Sunday, March 30, 2008

What a Sunday!

On a day with azure skies, puffy white clouds and the ever-present "Gorge" winds, we decided to take the stereotypical Sunday Drive. I walked down and opened the gate as my husband drove through, then locked it back up to keep the neighbor's dogs from invading our place and knocking over trash cans.

We headed west, me in my rigid cervical collar and the views incredible from any inhibited angle. Down through the canyon we wended our way, our sports car holding the road so solidly that I could notice the difference (in my neck) between it and our little truck. The canyon is way off the beaten path and is very deep, with a roaring river tumbling down through the valley floor and pine and fir trees climbing the steep hillsides that all define the landscape.

We followed the river to where it poured into the Columbia and kite surfers braved the cold to obtain their adrenaline rush, and then we headed west again. Stopping at an obscure-looking antiques and "oddities" store, we browsed through the musty-smelling items teeming with history. This was quite a surprise in that the shop, located on the main street of a very small town sawmill town, was filled with very nice antiques and some that were obviously ancient, Asian pieces. Downstairs in the basement, more armoires and cabinets and tables and chairs were warehoused. Prices were a little more than we'd want to spend, but truthfully in line with the value of what they had for sale.

La Tienda! We noticed only one restaurant open in town, a Mexican place that looked almost shabby from the outside. Noticing many cars parked along the street, we took that as a good sign and we were right. The place, filled with happy people, served delicious food, the service was impeccable, the restaurant was clean and nicely decorated, AND they had O'Doul's Amber! I can't remember the last time I had one of these non-alcoholic beers, but it was SO good!

Back in the car with "to go" boxes filled with enough food for supper, we headed east, toward home. We could have taken several routes but I wanted to go a circuitous, back road that we had not been on in a few weeks. We passed a lovely waterfall and continued on through the woods and past old farmhouses.

"Blessed are the paths before me, O Lord." (I just made that up). To think of all the places we could have gone, the different roads we might have taken. The moments we paused or hurried, all putting us at one spot at just the right moment in time.

For we were about to be given a GIFT from the heavens that defies description! I mean, we always receive these gifts. Rainbows and far-off snow showers and the five deer who live in my back yard, these and many, more are constant gifts that fall into that path before us, ladening us with blessings. But once in a lifetime, something big and special happens.

We are looking straight ahead as we drive (a position I am forced into) when we both see a head popping out from the right side of the road. Tawny and dark, it makes sense at first in our reflexive thinking to assume this is a deer.

The head continued without faltering across the road, attached to a huge body. Lenthening out in a run, punctuated by a very long tail, the mountain lion crossed our vision in a straight line for about 50 feet before he or she disappeared into the underbrush on the left side of the road. A mountain lion! What a breathtaking gift! These are such shy creatures. For two ranch folks like us, who have spent a lifetime in the wild and wide open, we know how rare it is to spy one of these big cats.

And it was a big one, too. Darker than the ones I'd seen before, and the paws and tip of the tail and the front of his face were black. His paws were furry, big and clunky looking. I've seen one cougar before (two separate occasions) and this one was definitely bigger. And with that dark fur and black points, the prettiest.

My husband and I just gasped, each in awed appreciation of what we had just fully seen. No glimpse this time. This was the most full and clear view of a big cat I'd ever seen. It felt and still feels like a great big GIFT.

I remember seeing my first lion in about 1996. I was leading a line of dude riders down the trail on our ranch, next to the creek, with our Border Collie, Ty, brush-popping ahead of us. I heard a splash in the creek water, a bark from the dog, and looking to my left, about 30 feet away, I saw the hind legs, haunches and then the long tail of a lion disappearing into the brush. I was just as in awe that time as today. For I had ridden alone in the wild mountains for 30 years at that point, always scouring any cliffs for a glimpse of a mountain lion and yet never seeing one.

About a month later, I was leading another group of riders up a dirt road near the ranch. One of the riders exclaimed about a lovely doe on the sage-covered hillside who had jumped up from where she had been resting and was bounding away, scared by our presence.

I looked and just then, saw the lion leaping up and running after her. It looked like she had been resting and he had been stalking up to her when we rode past and spoiled his dinner plans.

Now, I've seen three lions in the wild, and all have been in the state of Washington. I truly love this state, it is so large, with impressively high "hills," majestic, snow-covered mountains, big rivers and miles of uncharted territory.

Having seen that lion today, we are even more on the lookout for a Sasquatch. After all, not far from here, it is noted to be the area that ranks the highest in Bigfoot sightings. I heard one once...but will save that tale for another time.

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