April 29, 2020KR OnlineNonfiction

Prey

I was about to send an e-mail when my eye glanced something at the window. It was stalking the border of the wood that borders my backyard and bigger than the tomcat that prowls the area. Its eyes were trained on something in the crepe myrtle, whose fuchsia blossoms peaked and fell weeks ago with the most recent rain. I yanked the blinds up for a better view. The bobcat did not twitch a single long whisker; this hunt had nothing to do with me. Its taupe coat was unspotted, its head regal, with high cheekbones and white outlines around its eyes.

Likely it was famished, to be hunting midday in a neighborhood, rather than at night by the nearby Cumberland River. When the leaves are down, barges churn up and down the 688-mile course that transports goods between Kentucky and Tennessee, but only their horns penetrate summer’s curtain of foliage. A recent heat wave and lack of rainfall may have made wildlife desperate.

Judging by size, the bobcat was probably male. I thought he was eyeing a fat robin in the rustling branches, until the movement hopped to the ground. A squirrel turned left and right, scanning the ground around it like a waiter during lunch shift. I did not root for the squirrel—member of those legions who tear pell-mell across my roof in chase of rivals and partners, and land hard when they leap from the pin oak—but I resonated with its obliviousness. Only a minute before I had been unconscious of the drama unfolding beside my desk.

Under the bobcat’s coat, every muscle arranged itself. Behind the window, I squatted on my haunches to position myself closer to eye level. A tendon in his shoulder quivered as he pulled forward in one slow-motion step. Though manic, the squirrel looked unaware of him. I held my breath. I wanted and did not want to see the predator tear into its white belly. Bloodbath or not, I would not turn away. Only once before had I been so held by the intensity of an impersonal moment.

My friend Josh had taken me to a local firing range and taught me how to fire his Remington 700, a military-grade sniper rifle, though he did not serve in the military. When the hammer fell onto the Federal Gold Medal Match 308, it slammed my attention into the present. Nothing existed before or after the bullet as it traveled down the barrel and into the air, a star that burned through the target twenty-five yards away. All afternoon I practiced, while he instructed me to compensate for wind resistance and the increasing heat of the barrel. My attention cleared with the cloudless sky, until one shot came within a fraction of an inch from the bull’s eye.

“Wherever you are is the entry point,” says the Indian poet and mystic Kabir, but rarely do I enter. Instead, I turn to the ding of a text or thought, my attention on an idea of the world rather than the world itself, and the moments pass.

The bobcat eased forward another step, tightening the coil of his single-minded focus. In contrast, the squirrel looked hapless, a clown soon to be the object of violence. When the bobcat sprang, the squirrel dashed for a cedar tree, safe base from the neighbor’s collie, but the cat pursued just as nimbly. Eight feet up, the squirrel aborted plan and leaped to the ground, taking a running start for the woods. The bobcat was five times its size, with a stride that could outpace it yard-for-yard, but the squirrel scrambled around the compost bin like a kid brother circling a dining room table. The cat reached it as it skidded away, and they headed together into the pocket of forest they had just made wild.

I ran outside and stood at the edge of the wood freshly bared of any concepts, listening for a scream or crack of bones, but even the crows went silent. For the rest of the day, my senses remained heightened to the charged hush that filled the trees and air. Only the next morning did a lone mockingbird dare to initiate a chorus of one.