Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the International Bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

From the Blog

The Lion

________


The time seems like just the other day …

… the boys are small. We’re staying in a three-room cabin beside the Owens River on the east slope of the Sierras. We can hear the October wind move down from the mountains. The boys are in their beds, and I read to them from the 1955 juvenile novel, “Lion Hound,” by Jim Kjelgaard.

I have had this book since junior high. I read:

“When Johnny Torrington awoke, the autumn dawn was still two hours away. For five luxurious minutes he stretched in his warm bed, the covers pulled up to his chin while he listened to the wind blowing through the bedroom’s open window. Though the wind was no colder than it had been yesterday, it seemed to have a quality now that had been lacking then.”

Kjelgaard describes the hills of California, still alive with “tawny puffs of smoke” able “to break a bull’s neck and yet are so secretive.” I glance at the boys.

My youngest son’s eyes, made larger by strong round glasses, widen. My older boy tucks his face under the blanket, where he can surely see the lion circling.

The next evening, after my younger son goes into town with his mother, Jason and I walk a stretch of the Owens to fish with barbless flies. As we fish, we watch a great blue heron lift effortlessly, and I recall another heron lifting above a pond when I was a boy, and I feel the awe that I felt then.

I watch my son lift the fly line in a long loop above his head.

Under the cottonwoods, he tells me with firmness that he wishes to tie his own leader. And I understand that it is time for me to put some distance between us on the river.

When it is too dark to see into the water, we walk toward home in the cold.

We hear a noise in the bushes and look up to see seven mule deer watching us. Their heads and long ears are silhouetted against the dark lavender sky. We hear other sounds in the bushes.

We reach the gravel road, and an Oldsmobile rolls up behind us and an old man cranks down his window and asks, “Do you need a ride or are you almost there?”

“We’re almost there,” I say.

We can see the light in our cabin. The younger boy and his mother are waiting, and tonight I’ll read a few more pages of “Lion Hound” before they sleep.

________

Postscript: I wrote these words many years ago. A longer version appears in “The Web of Life.” I yearn for those earlier times. But wonder has a future. My sons are grown now. Both have retained their sense of awe; both hear the sounds of what they cannot see, the possibility of the wild. I should add that Kathy and I have since moved to the mountains east of San Diego. The trail-cam photo above is of a mountain lion moving across our acre one stormy night. We love the fact that we live where lions pass by. We do not go on long walks after dark.

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