When I was a young’un, I lived on a farm several miles outside of Kettle Falls, in Washington state. Below the farm was an undeveloped field with a dirt road running through it that connected several homes. And below the road and the field was Lake Roosevelt. Surrounding all of this was bits and pieces of the Colville National Forest.
Back in those more innocent days, my mother let me go down to the field by myself as long as I didn’t go down to the water.
I loved this field of tall golden weeds. Since I was only about five at the time, the weeds would come up to my chest and I could look out on a sea of waving fronds and imagine I was on a ship in the ocean.
I loved the dust of the dirt road and would walk it slowly, sucking on the end of a grass blade pulled from the side of the road, occasionally chasing after a grasshopper or butterfly. Every once in a while I would see another critter such as a deer or a skunk, always trying to entice the former towards me, always giving considerable room to the latter.
Imagine a soft, warm summer afternoon, blue sky, glimmer of light reflection off of the water in the distance, the sound of insects and birds the only noise. And absolutely nothing to do but walk along the road and think thoughts of faraway places and strange new doings, such as my cousin coming for a visit and my Uncle giving my brother a rifle and not me because I was a girl. I got a stupid china tea set. You know the kind of thoughts — a child’s thoughts.
One day, there was a movement in the field towards my left. I stopped and looked, hand over eyes to shade the sun, squinting my eyes al-most tight (sign of glasses to come the following year), trying to see what was causing the motion.
Up a head pops and then down it goes.
Up a head pops and then down it goes again.
What is that?
Again, the head appears and I have a better view. It’s golden and kind of flat and has black markings.
That’s not a deer. Too small for a deer.
Up the head pops and then down it goes again.
That’s not a bunny. It’s too big.
Up and down.
That’s not a skunk though it does have markings like a skunk.
I watched this strange creature for some time. I wasn’t frightened. If anything I thought this new experience was a huge treat considering the usual activity associated with a warm sunny afternoon, such as standing in the middle of a road of dust, listening to the insects rub wings and legs.
Up the head would pop, down it would go, each jump moving it farther away until with a last rustle, it disappeared into the woods.
I ran home and opened the door and there was my mother, washing something in the sink, the smell of good things to eat hanging in the late afternoon air. I remembered running up to her, excited, telling her in the jumbled child manner about this creature in the field that had these black markings and it jumped up and down and up and down and up…
“That’s a skunk, honey, You just saw a skunk is all.”
A yellow and black skunk? Well, okay. If you say so, Mama.
So I went for the just the longest, longest time, with this memory in my head of my warm, sunny afternoon and the field of gold and the dusty road, and my yellow and black skunk.
Until the day when I was looking at a new picture book and realized that my skunk was a bobcat.