The afternoon sun catches the bobcat full in the face where he rests under a boulder near the top of the talus slope, waiting for night. It wakes him from a pleasant dream of raiding a mouse’s nest and crunching down an endless supply of succulent squirming hairless mouse babies. He blinks, and tries shifting around to get away from the sunlight, but the small shelter, which stinks of porcupine, barely accommodates him as it is.
The sun makes him thirsty. He remembers the last time he came this way, finding a series of small pools right over the crest of the ridge from here, near the edge of an old field. It’s worth a try.
He emerges cautiously onto the rocks, his pupils narrowing into needles against the glare. Fortunately, he’s only two short leaps from shade and the shelter of the trees.
The air is still. It feels strange to be walking around in daylight, with his mind still half in dream. The sounds of his own footsteps in the leaf litter don’t seem nearly loud enough, and there’s a disconcerting sense of sameness to the various odors that reach his nostrils, as if everything’s been tainted with some kind of poison from the sun.
He clears the fringe of laurel and walks through the open woods along the flat top of the ridge. When he reaches the spot where he remembered finding the pools, there’s nothing but mud. He sniffs, and draws back. The only moisture here is from the hind-ends of horny white-tailed deer, who never seem to mind pissing where they drink and shitting where they eat.
The bobcat continues north along the ridge, remembering a brushy ravine that leads down to the creek. He never sees the pair of deer hunters, a married couple, dressed in blaze orange and sitting against a tree about fifty feet away. Colorblind like all bobcats, he will never see the yellow and orange and red of the autumn leaves, not even when he returns a week later and finds some rainwater to drink in two of the pools that had been dry on his earlier visit.
By that time, the hunters will have told and retold their story of the bobcat to almost everyone they know, and it will have taken on a certain mythic dimension, despite the fact that they are scrupulously honest about the details, the animal’s small size, its apparent lack of caution. It starts becoming possible to imagine what the world must look like to a bobcat — how it can be so wary, such a good hunter, and yet so oblivious.
It is, after all a cat, and we know cats. Everyone knows about cats and water, how particular they are about pulling their whiskers back and only breaking the surface with their tongue. Drinking from the creek is one thing, but still water must make a wild cat especially cautious. Can’t you just see him, catching sight of this other cat in the water and jumping back, then maybe sneaking up on it and touching it with his paw?
Well, I’m sure it won’t be the first time he’s ever drunk from a pool during the daytime. But yeah, I’ll bet he still does a double-take.
The omniscient narrator finds himself unwilling to speculate further. It’s all too easy for those of us who see in color to think we know exactly what we’re looking at.