A Bestiary: Part Three – Bobcat

Encountering wildlife in the gardens, fields and forest, here at Flower Hill Farm is most always a great joy for me. It adds the spicy element of suspense and fluid animation to life . . .  akin to standing in a quiet forest and hearing the wind suddenly enter in the distance . . . listening as it moves through the canopy creating music, while stirring leaves and songs of sighs from shaking, trembling trunks of trees. There is a thrill when suddenly . . . the wind is upon you and you are swimming for seconds, in the sound, sight and caress of it all. Then like a wandering faint whisper it withers away and the forest is windless and still again.

The landscape is always stunning and yet without the fluttering of wings, songs and the larger presence of wild creatures, the gardens seems somehow empty  . . . rather like a stage . . .  set and waiting for the actors to arrive. Oh, it is enough to have just the beauty and stillness . . . a great privilege really . . . and more than enough to have a garden of veggies, flowering plants, shrubs and trees. It is just that . . . when a gorgeous beast such as this bobcat enters the garden space, we are left with a longing . . . once it has stepped away from view. As much as I love and revere trees and plants . . . nothing quite fills the space like this splendid being gazing back at me.

My Bestiary or tales of beasts experienced here at Flower Hill Farm continues with the retelling of a singular story that only lasted about five minutes or maybe even less. But, wait . . . though I fear how I may be judged . . .  that is only part of the story. Later in this piece, I will reveal for the first time what actually happened a day or two before this enchanting chance meeting took place.

An Exceptional Encounter

On a lovely, verdant summer day, nearly two years ago, I am sitting before my computer editing, when a sudden, stealthy movement appears just beyond the barn studio door. I always remember this day as one of my luckiest, for I recall . . .  standing . . . for a few irreplaceable minutes . . . not ten feet from this wild and impressive bobcat. I will never know exactly why the native Lynx rufus of the Felidae family does not quickly dash off at the sight of me  . . . donning a camera face no less. I still wear a wash of wonderment, when calling to mind how the bobcat remains engaged in eyeing me, while I quietly let the screen door fall open and move out into the garden space not far from where he stands. I never utter a word, as I often do with fawns . . . with this beast I am silent and still. There is a kind of magnetism between us . . . holding his gaze to mine, hidden behind my large black camera lens. Except . . .

It is clear at times that his attention is elsewhere.

What could be drawing his strong sense of smell to this large granite boulder? His fear of me is far less than his keen desire to investigate around the boulder.

The bobcat’s instinctual fear of humans does finally kick in and he begins slowly . . . while keeping his eyes on me as long as possible . . . cautiously lifting his hind leg . . . backs up and turns around. I truly have trouble holding the camera still, for the thrill of seeing the finely fit form and subtle strength of this wild cat so close is making my heart race, as if I am running in a marathon.

Pausing again . . . looking back . . . still puzzled by me. Wow! I thought . . . what a handsome beast!

At last the bobcat begins to make fast tracks away from me and my large black eye. Stopping and turning back yet again . . . does he fear me or think perhaps I may be the bearer of gifts? If only I could know what he is thinking. Then he is gone.

The garden is just a garden again . . . and after a deep sigh from my spirit and perhaps that of the garden, I have time to reconstruct what took place on the top of the boulder a day or two earlier. For I know, as soon as I see him go towards the large granite rock, I know what is luring him here, and what bewitching ingredient is perhaps clouding his judgement and holding him in suspense.

Even my presence does not shake him from its pull. The nearly invisible thread that ties this story together and makes it whole, is blood.

A Sensitive Boy Hunter

I have known Ezra all his life and we have shared a love for being in nature during most of his now sixteen years. He became interested in fishing when only six and that love morphed intensely into a love of hunting wild turkeys and rabbits. His gentle and wise parents were a bit dismayed when he pleaded for a pellet gun. They judiciously decided to support his passion for hunting, and found a part Native American mentor to help guide Ezra along his journey into harvesting wildlife for food.

Rabbits Out Of Balance

For years, I have shared with friends my angst over the problems I am having with rabbits eating everything I plant in the gardens . . . mostly about the young native shrubs, they munch down like celery sticks and the veggies I painstakingly plant over and over again. Fencing is out of the question for the gardens are huge. At times I am downright depressed about the rabbits using my terrace garden and beneath the house as their nursery.

I think a turning point for me was when I stood watching in disbelief as a kit leapt up into a pot of violas on the terrace and nibbled into nothingness each plant growing there. When I was not looking, every other container became breakfast, lunch or dinner. Before long only the salvias were left. Well, I guess I can live with a sage family terrace garden.

But, I am also certain, that rabbits running rampant is one of the reasons why I have had more ticks closer to the house and since I have had Lyme disease . . . well I am hardly fond of the critters anymore. Still, I do honor their right to be here too. GRRR!

I might have a say in their numbers however.

Wrestling with Conscience

Ezra asked  time and again if he could please come over and harvest a rabbit as he loves the meat. I seriously began giving some thought to this being a possibility. Though mostly a vegetarian myself, I know and respect many folks who humanely raise rabbit, chicken, turkey and lamb for food.

Why not yummy free-range rabbits . . . who graze on organic native plants and shrubs along with cultivars of lettuce, kale, broccoli and carrots?!

Is it hypocritical of me to create a wildlife habitat and then allow some of the wildlife to be hunted? I ask myself this and just the idea of blood being spilled in the garden or fields seems like a bad omen. Yet, each time a hawk pierces the flesh of a vole or rabbit . . . blood is spilt and soaked into the earth. The garden does not shudder or quiver when a hawk flies by.

So why would my allowing a young man, who has been taught to honor nature and wildlife all his life and more recently mentored by a wise hunter, to harvest a rabbit be wrong? Is he so different from a hawk? Can humans be taken out of the equation of predator and prey?

It is true that humankind has made a mess of things but there are people who get it right too. I believe in protesting corporate farm factories and I have done so for over thirty years, for all the horrid treatment of animals and the harm they do to our health and environment.

Boy Harvests Food for Family

As I watch Ezra, when he gets up at the crack of dawn . . . on his own . . . and goes out into the north field, sights, shoots and kills his preferred prey, I truly have a deep respect for him. Here is a young lad, that has acquired an interest in food and cooking from his parents. His family obviously is not vegetarian . . . so they often buy packaged meat from the co-op or directly from farmers at the various farmers markets.

Here is Ezra, who has caught many a fish and help clean and grill them, carrying his first harvested animal, other than fish, across the field, covering the rock with paper and then knowingly . . . with agile skill . . . cleaning the rabbit . . . being very careful, for there are diseases that can harm humans within the rabbit’s inner cavity.

I am thinking, while I watch from my barn studio door, how most young people his age have not a clue where their food comes from. How Ezra could survive and help others, if some unforeseen tragedy occurred, which is hardly a far fetched notion. Ezra teaches me humility in my own awareness of the importance of thoughtful hunting. I am so moved watching him methodically complete the gruesome task, of what hunters call ‘field dressing’ the rabbit. We take all the innards and other parts that are not to be eaten and place them below the garden, as an offering for other wildlife.

Little did I know then what creature might find them.

An Opening

I believe my choice allowing Ezra to harvest one rabbit was not only just but helpful to me, in trying to manage my farm and wildlife. He is welcome to return.

I did wash down the rock with water but clearly there was still a strong scent alive there. I might have been more careful in cleaning the blood away, I know, but the reward for my lack of fastidiousness makes me wonder. I did not mean to attract wildlife from the forest so close to my shelter. I would never deliberately spread blood of an animal out to attract a predator.

If this bobcat is lucky to live up to his life span of 12 or so years, perhaps we shall meet again.

Ezra did report back that his family very much enjoyed the free range rabbit lunch.

Seeing and experiencing a bobcat so close-up and personal was extraordinary for me. Realizing that these and other wild predators are quietly cohabiting this land we share . . . that perhaps they have seen me many times . . . is thrilling beyond words.

© 2012 – 2013, Carol Duke. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. Mimi says

    Wonderful storytelling, Carol! Even though you’d told me the story, having been there in person at a different time made the story come even more alive for me.

  2. Sue Sweeney says

    Carol – up to your usual wonderfully high standard! What a gift to encounter this wonderful 4-footed hunter up close.

    And as to the 2-footed hunter:

    My mediations on hunting: the way the world is set up, animals hunt each other. Micro- to macro-level, some animals must hunt to eat and other species depend on hunting to keep their numbers in bounds. If and when I ever get to speak to the creator, I will tell him/her that, IMHO, this was a poor way to do things. However, absent major miracle, we’re stuck with the system, as far as I can see.

    For millions of years, humans have been part of the ecosystem, except in some increasingly rare, remote areas. Humans usually influence their local ecosystem more than other living creatures. Hunting by humans is often an evolved part of the ecosystem. Where such hunting has fallen off, and an animal population has consequently flourish out of control (often aggravated by other human activities that artificially increase food supply and limit other predators), every surviving animal in the ecosystem is paying for it. In some cases, entire species may become extinction.

    As humans, we can choose to be humane.

    Where human acts can result in an animal population getting out of balance we can choose to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions by not letting the numbers of a particular species get out of balance in the first place. We can manage populations by limiting artificial food supplies (lawns, garbage), by reserving enough wild land for sustainable, balanced populations, and the like.

    If we don’t not act to keep populations in check in one way or another, starvation, plague and automobile strikes are the population limiting factors, and this, in my view, is not humane. To be in denial, by refusing to see what goes on beyond the boundaries of your own property, is not humane.

    Being humane, in my view, includes hunting, but not sloppy hunting. If you are not skilled enough to do it right, do not do it until you are. To scare/hurt an animal (e.g. by chasing it on a snow mobile) or to leave a wounded animal to its fate, I think, is sinful in the worst way.

    Likewise, humans can choose to be a positive part of the ecosystem by hunting only what needs to be hunted for the sake of the balance of the whole ecosystem. In my area that’s mostly white-tailed deer and non-migratory Canada geese. Please do not kill animals that don’t need their populations reduced for the sake of all — I think of the woodcocks, the black ducks ….

    Lastly, while animals hunt each other, they seldom lock each other up in confined spaces for years under horrible conditions, and they seldom torture each other with prolonged deaths involving stockyards, etc. These are things that we humans should stop doing.

    I say: hunt backyard rabbits but close down the animal pens and stockyards.

  3. says

    More power to Ezra, and to you! We’ve removed so many predators that I feel we are ethically bound to assume their duties in the ecosystem—it’s no kindness to allow herbivores to become so massively overpopulated that they suffer slow deaths of starvation and disease. Predation is part of nature, and it doesn’t go away just ‘cos we stick our fingers in our ears and go “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

    I think you absolutely did the right thing letting him hunt your rabbits—and what a marvelous shot of the bobcat!
    UrsulaV recently posted..Slogging

  4. says

    Carol what an amazing story…such a blessed treat to have the bobcat visit…Ezra is a rare human who understands how we fit into the ecosystem….I love rabbits but cannot always let them ravage everything…there is much to share…here though the hawks, owls, fox and occasional coyote keep them in check…
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Simply The Best-February

  5. says

    Thought provoking and honest. I’m vegetarian, but what we feed our cats doesn’t bear close thought. Eye to eye with a bobcat, you will remember for the rest of your life!
    Elephant’s Eye recently posted..My tree

  6. says

    We have a bobcat who patrols our yards here in northern CT, and she (we think it’s a female) is fascinating to watch. Several times she has sunned herself not 30 feet from my dining room window, for half an hour, at her leisure. Another time she ambled past my deck with a rabbit dangling from her jaws, on her way to feet the hidden kits. We’ve seen her pounce on voles under the winter snow, again just feet from our windows. It’s like a bobcat movie nature show here!

    As to rabbit hunting, I echo all that Sue Sweeney said, but she said it best.
    Laurrie recently posted..Big Umbrian Pot

  7. says

    Thank you Carol – another marvelous article and I know it took great skill in getting those photos. Congrats.

    I too struggle with what part man has in the overall health of this planet and thus his harvesting of wild animals. A locally renowned naturalist surprised me the other day when he reminded me that man is an integral part of the ecology. I’m told that our local native plant populations would be much different were it not for the wise stewardship of the Native Americans. Apparently they not only managed prairies with fire, but also much of our woodlands. I didn’t know that. So I’m coming to realize there is an imporant and integral part mankind plays in utilizing and carefully managing this gift of our world.

    Thanks again for the wonderful insight to your world.

    Hal
    Hal Mann recently posted..Goodbye Norway Maple

  8. says

    Wow, Carol, AMAZING photos! And what a lovely and touching story too. Young Ezra’s respect for wildlife and nature combined with your excess of rabbits and your own love of nature where you’ve created such an abundant habitat for wildlife is all a big circle that resulted in your chance to spend this face to face time with this beautiful animal. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story :)
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Creating Change to Make the World a Better Place: NWF Backs Down

  9. John Smith says

    Bobcats are such beautiful creatures, and they are so important in our biodiversity. It’s hard to believe why anyone would want to shoot it and hang its head on the wall. It is nice that you were able to experience such a wonderful, rare moment.

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