I suppose it's all relative. Little prey, little predators. Big prey, big predators.
Felix (the cat) runs around the outside of the house all day long, waiting for one of us to open a door. He wants in. And when he finds that one crack, that one split second when our legs are scissoring through the doorway and he sees his opportunity to leap through that whirling space, he dashes inside and races up the stairs. He's a blur of black-and-white urgency, a cat on a mission. There's only one thing on that savage little brain: my chick.
Most times, he finds a closed door between him and the chick. But that doesn't stop him from trying. He'll stretch himself out as flat as he can, splay his white paw out until it's a thin furry paddle, reach beneath the door, and make a valiant attempt to span the twelve feet of space between the door and the chick's box. As this is real life, and not a cartoon or comic book action movie, he's yet to reach that far.
But one day, Tera forgot to close her bedroom door. As God would have it (I credit Him with all miracles), the chick had just learned to fly himself over the top of the box. None of us saw the actual chain of events, but my guess is that the chick heard frantic cat steps darting up the stairs, figured out that the owner of those cat steps was the same owner of the white, beneath-the-door claw, and reasoned to himself that this might be a good time to try his wings. When Zac came up the stairs, he saw Felix stretched out in his usual position, only this time, inside the bedroom and next to Tera's shelf. Backed against the wall, tapping his little chicken feet and checking his Timex, was the chick--safe between the shelf and a night stand.
Tera is more diligent to close her door now.
And then Tuesday, we saw another predator. Tera, Heather (a friend), and McKenna (her cousin) were out in the back pasture looking for the goats. Dave was in the greenhouse and I was in the garden weeding a patch of Brussels sprouts.
McKenna's voice, when she called me, had an excited tone. "Aunt Shannon! Come here!"
I walked around the rhubarb and peered over the fence at her. "What's up?"
"It's a bobcat!"
That brought me running. And sure enough, when I darted through the pasture gate and joined the girls, I saw a cat-like critter lounging in the shade of a pine tree just on the other side of the fence, not forty feet from us.
I called for Dave. And then there were five of us staring at the cat. Watching his demeanor--the way he stared back at us with a nonplussed, "What?" kind of expression--I surmised two things: one, he wasn't a bit scared, and two, he looked settled in his spot, as if he'd arrived at a favorite destination. I had the distinct feeling that he'd whittled away many an afternoon from that perch.
After the girls got a good eyeful, I sent them up to the house. And then I did something I can't explain, something that was probably a habit born of years of cat ownership ... I said, "Here, Kitty."
Dave gave me an odd look. "What are you doing?"
The cat watched us watching him for five minutes more, and then he stood, turned, and sauntered into the woods, swishing his tail in a purposefully nonchalant manner.
I was thinking about that tail last night, and it dawned on me that maybe we hadn't been looking at a bobcat.
"Dave, do bobcats have tails?" I asked.
He didn't think so. So we got online and looked up pictures of bocats. Ours had not been a bobcat. Knowing the history of our area, we then looked up pictures of cougars. And there it was--our visitor.
It wasn't full grown and it wasn't a cub. It had been a teenager cougar, which meant that a mother cougar probably hadn't been far away. The last time we had a cougar presence in our area, our neighbor lost one sheep and we lost our last three.
Since then, I've been making the girls stay up near the house. I count our goats several times a day. I keep looking at Felix, and looking toward the woods, and thinking about predator schemes, and predator claws, and predator eyes.
And I can't help but wonder ... who's watching me?