By Pat Rothchild
I haven’t had much access to embodied horses for well over a year now while I have been dealing with health issues. Several bands have populated my dreamscapes though. I feel/sense them as closely connected as any ordinary-reality horses I’ve lived and worked with. Their teachings have morphed into a guiding light through a long, dark isolation. That’s not to say that I always interpret their signals appropriately.
On the ordinary-reality plane, a couple of cats have tended my mind-body-spirit through this protracted ordeal (black mold among other things). They’ve been my constant companions and wellness coaches. Like horses, they are superb at bypassing human beliefs so they can effectively lead us out of our traps. They work differently than horses, but they accomplish similar stuff. They, like horses, are generous teachers and healers.
I’ve spent a good deal of this downtime reconfiguring my understanding of human psychology. A thirty-seven-year career as a psychotherapist has tangled some of what I thought I knew. My first professional mentor was a Jungian. She had taken her early training from Jung himself, in Austria, as Hitler rose to power. I was thinking about what she told me that time was like – as Trump made his inexorable march to the Oval. It seemed like we were bearing witness to a re-do on the contemporary political front. So, I spent about half my awake-time thinking about politics, and half thinking about what makes the human psyche impervious to reason.
And then… raccoons
I had been feeding a family of raccoons a single can of cat food nightly since December, when late one night, they broke into the house though the cat door. I had been engaged in an internet discussion with a group of extraordinary horsewomen/writers. After the depth of isolation, the discussion felt like a lifeline, especially with the holidays in full swing. We were all online that night, so the talk was lively. I was thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to get to know them and, if truth be told, being known by them. I was excruciatingly lonely for human connections.
Rustling in the kitchen rousted me out from under the covers. I saw the mom raccoon from down the hall. I yelled at her to leave. She scurried toward the cat door. As I rounded a corner, I saw her four young cubs huddled next to the door. They were frozen. Mom tried to get them moving. When they didn’t, she turned on me. I fixated on the cubs’ fear. I did not want to be the person I was in that moment.
I took a breath. When I exhaled, tears crested my cheeks, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that you had babies. I’ll give you another can of cat food at night out front until the tourists come back, if you and yours stay out of the house.” The mom and babes stared at me while I talked. When I finished, mom held my gaze, blinked and then quietly ushered her babies out.
I kept my end of the bargain every night but one… Mom and her cubs raided the kitchen after I went to bed that night. I live in a tourist destination. The local raccoon population makes much of their living from uninitiated tourists. We don’t get many travelers here between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I didn’t stop putting out the cat food after Christmas. I liked the feeling of helping out a local family even more than I liked not having raccoons in the house. It seemed like a benign arrangement for everyone involved. Now, I’m not so sure.
A few weeks ago, I noticed that the cat food cans were disappearing. For the previous several weeks, the empties were where I had left them. I searched the front and side yards. They were gone. The bucket of water I left out front for the wildlife, wasn’t getting as muddy as usual either. I knew that a change had happened, but didn’t know what it was. Would that I had been more curious about it…
A few weeks ago, I was lounging in my easy chair next to the woodstove engrossed in a book on archetypes. This has become my operational definition of domestic bliss. My cats were snoozing nearby.
A week-long series of storms was in full swing. The roof hadn’t leaked and the power was still on. My health and that of the cats was improving. All was well, I thought. I had nodded off and was dreaming of a band of familiar horses gathering on a knoll. They took a defensive posture in a tight circle facing out. There was a lot of snorting and pawing going on. These were not peaceful equines. They were clearly protecting one another from an unseen threat.
Back in ordinary reality, our peaceful domestic scene spun upside down. My usually laid-back cat, Chiron, suddenly snarled. His growls escalated into spit-spraying barks before I could stand. Chi was fixated on a sliding-glass door that leads to a passive-solar room. Architecturally, this room creates a transition zone between a cat-fenced backyard and the house.
I figured that the family of raccoons had decided to try their luck getting to the cat food bowls in the kitchen. This, in my mind, is a frequent enough occurrence that it doesn’t register as an emergency. It’s just part of country life. Chiron was having none of that. He just kept screaming, “EMERGENCY!!!”
I hot-tailed toward the kitchen, thinking that if Chi was kicking up this much of a fuss, the raccoons must have gotten to his food bowl. All was quiet there. No– in retrospect, it was an eerie quiet, not a peaceful one, though that hadn’t registered, yet.
So, I flipped on a dim light to the sunroom and went out another glass door, where I fully expected to run into a mom raccoon and her litter of four cubs. We’ve done this dance twice this winter. I went out the door fully prepared to make exiting their only choice, by becoming my best version of an ugly American.
There were no raccoons. Just silence, a bottomless silence. I scanned the room. My mind did a back-flip on itself. No, THAT couldn’t be. No, that can’t be right. What the…? No, not in the house!
The cougar growled, long and so low that his base notes rattled my chest. I reached behind me and closed the door as Chiron whipped around the corner. He slammed into the closed glass door. The cougar and I made eye contact. He was one seriously pissed off and frightened adolescent male. He gathered to spring. My body gathered too.
None of my actions were voluntary or intentional. My autonomic nervous system took over. My consciousness was allowed to go along for the ride, but had no room to offer an opinion.
Time stretched itself out. The moment probably lasted a second or two. It felt like eons as we each assessed the other, the open door to the backyard, our relative weight and agility, what our respective next-best moves would be. Time suspended itself.
The cat shot me a look of pure hate. Fury rose in me. All the while, Chiron banged his fists on the door behind me. I sensed the strong presence of the dreamtime band of horses; it felt like they were circling to protect me. It seemed that they had arrived to give me the confidence necessary to deal with this.
Back in ordinary reality, my body filled with oxygen, while my muscles and limbs started moving in big arcs. A weird, loud noise reverberated through the glass-lined room. Was it the cat? Oh, wow, it was me! The consciousness that I normally identify as me, had lifted out of my body. That part of me watched my body’s limbs spin like a windmill and listened to the other-worldly keening.
I was doing with my limbs what horses had shown me was the best way to communicate, “My space. Back off.” In ordinary reality, with horses who need a little help defining appropriate boundaries with people, I work with a 15-foot lead, which I twirl around myself in a windmill fashion. I don’t hit them with it; I just twirl so they get it’s not where they want to put their body parts. With a line in hand, this maneuver takes no more energy or drama than a slight rhythmic motion in the wrist. Turning one’s whole body into the line calls for considerably more energy. Facing down a scared cougar with one’s body requires a whole lot more drama than backing off a herd of horses from a gate. I certainly generated as much drama as I could, or, my autonomic nervous system did.
The cat crouched. He was fixated on my throat. Fear radiated off him. My body shot forward. As I was in a mid-air leap toward the cat, I saw his bones rearrange themselves inside his skin. There was an instant in which that cat’s bones and skin were going in opposite directions as he turned to make a break for the door. I bounced onto the decking as the cougar leaped off the landing, cleared the stairs and disappeared into the night. It seemed as if my autonomic nervous system had thought that the twenty-year-old me was going to land. Instead, the sixty-five-year-old me made that landing with considerably less grace.
I ran into the night cursing like a drunken fisherman docked by the storm. Before I got far, my sympathetic nervous system wrested a modicum of control, ‘What are you doing? You won! Get your butt inside!’
By the time I had secured the sunroom and gotten back to the cats, Ariel, an elder calico, was tending Chiron, who was panting amidst a pile of his luxurious fur that was no longer attached to his body; it had simply fallen out. I threw another log into the stove, gathered up Chi and went back to the easy chair until his heart, respiration and temperature normalized. What little shut-eye I managed that night was logged in the chair under two purring cats. During the night, I assumed that the encounter had been sufficiently dramatic to permanently scare away the cougar.
The body knows
Chiron and Ariel have lived their thirteen years with free access between the house and their quarter-acre yard. By daylight, they wanted out – now!! I tried negotiating with them, but they wouldn’t have it. I insisted on going out first. They didn’t disagree, they just bolted for the door when I cracked it to slip out. I am no longer fast enough to beat these cats when they’re on a mission. They know all my moves and of course, they can read my mind.
They stopped on the landing so suddenly that it looked like they had run into an invisible wall. The only thing that moved on them were their noses. I jumped over them by swinging myself over the railing so that I landed at the foot of the stairs. Chi and Ariel spun and ran back into the house. I was right on their heels. That move had nothing to do with a conscious decision either. My autonomic nervous system had taken over, again (it really needs to get that I’m not as agile as I once was).
My body said, ‘NO!’ when I started to take the laundry out to a shed, where the washing machine lives. When I opened the front door, a frisson ran up my spine and lingered on my crown. I could smell, but not see the cougar.
Hmm, what now? My body didn’t need directions from my mind. I was back inside throwing the deadbolt on the front door before I could exhale. The laundry basket didn’t make it. Chiron eyed me with the look of a fatigued, worried, frustrated parent. ‘Could you really be THAT stupid?’
For a few minutes, a sense of panic born of feeling trapped, tried to take over. I decided to chase it off by digging into housekeeping chores. By midday, I had exhausted my enthusiasm for indulging the Susie Homemaker within. Hunger for human interaction, that wasn’t going to be assuaged by Facebook time, arose. Was it safe to go outside?
I decided that any self-respecting cougar would be at rest by noon, so I slipped out the front door, gathered up the laundry, got it started and headed up the road on foot to our local coffee shop. On the way, I rethought my need to talk about the cougar. What would my neighbors do to him if they knew? Without question, one would lay out poison and the other would relish the opportunity to use one of his many firearms.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of fine folks where I live. It just so happens that my property is sandwiched between two that are owned by people who are my polar opposites. Unlike most of the Trump voters around here, they didn’t make that decision because they were angry about not having the chance to vote for Bernie. The close neighbors did it because Trump’s values are consistent with theirs. By the time I got to the coffee shop, my mind was tangled in the need to talk through the drama and an equally strong need to protect the cat; who wanted to eat my cat friends and, presumably, me.
The coffee shop was full. Most of the customers were locals, but I didn’t know some of them. I chatted with Jim, the owner, about politics while he made my drink. Then I sat with the one guy in town who has a marrow-deep, life-long bond with felines.
When the noontime crowd dispersed, I told Stewart about the cougar. His eyes widened. He came home with me, meditated for a few minutes inside, then we went in the backyard. My cats stayed in the living room. It seemed that they’d had enough of outdoor adventures for the time being.
Outside with Stewart, the same frisson I had experienced on the front porch at dawn raced up my spine and nested on my crown. As if we shared a brain, our bodies turned to face a side yard. Stewart’s gaze was fixed on a shed that used to house chickens. He whispered, “He’s behind the wild rose next to the shed.” We inched our way back to the house.
Stewart’s gait is compromised from a series of strokes. I felt fiercely protective of him. Unbeknownst to me, he was feeling equally protective of me. Neither of us had the slightest inkling that we, ourselves, were in danger. We both assessed the other as being at huge risk.
Once we made it inside, Stewart told me that he’d connected with the cougar, who had let him know that he was about six-months old and had recently lost his mother and sibling to ranchers who had hunted them down with dogs. “He hates dogs and people. He’s hungry and only knows how to hunt small game. He’s terrified.”
My heart melted. How could I have been such a bitch to a scared, hungry orphan? Here he was, wedged behind an eight-foot wooden fence that abutted my neighbors’ gross puppy mill. I was feeling about an inch shorter than a grasshopper.
Stewart laughed, “If you hadn’t been aggressive, he’d have gone for you. He’s a cougar, Pat.”
I had never considered myself as prey before. I’m nearly six-feet tall and was a professional athlete in my earlier years. There just wasn’t room for that degree of vulnerability in my wheelhouse. Denial was my first reaction. When I told Stewart of my fears for his safety, he laughed too.
The conversation that ensued revealed that we were each happily living in a cocoon of denial about the degree of disability Life had thrown our way. As fascinating as that line of inquiry was to me, it held less than no interest for Stewart. He was all about the cougar and domestic cats. To his way of thinking, this was clearly meant as a wake-up call to me about allowing my cats access to the outdoors. He has three cats whom he keeps in his small rented room, where all four of them live.
To my way of thinking and sharing life with critters, that looks akin to torture. To Stewart’s way of thinking, my letting my cats out was hugely irresponsible and cruel. I suddenly felt like I was talking with a Trump voter. From the look on Stewart’s face, it appeared that he was having similar feelings toward me. We opted to pick up our conversation the next day.
By dusk, Ariel and Chiron insisted on going out. I grabbed a rake and went out to chaperone. The cats tested the scent of the air frequently, but weren’t dissuaded from their evening gopher hunt. I stood lookout. Ariel busied herself with her catly calling. Chiron wove between my feet.
Another frisson wiggled up from the base of my spine. This one lingered below my shoulders. Chi growled from his station between my feet. Ariel was busy about three-feet to my side. She was fixated on a gopher hole. Chi growled again. This got Ariel’s attention. Without a second of hesitation, she leaped for the stairs with Chiron on her tail.
I stood as if rooted. I had no fear. I was clearly dialled in though. I could distinguish the sounds of individual tires rolling down the road out front.
Words started pouring out my mouth. I was crying. “I’m sorry that we humans wrecked your family and left you defenseless. I know that you’re just lost, hungry and scared. I get that you need a Mommy. I’m not her. I’m spoken for. Chiron and Ariel are my responsibility. As long as you threaten them, I can’t be your friend.”
A sense of utter frustration and blind fury rose in my spirit. How could we humans be so selfishly shortsighted? How could parents fail to see their responsibility to their young included handing them a viable life-support system? What’s wrong with us humans? What keeps us so stuck in our dominion delusions?
“I’ll try my best to be a good neighbor though. If you stay out of the cats’ yard and the house, I’ll leave you be. I wish you well. You can hunker down here, if you want, while you figure out your next move.
“I hope that you get that you can take down deer. There’s plenty of food for you, once you master a few more hunting skills. You won’t have time though, if you stay in this area. Other humans will kill you. I can’t protect you from them. You’re not safe here.”
I then imagined myself hiking through the dunes out to the Head, a trail I know well. Most of it abuts a State Park that sports a huge deer population and probably millions of bunnies and gophers. “There’s a lot of food and only rare humans, most of whom would be delighted to catch a glimpse of you. Safety is less than a mile away.”
I started for the back door, but paused. I was awash in maternal instincts. Tears and snot flooded off my face. All I wanted to do was to lie down and offer that youngster a breast. I stood transfixed.
I had experienced this urge-sensation twice before. On both occasions, I was involved in dramatic rescues of young, highly traumatized horses who were in immediate, life-threatening situations at the hands of crazed humans. I didn’t have children and was largely raised by horses and their barnyard pals. Apparently, I’m at least as bonded with critters as I am to humans.
My inner Mommy rises for traumatized creatures. The cougar is by far the most desperate creature who’s come into my world. That’s saying something. My life has been a magnetic dance with creatures, most of whom found their way to me through horrific human-rendered abuse.
When I turned to go into the house, Chiron was sitting at the window, eyes wide. When I slipped in and stroked him, handfuls of his hair fell out, again. Clearly, Chi was having none of this. From his perspective, I was a member of his Pride. He has a duty to protect me and was none too happy about my chatting up a cougar in the side yard.
The cougar stayed close to the house for the next several days. Stewart came over each day to meditate with him. He has loads of experience linking with cats. He even wrote a bang-up novel about it, When the Weather Is Just Right. It’s a great read.
When I link mindfully with critters, I mostly get pictures and feeling states. Stewart gets specific data. I’m delighted to have access to his skills and deep motivation to act on behalf of felines. His primary concern was to protect the cougar from ‘dumb-ass people.’ He provided me with support to stay focused on the feline energetics.
On the third day, another friend called to invite me to join her and her dogs, elderly poodles, on a walk that evening. I felt that I had to alert her. She suggested that I call a big cat rescue agency.
The politics of wildlife rescue
This sent me on a two-day dance with various non-profit and governmental agencies. In the end, I understood that no one who wanted to help, could do so legally. The one governmental agency that could have transported him to a local non-profit rescue, who had the setting and expertise to finish raising him so that he could hunt on his own, wouldn’t.
According to everyone I spoke with, cougars require about 18-months at their moms’ side. Apparently, there’s a lot to learn for a cougar to make it on his own. This guy was far younger than that, but too large for the State agency to be motivated to catch and transport. We were on our own.
It took me considerably longer than a minute to climb out of the hot-spring of rage I dropped into after the last conversation with a Senior Wildlife Biologist at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. My anger reaction was to the yawning absence of reciprocity in our official cultural position toward other members of our collective life-support system. It’s perfectly okay for ranchers to do whatever want to cougars and coyotes. Around here, most ranches run sheep or cattle. Horses are also big in this area, though far less territory is devoted to them. Apparently, officialdom consults heavily with ranchers about these sorts of wildlife rules.
Having spent time on local ranches through horse connections, I know all too well how most ranchers handle predators. They kill them any way they can. Ranch kids are often sent out on three-wheel motorized bikes with a pack of dogs and rifles to scout for coyotes, bobcats and cougars. It’s part of their early education as they’re prepared to move into the family business.
Wasn’t government there to balance the needs of the commons with those of humans, so we can all thrive? Apparently, not. From what I gathered in this situation, government sees its duty as protecting the rights of ranchers to protect their “products” from those our life-support system has in place. I had known this intellectually before. The desperate cougar cub hiding behind a rose bush rocketed that fact into a far more vivid perspective.
The storm let up after about four days. Ariel and Chiron had been reasonably content to stay in when it was raining. When the sun finally appeared, they were beyond ready to bask in it. Thus, began a period through which I escorted them outdoors and stayed with them. Wow! I had missed a lot about who they are, how they relate with each other and how they deal with their territory.
It took about a half-hour to realize that I barely knew these critters. Though I connect with them through mindfulness several times a day and only recently finished a nearly 18-month stretch during which they were my sole companions due to contagions I had been carrying, I had never noticed how reliant they are on scent. They each adopted new ways to enter and be in their yard. They now pause on the landing outside the sunroom to test the air. They wait there while I walk the perimeter of the fence. They check the side yard, where the cougar rested, from the elevated stair landing.
When one is hunting, the other takes a lookout position. It looks like once they’re engaged in a stalk, they’re more vulnerable. Their attention is devoted to that and nothing else.
They also seem to have a sophisticated communication channel through their ears. Yes, they hear well, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Like horses, cats’ ears are always conveying information about mood and intent. I had long-since known about a few ear cues, but had missed a huge chunk of their more subtle moves. The soft joining that connecting through Mindfulness channels allows, suddenly shifted into a clearer, more functional focus.
The same thing has now happened within my body. I have a new sense of connection with my autonomic nervous system. That’s the part that does all the automatic stuff, like heart rate, respiration and, apparently, predator sensing. The frisson running my back is becoming a trusted ally. I’m beginning to get the hang of seeing them move through the cats’ spines too.
So far, every day, since the advent of the cougar, has been a new adventure in deepening my connection to reality, the bond between Ariel, Chiron and me, and our places in the matrix of life. Part of the process involves stark recognition of how disconnected I am. I’ve spent this life primarily connected with critters. They’ve taught me so much that it can sometimes be challenging to bring it into human realms. But still, I was way behind in realizing that we were being stalked.
In retrospect, I get that the big guy had been around for at least a couple of weeks before we met in the sunroom. Normally, I rarely join the cats in their yard. The only times I hang out there are when yard chores force it. Then, that’s where my attention is – on the chores.
I hadn’t realized that Ariel and Chiron had been trying to get my attention focused on the yard. I had brushed off several of Ariel’s invitations to come out with her. I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that Ariel and Chiron were spitting and slapping at one another far more than usual. A couple of times I noted it, but I attributed it to their reaction to my distress over Trump’s election.
I had thoroughly missed or misinterpreted signals the cats had given that something was amiss. I also missed the more subtle signals the dreamtime horse bands had tried to convey. What a humbling experience it is to discover how dense I can be. How embarrassingly human I am!
I became very quiet, withdrawn. I didn’t want to be around any human, except Stewart, and I could only take short doses of him. I just wanted to be alone with my cats and property. My focus for writing evaporated, temporarily.
I wasn’t idle though. I was sensing so much more of the teeming action that fills my territory. I’m still thoroughly entranced with how complex and connected Life is. What floors me is how disconnected I was before the cougar showed up. The sad fact is that I’m far more deeply connected than most folks. No wonder we humans have created such a horrific mess.
All those years of hanging out with bands of horses and their barnyard buddies taught me to move in and out of their social systems with an easy confidence. I had thought that I was more in-tune than this incident demonstrates. Though disconcerting, the collapse of hubris is a good thing. One of the best lessons of this shift is that I’m still amazingly distant from the here-and-now reality of Life. Even so, Life saved my butt, yet again.
And sent me a course in reconnecting with reality through this young cougar. There’s nothing like survival issues to awaken us from our habitual mindlessness. I will be accompanying Ariel and Chiron on their outings for the foreseeable future. If my education stays on pace, it seems that the cougar’s advent will prove to be a tremendous gift for me and my team. Thank you.
Would that we, our voting population, have a similar result as we address the life-threatening challenges inherent in our current events: Fukishima, Trump, Brexit… It appears that it may take wake-up calls of life-threatening magnitudes to get us off our skewed cultural balance beams. It’s high time to construct one that’s plumbed to reality. The great news is that the body politic of US is awakening. We’re pouring into the streets, online and through telephone connections to exercise our authority over our governments.
We’re making mistakes. That’s okay. We’re also learning, refining our moves, getting slicker at the tasks at hand. That translates into HOPE.
Special stories and experiences from fellow horse listeners
16 thoughts on “Lessons From a Cougar”
Wow Pat, what a story! I was mesmerized by the cougar and the fierce awakening he brought with him for you.
I’ve had two times when cougar were near, both physically and psychically. One had been shot by the rancher I worked for; it was wounded but not killed immediately. I went out looking for it (in shorts and sneakers, not sure what I thought would happen if I found it wounded and alive!), found its sheep kill, tracked it through the bush but never found it. It had hidden somewhere deep and dark to die.
Another stalked the fairly urban area while Amalia was pregnant with Firefly and very due. We had a drought that year and we could feel the electricity of danger and fear. The drought has pushed the game out and the cat, who had lived quietly in the small remnants of forest for over a decade, was desperately hungry. Amalia held on and wouldn’t birth while it killed cattle and other horses in the neighbourhood. Firefly was born in that heat and tension, when the wild finally touched our so be-humaned and tended landscape.
Both times I regretted deeply the need of the cats to come so close and the danger that awaited them. We do what we must to protect our dearest but the heart can still reach wide open to the predator.
That disconnect you talk about is cut through so keenly when we are in visceral danger, when we feel hunted (and also when we hunt)… Oddly enough we live surrounded by peril of our own making and often don’t survive it precisely because we are disconnected from reality!
There’s something to this dance of compassion and protection, I think. Your need to fend off the cougar one moment and nurse him the next. Being big enough to hold all the love and ferocity that life should bring us…
It seems that we’ve tapped into the same archetypal stream of consciousness, again, Kesia. It’s a deep energetic well. It can be tricky to integrate this newly awakened energetic into our civilized selves. At least it is for me.
I find that it’s freshened a need to prune my interior landscape of a lot of civilized illusions. The temptation to fall back into relative mindlessness is ever present. The payoff for staying present to my wildness and that which lives in the cats with whom I share life with is tremendously valuable.
It’s also kind of a pain in the butt. It has NO respect for schedules. Its sense of order bulloxes mine. I’m gradually learning to surrender to its calling while staying true to my core. I’m developing a sense of precarious balance as I learn to dance on the beam that connects these worlds.
It seems that Life has more thrills in store! Wheee, I love this ride.
Yep, human convenience isn’t in its mandate! We, oh so “advanced” that we are, get the challenge or interfacing, translating, integrating, etc, while trying to live our “real” lives. It’s mostly why these awarenesses can seem so slow to develop or function…
Okay so now I gotta get in here with my cougar story Pat – because it illustrates the fact that:
a) As professional predators they know how to mask their energy and cloak themselves. So the fact that we do not sense them AT ALL is not as pathetic as it may first feel/seem.
b) Even other animals often do not sense these masters until it’s too late – so really, yes, we need to get better, but we also need to cut ourselves some slack!
So here’s my story: I was in an uninhabited area of BC wilderness with my 12-yr-old daughter Zara, and our Aussie Shepherd/Tahltan Bear Dog, Tiah. Now Tahltan Bear Dogs are a nearly extinct breed created by the First Nations up in Bella Coola to help them hunt bear. This breed will go out alone ahead of the hunters (lots of independent thinking) and find a bear. When they locate a bear, they will not attack, but will keep circling the bear to keep it in one place, whilst giving off a very distinctive bear call, that tells the hunters the dog has located and secured a bear. The hunters follow the sound of the dog’s call to the bear.
So there we are, in this idyllic slice of nature along a beautiful winding creek – not talking, just soaking up the sun in nature, pretty much in meditative state. As we turn to head back, Zara goes into the woods with our dog Tiah and I continue to follow the creek bed back to the truck.
In a split second I simultaneously receive the command, RUN for the truck!! And another part of my brain notices that Tiah is barking in a way I’ve never heard her bark before. But this command to RUN!!! Is so all-encompassing that there is no time for thought, question, nothing. It’s like a force field has shoved me forward from behind and I leap into a dead run.
No thought for my daughter, no maternal instinct whatsoever. My autonomic system takes over and I sprint off like hell on fire. At the very same moment I see my daughter come crashing out of the woods, also at a dead run parallel to me. As we sprint for our lives I yell at her, “What is it??” She yells back, “I don’t know!!”
Tiah is still back in the woods, barking with a quality of ferocity I have never heard before. The second we dive into the truck we call out, “Tiah!” And in the next second she shoots into the back of the truck at warp speed. We slam the doors and as we reverse to get the hell out of Dodge, we see the tip of a cougar’s tail in the woods Zara and Tiah just emerged from.
And yes, I felt NOTHING. Nada. Bupkiss. Never mind my 7 years intensive martial arts training, growing up running wild bareback on horses, 25 years of yoga and meditating etc. etc. Not a damn sliver of a whisper of any intuition or sense that a cougar was about to make – probably Zara – dinner.
AND I’m guessing even Tiah did not sense that cougar until it was a hair’s breadth away from leaping onto Zara’s shoulders.
So yeah, big cat medicine. Bounded and pressured by the spread of humanity squeezing out their hunting zones. I look forward to hearing how this adventure goes along Pat! I’m sure there is more really good stuff – not easy, but good – to come.
One thought – can you call the animal rescue (who would be able to raise this cougar to adulthood and teach him how to hunt )and find out how much it would cost to hire/pay someone to catch and transport the cougar to them? So an independent, not the gov’t agency who will not. OR can you privately hire the guy who works at the gov’t agency to do it after hours, OR ask him if he knows of someone you can hire? And then let me know what everyone says, and the cost. I have some ideas… 🙂
Wowzers, Jini! I had never thought of apex predators having an energetic invisability cloak. It makes perfect sense. In a way, this may be a function of malignant narcissism in humans. This is fascinating. Thank you!
The cougar appears to have moved on. Hopefully he made it to the park, which is less than a mile away. Have heard of no one else sighting him. That’s an excellent sign. There are fewer than 1000 full-time human residents here. We would have heard about any drama, I hope.
My best guess is that our autonomic nervous systems (ANS) give us subtle warnings before they sends us on flat-out runs and leaps. At least, that’s my hope. I want to play around with building a stronger, more conscious relationship with my ANS. In part, this is motivated by self interest in survival. I live on an active wildlife corridor during escalating climate changes and human madness. There will be more or revisits coming.
I’m delighted by the efficacy of your dog’s intervention. What a hero. How wise you are to keep such a functional companion for your family.
Well it looks like you sending him pictures of where the park is, worked. I had the same thing happen with some bands of coyotes here recently – the developers are squeezing them from 3 sides. But if they just cross the border into Washington, they’ll be home free. I had also been hearing gunshots so I know people had started shooting at them. They were quite desperate to know where they could go. I hope they made it too.
And yeah, that cloaking thing, I had never thought of it before either and it likely wouldn’t have occurred to me if we hadn’t been in such close proximity while me being simultaneously in a very connected, mindful state. Well, let’s hope your little guy is home free.
I feel that my initial response gave your beautiful rendition of your cougar encounter a short shift. How magnificently unabashedly real your experience is. Yes, we may think that we’re in charge of ourselves: Ha! It appears that Life is. And, she’s teaching us every step of the way, when we’re able to open to her lessons. I stand in awe and bow in gratitude for the spontaneous authenticity of your share.
Hmm, do you have a photo of your bear dog? What a hero. I’m not sure that it would be responsible for me to take on another companion critter at this point. Simultaneous feelings of vulnerability prompt fantasies of beefing up my familiar network.
Here ya go. And no, I thought your first response was perfectly good!
Lovely. What’s he like to live with? How does he get along with your kids, cats, horses and other dogs? Is his independence matched with sufficient intelligence and adaptability to allow him to get along with civilization?
Tiah is a she. And she is the gentlest, kindest, sweetest dog you ever saw. Our Maine Coon cat beats up on her all the time because she won’t put him in his place – she simply goes away. She tolerates our 70 lb puppy Kumba with the patience of a saint – even when she’s sleeping and he wants to wrestle.
She was only a puppy the first time she ran a coyote off the property I was boarding. My son followed her and I heard this deep, big-dog barking and figured the German Shepherd next door had joined in the chase. But no, my son said it was Tiah. So she knows how to use her energy, voice and coat to transform into a formidable force. And then she drops it and goes back to being gorgeous again.
One time my daughter and friend were out walking and a van in front of them began to slow down – they only noticed it because Tiah instantly pulled them across the road to the other side. She’s basically the dog-version of Montaro 🙂
Oh and Kesia’s dog Jimmy is her brother. This is a picture of them as pups on Kesia’s horse, Spero.
Wow Pat! What a rich story. And living on the edge of the wild – the need to expand and embody the dichotomy of protecting your own while at the same time feeling compassion for the wild ones who are suffering from lack of food and just trying to survive. I know that even here in San Diego county, the Mountain Lions are coming into neighborhoods now to try to find food. And I am such a push over that I would be the type to buy these Mountain Lions raw meat from the grocery store because I feel for them and their young ones. I also would be traumatized if one of them ate my cat or my sister’s little dog.
I love how your fierce protectiveness too over at that moment when you got big and made a lot of movement instinctually to scare him off. I love how in tune your domesticated cats are too at alerting you to the predator on the property. Your tabby looks like my kitty Sachi. Anyway, I always love your stories Pat. I sense a book brewing in you. Much love, Shivam
Awe golly, Shivam, thank you. Your forbearance is appreciated too. I reread it just now and felt squirmy embarrassment by its self-referential quality. It’s tough to look at.
Writing has been a background part of life for a while. A writer friend taught me to write well, a couple of decades ago. I didn’t practice, but feel called to now. The quality of my results vary. The variables are elusive, so far.
Would that I write and effectively market a quality book or three. Jini has been kind enough to offer her help. I’ve been a distracted student. Life keeps happening. Squirrel brain keeps darting between tones and topics. An energy is searching for that just-right link in the muse-o-sphere… Or, it may be time to make a plan and just do it. I tend to get carried away by the immediacy of the internet. There’s a moment in the birth of a thought that we believe in it as we do for our young, with fiercely vulnerable righteousness. That’s not the time to push send. I often do. This would be a good time to fix that.
Wow what a great story, thank you Pat. In the U.K. We don’t have any big predators anymore which is a great shame really although there are few larger wilderness areas left here. We are so overpopulated for such a small country. In Scotland there is talk of reintroducing the Lynx. If I lived in close proximity to large predators I would be afraid for my domestic pets. We have a new puppy and I found myself mothering over him protectively in our garden when two Buzzards were circling and crying above. The pup is no bigger than a rabbit which is their usual prey. They are majestic birds and big like your Eagles. I love their cry and often watch them souring on the thermals imagining I’m up there with them looking down through their eyes. Our foxes are probably the biggest mammal predator in the UK.
I love that the USA and Canada still have some big wild places. A great shame that those habitats are constantly being eroded by humans ever advancing taking of recourses. I have relatives in Canada, Vancouver Island and have visited BC and the Rockies. Amazing places. For me I felt a great reverence and respect and a knowing that that is the animals domain and we were just respectful visitors on their turf. I’m so glad it appears that your Couger managed to find his way to safety from you sending images of the park. I’ve done this myself when our neighbouring farm holds game bird shoots. I tune in to the birds and foxes and show them if they move deeper onto my farm they will stay safe. Our tame pheasant Brian managed to avoid being shot for 5 years and actually died of natural courses. Mind you we did have words with the framer who organises the shoots and he put a £400 price on Brian’s head as a fine so no one would shot him! Still he could easily have been shot by mistake but I used to send images for him to lay low in a certain area. I tried with the rabbits too as we are over run with them and they are eating all my horses pasture, asking them to move to a certain area of the farm where they could live peacefully. If they didn’t move off the pastures we may have to take drastic action. They ignored me and are still all over the pastures!
All the best Jane from the UK already on your mailing list.
Thank you for touching in, Jane. It’s nifty to meet you. It’s always a pleasure to connect with those who are alive to the our interdependence with those we share our life-support system.
I absolutely get the protectiveness you feel toward your puppy. Of course, it’s the gig you embraced. Interspecies companionships ideally begin with us acting as surrogate moms. It’s a big job to socialize youngsters to contemporary human culture regardless of their species.
It seems that we humans have generated so much imbalance with our cohort species that the dance between them can feel crazy. I felt stark-raving mad during parts of this. The challenge of moving with grace between our highly pressured co-apex predators and our domestic scenes showed me loads of blocks and conflicts before anything like solutions that didn’t demand death.
I had loads of trouble writing this piece. I’m still feeling dismembered. The starkness of the in-your-faceness of it rearranged my psyche and body in ways that i’m just beginning to get my head around.
It feels like the changes will be positive, when they’re integrated. I notice that my writing reflect stress-reactive thinking. Happily, I recognize it and know what to do.
It seems that all life on earth is deeply stressed now. What we do about it as individuals, families, cultures, species and ecosystems will determine whether we go into extinction or find the courage to resurrect the sustainable miracle of our life-support system.
I don’t have any valuable insights to add but I wanted to thank you for the story an YOUR insights. I have never had the opportunity to encounter a mountain lion, though I have hoped to. I should be careful what I wish for.
Hey Vincent. Great to hear from you. I support care in wishfull thinking, especially around apex predators.
They have a way of bringing up EVERYTHING not yet integrated. Then it rearranges everything that was neatly organized. It seems to initiate as a full mind-body-spirit reboot. My bits are still more than a little scattered. Maybe i need to run a defrag program.
Even so, I sense a new strength and grounding emerging. I sense the seeds germinating deep in the still darkness now. They’re rejoicing in the raising warmth of their soils. Spring demands growth. So does moving into elderhood.