by Amanda Noble
When I pulled into the farmhouse driveway in August, I watched a long line of quail cross the gravel, the little ones doing their best to keep up. On lazy summer afternoons in years past, Bruce and I would sit on the deck we built, counting their numbers. I loved being in a place where animals constantly startled you. Deer, rabbits, hares, skunks, raccoons, snakes, lizards, all silent in the tall grass. The tall ears of hares comically rose above the grass when it was not so tall, and deer could almost always be seen. There were so many deer now, a crowd, a party in the freshly mown grass around the farmhouse. They didn’t seem special anymore, they were the beautiful nuisance gardeners abhorred. Occasionally they had leapt over our garden’s fence to get to the food, the apples and strawberries in our once-lush garden. I looked at the former garden, now clotted with weeds. I couldn’t bring myself to enter it, but I did cut Shasta daisies still growing just inside the fence.
The farmhouse no longer belonged to me. Why did it still feel like mine? Bruce had been gone eight years, and I was there for my first visit since his death. Two weeks a year, settled by a mediator. I had been here less than a week and couldn’t go to the places that would trigger me. The pond was one such place because most of Bruce’s ashes were scattered there. Another was our next-door neighbors’ place because they hadn’t been in touch for seven years. They thought my recovery from Bruce’s death took too long and didn’t want me to talk about him. I was also afraid to see whether Bruce’s son had cut more trees. They were always advancing, those fir trees. When I was there for Bruce’s regional memorial, a couple of the meadows had been clear cut by Bruce’s son, the wood stacked in tidy piles. Now, every interior door was closed and locked, even the windows closed, locked. Everything was locked up as tight as, well, Bruce’s son.
But I remembered the dinner parties, the constant entertaining of our elderly friends who lived on our ridge or the next. Bruce was in fine shape then, not yet failing, and together we made wonderful meals with the help of friends. The wine sometimes flowed a little too freely, and Juliet would predictably announce, “Drunk again.” They’re all dead now and Bruce’s dead, too, but there were a few years when he survived them. Those years were hard. George was no longer home to share dinner with him when he traveled to the farm alone. George’s charming cottage now looked wrecked, piles of trash on his formerly pristine land. A trailer, camping equipment, bedding and clothing strewn across the field where his daffodils once brought small crowds of people.
I was supposed to share the farmhouse three ways with Bruce’s kids but I couldn’t afford the upkeep and utilities on two old houses. And, to tell the truth, I didn’t want to wrestle over shared costs or anything else with them. After Bruce died, they manipulated my granddaughters’ feelings for me by telling them dreadful stories, all lies, things the girls would not likely overcome in my lifetime. It was all about money. They didn’t get enough, in their view. I guess two properties in California was not enough, two properties Bruce stretched himself for, taking on extra work to help pay for piecing them together, small repairs, small remodels. The two properties were worth a great deal of money, even if they were sold to people
who intended to remove them and start over. Fifteen acres on the Mendocino coast might sell for several million dollars. Bruce’s daughter told me, “My daddy didn’t leave me anything.”
The night before I left the farm for my home in the valley, I was visited by a beast I’d not seen before. I could hear it coming, a loud two-part growl, as it made its way down the paved road. From my porch rocker, I had a view of the road as it approached. If it looked like a mountain lion, I could run indoors, but it was not a mountain lion. It was much smaller, looked like a large domestic cat. At the driveway, it continued its growl as it walked down the drive at a slow pace, checking me out. I was caught up in my own staring and wasn’t sure that I should be frightened. My heart hammered in my chest as we locked eyes on one another. I stood and the cat began to turn toward the road, reluctantly, twisting its head around to meet my eyes again and again, increasing its growls. It was a bobcat.
How strange that I should see one on this trip. The bobcat is primarily a solitary creature, its presence a sign for us to step back from the company of certain people in our lives. When a bobcat visits some say that it means we need time to ourselves, to reflect, regain energy. Here I was, at a home I’d essentially given up. I thought I’d been able to let it go, but being here I was forced to come to grips with the loss of this place, a pain I hadn’t yet confronted. Perhaps the bobcat’s visit conveyed that I should go home where I felt more at peace, the memories not so jarring.
In the morning as I packed to leave, I saw animal tracks on the hood of my car. They belonged to the bobcat, urging me on.
About the Author
Amanda Noble has a Ph.D. in sociology and has published numerous academic articles, book chapters and reports. Upon retirement, she turned her attention to creative non-fiction, especially personal essay and memoir. Her work has appeared in Eastern Iowa Review, MacGuffin, and Windmill, among other literary magazines. Amanda is completing a memoir about the two years she spent in the Philippines during the tumultuous 1970s. She lives in northern California, with her cat, Lucy.