My eyes popped open. Bright, early morning light poured through the sliding glass door. My gaze did a quick search of the family room and I listened while my pulse echoed in my ears. Heavy footsteps on the back deck made me catch my breath. Screams, low pitched and high, sent a jagged knife slicing into my chest.
My cat, Smokey.
I leaped from the sofa, tripping over a cocoon of blankets, ripping them away while two sets of footsteps charged across the wooden planks outside. The screams stopped. I lunged for the glass and slammed it open, bolting out. Smokey usually slept on the picnic table, but he wasn't there. I beat along the back of the house to the deck at the other end.
About thirty feet away, a hundred foot Douglas fir scraped along the blue of the sky. About halfway, Smokey’s little gray paws clawed his way up. Fifteen feet below him the bobcat closed in.
My jaw dropped and I screamed out a “Nooo.” Wielding fists and flapping arms in all directions, my bare toes curled over the edge of the deck as I sucked in breath. “Nooooo. Bad. Bad. Get down.” I hopped up and down, gyrated and waved like a tree in a hurricane. “Get down now!” I commanded.
Both cats stopped. The bobcat, about thirty feet up, lowered his eyes to me, raised them back to his prey, back to me, back to Smokey, and back to me. He watched me leap and cavort and shriek and then--and you’ll just have to trust me on this--he shrugged and heaved out a sigh. He descended the tree with the ease of a square-rigged sailor descending a mainmast, and jumped the last few feet to the cropped green grass. The forty-five pound, fawn-colored, spotted cat with the ears tufts and bobbed tail turned and faced me.
At that moment I realized I was standing on the back deck in a short, satiny nightgown, bare feet, wild hair, and no weapon. The door was thirty feet behind me. Could I outrun a bobcat? I cursed myself for not signing up for the “Avoiding Death by Wildlife” class at college, but at the time I didn’t believe I’d be in a face-off with a wildcat. Perhaps it hadn’t been a good idea to run after a wild animal without a hand grenade or a five-shot, snub-nosed, .44 magnum Charter Arms Bulldog with a 3 inch barrel. I did what any normal, defenseless woman would do. I dropped my arms to my sides, jutted my chin, held perfectly still and stared. The only thing moving was my chest as I heaved out tiny, sharp breaths into the chill May air. I even attempted to keep my nostrils from flaring.
We stood like that for an hour, or maybe thirty seconds. He sized me up, assessing my age, tenderness, freshness. I assessed how much the government would take from my estate before it passed on to my daughter. I’d been attacked by a house cat once and suffered multiple puncture wounds and deep scratches before I managed to peel the animal from my legs. I’d be no match for a cat three times as big.
Just about the time I’d decided it might be a good idea to start praying, the wildcat cut his gaze to the trees and sauntered off in that direction, glancing back once or twice to narrow his eyes at me. It was a threat I didn’t take lightly.
My parents, who were visiting from the east and staying in my room, tumbled out the back door. They saw nothing amiss, except their daughter standing on the back deck in a nightie, trembling, with drool pushing out of the corners of her lips. How does one explain such a circumstance to one’s father?
You may be interested to know the fire department does not rescue kitties from trees. Neither does the ASPCA, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, nor the handyman service. I had to hire a tree-climber to come that evening and climb fifty feet and slip a loop around my kitty. Smokey had four puncture wounds in his hind quarters where the big cat clamped his jaw over him. I wrapped him in a towel and carried him inside. That day Smokey became an indoor cat. He slept under the table for three days. He wouldn’t go near a window for a year, and it took another year before he wanted to go outside again, even with me.
For a long time I kept a pellet gun by the back door. I saw the bobcat again several times, stalking my house. I think he had friends hiding in the forest beyond my yard. He’s probably still out there. Waiting.