Sunday, April 22, 2007

Shore Pebble from Author David Weale: The Apparition

The Apparition

I can’t even remember what it was I had forgotten. A book? My road coffee? It doesn’t matter. What I do recall is that when I pulled my truck back into the yard behind the house I glanced across the field to the east and spotted at the edge of the woods a big yellow dog which I took to be a Labrador Retriever. My place is on the Five Houses Road in Ft. Augustus, and as the name suggests, there aren’t many of us living there. Because I was almost certain no one on the road had a dog like that, it roused my curiosity and sent me scurrying off in search of my binoculars. When I located them I hurried to the bathroom window, from which vantage point I knew I would have an unobstructed view of the spot where I had seen the dog. I feared it would be gone, but a quick glance assured me it was still there, standing motionless and looking across the field in the general direction of my house. Good! I dropped to my knees on the floor, placed my elbows on the windowsill to steady myself, and raised the binoculars to my eyes.

“Lord Liftin’ Jesus! What do we have here?”

It seemed impossible I was seeing what I was seeing -- but I was. There was no mistake. What I had assumed was a large dog of some kind was not a dog at all. It was, incredibly, a very large cat – large enough to be mistaken for a full-grown Lab. I noted the small pointed ears, the squared face, and especially the long thick tail with a succession of dark rings along its length. It was magnificent, whatever it was.

Islanders, of course, aren’t very good at identifying large cats, since there aren’t any that live here, or so we all thought. I knew there had been lynx, or bobcats, on the Island when the European pioneers arrived, but that they had killed them off as quickly as possible, with the last of them disappearing in the late1800s. Just a few months before my sighting I had heard at Dave Wakelin’s store in Ft. Augustus that someone’s dog had been badly mauled in the woods by what, they speculated, might have been a bobcat from the Cape Breton Highlands that had found its way to the Island across the ice during the previous winter. But bobcats aren’t yellow, and they most certainly don’t have long tails with rings. No, it wasn’t a bobcat; more like a cougar, or a mountain lion, and it was fifty or sixty metres away, on the edge of my field, staring at my house. Perhaps, at me. I was dumbfounded.

After what seemed like about fifteen seconds the big cat turned gracefully, moved off into the woods, and disappeared. Its motion was so smooth it seemed almost to be gliding. I thought briefly about heading across the field for the chance of getting a better look, or of seeing some tracks, or perhaps some scat, but prudence prevailed, and I stayed put. I waited at the window a short time hoping for a re-appearance but after a few minutes I put away the binoculars, gathered up whatever it was I had forgotten, and headed for town.

I knew I had a great story to tell but realized I might not be able to share it without raising serious questions about my mental state, or perhaps my use of consciousness-altering substances. Would even my closest friends believe that I had locked eyes with a cougar or mountain lion at nine o’clock in the morning on the Five Houses Road? Did I want to run the risk of being known as a person who saw things that weren’t there, or who made up fantastic stories to fabricate a more interesting life? Not especially. But, on the other hand, how could I possibly keep such a thing to myself? It was just too good a story.

Before the day was over the raconteur in me won out, and by the time I headed home that evening I had related the event a number of times. Predictably, my hearers were largely incredulous. No one came right out and questioned my sanity or my sobriety, but I think there were a few who had doubts about my eyesight. On balance, however, the pleasure of relating the account outweighed the risk of possible side effects on my reputation, so I told it often, and here I am telling it again.

Over the years the core facts of the story haven’t changed in my telling, but I have drawn a meaning out of it, which is what storytellers do to make a good story better. I still am not willing to concede that, for some reason or other, I wasn’t seeing clearly that morning and that what seemed at first a Yellow Lab was, in fact, a Yellow Lab. My inclination is to interpret the sighting as a sign, and reminder, of all the animals that have been driven off this Island, and, in some cases, off the very face of the earth. When I tell the story that way, I get to remind myself and others of the disappearance from our Island of the walrus, sturgeon, black bear, otter, bobcat, deer, moose, passenger pigeons, and great horned owls. I get to remind them, and myself, of how vain and short-sighted we were to leave no place for them, and how, in doing so, we diminished the landscape and impoverished ourselves by removing the genius and grace of their wild ways, and the haunting reminder of their wild calls. And the more I tell the story, the more inclined I am to view that big cat as an apparition, or visitation, and to recognize that if I don’t understand why it appeared, it can never come back.

Within a few days after spotting the cat I called the Fish and Wildlife Department to report what I had seen, and possibly to have my sighting confirmed. The officer on the other end seemed a bit uncomfortable, and I was imagining the look on his face, and how he was probably gesturing for his secretary to pick up the other line, all the while pointing at his receiver, as if to say, “This is a weird one.” However, after a short silence he told me that, oddly, there had been a similar report from the same general area a year or two before. And that was the end of it.