An hour before dawn, with a three-quarter moon shining through a clear sky, I forego the overhead floodlight that typically illuminates my path. Halfway up the twenty-five sandstone steps from my house to the car, I stop with a startle. “What was that sound?”
We share this corner of the Colorado foothills with predators and frequently see coyotes and foxes—sometimes bobcats. People debate whether lynx or wolves pass through the area, but none of these are on my mind. We have other formidable neighbors that give me reason for concern. This is January. Certainly, the black bears slumber deep within their winter burrows, but mountain lions lurk and are probably as hungry as ever. Years ago I had witnessed a cougar ambush a deer from the roof of our house. The very thought of it unsettles me to the core.
My head swivels to the left and my ears perk. There it is again. My lungs exhale with relief as I hear the hollow clashing of antlers. Two faint horizontal bodies can be seen head-to-head in the moonlight on the adjacent hill. A cow softly mews and confirms that elk had produced that noise and my fears subside. All is well.
Sparring (Pen and Ink)
Note: I wrote this short account after a prompt by Kayann Short on her blog at http://ecobiography.com/