Chapter 3 – A Cougar

 There was no fear or aggression in the face of the cougar and he sat looking at her and his surroundings comfortably.  He even was comfortable enough to follow with his eyes the flight of a tiger swallowtail which landed in the top of the Russian Olive trees.

 Anne should have felt fear, but was impressed to remain quiet and watch with strict attention the movements of the big cat. The cat gave a big sigh and looked at her with what appeared to be a request for homage.  She thought she recognized that look from the ones Odie gave her when he expected her to pet or feed him on demand.

 The thought of movement was incomprehensible! If she moved…well, cats play with their food.  If she stayed still maybe it would go away.  She tried to calm her voice as it continued to stare and said, “You’re a beautiful cat. Now go home.” Her voice quavered even though she willed it otherwise. The response from the cougar was to sit and continue to stare.

 The staring contest went back and forth for sometime, but she wasn’t going to move and the cat wasn’t going to leave.  The eye contact was broken several times by both participants but was reunited quickly after the distraction of a fly, or an urge to readjust seating was satisfied.

 Finally the animal took a swap at Anne’s knees and she jumped up out of reflex, more nimbly than she thought was possible for her overweight condition. The cat glared at her with satisfaction and slowly stood up and turned away.  There was a momentary sigh of relief that escaped from her tightly clenched lips, but it was short lived.  The cougar took a few steps and then turned to look back.  The next few movements of its head seemed to clearly indicate that it wanted her to follow it.

 Her legs felt weak and her heart beat wildly as she struggled with what she interpreted to be a command. Could she afford to make the cat angry?  Did it make sense to follow a wild cougar at it’s supposed invitation?  What if she had misinterpreted its gestures?

 Anne’s knowledge of cougars was pretty limited.  She did know they had been spotted in her area and there was even a supposed cougar footprint on her little half acre.  One had been shot on the outskirts of town by a rancher when he perceived that it was headed for his small daughter who was sitting on their tractor. A close neighbor had seen one cross the street in his headlights not more than a few hundred yards from her house. But even with all these occurrences, she had never seen one in the wild and knew they were very shy about showing their presence…at least if they weren’t starving or diseased.  Jack had gotten her a big black lab from a rescue that looked more like a bear and was named Diablo to protect her while she had first been alone in the cabin along with a comfortably sized .38 pistol.  He figured the dog and the gun would scare off any large cats.  That had been four years ago and her wariness for the wilderness had left and she felt comfortably at home here in the high desert.

 Now she was facing a commanding cougar and expected to follow? Her only thought to counteract the illogic of the situation was that maybe she was dreaming.  In the back of her mind she knew that never in any of her normal dreams did she ever remember the sensitivity of the wind blowing across her skin, or of  chapped lips cracking and her tongue having to repeatedly pass over them. She was acutely aware of all the sensations of her body and the surrounding circumstances of the day, the shadows, the light, the wind, and the smells.

 She took a step forward and the cat…uh…smiled?  Well, not really, but she perceived it as such.  It turned it’s head and took a couple of more steps and looked back.  Anne had banished thought and reason all together and now was caught up in her childhood fantasy of Dr Doolittle and being able to “talk to the animals”. She bravely continued following the cougar as if the communication she had interpreted was of course correct and childlike enthusiasm for the unknown awakened in her.

 The path seemed plain enough now even though it wasn’t observable before, and she followed her escort with a growing confidence and enthusiasm of new discovery.  The wind was present and pushing her forward and the memories of her childhood’s friends of “baby wind” and “mama wind” and even “papa wind” were coming into play. 

 When she was young growing up in a military brat family with two brothers, she had to be strong.  Her brothers were always watching professional wrestling and then turning their new found aggression on her for practice.  She remembered ‘half nelsons’ & ‘choke holds’ like it was yesterday.  She wouldn’t walk to school with her brothers but go ahead or behind and be accompanied by her friends the different levels of wind.  She would play with the wind and talk out loud to her friends about her problems while they either tried to encourage her to move faster or  tug at her to remain to play.

 This was again the feeling of old friends returning to share the excitement of a magical event.  Like high school buddies coming to attend a wedding.

 The exhilaration of the reunion and the seemingly correct interpretation of the cat’s gesture gave her confidence and even the great length of the journey did not seem to diminish the whirlwind feeling of renewal.

She had not been watching which way she was heading allowing herself to be totally in the charge of her new companion and old friends, but after a time noticed that shadows had lengthened and wondered if she had passed the turn around point that would allow her to return to the car before dark.  With that thought the journey came abruptly to an end at the mouth of a large over hanging Anazazi type storage hut.  She strained in her mind to recall the pictures she had seen of the many moquis that were around this area, but this seemed not to match any that she could recall.  In fact this place seemed …. ah ….nobler?  Most moqui storage remains gave you the feeling of sadness and a struggle for existence, this one gave you the feeling of control and acceptance.

 Her mind had wandered from her escort to contemplate her new surroundings, but she quickly turned to see if the cat had any further instructions for her.  When the cat had regained her attention it continued under the overhang toward the moqui hut.  She followed.

 All the way under and against the wall where the rock edifice’s first stones were laid one on top of the other the journey seemed to have come to an end.   The moqui was made from the red rock which was her favorite color stone.  Many of the moquis were of yellow stone and crumbled.  Few were constructed with red stones and red clay.  She glanced around to see if there was anything that would have been used as a source for such stones, but decided to pay stricter attention to the cougar since he was now very close to her against the wall.    

 The cougar looked at a pictograph of a circle on the rock wall.  She looked at the circle which was about 3 inches from the ground floor.  As she stared at the symbol trying to comprehend the significance of the symbol when an additional circle seemed to appear inside the first.  Was it the light that played tricks.  Probably!  She looked at the cougar again and it nodded again toward the symbol.  Returning her gaze to the spot…a duplicate symbol was displayed to it’s right, side by side.  It almost look like eyes with glasses.  She wasn’t wearing any glasses so the rocks attempt at communication was still eluding her.  Once again she looked at the big cat and he did a feeble attempt at digging.  Was she suppose to dig?  With her hands?

A moment of indecision occurred about getting on her hands and knees, since she would make a very helpless target for dinner in that position, but the confidence of coming this far pushed her to kneel. The cat laid down on a ledge to supervise. She cupped her hands and started scooping the sand below the symbol. Anne glanced at her instructor and received a seemingly nod of confirmation.

    “This certainly is a sanity raising question.” She vocalized hoping that the sound of her own voice would give some semblance of normality. “Don’t know how I will ever be able to relay this incident to anyone.” Her speaking out loud was just the way she had been accustomed to doing with her friends the wind, in childhood. Talking out loud made her fantasies real, at least in her own mind. 

 The digging didn’t seem to be revealing much more, than more sand.  The cougar kept his vigilance staring at the enlarging hole.  She peered around the deepening shadows of the overhang for something additional to aid in the digging and found a discarded piece of wood that appeared to have been charred on one end and relatively flat on the other and continued digging in the sand.

 The question finally hit. “What could it be that I am digging for?” Now fancy dashed around her cerebral cortex as she pictured treasures, of gold, or ancient artifacts that possibly could have been charged to the cougar for safe keeping, by maybe… her ancestors.

 The haunting family legend that said her real grandfather was a full-blooded Indian of some unpronounceable tribe that her mother could never recall, yearned for some collaboration.

  “Maybe the cougar led me here to find the link that will allow me to claim my heritage.” She was elated at the idea that maybe her bloodline had granted her the right to receive this grand adventure and dug with more enthusiasm.

 After about eighteen inches she hit stone.  The eight-inch by ten-inch hole was entirely blocked by a granite like stone that wouldn’t succumb to her wooden tool’s attempt to get thru.  She scraped and scraped but couldn’t see any progress.  By this time Anne felt stupid.  Digging almost by night in the sand in front of what could be a hungry cougar.  She threw down the wood and stood up flailing her hands and stomping in frustration as she groaned out loud her confusion and her self image bubble popped, along with all the wonderful childhood elation.

 “What am I doing?” she cried at the cougar, which remained remarkably calm at her out lash.

 Panic was slowly rising in her throat.  She didn’t know where she was, and to make matters worse the friendly “mama & baby” wind had calmed under this overhang.  She would soon be in the dark, probably in the very lair of the cougar.  Another thought hit her.  Why hadn’t she looked thru the moqui’s window.  Maybe this was not a male cougar…maybe it was female and there were cubs in there.  She chastised herself for not paying closer attention to the animal’s sex as they walked.  What a marvel this animal was to convince its prey to walk to its lair, which would save it a long drag across rocky terrain.

 She stood still on the outskirts of the overhand and again focused her attention on the cat.  It was in the shadow now but it’s coloring or the way the light reflected  still enabled her to clearly see  it’s definition and it’s eyes which now appeared to be almost glowing green looked at her in  what seemed to be reproof.  She watched as the animal moved to sit tall and regal.  The cougar took the same position as that of the porcelain cat in her windowsill, neck erect, chin down, tail curled around in front and that irritating look that cats give you that make you feel they know what’s going on and you are somehow really dense.

 The glare made her look away and search her mind for something she must have forgotten.  Why would cats dig?  They dig to go to the bathroom!  Was it inviting her to take care of business?  Now this may have come to the forefront of her mind because that particular urgency was making itself felt, and she looked up to meet it’s gaze to check if she was correct…supposing of course that the animal could read her mind.

 The eyes of the beast rose up and down in a deep sigh that was followed by what could have been the equivalent of a spat of disgust.  It rose slowly to all fours and went to the hole she had been digging and quickly excavated at one side a deeper hole, where she could view even from her vantage point that the two holes were now one and that inside this larger digging was a corner….a man made corner!

 She made an apologetic shrug and grimace to the cat as it returned to it’s observation spot and she returned to the hole.  It was a stone box. And she worked now with purpose to uncover and locate the other corners.  It’s dimensions were about a foot by ten inches and about six inches deep.  She struggled to lift it and used her wooden shard to help first dislodge it from it’s resting place and then move it up to the edge of the hole, and pushed it along the ground toward the entrance for more light. Her bad back thought this a wiser precaution than trying to lift it.

 It did indeed look like granite and that was definitely out of place in this environment.   The cougar moved from it’s shadow with some hint of self satisfaction, as when a parent observes that a child has finally gotten the point of a lesson.  It took a position from which it could see the grand opening.

 Now she examined the box with the additional light and searched for the crack that would indicate the lid. Everything was pretty tightly compacted and marveled at what must have been a very intelligent craftsman.  In fact, she wasn’t exactly sure how to open it?  She found the edge about an inch down from the top after blowing and scrapping the outside with some sage bark and attempted to lift the lid straight up.  That didn’t work.  She was keenly aware of the cats peering eyes and was somehow feeling embarrassed again in front of her escort. Why couldn’t she immediately find its method of operation?  She took a deep breath as if she was just about to open it but really hadn’t tried yet, and noticed a notch in the front..no two notches, about thumb size.  She place her thumbs in the indentations and tried moving forward…ugh back…down……aaahhh out!  She felt movement when she moved out and a breaking of a seal of clay.  The box had a two part lid that opened outward and the apparent solid top had been squared off by clay and the inside  top center was the curved cut off granite that gave a two inch slit opening with the clay gone.  The stone moved easy now outward and curved away on a stone hinge of some sort.

 Her heart pounded as she struggled to focus on the contents.  There seemed to be some old… something that could have been a papyrus made out of sage. It seemed to be under a black rock.  She picked up the rock with her left hand and touched ever so lightly the material beneath.  It crumbled almost completely.  She panicked.  Did she just destroy a national treasure?  The answer to the purpose of life?   She scraped first carefully and then frantically at the contents of the box and found only the remnants of the clay seal and the remains of the material that had crumbled.  What it could have told her was lost.  She stifled a cry and summoned from deep inside herself the courage to meet the inquisitive gaze of the cat.  What ever else this whole experience was the cat’s effort to convey an important message to her had failed and she dreaded the silent communication that would convey that ending to the dutiful cat that had kept the secret for who knows how long.

 She put both her hands in her lap, fingered the black rock, and sat back on her heals before lifting her eyes to meet the box’s keeper.  She gasped as she observed a cat gone wild!

  He was jumping up and down doing wild cavorting like she sometimes saw house cats play outside with invisible objects.  It was truly an incredible sight to watch such a large animal return to kitten like jubilance. Apparently it considered the mission accomplished.  It …uh…danced for almost a full two minutes, moving in every possible contortion given to a cat’s body and then was joined by the friendly gusts of wind. The wind encouraged her to join in the dance and she rose to her feet and spun knowing that like in youth the wind would not let her lose her balance and it did seem to hold her up.  The excitement apparently was catching and she let herself get lost for a time in the sheer pleasure of her friend’s joys.

 The first stars were coming out when the joyous tide ebbed and her limited capabilities for excitement left her out of breath and gasping.  When she lifted her head she found she was totally alone.  The celebration was over.

 The moon was suggesting it’s arrival over the ridge, and an intense exhaustion seemed to overcome her.  She walked back toward the Moqui and tried to peer into the window opening, but couldn’t see anything. She was too tired to take in the complete significance that being alone at night in the desert would have meant to her if she had been able to retain all her faculties.  So she simply decided to curl up against the outside wall instead of stepping inside the unknown moqui and just rest for a minute. Her kids had grown accustomed to her sudden need for rest and would always be astounded by the fact that she would lay down on the trail at any point in time and completely rest.  Most of the time she would not fall asleep,  but this time she was asleep before the moon made it’s complete ascension over the ridge.  

 Anne jerked herself awake and was totally confused by the fact that she was sitting cross-legged in her spot by the boulder.  It was day, and had been for some time.  What day? She wasn’t sure, but she was clear about the amazing events that had occurred.  She glanced around intensely searching to catch a glimpse of the big cat.  She found that a black rock was sitting in her lap.  THE black rock from the night before,… at least that is what it appeared to be.

Now she struggled mightily with reality.  Could it have all been a dream?  No, she wouldn’t believe that…it had been real! She had taken special note of things that she would not have remembered in a dream like state; her discomfort and exhaustion and the wind’s feel on her skin. She went over them with clarity sharper than she had processed in years. Each minuet detail stood out in her memory as clear as if it was currently happening.

 Here in her special collection of beautiful and unique rocks the black rock in her lap was really not very impressive.  She picked it up to concentrate on it’s intricacies and saw unmistakenly that the rock glowed green and felt warmer than the sun’s light would have warranted.  Then it’s glowing took on an irregular pulsing and for a moment the exhilaration of the prior day was again very real.  Was it the rock that was the wonder of the stone box?

 The pulsing died and it returned to a normal black rock, and with the change came her return to a more scientific perspective.  She studied it for a way to open it. Maybe it too was a container of some sort, but could find nothing that would indicate anything but that is was a totally solid rock. 

 There were indentations in the rock that made her try different manners of holding it so that a finger was in each indentation.  The rock was hand size with a round part that fit comfortably against the palm of the hand, but then once outside the hand’s cupped area it moved in a triangle like direction to come to a rounded ridge much like a blunt axe would.

 On the side with her thumb there was a line with a depressed flat area that seemed to make the request for rubbing it like a worry stone.  At the top was two perfect indentations that were rounded and indented which her next two fingers fit into just as if it had once been clay and she had squished the spots herself.

 Her next digit held the side in an indentation whose ridge was thicker at the location that would give the item the most support and her finger ran along the side of that curve.  The little finger, although there was no indentation, just naturally slid to the bottom for support making a complete circle. 

             At what may have been considered the point was two small deep slots like a plug for an electrical socket.  It fit perfect for her left hand.

           She wasn’t very good at geology even if she did find fascination with the colors and texture of rock specimens, but she really couldn’t see where the rock could have come from in the surrounding terrain.  It obviously had been tumbled in the water because of its smoothness…

           …With the contemplation of water the memory of the pond came again and when she was looking up thru the waters this time she could see out of the corner of her eye similar rocks to the one she possessed.  The whole floor of the pond had uniquely shaped black rocks nestled in the whitish mud.

          All of a sudden the black rock she held in her hand represented her.  It now seemed to hold extreme value and she cradled it in both her cupped hands like it was a dainty robin’s egg.  This could be the link to her nagging memory;  maybe the answer to her confusion lay in her hands.  She gave a deep sigh of relief, for now their seemed some continuity in her strangeness, and placed the rock in her tunic pocket to head back home for further research.

           The short walk to the car brought about the return of normal mundane life.  What was she going to tell her husband about why she didn’t come home last night?  He must have been awfully worried and confused.  She was immediately sorry her adventure had cost him hours of torment and shook with the need to comfort him.  She drove very fast for the gravel road, fiercely trying to think of something she could say, but couldn’t seem to formulate an explanation in her mind to tell him what had happened without sounding mad.  She figured she would wait until she faced him to hope for some insight.

           The drive was short enough.  She pulled in front of the house with no major collection of police officers or panicked husbands, just the always-glad-to-see-ya-dogs.  She hesitatedly went into the house.

           No one was there, just a note on Jack’s chair: “Came home early but you were out.  Was called out on a Search at Ticcaboo for the Sheriff’s office.  Won’t be home tonight.  They are putting us up at a motel.  See you tomorrow afternoon. Love ya, Jack”

           She sat down and tried to cry, but she was both relieved and frustrated that she had no where to vent the experience.  She checked the answering machine and found that Jack had left one message saying he was using the sheriff’s home phone just this once, because the pay phone was out…again.  The search hadn’t revealed anything new.  They had been searching for clues about a murdered woman along the vastness of Glen Canyon National Park’s boundaries and that he expected to be home around 3pm.

           The tension gone and normality returning, the needs and pains of her body made themselves urgently demanding.  She cried softly as she did her physical maintenance.

           Showered and rehydrated, she grabbed an apple and headed out back to see the goats.  They were very hungry and she gave them three flakes of hay and checked their water, which needed some fresh added, but they hadn’t been out.  All in all her adventure hadn’t cost too much.  The dogs were probably lonely, the goats a little hungry, but everything was normal now.  The kids were frolicking on a stump in the yard and chasing each other with a speed that seemed unnatural to such small pygmy goats.

           She needed to fix something for Jack’s dinner for when he got home in a couple of hours.  So she returned to the kitchen to peruse the refrigerator’s contents.