Yet the cat was so nonchalant it could’ve just delivered a letter.
I’m here for the wildlife. I do a lot of other stuff – writing, art, historical research, volunteering, sustainable living – but the reason I live here is for the wildlife, period. Animals are my main interest in life, and it’s both scary and empowering to say that.
Animals are typically portrayed as kid stuff. Therefore, most of my time and energy go towards not-wildlife, and those things are truly important too: friends, church service, watershed protection, archiving historical documents, writing newspaper columns, invasive plant removals, public speaking, tiny house and off-grid living tasks, drawing greeting cards, and of course, marriage and housework. But the daily tasks that keep life flowing and make a difference (in what small way I can) are not heart-pounding passion for me. I care about not harming other people and reducing my impact on the planet, but my personal interest in undertaking this challenging life path is the wildlife.
Here’s the latest post about the bobcat from Ripples Facebook page:
And for those of you who don’t use Facebook, this is what I wrote about the encounter:
“For you, bobcat, I live to do this work.
“It was the commonest of mundane moments in life: someone’s in the bathroom, another is soaking their feet, eating dinner, texting. Meanwhile, some semblance of god is passing by. Its nonchalance was like a neighbor heading down the driveway to take out the trash. The bobcat flicked its tail as a deer would: swish, swish, pause. Gangly legs and auburn fur slowly moved into the shadows, leaving an impression of two white spots behind the ears. Did the bobcat seem sad to me because it felt that way, or because as a human I know how few of us really care whether it lives or dies?”
Knowing that a black bear and a bobcat feel comfortable enough to roam around here is, for me, like learning that refugees are being accepted into a welcoming community. Because that’s what wildlife are in most parts of the world – endangered, threatened, overpopulated, nowhere to live, no food to eat or obese hand-fed to death by people – whichever the imbalance, wildlife are refugees.
The bobcat walked into a neighboring sustainable farm that still kills native wildlife, and the bear was caught on a hunter’s camera, after all. Will the farmer and the hunter decide not to kill the bobcat and the bear? I have no power over them. I can only welcome the wildlife here.
If not for them, then for their offspring.
This is a popular place to raise a family. Great horned owls annually make their nest here and mate. Barred owls have their breeding territory right next door. Bluebirds enjoy our nest boxes and natural cavities, and lately they’ve been wildly active with their mates. I hear pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers call almost daily. A great blue heron fishes at Pear Pond during cloudy afternoons, and once flew past our picture window.
The amphibians love getting it on here: spring peepers, cajun chorus frogs, Blanchard’s cricket frogs, bullfrogs, leopard frogs, american toads, grey tree frogs, and more. There’s a salamander species breeding here that hasn’t been identified yet. And then there are the deer with their fawns.
Most days, I see about 1-2 dozen deer. Some of the fawns each summer get quite familiar with me and investigate as I stand stock still, close enough to hear them breathing and chewing grass. There’s nothing more exciting in my life than observing wildlife.
For me, the snakes aren’t scary, the apex predators don’t need to be shot, the mice aren’t disgusting, the insects are (usually) not annoying. I rescued two young deer mice from a neighbor’s sticky trap and one had a white W or M symbol on its forehead. We released them into the wild because they were old enough to survive. I pondered whether it would grow up to become Mighty Mouse or White-footed Wonder to its kin and field friends.
All of these animals are amazing to me. They’re the reason I’m here. When I pick up litter, I think about the animals that won’t get sick or injured from that piece today. Yesterday I didn’t get there fast enough, and found what was likely an opossum’s chewed-up remnants of a plastic bowl used to give milk to a neighbor’s barn cat. Opossums do have more teeth than any other mammal, but they can’t digest plastic.
Nowhere else can be Arkansas Ozarks. There is a fragile yet resilient interdependent web of life with native niches for wildlife we love, lost, and haven’t discovered yet. We can’t replace the bobcat with the house cat, the wolf with the wild dog, the carolina parakeet with the European starling and call it Arkansas. Today I can’t take a photograph of that rainbow native parakeet and post it here, because they went extinct in 1939.
Extinction isn’t just a problem because an animal was pretty. It’s a loss of natural relationships that keep water healthy, plants pollinated, humans fed and so on. It’s a loss of heritage that generations of humans from various cultures once gave to their children. Nature might, without interference, balance itself out in many millenia. But we won’t get Arkansas back once its gone.
Skeptically, I don’t believe we can save the environment. But I can’t be a part of the problem. I must be a part of many solutions, even if they’re too little too late. Who wants to kick a dying kid? At least I can try to live my daily life as close to zero harm as possible. Who knows…maybe it really does matter what I do. What you do.
And in that moment, it absolutely mattered to that bobcat.