A Man's Life: The Unspoken Language of the Eyes

by Brian Doyle

March 24, 2009

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A man named Nicholas tells me that yes, he did find a stunned bobcat on the road as he came home from work. This was near the Lucky River here in Oregon, and something made him stop, he says.

I thought, my gawd that’s a wildcat! And it’s not like you see a bobcat sprawled in the road every day, you know, so I stop to see if it’s dead, but I see he’s breathing but unconscious, so I pick him up.

He weighed about what a toddler weighs.

He was amazingly beautiful.

You wouldn’t believe the intense softness of his fur. And the colors of his fur…I don’t have the right words for the colors.

I put him on the floorboard in the front, on the passenger side. I have a Honda Prelude. He was bleeding from the eyes and nose and mouth. In my head and perhaps out loud I spoke to him a bit, and I am absolutely sure he heard me, at some level.

He was unconscious but aware, you know what I mean?

I was being respectful, telling him what I was doing, that I was getting him help, asking politely that he not rip my face off if he woke up startled to find himself in a Honda Prelude.

We drove about 20 minutes, I got all the way into town and was looking for the vet, when he woke up. He sort of stretched and then snapped to his feet, growling. I pulled over.

We were on Fourth Street. I raised my right hand slowly and started talking. We kept our eyes on each other. I kept my hand up. I just wanted us to sink into a calm space, you know?

People keep asking what I said to him but I just talked in a calm even tone. I don’t remember quite what I said.

People think it’s comical, a man talking to a bobcat, or insane. I mean, a bobcat is a serious carnivore with razors for claws, but there was an awareness between us, an intense presence, a recognition of intention, that is very hard to explain and was the most extraordinary thing. It was dark by now but there was enough light in the car to see by. He had green eyes. I kept talking in a calm even voice and we kept staring at each other.

There were some moments of silence also. I cannot explain how genuine and sincere this was. It was a life very present with another life for a little while. There was a mutual understanding of no harm.

We sat there for a while and then I slowly brought my hand down and put the emergency brake on. I kept on talking and we kept our attention on each other. He had white tufts of fur on his ears. After a while I opened my door and slowly got out of the car. He remained calm. I walked around the car. We kept our eyes on each other.

Eventually all the rest of it happened. Jeff from the Chintimini Wildlife Rehabilitation Center got him out of the car with a noose, as gently as he could, and the cat was not happy about the noose, there’s fur and feces all over the car, but he’s fine now. He had two broken teeth which were fixed and he’s recovering and will be released back into the woods next week.

He’s three years old. The paper here ran a story that was picked up by the wire services, and a television crew came and all that, but no one told the story right.

The real story is the unspoken language of the eyes.

The real story is the intensity of awareness between two creatures.

Some people don’t get it. Like one guy who said the bobcat would look great on his wall. He doesn’t get it.

This is a stunning creature.

For a few minutes there we were, totally aware of each other, complete and utter attention, with an unspoken understanding of no harm, and some kind of what you might call, if you were thrashing around for words that don’t fit very well but they’re the only words you can find, a sort of spiritual connection. That was…I don’t have the right words: Amazing, riveting, moving, genuine.

Could you try to tell this story in a way that focuses on what was the most amazing thing, that intensity of presence? That’s the story, do you know what I mean?

Brian Doyle listens for stories in Portland, Oregon, where he is editor of Portland, the award-winning magazine of the University of Portland. He is the author of The Grail: A Year Ambling and Shambling through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World, The Wet Engine, and five collections of essays. Doyle’s work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, American Scholar, Orion and in the Best American Essays anthologies, as well as the Best American Science Writing anthology of 2007.

 


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