Limantour Beach is but one of the jewels of the Point Reyes National Seashore. The wilderness that backs the beach is just as wildly beautiful as the ocean that fronts it. From the ridge, trees kept rich by fog look over one another as the land gives way to the sea. These trees conceal an entire society that excels at being unseen. As I gaze at the rising mounds of earth from the coast I see a bird fly and vanish, then another, but then nothing. No movement, even though millions of critters large and small are going about their day. The sight reminds me of taking a boat ride around Manhattan and seeing the buildings tightly packed in and rising up for air, but hearing none of the sounds of the millions of people that pound its pavement.
My spirit wants to enter their world and not emerge for days, fearlessly exploring places where humans don’t wander. My human self would make it ten paces in, feel the trees close in on me and want to bolt. Kind of like how I feel when I enter The Genius’ attorney offices.
I’m cool with being vulnerable where matters of the heart are concerned, fearless even. But when it comes to having my heart ripped out by a giant version of a house cat (Ever been bitten by a house cat?) I can conjure up the terror that would rack my body – it’s a terror I’ve never come close to experiencing.
I’ve never been that scared. And I don’t want to be.
But the forest is so alluring. Densely packed Douglas firs and Bishop pines with pockets of clear floor under their soaring canopies. The smell of sap and bark and decomposing needles and leaves. Hills to climb on trails never made, feeling the burn in thighs as sunlight gets closer. The white noise of a quiet forest, punctuated by bird screams and scampering squirrels. Insects all around but inconspicuous in an effort to eat rather than be eaten.
Elk, deer, coyote, jackrabbits, bats, raccoons, Kingsnakes, Rattlesnakes, spiders of all shapes and sizes and degrees of creepiness, bears even. But no other animal in the Pt. Reyes Wilderness makes the knees of humans and animals alike shiver more than a Mountain Lion. Or, Cougar, if you will – not to be confused with those of the human variety that hunt youthful men instead of fawns, mainly in towns, not the wilderness.
The Mountain Lion has many names – Puma and Panther among them, because they were named by many. They have the largest range of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere, found from Canada to Argentina.
Mothers raise their young for the first year to two, teaching them to hunt, and then they are encouraged (sometimes with a cold shoulder or worse) to move on to their own land. Freeing the Mother up to mate again.
It was one such yearling that shot across Mesa Road as we returned from our swim in Bass Lake. I don’t recall ever being so fully present and aware of every millisecond that passed as I watched her fly into the road from the right, bent like a backward S, her tail out of sight. I watched my mind direct my eyes to key parts of her body to identify her.
No tail, Bobcat. Tail, Fox. Sleek fur, long tail. Mountain Lion??!? Can’t be.
Her head turned toward the car. Two petite ears pointed forward on a head far too small for what will soon be a long and powerful body. Her fur was flat and tawny. Cheekbones like a supermodel, with a jaw that could snap a human neck. I saw one eye.
And then she was gone.
Someone was behind us and off to the ocean side of the road – they must have seen her, too. There was no need to compare notes. What we saw was the type of wild cat that I expect to see when I finally make it to Africa. Or, maybe catch a glimpse of while I am on a trail deep in the woods. I didn’t expect to see her dart across the road two miles from my driveway.
She was small, and I was in a car, but that didn’t stop my heart from freezing. Not because of fear. I was in awe.
These wild cats really do roam the forest surrounding my home. Wow.
The next night I was driving back from taking a walk on Stinson Beach. I spent the time on the sand reminding myself of the unique blessing of living in Bolinas, letting thoughts of divorce or fears or hyper-self-analysis float out to meet the fog that sat suspended between sky and sea a mile offshore. If my mind drifted I would bring it back to the golden grasses and evergreens, or the gentle slope of the sand that allowed waves to break and wash ashore as if each was holding the final note of a song they’ve been singing since they were born.
I looked beyond the surface of the water and imagined the scenes beneath. Halibut laying on the ocean floor, seals sailing along the coast heading for the lagoon, mussels and starfish clinging to rocks covered with water and surrounded by ling cod. To my right, hills more populated than New York City, Chicago and San Francisco combined. I’m one beating heart on a parcel of land that is host to a billion.
The billion beating hearts of Bolinas.
My concentration on all things nature had me thanking the Eucalyptus trees for always welcoming me home as I turned on Mesa. It was twilight. Dark enough to make the headlights bright. And through both beams ran a Mountain Lion just as I came upon the firehouse.
It was the same Mountain Lion. Coming from my right across to my left, with her tail hidden at first and then, as she came out of her backwards S shape it flew in front of the light and then out straight from her back as she took a short leap off the road. I saw the side of her face, her cheekbone, her killer jaw and one eye, now white with light, before she disappeared into the grasses.
It was the same Mountain Lion. I just know. Just like I know it’s a girl. Right around puberty, I imagine, establishing her territory and living on her own for the first time. Foraging. Getting to know her strengths and weaknesses, facing fears and learning from close calls, savoring her first successful hunt, and taking time to play and be curious.
She and I are walking parallel paths. Only she can do cool stuff like jump 40 feet and probably doesn’t spend nearly the amount of time I do being concerned about aging, even though she will age faster.
With two back-to-back Mountain Lion sightings I didn’t stop to pet the dog when I arrived home but got right to the totem cards.
The Mountain Lion’s message begins with the need to balance the body, mind and spirit. On the days of both sightings I was doing just that. Look at me! So in the flow with the Mountain Lion! And then, as I read on, the paths diverged.
The Mountain Lion understands that all beings are potential leaders in their own way and leads herself without insisting others follow.
…lead without insisting others follow…
That seems like a load off, right? No need to look back and see if everyone is keeping pace. Just walk on, be a living example to only ourselves. To others we are someone to encounter – it’s up to them how they engage with us based on their needs. Our energy can be spent on our journey and not trying to convince them to join us.
(I immediately applied this lesson to my conversation with Mr. Viking. I was insisting he follow my lead. And when he didn’t I was disappointed in him. Not just disappointed. But disappointed in him.)
Mountain Lion medicine is about learning to act instead of being indecisive. Being courageous and brave, and responsible. As a responsible leader of one, we choose how to react to situations. Happiness is derived from how we respond, not what we get or who loves us or how good looking we are, but simply from how we respond to situations. (Somebody did some studies, this is what they concluded, and I couldn’t agree more. I just can’t remember who they were.) And self-love has a lot to do with how we chose to respond to situations.
No wonder the Mountain Lion has such a long tail. It shows us how things come full circle.
While my mind went right to the conversation with Mr. Viking, my soul was preparing for a whole ‘nother animal with the wisdom from the Mountain Lion.
Saturday was the tall dude’s birthday. They were with The Genius for the weekend, so I asked tall dude to call me when he was preparing to open his present. A present that The Genius and I selected together. All part of this collaborative, compassionate, cordial experience I’ve chosen to create. It’s been a success. The dudes are more relaxed. Our encounters are not filled with tension. I can look him in the eye. I haven’t folded in small talk, but then it’s not my thing anyway. Trust me when I say that I can never envision a time when I will have a deep thoughts style conversation with TG. But I have shared pictures on my phone, told stories of the boys’ adventures or updates about school.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I couldn’t even speak to him. Massive progress.
All of which was nearly obliterated by Skype.
(Somebody needs to do a study on the number of relationships destroyed by something seen or read on Skype.)
On the morning of the tall dude’s birthday I spent my time in solitude taking back the memories of that day and making sure they were not polluted by the actions of The Genius. In the days leading to his birthday I felt appropriately melancholy about not being able to celebrate seminal moments in the dudes’ lives with the man who helped create them. Sure, we’ll both attend birthday parties and graduations, but we won’t be celebrating together. Now we celebrate alone.
Or so I naively thought.
The tall dude called and I sang to him. His request to Skype was eagerly accepted. I wanted to see his blue starburst eyes grow and then squeeze shut with joy as he pulled out his new skim board. But I missed that part because I was distracted by several female voices and then drop-kicked by the sight of a young girl running in to the video frame to help the tall dude unwrap his gift.
The Instafamily was in town.
And no adult on duty thought it might be a good choice to usher out the happy little forever family so the actual Dad and Mom could have this moment with their son? I am honoring the tall dude’s birthday alone, without him. Which was never part of the agreement. (For the HGM record, I am mad that I am not with the dudes full time. Occasionally I feed it a crumb and get on with life. I don’t flog myself with it, but sometimes I feel the burn.) The Genius couldn’t take a moment to think, We don’t need to make this suck any more for her? The Happy Dance Chick, a mother herself, doesn’t have the sense to remove herself and her family from the room to make it easier for everybody? Is she completely without empathy? Forethought? Brain cells?
No. No. No. And yes. Yes. Yes.
The Genius could have set it up to succeed because he cared, not doomed it to fail because he didn’t.
At that moment I felt like I had been attacked by a Mountain Lion, not lead by one. I trembled with tears, I sobbed, I fought mightily to not throw up. My hands shook for over an hour. I actually thought about doing a shot of tequila, but it was still morning. (I am responsible, just not made of steel.) This feeling I had was the closest I’ve come to what I experienced on the day I searched for the word love in Skype on The Genius’ computer.
I felt gutted.
After an exchange of texts where excuses were made and apologies given, but unfortunately the lies are still coming so I can’t believe the apologies, I put my phone in another room and just let the tears flow. I made a decision to let myself feel it hard. That choice was motivated by an intense desire to not give to him another moment of my life. Not another freaking moment. So I couldn’t just push it away and “move on”, I had to sit with the pain of not being with my son on his birthday, having the Instafamily shoved down my throat without warning, and being face to face with the callousness that is their way of life. I had to sit with it so I could transform the pain into something a whole lot more productive. Maybe it wouldn’t be happiness, but at least a productive kind of sadness.
In between bouts of tears, I had imaginary conversations with The Genius. You know the type. Walking the path that circles The Calmmune, I let the words come and then go. I breathed deeply. I cried. Just cried. Then thoughts of the Mountain Lion and the message she brings. By the time I clocked a mile and came to the crest of the hill, a smile was ready to come forth. I turned to Stinson Beach to see waves leaving a long line of whipped water at the edge of shore and hills that rose sharply toward a brilliant blue sky. The sun was warm. The air scented with a myriad of smells from wild flowers that taste like cucumbers to laurel blossoms and lavender. I felt light. And focused.
In my walk I decided to do something that would nurture me – finish hanging pictures and take my room from almost unpacked to stylized. As I moved through each task I felt at peace. I was consciously in the moment. Being fully present allowed me to pick up on signs of love – the tall dude’s favorite song coming up on Pandora first, finding the tall dude’s birth card with his height and weight and name, time of birth, and receiving an email from my Mom sent to me before knowing the details of my morning. It was the telling of one woman’s way of handling stress.
She was speaking to a group of people and picked up a half full glass. They braced for the question – half empty or half full. She came at them with, How heavy? Some guessed 4 ounces or 10 ounces. She replied:
It depends on how long you hold on to it.
Just like with stress.
After spending 2 hours coming down from a thoughtless 2 minutes on Skype, I put down the glass. And the desire to once again cut off all contact with The Genius. Instead I’m going to honor the Mountain Lion and lead without insisting others follow. My choice to be thoughtful and cordial and compassionate should not be altered by the actions of others. I am that way because I choose to be that way, not because I am trying to manipulate an outcome or person.
My actions don’t affect the actions of others. Their choice is their choice. My only responsibility is to chose how I respond.
Skype ripped me open yet again, but this time a potent lesson was woven throughout my core before I sealed back up: I am a leader of one. I will not insist others follow. Like the Mountain Lion, I may often be alone when being tested, but with the opportunity to concentrate in solitude, I can hone my skills and focus on expanding my knowledge and spirituality.
My memory of the tall dude’s 8th birthday is this: a growth spurt for me – spiritually, emotionally and intellectually, and his beautiful face when he pulled the skim board from the box. I didn’t miss it after all.
We’re off to the beach to ride the foamy waves and listen to that last note of their song.