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More Bobcat Beauty

Sunday, August 28, 2016

 This is usually all you see of a bobcat, much less capture in a photo. I've found that the darkish brown ground color and the straight, not humped, backline, making a large dark apparently tailless rectangle, are pretty good identifiers for the brief glimpse one usually gets of a bobcat.

On August 18, that cat came back, several times. I already could not believe my luck at seeing him. To have him intermittently inhabiting the sideyard was simply over the pale. It was the squirrels that brought him. And I could tell he was around when they went from 13 to zero. It wasn't that James was eating the squirrels--it was just that he was around, and they knew it.

Confirmation came in their rough barks and squirrrs, their insouciantly flipping tails. This was a difficult shot to get—a taut bobcat and a very saucy squirrel in one frame. 

How much experience could this squirrel have had with bobcats? And yet it taunts the cat, foraging for sunflower seeds at the foot of the birch clump—the one that’s seen all the action—daring the cat to charge.

I was locked to the window, hoping so hard to photograph a charge, maybe even a capture. Lord knows James could have a squirrel or five. That would be fine. He was like a high-tension line, his pupils narrowed to pinpoints. The squirrel foraged and flirted and made little sorties out, little dashes back up the tree. My camera was smoking.  In this shot, he had started to charge, then stopped in mid rush. Get the whisker position here--all systems GO!

The phone chose that exact moment to ring. It was a telemarketer. I answered it just to shut it up. James fixed a cold eye on me, there inside the studio, speaking in low, urgent tones, trying to get rid of the caller, who was telling me I was due for a refund from a company that doesn’t even supply my electricity. No. No I’m not. Who cares? Get lost.

 Must you? I’m hunting.

I abruptly hung up and returned to my study, only to see James melt back under the spruce. 

I felt bad that I’d inadvertently intruded on his hunt, unsuccessful as it was. I smiled a few seconds later to see his legs through the thick boughs; he was standing just behind the spruce in indecision, in deference to me, who had no wish to be deferred to. It reminded me of what the whitetails do at night, when they run just enough to get out of the headlights' beam, and wait for your car to pass. 

To my great joy, he re-emerged. He knew I was there, watching him, and he was not afraid. Neither was he tame; he was simply untroubled. He raised his lovely face to the birches, looking at the teasing squirrel, and I snapped my second favorite shot of him, the best, I think, being the one I grabbed the first time he visited, staring me down with an ironweed backdrop. This one, though a bit soft, captured his spirit, his peace, his knowing who he is and where he belongs in the Ohio woods and, most amazingly, in my Ohio sideyard. Everything about him, perfect.

He panted a little in the heat, and I got a look at his ivory canines. The same that had punctured me as a youngun'. 

 I thought about some friends’ expressed fears that James might attack Chet, or even me. Perhaps oddly, the thought never occurred to me; fear is my last reaction to an animal this rare, this secretive, this beautiful.

 A partial answer might be that we’ve observed that James has not attacked the pair of baby raccoons that frequent the ground around the feeders. They’re about ¾ grown, and they’re out there most of every day, and Liam came home from school one afternoon, walked up the sidewalk, and scattered all three—the coons and James—from the yard at the same time. If James had wanted coon, he’d have had it by now. If he chose not to attack young raccoons (wise choice!) weighing perhaps 4 pounds apiece, why would he tackle a 24-pound Boston terrier made of India rubber and steel?

James strode out of the shade and into the sun. He picked it up from a lazy saunter to a trot.

 Positioning myself for a better shot (I was shooting at a bad angle through two panes of glass), I tripped over a box of Baby Birds, making a loud crash. DUH.  Arrgh! Worse than answering the phone. He slammed on the brakes and listened.

Strike two, Zick. But oh, the detail I can get in the sun!

 With an animal this secretive and special, I never know when I’m saying farewell. I try to save as many souvenirs as I can. I shot as he walked calmly out the orchard, away from ringing telephones and clumsy artists who trip over stuff trying so hard to save him to look at later, again and again, forever.

It is no small irony that I wrote this post in a gigantic Boeing 757(?), anyway, a widebody beast with four seats in the center rows and three on either side of that, somewhere over Namibia, on my way to South Africa to see...wild cats, perhaps. It was so, so hard to leave James and the baby warblers that were beginning to stream through the gardens; to leave all the young hummingbirds that were just massing around the cardinalflower beds; all these things I care for and about. More than that it was so hard to leave Liam, Phoebe and Bill; Liam just starting classes at the local community college while still enrolled in high school; Phoebe soon to return for a few days from a summer in San Diego and then fly off to Panama until December. It gave me real pain to miss her, having not seen her since June. But one can't plan around schedules not yet decided; jobs not yet landed. The schedule rolls on, and things must be committed to months in advance; the trips must be taken, and in the end I am a very, very lucky girl.

Hoping so hard that James will show himself for Phoebe before she leaves. Sending him a message to appear, if it pleases him.  Ah, James, I could just squeeze those perfectly lined furry cheeks,  and kiss you right on the bridge of that velveteen nose, but I'd likely come away perforated again. 

xoxxooo jz

The Cat Came Back!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

My friend Walt Sweet, fiery-haired maker of my Irish flute, used to sing The Cat Came Back, a picaresque folk tune in a minor key, which detailed one ludicrous end after another for a cat that couldn't be gotten rid of. I've been humming it lately.

James came back. And back, and back. As I write, it's Saturday night. James first showed up on Monday,  August 15, 2016. I got the shot of a lifetime through the glass patio door, every hair defined, the highlight in his greengold eyes, his tail curled up over his back. I figured I had had my ultimate chance to photograph a wild bobcat. I could die happy. And then he came back the 17th, 18th, and 19th, too. 

Needless to say, I was glued to the studio window, my magic portal to the world of wild things. How could I leave my station? At any moment, there was the possibility that I might see a bobcat, one of the most elusive of Ohio's animals, one that was nearly extirpated and fought its way back and is now  repopulating its historic range. To me, that's a miracle in itself. To have one show up in my yard, and then come back? Manna from heaven. 

On the morning of Wednesday, August 17, Bill and I were catching up, talking a blue streak about the kids, and all the events we have coming up. He'd just gotten back from a trip, was getting ready to take off for England again, and I was showing him the bobcat portraits on my laptop, when he saw a brown blur run up the very same birch tree that brown blur had run up on Monday. 

But where did it go? I ran to the east side of the big studio windows and behind the birch clump, and saw this:

James had a squirrel treed, and he was hoping it would lose its nerve and leap out of the top of that tree. He's putting a hex on it, trying to stare it down and freak it out sufficiently to crack its cool. 

This failed. So James tried another tactic: Disappearing. He stopped moving his head, and moved only his eyes.

There followed a series of expressions so beguiling I wondered if he was trying to charm that squirrel out of the tree.

Stop, you!! I know that behind those gorgeous muzzlepuffs, there is a lethal set of ivory fangs, and in that clever head is a prey drive that makes Chet Baker look like a Care Bear. 

You're not fooling me.

I've actually been bitten by a bobcat, when I was a dopey twenty-something. Someone had one on a leash at a Massachusetts shopping mall (remember, I grew up in the 1970's, when people thought they could keep things like bobcats and mountain lions and ocelots--shudder!--and they actually got away with it). Sort of. As much as one gets away with treating any wild animal like a dog. And, being the animal freak that I am, I reached slowly out to stroke its back. Wearing a studded collar and being held on a leash only made it look domesticated. That cat whipped its head around in one lightning move and sank its teeth into my wrist. I remember being instantly and deeply impressed at the crushing power of its jaws; the way those shining white canines seemed to be hooked into oh, I don't know...a vise? Gawp. That was a good one for the Bite List. Memories, good times.

Bill and I stood transfixed, he watching James through binoculars; me wielding the Canon 7D, both of us beyond delighted that he got to see the bobcat before taking off for the British Bird Fair that same day! I love seeing this stuff, but being able to share it with someone who digs it too is the bomb.

Eventually James tired of the disappearing act, and his attention wandered. We got a look at those delicious stenciled, spray-painted earbacks. 

He mrrowed several times, to whom or at what I don't know.

And then he got up

unfolding that beautiful fluid body, his long cat-hams working

and I noticed how he slung his hind feet under his body so that his tracks would be in a perfect line; this perfection unconscious, springing from how he is made

with a flexible spine and the softest of velvet padded paws making his progress as noiseless as an owl's 

and that slinky crafty cat was gone, to thrill another day.

I am still inwardly squealing at the very thought that Bill and I once looked out my studio window and saw this, THIS, crouched under the birches. 

This. This photo makes all my bells go off. It gives scale and presence to this apparition. It's incongruous and unbelievable and wonderful, a bobcat with an overturned urn and a weeping blue ginger plant from Logee's. A bobcat with geraniums, on my mowed lawn.

This wildest of wild things, this least expected, most wanted, never dreamt of apparition. This beautiful bobcat. 

The Best Thing I've Seen In My Yard

Monday, August 15, 2016

There's this beautiful line in a Bruce Cockburn song called "Pacing the Cage." It always makes me smile and breaks my heart at the same time, because for me, it's the essence of creating art, which is a continual giving, giving, giving, whether most people realize or appreciate it or pay attention or not.

I never knew what you all wanted
So I gave you everything.

All that I could pillage
All the spells that I could sing.

It's perfect for me, that verse, on two levels, because on one hand, I feel that some portion of my brain is always engaged with coming up with the next thing I want to share, something that will make you smile or gasp or feel good all over, knowing that there is this little corner of Ohio where all the things that should be happening in the turning wheel of the seasons are still happening. That there is this sanctum sanctorum where the ironweed bursts into bloom and is mobbed by swallowtails, where box turtles are laying eggs, some of which actually hatch, where newly-minted hummingbirds are dipping into dwarf pomegranate blossoms and there is someone there to witness it and bring it to you. 

And on the second level, that verse is perfect, because the gods or God of all that is beautiful and perfect is lobbing beautiful and perfect things at me faster than I can field them, faster than I can photograph them. I could sit at my drawing table all day long in late summer and shoot out the window and never, ever be bored for a moment. So maybe He never knew what all I wanted, so He gave me everything. Or She. Or It. Or Dod.  Dod and Ida. I don't know who's behind this. I'm still trying to figure out why so much magic comes my way, every dang minute. I just know that it I am in a constant state of worshipful excitement about it, and grateful doesn't even begin to describe how it makes me feel. It takes me to an otherworldly plain. A star plain. That's it. I feel like I live on a star plain, right here on Earth. And I am thankful that I have the means to share it with so many people. 

I am getting little waves of migrating yellow-throated warblers, several a day. And every durn one of them stops to peek in my studio window at me. Today, this one was hovering right at eye level, again and again, as if it had come to call me to attention. I'm there! I'm there! I'm paying attention!

  I have several dozen photos of these exquisite birds from today alone.  Dozens from the day before, and the day before, and they're all different birds. Yellow-throated warblers. Of all the things. And just inches away from my face, so close I have to back up to photograph them. I just shake my head. It's all so, so beautiful, and it's all as if it were being choreographed to bring me to an ecstatic state. 

I woke up this morning to this. Tuberoses still exhaling their night perfume, Rose of Sharon rolling open, sheep-clouds trotting across a pearly sky, all of Nature singing, still dripping with the night's little showers. I knew it was going to be a wonderful day. Mostly because I get to be here, all day long, witnessing. I do not forget for one minute how lucky I am to be here. 

I did my morning routine, which is get up, let Bacon out for a wee, give him his blood pressure and thyroid pills in little sausage treat balls, then a liver bikket to top him off; feed the woodpeckers, finches and cardinals their peanuts and sunflower hearts on the deck; grab a small handful of koi sticks for the comets in the pond; walk around the house admiring the zinnias and purslane and gaillardia and crazily blooming roses; check the morning glories for buds; pull whatever weeds I missed yesterday, end up in the garage where I tote the black oil sunflower and thistle seed out to the studio feeders; check to see that the birdbaths are clean (scrub them with Comet and refill if not), and finally retire inside to open the laptop and see what's happened overnight. I opted not to run this morning because those little sheep-clouds closed in for a morning thundershower, what a delight! So I was at my drawing table when the Gang of Eight Squirrels appeared to chow down.

This is a recent phenomenon. We never had a solitary squirrel in the yard until years after our neighbor Gary died. Gary had been eating them all. I mean, all. If you ever saw a squirrel, it was deep in the woods, and it would leap like a scalded ape from tree to tree to get away from you. They never came into the yard. Humans live in yards. They were terrified. 

All that has changed. These squirrels have grown up for probably ten squirrel generations, eating sunflower seed at Casa Zick/Thompson. I am appalled at their numbers, but the most I can do is send Baker out to rout them every couple of hours to give the birds a chance. I broadcast seed all over the yard so the birds can get some, too. Then I throw some sunflower hearts for my brown thrasher, who otherwise laboriously pounds the black oil seeds open one by one, and we don't want him to have to do that. Everybody eats.

I had found an interesting splash of mourning dove feathers near the spruce a couple of days ago, and it didn't look like the big young Cooper's hawk's work. It looked different. Like something had grabbed that dove and not stopped to subdue it or pluck it the way a hawk would. Just grabbed it and carried it off. I puzzled over that. I'd seen a black and white housecat  slink through about three weeks ago, and I wondered if it was still lurking around doing its dirty work. No housecats allowed here. 

I'm doing my combo of working a little bit and staring out the window a lot. It's around 7:33 AM, August 15, 2016. All of a sudden this spaniel-sized medium-brown BLUR races into my peripheral vision, flowing in one huge lunge up the trunk of a birch tree right behind the Bird Spa. OMGGGGGGG that had to be a BOBCAT!! It's hot on the tail of a fat squirrel which practically turns itself inside out spiralling up that trunk, then leaping wildly out of the crown of the tree to flump! to the ground and skibble to the safety of the nearby woods. I leap up just as quickly and start flailing around for my big camera, which turns out, after several darting sallies, to be PLUGGED INTO MY LAPTOP by its downloading cord.  I.E, it's  right at hand. OK. Stop panicking!!

I seize the camera and yank it, cord and all, away from the laptop, like I'm pulling out a bindweed  vine. By this time the cat has lunged back down the birch trunk and run into the backyard. I still haven't so much as gotten a clear look at it; I just know it's a bobcat because it was brown, it climbed a tree and didn't seem to have a tail. I'm sure I'm pant-hooting at this point, trying to motivate my body through the studio maze of prints and matboard and furniture to get it as fast as possible down the basement stairs and to the sliding glass doors of downstairs bedroom, where I am praying in rapid-fire heathen gibberish that it will still be visible. It's a small, scant hope, that the cat will have paused to catch its breath, but that small hope is so big it is bursting my heart.

And it has paused. It is standing about eight feet from the patio door. I shoot wildly through the heavy black screen and two layers of glass. It is here. It is a young male. And it is so, so beautiful.

I have come down here quickly enough to capture his look of disappointment as he thinks about the squirrel he might have been eating, had he not flubbed the chase. I guess that he might be a yearling. I don't think this year's kitten would be so big yet, or hunting on his own.

I keep shooting. I wish I weren't shooting through screen and glass, but this is far better than any bobcat photo I've ever taken, because I've taken none. This is my Most Wanted Ohio Animal. In my back yard. And I have my big camera on him.

He seems to get a notion, and trots toward the greenhouse, then reverses his course and heads for the orchard. I quickly sashay left and can now shoot through the glass door from behind a curtain, unobstructed by screening. Ohhhh yeah.

I love the way he keeps his tail curled up over his back. Still excited from the chase? Planning to spray a bit? Don't know. Just charmed.

I will him to stop for more photos. He does. I get overexcited and start punching the shutter again. I am so, so excited. There is a bobcat in my backyard!!!!!

BREATHE. BREATHE. Squeeze the shutter button. Don't punch it. You got this, Zick. 

You're going to need to click on this one to embiggen it, folks. Let your eye travel over every inch of that exquisite piece of wilderness, that puzzle piece of Ohio's fauna that has been missing until less than 15 years ago when our pitched efforts to extirpate bobcats finally trailed off into futility. When reforestation and their modest reproductive potential finally caught up with the heinous leg-hold trapping and persecution and habitat loss we have visited upon them since we first set ugly foot into their beautiful world. 

Look into those greengold eyes, those eyes that say "I see you. And I am not afraid. Thank you for the fat squirrels and mourning doves you supply me. You've got too many of them here. I'll take care of that." 

I know that, as long as I live, I will likely never take a better photo of a bobcat, in perfect health, in perfect light, with the Ironweed Festival going on behind him. And for that I will be grateful forever.

He turned to go, giving me a flash of his fabulous pied earbacks. Soft padded pink paw pads. Jungle spots and bars.  Tail still saucily curled over his back. Gotta love this cat! 

I'm calling him James, for my feisty, fiery friend in Honduras. It just fits. 

I kept shooting as he calmly walked away.  I had to drink this sweet cat in, every inch of him, while I had him in my sights.

As he turned, and I looked at his slab sides, it hit me that he really is still a kitten. A really big, really fierce kitten. Please come back as often as you wish, grow big and strong and smart, and help yourself to my squirrels. Thank you for your efforts. Tomorrow at 7:33, again? I'll be watching!

As he disappeared, bunnylike, into the ironweed, I remembered the bobkitten I'd tried to help in the  summer of 2014. 

I remembered how I had loved him, what a delight it had been to feed and shelter him,  

and how my heart had broken clean in two when he was taken away to a purely lousy fate.

And I smiled. Because in a very real and beautiful way, Bobkit was back. Here, big as life.

 Home. With me.

 Leaving scratches on my birch tree, scratches from great big claws on toes that are very far apart.

Yes, this is the Best Thing I've Seen in My Yard. Ever.

The squirrels squir-squir-squirrrred for about an hour after the attempted murder, which made me laugh out loud.

I laughed again when this squirrel climbed all the way down a little tree until it bent over, before he got the nerve to come to the ground for seed again.

You should be afraid, you little rascals. You should worry when you come into my yard. James is on the prowl! There will finally be a price on your fat little bottoms!

While you're at it, James, take a chipmunk hors d'ouvres. Please.

So there you go. There's the story, and it's just one little piece of a day here in Paradise. It's past midnight now, and I've got to turn in, but I wanted to give you everything. xoxo jz

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