Love Letter to a Lion

I’ve had a relationship with a mountain lion in a remote desert canyon for the past three years. We’ve never met up in “person” but I’m there frequently enough I know he knows my scent and has watched me as I explore his territory. I’ve seen his pug marks in the mud around the spring there and one night earlier this year, he paid me a visit while I slept exposed in the bed of my truck down the canyon from his hunting grounds. In the morning I found his footprints in the dust on my driver’s side door. It inspired me to imagine what it must be like to encounter humans in his home.

We’ve been shadowing each other for three years now, you and I. From the size of the tracks, you are a he, in my best estimation. We both know this country. You know it better but I’m catching up, piece by piece. By the time I’m a hundred and your bones have turned to dust under the hot Coso sun, I may know it as well as you.

When the painted hills fade to black and the canopy above breaks into vast spans of starry light, you’ll pad the three miles from your hunting grounds to the lower springs - junipers and pinyons stand black on black, like ghosts on the edges of the canyon. 

Stepping velvet soft down sluices worn smooth by ages of storm water to see what the latest intruders in your domain are and what they’re doing here in this wild place. Snoring loudly, leaving strange smells and riding rumbling metal things, inexplicable and colder than midnight stones. 

Sometimes the interlopers violate the natural order, throwing out spears of light and loud noises. Then you keep your distance, padding beyond the reach of light, wary and suspicious. 

At times it’s just me, sitting alone, a small fire barely keeping the ink at bay. Sometimes I’m already asleep in my truck’s open bed. Then you’re bolder, slipping into camp for a rare close quarters look - the lion’s equivalent of counting coup. 

I hear the soft impact of your paws as you drop from peering through my driver’s window and think I am dreaming. 

Jon snores softly in his tent a stone’s throw away.

You leave as silently as you came, curiosity sated, leaving us aslumber. You’re powerful, a male in his prime, your prey is mustangs and mule deer. You could attack me as I lay vulnerable under the stars, but you slip like a shadow back up the canyon, leaving us to the night and the vast gauzy ribbon of the galaxy.

Maybe next time, I’ll catch a glimpse of you, my friend. Perhaps the time after that, but even if I don’t, it’s been a privilege to be a guest in your sprawling high desert home.

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