(Amazon) 2011
purchase here (U.S.A.)
purchase here (U.K.)


"Your envy of the feather that propels the eagle's climb,

Renders not your sinuous beauty any less sublime."

a young Puma comes of age.

     The strong smell of pine and the pungent scent that the young cougar had deposited amongst the bearberries a few days before did not obscure the faint trace of white tail deer that he sniffed in the dried tamarack needles that carpeted the forest floor.  However, the trail had to be abandoned when it veered east into the clearly marked territory of an older, larger male.  Caution had been learned through previous encounters with bad tempered veterans.  The youngster was 60 kilos of growing muscle and bone but no match for the more experienced cat who outweighed him by 40 kilos.  He expressed his disappointment with a strange growl, more a cough like the low bark of a dog.  He would have roared out his hunger and solitude but there was no roar in his vocal repertoire, only shrill screams, sharp coughs and throaty purrs.

     It was October, and the first autumn without the supervision of his mother.  He was sufficiently adept at catching mice and other defenceless rodents.  They kept him alive through the summer, but if he was going to survive the oncoming winter, he would have to put some meat in his belly.  

    The only taste of real protein in the months since his mother had run him off had come from a pair of adult bull elks whose antlers had locked together during a rutting contest and had starved to death.  The rotting carcasses would have provided a handsome banquet for the hungry, young mountain lion, but a pack of timber wolves were hungry too, and ready for a fight.  

     The youngster was routed with as much ferocity as he had encountered in his two and a half years on this earth.  From a safe distance he watched in the vain hope that they might leave a little something for him.  But the wolves were meticulous eaters.  Then the ravens and crows gathered round the edges for a feast and by the time the carrion was abandoned, all that remained were a few scraps of tough gristle stuck to a fly covered skeleton and two shredded hides.

     The incident reminded him of lessons learned through his mother's demonstrations on the camouflage of half eaten kills, but the dead elk were too big to move.  In fact he had yet to test out the technique of hiding meat for himself as he had not made a kill that he couldn't devour in a few gulps.  Somewhere there had to be a meal substantial enough to provide some relief from the gnawing hunger that clawed at the insides of this white furred belly.

     Through the day and all of that night, he did not find a single creature worth chasing.  With more than a little resignation he came down off the rocky  ledge he used as a lookout and melted into the trees, his long supple body weaving through the close growing trunks with such liquidity of motion that he disturbed not a leaf nor a loose  piece of bark.

     He spent his morning marking the borders of the territory he fancied was his but which he had yet to defend.  He squirted his aromatic urine into carefully built piles of twigs and leaves and shredded up some soft bark with his sharp claws.  

     When he finished his rounds on the ridge above the little lake formed by a hard spine of granite which interrupted the free flowing river, he was well and truly starving.  In times past  he managed to trap the occasional Shoveller or Ruddy Duck among the reed and horsetail shallows at the upper end of the lake. They would be devoured right down to feathers and bill.  But there were no ducks to be had on this day.  

     The lake was the young cat's most successful hunting ground but it was also where his territory crossed both his mother's and an older male's.  It could be a dangerous place to spend too much time.  He was in no mood to endure the wrath of either, but he was also certain that if he did not eat this day, he might not have the energy to take a larger prey even if he found one.

     He lapped a filling portion of the cool water into his parched mouth, soothing his raw, irritated throat.  Then after washing his face with is big paws, he paused to consider his options.  He could wait in hiding for an ambush opportunity or he could go stalking. 

     The second option stood a greater chance of success but required more energy.  Against his natural inclination to keep on the move, he remembered a wind-fallen tree where the dying branches, ferns and moss had created a small cave that would serve quite well as cover.  On a previous occasion he had surprised a slightly dotty muskrat with a well aimed swipe of his paw.

     He sniffed anxiously at the opening of the dark hole before stepping into it.  He learned this wisdom from an earlier encounter with a grumpy black bear who was already using a similar deadfall as a nursery for a pair of hungry cubs.  When he was sure the hiding place was empty, he gingerly stepped in and settled himself for the wait.

     It was a long one.  Through the day he lay with his chins resting on his outstretched legs, listening to the geese reacquainting themselves with each other for the next leg of their journey South.  When a bluebird began an evening song, the cat stepped out of his hiding place, stretched himself and shook out his fur before padding off in search of higher ground where the damp air didn't seep into his bones and there still might be some daylight and something alive and moving.

    He roamed further up the gradual slope, clearing a small precipice with a single bound.  It was a not a place he expected to see anything, but there, only a few metres in front of him, stood a ten point white tail buck.  The youngster froze, then licked his snout with a swipe of his tongue to make sure his whiskers and nostrils were clean and at their sharpest.

    The buck was looking out over a gentle valley that was already well tinted with the vermilion of the maples and the yellows and browns of the beeches and the birches.  He had an unimpeded view of the hillside above the grove of red spruce where a pair of does were  preparing themselves for the night.  The cat flattened himself against the ground.  His gray and gold coat blended into the rocks making him virtually invisible when the regal deer cast his gaze in that direction.

    The cat was in a position close enough to leap onto the neck of the prey and sink his pointed incisors into the vertebrae.  His jaws were certainly powerful enough to do considerable damage, but he preferred the throat onslaught at which his mother was so expert.  But such a tactic was better employed in a chase because of the death leap  had to come up from under the quarry.  Such a maneuver was dangerous in the wake of flying, razor sharp hooves.  Besides, this big buck was likely to show the cat a clean pair of heels in any chase.

    Off to the left a woodpecker hammered at the dead trunk of a poplar, but the cat did not turn his head.  No distraction would divert this eyes from the buck.  

    Under normal circumstances he wouldn't  have considered taking on such a large, powerful prey, but these were not normal circumstances.  In  the procession of hunger , desperation precedes caution.  He sniffed  the air and was confident  that the evening breeze was in his favour.  When the buck briefly glanced in the other  direction, the cat took full advantage and worked his way up the hillside, giving himself the advantage of height, but still positioning himself downwind.

   Then the buck did something that even this starving cat could not have hoped for.  The great deer lowered his rump first and then followed with his forelegs and lay on his side in a supreme gesture of confidence and arrogance.  

    The puma selected each step that carried him toward the prey with absolute care.  No twigs snapped, no leaves rustled, no pebbles rolled.  His sharp should blades were the high peak on his sleek body, the back of his black ears were pressed against his thick neck, completely hiding the soft white tufts of the inner ear.  It took more than ten minutes to travel mere ten metres, but ultimately he gained his position slightly behind and above his quarry.

     He carefully adjusted and settled every muscle in his body for the leap, his paws testing the foundation under him to make sure there was no danger of slipping.  Then he launched himself, his rear legs extended, his scimitar shaped claws fully unsheathed, his mouth open as wide as his powerful jaws would allow, his rippling muscles stretched to the limit under his elastic skin.

     He landed on the back of the buck, one paw raking the face of the startled animal, the other anchoring into the front shoulder, while the back legs spread wide to straddle the surprised victim.  The buck rose to his feet in spite of the weight and shook his great rack of horns, leaping and twisting, loosening the cat's grip and tossing him over his head so that the cat landed a short distance away, flat on his back and heavily.  The prey then turned attacker and rose up on his hind legs, preparing to skewer the cat where he lay.

    But the cat was not finished.  Gathering his legs beneath him, he sprang for the face of the buck.  The buck, surprised by the resilience of his adversary, broke stride for just long enough for the cat to seize him firmly on the snout.  The buck came down on his knees and attempted to pin the cat to the ground with his powerful head.  But the cat wriggled clear, rolling out of the way of the slashing horns and hooves.  

     The buck now turned blind in panic and opted for escape, but the trees trapped him like a spider's web in the gathering gloom of dusk.  The cat needed no better opportunity.  In a foot race he would have had no chance, but here in close quarters, his agility and precision were clearly superior.  He slithered through the small trunks in pursuit, then judged his opening.  He pounced upon exposed neck of the stag with unthinking boldness.  With his long forelegs around the neck and his jaws clamped onto the throat, he crushed the stag's windpipe and severed the jugular vein in one smooth operation.

   For ten long minutes he kept firm his throttle hold.  Not until there had been absolutely no movement from his prize did he finally loosen his grip.  His face was black with delicious blood and he licked his lips with relish before lapping up the succulent red fluid that oozed from the neck of the inert monarch.

   The battle had caused a great commotion, the sound of the females crashing through the underbrush and the smell of adrenalin and blood wafting through the punky forest air piqued the interest of an old male cougar who was just coming away from the lakeside where he had refreshed himself before embarking on a leisurely evening of hunting.  He raised his nose to sniff, then immediately followed the scent up the hillside.

   The younger cat had just begun to  open up the cavity of the body of the stag when his nemesis came slinking up behind him.  So intent was the younger male on eating his fill that he did not look up from his labours.  The older cat was nearly upon him before he scented the stranger and startled, reared up with a ferocious hiss.  

    This, however, did not phase the veteran in the slightest.  He had dealt with the youngster before and had clearly established his dominance.   He expected the young whelp to slope off out of the way without so much as a warning growl, but the youngster would not be put off his prize.  With a mighty snarl, the tired cat lunged at his larger, stronger rival, but stopped just short of attack.  

     The older predator had no such compunctions.  With a scream that sent every creature from chickadees to chipmunks scurrying for cover, he charged at the young cougar, claws flashing, teeth bared in menace.  The chase was short lived.  The older cat was not interested in a fight, only a meal, and turned back to the carcass, satisfied that he had done enough to remind the youngster of how things stood.

       The hungry youngster wanted to stay out of the way.  He wanted to keep well clear of this uncharitable elder, but the smell of the food was too thick in the air, that taste of blood too strong.  He stood behind a bank of trees until the opportunist had buried his head in the abdomen of the still warm buck, and then began to creep forward in a attempt to steal a quick mouthful.  But it was not to be.  

     The older car pulled out his head and pounced.  The chase was on again.  The cat turned in an instant and pelted full flight for the dense trees, the older cat close on his heels.  Safety had just about been reached when the young male felt his tail caught.  

     He was brought to a short, sharp halt.  He felt it bend unnaturally at a right angle.  The sound of bones cracking was drowned out by a scream of surprise and agony.  Turning back, he thrashed blindly at his opponent.  He had no option.  It was a matter of fight or be mauled.  And fight he did, with the ferocity  and frustration that only hunger and loneliness can inspire.  He beat the old cat in a few short explosions of airbourne fury and life was not so difficult for the elder that he would risk serious injury for a few mouthfuls of deer meat.  He turned tail and headed from the hills.  

     The youngster was glad to see the last of him.  Once sure of his victory, he settled down to a well deserved dinner.  He neither knew, nor cared that his tail never straightened and that he was marked for life.  He had claimed his territory and would defend it for more than twenty years.  He was a cat with a singular tail. 


(Amazon) 2012
purchase here (U.S.A.)
purchase here (U.K.)