She’d only been in Yellowstone two nights when she locked eyes with the wild cat. It was three a.m. and she had hoped to walk the short path from her family’s tent to the outhouse, there and back, without any trouble. Having birthed two babies meant every night she woke up with the urge to empty her bladder. Now, she ignored that physical urge as she watched the mountain lion watch her — the lion’s eyes like opalescent marbles reflecting moonlight. The woman was frozen, afraid even the slightest breath would cause the cat to pounce.
But the cat stood as still as she did. A rustling from nearby bushes sent the mountain lion’s ears up; one ear turned toward the sound while the lion’s gaze remained on her. Within seconds, the sounds amplified until two clumsy cubs emerged from the forest, playfully slinking toward their mother.
The woman’s body shifted as she watched the oblivious twin cubs lick and paw at their mother. The mountain lion didn’t flinch, and the woman dared not blink. They stared at each other — connecting in some metaphysical way from one species to another.
She could almost see the exhaustion on the mountain lion mother’s face. Even though the nocturnal creature slept during the day, she was never truly at rest. Predators much larger than she dominated the park: grizzlies, wolves, moose, and bison. It was a full time job to keep her cubs safe in Yellowstone. If other animals didn’t kill them, the weather or starvation would. And when she wasn’t protecting her young, she was hunting and killing other animals to feed her babies. Grueling work.
The woman almost smiled. Sorry to bother you, she thought, hoping her thoughts would telepathically communicate to the lion. I know how you feel.
Of course she didn’t. And she didn’t have to work that hard to feed and shelter and clothe her own children. Not as hard as the mountain lion mother. But there was that same primal urge — she often felt like an animal when it came to her babies. Everything she did, she did for them. Even at times, when she was too tired to eat, she’d force herself to make some vegetable-laden concoction, knowing she had to stay healthy to take care of her children. And when the nine o’clock news rattled off long lists of terrible things, she couldn’t zone out anymore because that was the world her children were inheriting, and she had to make it better.
And when anything posed a danger to the wellbeing of her children, the woman bared her fangs and protruded her claws, ready to tear the predator limb from limb, just like the mountain lion mother.
The mountain lion mother’s shoulders eased. Her ears perked upright again. She didn’t glare at the woman as a threat anymore. She knows I’m a mother, too.
It was a cruel world, they both knew this. At every turn, there were hungry beasts ready to attack, to drag them into the depths and devour them.
But it was a beautiful world, too. Filled with mothers and children, friends and neighbors, animals and plants living in harmony — working in synergy. If only we all realized how connected we truly are, the woman thought, letting a quiet smile tug at her lips.
The mountain lion licked and nuzzled her cubs, and the woman watched as the lion sent one last powerful look her way — a look that said “I see you” — right before she slowly turned around, sauntering up the path with her cubs at her side, the moonlight guiding their way.