Palia the puma waited in a niche between two boulders in the shade of an overhanging bush, where she was perfectly camouflaged by broken shapes and colors that matched the tawny colors of her sleek fur. She was thirsty. Having just killed a deer, the fresh blood had slacked her thirst briefly, but after a few hours the bodily functions of digesting raw, warm meat demanded water.
Her three years of life had taught her the value of patience and caution. And so she waited and watched.
Cachuma Lake was 20 yards away. The water level was way low and had been dropping lower for most of her life, so she had to find new hiding spots to watch and wait for the right opportunity. A boat with noisy fisherfolk floated just 30 yards away, less than 10 yards off the shore — a reasonable leap for a big, powerful cat — but those humans seemed a noisy lot and there were too many to mess with safely. Plus, Palia had just eaten.
So she watched and waited for a quieter moment. The fisherfolk never even looked around closely enough to stand a chance of seeing her. They seemed too focused on throwing things in the water, and once she saw a tasty-looking fish seem to jump into their boat, though it didn’t appear to have any choice.
After a long while, the boat made an unnerving loud noise and moved away, leaving the air smelling bad to the sensitive nostrils of the magnificent hunter.
Palia was just about to make a move for the water when a rustling sound caused her to freeze and stay put. There were a small human and a medium-size dog walking noisily through the trees nearby. Both the human and the dog looked easy enough to take down and drag away, but Palia had eaten her fill — and besides, it is easier to take down lone prey.
The dog sensed danger, bristled up and barked, but could not locate the source. So Palia waited until the entourage passed by, not more than 15 yards away.
Finally, Palia felt wonderfully alone, so she stretched, yawned and padded down to the water for a long drink of cool water. She surveyed the scene from the shoreline, watching a fish swim by and wondered about jumping into boats with noisy humans. With a quick movement, the big cat pranced up the slop and into the trees to look for a safe place to nap.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.