Dennis Dezendorf

The wail was long, drawn out, and split the evening into two distinct parts. I turned over in my bed and listened in the dead silence of the night for the usual sounds to return. It sounded like a woman, but wasn't. It sounded like pain, but not quite. I waited quietly for my hair to rearrange itself into its normal pattern and considered the source of the sound. Panther.

I had heard that panthers were reestablishing their territory in Central Louisiana, but except for one sighting in the early eighties, I had no firm evidence of their arrival around my house. Biologists might disagree on whether the animal in question is a panther or a puma. The locals call them by a variety of names: painter, catamount, lion, big damn cat. I don't know the precise genus and species name, but I know one thing. When a big cat lights up the night, I tend to pull the covers more closely around me and give thanks that I am inside the house.

Were I an early American inside my lodge or cave, I might have stacked a couple of more logs on the fire and checked for my spear. I would have certainly made sure that the quiver had enough arrows. That cat might have threatened my family, and made our survival less probable. As it is now, the animal is just a reminder that things are wild in the woods and that I am not the highest thing on the food chain. And that is all right with me. My son is asleep in his room and safe from prowling panthers. My front door is closed and I am safe. Things that go bump in the night are one thing, but things that scream at the top of their lungs are something else entirely. There is a bobcat that lives behind the pond, and you can be sure that he is aware of the panther in the neighborhood.

I like wild things. I like being reminded that I am mortal. The reminder gives focus to my day and puts excitement into my night. In this age of corporate farms and forests managed for board-feet of timber, the reminder that some things are truly wild is a comfort, a blessing. The chances are slim that I will be eaten by a big cat as I go out to feed smaller cats in the barn, but the existence of that chance makes going to the barn an adventure. You can bet that I will make sure the flashlight has fresh batteries.


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