9 May 2009
There's a wildness to California. A wild and wonderful sense of something huge and untamed lurking just beyond our range of sight. Even in the southern suburbs of the thirty-first state, there's a time in every day when the sun begins to slip behind the horizon, and the last gold rays fling themselves across huge distances to wrap the flatlands and hills in the same enormous net of light. It's in this moment that the purple-beige rooftops and sand-colored walls of buildings and houses take on the life of the surrounding landscape, and everywhere around you there's a feeling of scale, of being totally encompassed by the rest of the world, of time rushing around your own stillness. And nowhere can this be more accentuated, more apparent, more mind-crashingly obvious than if, at this moment, you are staring into the eyes of a California bobcat.
Bark-brown and dark on top changing to sun-toasted yellow with black spots and stripes down their legs, seeming to move and melt into long grasses when they're absolutely still. At a distance you'd mistake one for a housecat, but the illusion vanishes if you meet one face to face. The eyes are green-yellow, gray and brown, with deep round pools of black black black that betray the gaping chasm of nature between the two types of felines. Perfectly still, the cat hypnotizes you, and there in that golden moment when it flattens itself close to the sun-warmed earth, the ends of its fur glowing in the slanting light, you can almost feel the turning of the earth around the two of you, centrifugal force tipping you slightly as you crouch and stare at this wild, wild cat.
I've only ever seen these creatures when I'm not looking for them - a dark silhouette against the lightening early morning sky, a flicker of motion as they saunter without a sound down heat-glazed tracks. My close encounter was the treat of a lifetime. I carry my camera everywhere, yet I've never gotten a shot that comes close to capturing the quicksilver grace, the casual lope and the continuous motion that is the essential wildness of these Californian animals. I do hope to catch these superb felines in their element soon, but for now, I'll keep searching in that instant during the sunsets when everything comes alive.