It's good to see the sun after several gloomy days, which had closed in on us like grey felt in a flower press. The hunting season finally over, Barley and I have taken to walking in the hollow below our house. Where the trail makes its final descent into the hollow, winterberry trees have put on their Christmas decorations, bright red candy-colored balls. Birds flee at our approach, receding as waves into an ocean of weeds, or wildflowers, depending on one's perspective. I stand still, holding my breath, and the birds return, one by one, drawn by the fruit, devouring the ornaments like a child who can't wait for Christmas.
Barley holds his breath, too, standing motionless several paces behind me.
The hollow is quiet this morning, except for the twitter of birds, but this place is not always without drama. One October, in the early morning dark, Don walked down the trail and set up with his bow in a tree facing the valley, overlooking the creek. As the first rays of light streamed across the hollow, he noticed movement in the tall amber colored weeds, about 75 yards away. He fixed his gaze on the area for a short time before a tail appeared, swishing slowly back and forth. Then the steely eyes of a mountain lion came into focus, staring straight at him. A chill went down his spine.
Don remembers thinking that he’s always preferred to deer hunt alone. It was more true that day than ever before. Looking down at his bow, he calculated his chances of getting off a clean shot at a charging cat. Not good. He decided to begin his retreat. Then, if the mountain lion charged, he’d have time to get his back against a large tree and pull out his hunting knife. He got his feet on the ground and took one step sideways up the hill, keeping an eye on the path, and one on the predator below. The mountain lion didn’t move. Its tail twitched, but its eyes were steady.
Don continued to sidle up the hill, judging, with each step, the distance to the next tree. He was home before he could breathe easy.
I think about that mountain lion once in a while when Barley and I are walking in the hollow, and my fingers tighten, momentarily, on the knife in my pocket.