I know this because this morning I saw it again.
Remember that mysterious creature I saw back in the spring? With the coal black fur, cat-like tail, and pointy ears? The one that my dad and I tried unsuccessfully to track into the woods? That one. It came back. I believe now that what I saw then was a young panther. And I think it likes my pond.
The morning started out like usual. There I was, minding my chores, tossing pumpkins to the pig, when for no reason at all I happened to glance down toward the pond. And there it was--perched on the pond bank, tensed for attack, staring with laser-like focus at the water.
A jolt of shock shot through me, paralyzing me for a brief moment. And then I sprang into action. I dropped my pumpkin, whirled around, and ran back to the house.
No, I wasn't being a 'fraidy cat. I'm not afraid of no cat. But I was afraid it would leave before I got a picture of it. And my camera was in the house.
After a few frantic moments, during which I managed to find the camera, the binoculars, and my courage, I raced back outside, praying silently that it was still there.
My prayers were answered. It was now sitting on its haunches on the bank, slowly assessing the area. It was here that I faced a dilemma like none I'd faced before: Should I look through the binoculars first or the camera lens? Had I been more awake I could have made a decision faster, but as it was, my foggy brain and my bleary eyes slowed me up.
I wanted to see it close up so bad that I tried the binoculars first, but they were out of focus, so I wasted precious moments trying to remember how to adjust them. I got them fixed just in time to watch the thing shake its head in disgust at me and turn toward the woods. As if it could do any better. Adjusting binoculars is hard!
I realized I was missing my chance to get a photo, so I quickly raised the camera and clicked off a shot. Unfortunately, by that time it was so far away that the photo doesn't do it justice. Instead of the majestic jungle cat I saw with my own eyes, it resembles something more along the lines of an alley cat. Bummer. But at least I have evidence. So without further ado, here it is...
You should have been there--it was better in real life.
Let's try to zoom in...nope. Still not any better. Actually I think that's worse.
Shoot. I really wanted you to see it. I wanted you to experience the amazement I felt while gazing at this mesmerizing animal. The kind of wonder I felt when my granny would tell me stories from days gone by about mysterious creatures living deep in the hills surrounding our tiny town. Like the creature that walked on two legs, creeping behind my uncle as he walked the path home from a visit to his sweetheart. The panther lounging in a tree, staring into the upstairs window at a lady as she brushed her hair before bed. The search parties headed into the darkness of the woods by lantern light, in pursuit of elusive mountain lions who had decimated their livestock. Eerie eyes glowing in the moonlight, peering at the occupants of passing wagons on their way home from town. The big cat killed by the menfolk that was so massive its nose touched the front of the wagon, its body stretched the length of the bed, and its tail dragged the ground as they hauled it to town.
Those were the days. And those were the stories that were told, whether we believe them or not. What I do believe is what I've seen with my own eyes, tired though they were. One thing I know for sure, when a black panther looks you in the eye, you believe he's real. Even if you're peering through binoculars when it happens. I am also aware of the caution that needs to be exercised now that I have one in my midst. But still, I feel honored to have glimpsed it. It's as if for a few moments I was granted access to a wilderness reserved for the truly wild, a place very few humans get to see.
My glimpse was short-lived, as they always are. As I watched my panther disappear into the brush, I slowly returned to my chores. The excitement faded and routine returned. All day long I glanced toward the pond, hoping to catch another glimpse of my pond panther. But it was not to be. He was long gone, yet even now he lingers in my mind. And in my imagination. And one day when my grandchildren sit at my knee, I will smile to myself and tell them about the time I came eye to eye with a black panther.
And then maybe, just maybe, I'll tell them the truth!