Face to Face

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.
— A.A Milne

Last week, a friend who is working on a project at my house saw a juvenile bobcat along the driveway, just outside the fence. Later, he saw it dart out from under the deck and crouch nearby to hunt gophers. A few days after that, the electrician saw it. He said that, at first, he thought it was a very large domestic cat, then realized it was actually a juvenile bobcat. I hoped that, in time, I might see it, too.

Eduardo Kohn's words have become a mantra in my head: How other kinds of beings see us matters. That other kinds of beings see us changes things.[1] When these phrases come to me, I find myself thinking, This is a useful thing to bear in mind. Bear in mind. I like that phrase because it describes a state of being in which we contain within us, at all times, the presence of bear, of other-than-human animals. These days, as we slide toward extinction, it's an imperative if we are to succeed in literally changing our minds such that we reflexively consult Earth and the animals in all we do. (An Im-bear-ative?)  

Kohn's words have helped me shift from being an arm's length ally of Earth and Her animals, to a more participatory role, just by remembering that they are also watching us from their own unique perspectives. This matters because it tilts me away from the cultural delusion that humans can live insular lives that control to what extent animals are included in our awareness, to the ongoing recognition that the animals around us are watching us at all times because this is a natural state of awareness in animal being. My perspective has become less isolating, humbler, more malleable. Closer to a reality that's real.

As a species, bobcats are comparatively young: about 1.8 million years. They're related to the lynx, with a range throughout the contiguous US down into Mexico. It has a life span of about seven years, a gestation period of two months, is mostly solitary, and, though it prefers to dine on rabbits and hares, it will also prey on chickens, rodents, insects, deer and even foxes. (I worry for 'my' resident foxes...) Here's a quality that I love: bobcats are crepuscular, meaning that they are usually out and about at dawn and dusk.

And so it happened a few days ago that I went (neither at dawn nor at dusk, but midmorning) to look at some plants that have to be moved and found myself suddenly face to face with a bobcat, an adult, likely the mother of the juvenile who's been sighted so frequently. She emerged from under the deck, only about five feet away. We stood still and looked at each other. She took a few steps, stopped again, and turned to look back at me. Our eyes met for a long moment. She was large - about the size of a big German shepherd; sinewy, tawny, a soft café-au-lait color mottled with lighter spots along her flank, and darker striations at the neck and haunches. Pale amber eyes. So beautiful. After a few moments, she calmly turned and disappeared into the trees.

The bodily sensation of that long look still lingers. If I close my eyes, I can conjure it. In the moment, it felt as if the bobcat and I were connected by an energetic cable with one end in each of our realities, a conduit running from bobcat realm to human realm and back again. A palpable current of aliveness pulsed between us as we simultaneously paused and gazed into each other's eyes. It felt good. Simple. Enlivening. Two expressions of the life force regarding itself, allowing the exchange between us to take shape in its own time. Now it is part of our shared body memory. Kohn's words are with me again: Being inside form is effortless.

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 [1] These thoughts come from his remarkable book How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Note his unconventional use of capitalization: 'beyond' and 'human' are intentionally lower case.

Cynthia TravisComment