The Bobcat

by George Getschow

The Texas wilderness pulls me in, and pushes her out

I had never laid eyes on her before, although I suspect she may have laid eyes on me. She lives just down the street from my home in an 11,000-acre Texan wilderness area along Lake Grapevine, surrounded by fast approaching development. 

I feel opened up by this place. But in nature's balance, she must feel caged in, as her freedoms succumb to civilization. She must feel invaded, watching me jog along a dirt trail that winds its way through her wilderness domain.

She stood at the edge of a dry creek that empties into the lake. It was dusk, and the shadows falling from a grove of willows and live oaks silhouetted her in a still-life pose that was both eerie and terrifying. Was she surprised that I even spotted her, surprised that my eyes would linger over her like an object of my seduction? I wondered.

All I knew is that we were transfixed, this bobcat and I, one with another like lovers lost in each other's presence. Her wildness, her whiskers, her spotted brown-and-black fur, her long gleaming teeth, held me firmly in place — her place in the wilderness.

Seeing the bobcat standing sentinel in the wild, diminishing landscape has haunted me ever since. The wilderness, her wilderness, is not my home. Yet I'm drawn to it like the ancient monks were drawn to the desert — for silence, meditation, rejuvenation, and escape from the chaos and cacophony of civilization. 

Dare I trespass in her territory again? Have I become like the developers, encroaching more for my own good than for hers? Will my own footsteps drive me in, will they force this creature out of her home, push her further north, make her forage elsewhere for sustenance, for peace, for freedom from civilization, and for freedom from me?

These thoughts weigh on me as I jog back from what began as a jaunty run in the wilderness just beyond my subdivision. She deserves her freedom, I tell myself. Stay away. For the next three weeks, I resign myself to running along concrete roads lined with look-alike mansions that skirt the bobcat's domain. I wave and smile at other joggers I encounter along my well-traveled route, wondering how they can stand the monotony of monstrous houses, manicured lawns, potted plants and monolithic machines parked in each driveway.

I can't stand it. I'm a wreck without the wilderness. I long for the intoxicating scent of Bluebonnets, Primrose, Gayfeathers, Purple Horse Mints, Indian Paintbrush, Meadow Pinks and Black-Eyed Susans. I long for solitude. I long for my bobcat.


So yesterday I returned to the wilderness, my wilderness, bounding along on the dirt trail, feeling free again, feeling my anxieties vanish like morning dew in the Texas sun. I feel like I could run forever — until my heart stops. The bobcat crosses my path, dashing through a grove of live oaks less than ten yards in front of me. As she zeroes in on her prey, I stop to contemplate the moment, my moment of truth:  I suddenly realize that I couldn't endure without my wilderness any more than the bobcat.

She nourishes me, sustains me and releases me from man's perfectly ordered creations. But I also realize that my return to the wilderness leaves less room for the bobcat, leaves her fearing once again the pounding of my footsteps across her hunting grounds, leaves her with a terrible choice:  To abandon her slice of wilderness or to share it with me.



George Getschow, writer-in-residence of the nationally acclaimed Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, has been writing professionally since 1972, when he was hired as a general assignment reporter for the Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette. He spent 16 years at The Wall Street Journal as a writer and editor. At the Journal, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for "distinguished writing" about the underprivileged. He covered Mexico for several years and directed the newspaper's coverage of the Southwest. Many of his protégés have won Pulitzer Prizes and other literary achievements. Today, he is principal lecturer at the University of North Texas' Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism and a writing coach for a number of newspapers. He was recently inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters for his "distinctive literary achievement." He's finishing a book, Walled Kingdom, that grew out of two narratives he wrote for The Wall Street Journal.

Articles in this Issue

Introduction, by the Editors
The Bobcat, by George Getschow
Aileron, by Margaret Combs
Odd Birds, by Mark Kurlansky
Hollow Earth, by Chelsea Bauch
Snowbound, by Jonathan Shipley
Staking Claims, by Chantal Corcoran
The Seven Pound Lion, by David Helvarg
Yosemite's Twin, by Sam Kean
Diagnosis Alaska, by Charles Wohlforth