It was one of those kinds of days….
One of those glorious spring days that make you feel heady and foolhardy, with a dash of April madness. The afternoon had simmered away to the warmest part of the day, and now the distant hills beckoned me with swaying ripples of grass.
With sunhat on my head and a dachshund at my heels, I set off for the slopes beyond the family farm—not sure where I was going, but confident that I’d know it when I got there. The old trail took me uphill and down—leading me along the path my ancestors trod so many years ago. Past shadowy draws and mysterious ravines.
Past the place of Fear-and- Trepidation….
I’d seen a huge muddy paw-print at this spot, several months ago, and though the track had disappeared in the ensuing rains, nothing could erase the memory of the monstrous cougar paw-print from my mind.
“It’s got to be a cougar,” my father told me, upon examining the track. “And she’s a big one.” My father straightened and stared across the timber. “Your uncles say she lives in the thicket just west of here—but not all the time. She circles the timber within a 25 mile radius….So you don’t have much to worry about.”
I wasn’t really worried about the Big One, today. The day was bright and the wind was fresh. There could be no lurking cougars in the ravines—not today.
The little hound and I tramped the winding pathway, heading deeper into the Barada Hills as the sun began its downward slide. Overhead, great arrows of snow geese pointed northward—their wings flickering light and dark, light and dark until they disappeared into the haze of a summer-yet-to-come.
Earth was waiting, heavy with offspring yet unborn…A promise of birds and bees and flowers and seeds. The twitter of nesting robins. The scent of sun-toasted soil and waiting fields. On every slope and hilltop could be seen the burgeoning belly of Mother Earth.
I topped a gently mounded hill and came to a stop, listening.
Hidden somewhere in the trees ahead, was the Home Place—a creaky old farmstead which could be heard long before it came into view. Loose tin banging in the breeze…the squeak of ancient hinges…the rush of wind in the walnut trees. I followed the noisy din and soon the ramshackle remains of the Old Home Place emerged from the trees, rising before me like a miniature ghost town.
Only one good barn remained. It stood like a stiff sentinel amongst the tottering, gray-faced buildings. The barn’s big door was partly open, letting the inner darkness leak out…dense blackness that looked grim and foreboding.
A shiver zippered my spine.
Cougars don’t live in barns, I was sure of that. But this old barn always left me feeling wary. It was full of hidden niches. Cobwebby rafters. Dark musty stalls.
I walked quickly past the sentinel barn and rounded the corner.
Just ahead of me the dachshund paused, ears cocked, eyes bright with anticipation. He stood motionless—seeing what I could not see, hearing what I could not hear. His nose quivered for just a moment, then he sped off, yipping—tail wagging, nose to the ground, zig-zagging a cottontail trail through the weeds. His yips receded into the distance and I turned to stare about me at the decrepit buildings.
An old well-pump sat idle, the handle cocked—awaiting a dead owner’s return. Broken canning jars from long-gone pantries lay scattered about…Aged stovepipe, corroded from a thousand fires of the past. Wires and hinges and broken tools. They rusted in the dirt where they’d fallen.
I gazed at the scene around me. If I listened hard, I could hear the echo of my great grandmother’s voice on the wind, calling the family to supper. I could hear the ca-rumph, ca-rumph of the well pump, and the bang of my great grandfather’s buckets. The splashing of water. The voices of children in springtime. The echoes of living and loving and laughter….
Life in full motion, now frozen in time….
My thoughts ground to a halt. A movement in the barnyard below had caught my eye…There was the silhouette of a figure against the side of the barn. The form stood motionless, now, as though watching me…Somebody with a broad-brimmed hat and a dark countenance—a phantom figure amid the trees. Startled, I leaned to one side for a better look. The person leaned as well. I straightened and so did the phantom.
I sighed, relieved.
It was just me…My silhouetted image cast by the setting sun. Strange…I thought to myself. There was a strange irony to it all. I stood gazing at my dark shadow, thinking. I, myself, was a reflection of those who had gone before me. Their DNA permeated my genes. I mimicked my ancestors, like my shadow mimicked me.
Deep in thought, I wandered about the homestead, spending the rest of the afternoon shuffling through the broken remnants of my ancestors’ past—putting together the puzzle pieces of their lives…puzzle pieces that were my legacy, as well.
At last I grew tired. The little dachshund, too, had grown weary of his pursuits. He rejoined me late in the afternoon, and the two of us sat beside the tumble-down cabin, watching as the sun faded into western oblivion.
The wind had died, and the banging of tin and creaking of hinges was stilled. The old farm sat locked in a silence that transcended time and space. Ghostly shadows crept over the landscape.
A chill ran through me. It was time to go.
I jumped to my feet, suddenly aware that I had a long ways to go before dark. I called the hound and the two of us set off at a good clip—heading into the dimness of the burgeoning twilight.
Topping the hill, I looked over my shoulder. The homestead had slipped once more into the gloom of the Past. I gazed back on it for a moment before turning to look toward the distant lights of my Present.
Past, Present and Future….
They all seemed to merge together in the twilight. Perhaps someday, my descendants would come out here, seeking the puzzle pieces of their past. Which was really my present….Or was it my future?
I sighed and hurried on toward home.
Weird thoughts were beginning to whirl through my mind as twilight closed in around me. Reality blurred. Craziness took over. With the approach of nightfall, the shadows about me became shapes, and shapes became creatures—creatures that prowled and clawed at the edges of my sanity.
I tried not to see them. Those things out there, unfriendly in the dimness. Lurking bobcats and monster cougars. The dachshund seemed unafraid, but the presence of such a small dog did little to bolster my own courage.
My feet sped faster, and I found myself stumbling and grumbling as I fought my way through the dimness. Almost there, I said to myself. Almost there. The lights of the farmhouse were brightening now. I only had another acre or two to go. Past the pond and the goat pasture. Past the place of Fear-and-Trepidation where the paw-print of that great cat—-
My feet slowed, then ground to a halt.
There was something ahead of me…a presence that I could feel. I swallowed hard. It wasn’t till this moment that I realized I’d been abandoned by the dachshund. I could hear the sudden rise of his Cottontail-yips in the timber behind me. I was on my own.
I stared at the weeds just ahead. Something was moving in there. My heart leaped and my mind raced. In the dimness I could see eyes. Yellow, feline eyes….
With heart pounding , I strained to see past the eyes, to gauge the size of this cougar….
I squinted through the dimness. If it was a cougar, it couldn’t be the Big One. The breadth between its eyes was too narrow. Could it be the Big One’s cub…? No. The coloring didn’t seem right….the feline was too white-looking. Too small.
“Spot!” I yelled, “You dumb cat!” The barn cat advanced slowly, slipping out of the weeds. He came and rubbed himself against my leg. “You silly thing!”
Pushing the cat aside, I hurried on through the dimness toward the house. I’d had just about enough springtime adventure for one day. Enough of puzzle pieces from the past. Enough of springtime madness. This business of wandering through the dark hills at night with the Big One lurking out there was pure insanity.
April follies and foolishness, indeed!
I hastened on toward the farmhouse, not stopping till I’d gotten inside. I shut the door behind me and leaned my back against it, breathing hard.
This April fool was lucky…just lucky to be alive.