A bobcat ran in front of my car last Wednesday as I was leaving Kane.
Just past the hospital, headed North on Fraley where it goes from 25 to 55, I was just lifting my foot to the pedal to give it enough juice to crank me up to that speed when I saw the thing dart out from the other side of the road. Before my brain could even process what was happening we were looking each other in the eye for one pregnant fraction of a second and, like that, everything spun back into real time and she just nudged herself out of the way before I creamed her, and I drove the next 12 miles looking like a robin that’s crashed into the picture window one too many times.
I have lived my entire life in Pennsylvania. Right here, in the deepest notches of rural northwestern Pennsylvania, and the better half of my growing up was spent on the back of a horse, or just on foot, traipsing through the hills and leaf litter of Clarendon and Scandia.
I’ve seen a lot of crazy things.
I’ve seen that if I were a squirrel I would probably be an asexual one because that doesn’t look like any kind of fun for anyone.
I’ve seen that ducks have less fear, when they’re on a pond than my eight-year-old does of scooping up our rooster on a sunny afternoon.
I’ve also seen that ducks probably shouldn’t be all that cocky about themselves because there are large bass who apparently consider ducklings a delicacy.
I’ve smelled snakes, like cucumber dew hanging in the air and I’ve seen a five-foot black snake snatch a bunny out of a nest in last year’s cornfield that I didn’t even know was there until I heard the snap of its glass black body and the microscopic squeal of a wild rabbit pinkie going down the hatch.
I’ve heard peepers. I’m hearing them right now, out back, and I adore it.
I’ve seen fireflies seem to lift off in a runway of lime green for me over the tops of a flank-high fallow sweetgrass back field under a June dusk sky the color of a bruise.
I can’t think of anything on earth it would really surprise me to see in the woods, though I can think of approximately one million I’d like to see, or see again, if I ever get that shire cross gelding I’ve got my little old retirement heart set on.
Anything except, up until last Wednesday night on the fringes of Kane, a bobcat.
And I’m agnostic, but I’m also a writer, because I am forever seeing connections that don’t exist. Full narratives spring forth in my head, like fauna from Te Fiti’s divine Trifolium fingertip, when I’m presented with an unexpected or initially unexplainable stimulus. Mostly it’s just pure childlike curiosity run amok while my synapses light up like a pinball machine at the endless possibilities of answers to the question why, which I seem to chase through this world with relentless energy to burn.
But to see a bobcat, for the first time in my entire 37 years on this earth, dashing across my car within view of the hospital in Kane, Pa., at 10:17 on a Wednesday night, was well, well beyond my ability to just leave well enough alone.
I am agnostic. I don’t actually believe that burning a yellow candle while the moon is in its sixth house or whatever – I’m a little tiny bit woo woo, but I’m not full star chart woo woo – will bring me money and fortune and success. But I know enough about the human brain to know that we’ll never totally understand the kind of alchemical magic that goes on up in that soup if we live into eternity as a species. And I know that reminding myself all day that I should burn a yellow candle tonight, as the moon swells and shines, while I work on a section of a manuscript or try to generate the energy necessary to puzzle out this week’s editorial calendar (It’s like an Escher schematic I crap you not, every single Monday) puts me in the frame of mind to be more successful when I actually sit down to work.
I have no idea what burning a yellow candle could possibly do in my brain, but I do know that if I burn it on a good night, and I just trust that everything’s going to be okay, it usually turns out to be, which it would anyway but my heart beats a lot less thunderously while I’m waiting that conclusion out with a yellow candle burning.
So there probably is no god, and there probably is no grand divine message for me from the universe, delivered in the fractional moment of recognition between myself and my first bobcat, with the threat that I’d annihilate the poor messenger beast with chunky all season tires hanging in the balance between our four panicked eyes.
But I can choose to make one. I mean, maybe the extra pickle on my plate at the lunch deli isn’t a karmic reward.
But I can choose to see it as one can’t I?
So what on earth, universe, do you want me to know by throwing a freaking bobcat in front of my car at an hour when you were really rolling them dice on my fatigue level and probable response time?
What does the bobcat symbolize, to those who deal in signs and omens?
I’m fortunate to know a few of those sorts, so I asked. And, according to a source who says I write for markets way too local for me to share her name, I’m just going to summarize what my Pagan friend, Airquotes Jane, told me about bobcat symbolism.
The bobcat is a solitary animal. It doesn’t pal around with its other bobcat peers. They don’t go out and hunt in packs, like wolves. Gross. They’re dignified but they like their space because secretly, I’m pretty sure, they’re terrified of doing something stupid and being caught out in their own humanity.
I mean we’re not 100 percent the same or anything.
For real, though, we’re not. Because bobcats are patient. I even asked David Attenborough, and he totally confirmed.
I’m not a patient person, but I wish I were. I’m learning to be. I was reminded of that as I listened to my lunatic friend explain to me what the universe wanted me to see in the bobcat. “Maybe,” my friend said, “you’re supposed to stop worrying about how patient you’re not yet and start acknowledging how patient you’ve become.”
No solid existential crisis and subsequent total emotional disintegration was ever built on that kind of pansy self-compassion but whatever, it’s cool I guess.
Bobcats, Jane told me, are quiet watchers. “You are an observer. You even worked for a place with ‘Observer’ in the name.”
“Stop it,” I told her. “Stop trying to snow me with your Jungian mind tricks. It won’t work. Jung was a crackpot. Behaviorism is the only rational branch of psychology.”
“But you have a tattoo derived from a Freud manifesto on your clavicle,” she shot back.
“Bobcats are individuals, and too cool to explain their deep artistic motivations and aesthetics to you.”
“Bobcats are also kind of dumb,” she shot back before telling me that she once watched one tire itself out over the course of 15 agonizing minutes while it climbed and descended a tree over and over in pursuit of a squirrel that ultimately planted its little squirrel flag on the lowest safe branch and quite literally laughed at the bobcat, panting in the wet spring moss below, until it caught sight of her watching in a tree stand and sauntered off like it totally, totally meant to do all of that.
“Typical cat,” my friend said.
“Shuttie,” I warned. “I was never supposed to be a Leo in the first place. I’m a cancer. I tried to stay a cancer, happily in my shell, but they forced me out. It’s not my fault.”
“Look,” said my friend. “The bottom line?”
“Yes.” I swept away Cupcake Carl’s leering, gem-toned face and closed my eyes. “Bottom line. If I didn’t just see a random idiot bobcat try to kill itself on my bumper then what did I see?”
The peepers peeped unmolested in the silence between us for a moment before the line crackled, and I heard a sigh, and my friend returned her verdict. “I think you saw yourself, running in the right direction. But you were distracted by the fact that you wanted the rabbit you were probably chasing and not paying attention to other important things like gigantic hunks of metal bearing down on you, so I think you should probably just calm down and everything will be fine. I think everything is fine. I think it’s 11:30 at night and you need to go to sleep. Because I need to go to sleep. Please. For the love of all that is good and holy, go to sleep. The bobcat is sleeping. You need to sleep.”
“I’m really glad I didn’t hit it with my car because I don’t think a bobcat would be nice about it if I had to wait there on the side of the road for a bobcat ambulance.”
“Oh for the love,” was all I heard before the line clicked dead and my friend left me to my own devices.
So I’ve been trying to channel bobcat’s spirit this week.
Even though I’m complete agnostic with no superstitions or irrational suspicions regarding the nature of our spiritual reality whatsoever.
I’ve been reveling in little moments of solitude. I’ve been standing around the corner, in the kitchen, and listening to my kids tell fart jokes and laugh and laugh and laugh like farts are the funniest things in the world (I mean, they’re generally not not funny, except maybe at funerals, but maybe they’re really funny at certain kinds of funerals too), and enjoying their little squawks and shrieks. Like little feral bobcat children.
It’s apparently rude to hiss openly and swat at people when they get too close to you in the grocery checkout line, but no one sprayed me with a squirt bottle and called me bad kitty because of it so…
No harm no foul I guess.