I could blame it on the dogs. Would I have known otherwise?
On a familiar trail but far from others we cut through woods and deep brush to water. They stopped as if hearing a voice calling out a command. Ears up. Silent in the pulse of an exquisite alert. I often obey their lead when they show the way — always this way.
If it had been deer, they would have whined, strained at the end of their leash, oh so eager to be off on the chase. I would have seen the white feathers of tails disappearing into the green.
They have seen fox up close and their dens and buried their noses in their musk and have been curious — ahh another canine kind of curious, but never this that they do now, a rolling growl from both, ears back, waiting, legs steady and planted. Something sent that chill up the backs of my arms. Slowly, barely moving my body, I did a full turn, my legs slightly bent, alert in every grain. Something. A shape that did not match, something large and by itself — 60 feet away, 70. As happens all the time, our minds moving on level overlaying level, I felt-thought stick rock weapon protect back-off sh**.
I called out, I hoped, in my best Vader/Corleone voice, “Who’s there?” No answer. The dogs next to my legs, intense, quiet. The shape moved, I think, but maybe it was only the play of shadows, a puff of wind. Then the mood was gone, the dogs relaxed, looking at me and asking when we would move. I listened and heard something cracking brush apart ahead, to the left, away.
I don’t know what happened out there. I felt a sense of voiceless threat in Yellowstone when we came to a narrow foot bridge designed for animal traffic over a gorge. We were well off any familiar, traveled path. The sign warned us that grizzlies used this bridge. The brush was thick, our sight lines obscured beyond a few feet. The wind died. We stood in deep silence and found ourselves listening for what might be within the silence. Nothing came. Nothing happened. But I remember thinking that, in some primal part of me, something was close. It could see us.
There were no grizzlies or cougars or bears of any kind in this domesticated patch, nothing that could have seriously harmed us, but that chill, the heightening of the limbic system — fight or flight — that was real.
Yesterday, the dogs knew, but in my primate blindness, I cannot say what they knew.