The spirit of Little Lion

On September 15, Oggie and I stopped at our usual resting place about halfway around our Westwater route. Oggie had previously dug a hole under a rock overhang where she liked to cool off while I poured her some water and took a drink myself.

This time, after she rose to drink, I heard a squeak and peered under the rock, thinking the sound came from an indignant chipmunk. Instead, two kittens lay in Oggie’s hollow. One had already died.

The other, with its mouth and nose packed full of dirt, squirmed in the aftermath of Oggie’s squashing. Astonished, I sat on the ground, surveyed the hole, and debated with myself.

Obviously, neither of the kittens had been suckled, and although I knew mother cats often left their babies only to return later, this litter looked abandoned.

I leashed Oggie, wrapped the kitten in a Kleenex and, holding him against my chest, hurried home. He had pink feet, minute claws, thin yellow hair, a white splotch on his back, and a miniature lion head.

I felt awed by his exquisitely formed body, but anxious about saving him.

At home, I used a Q-tip to get the dirt out of his mouth and nose and tried to feed him warm goat’s milk with a dropper, but he wouldn’t swallow.

I rubbed his belly and back with a wet washcloth, hoping to stimulate his sucking ability, but he still wouldn’t eat, so I put him on a towel and took him back to his birthplace.

I left a bowl of goat’s milk beside him, hoping to lure his mother into taking up her work.

After lunch, I went back to check. Obviously, momma cat hadn’t been anywhere near her little one. Most wild animals won’t return to their babies after a human has touched them, but I had hoped she still had some domesticated tendencies.

Despite the heat of the day, Little Lion felt icy cold. At that time, I didn’t know kittens couldn’t regulate their own body temperatures, but I knew he would die if I left him there. So this time I took him down to the Cedar Mesa Animal Clinic, but the door was locked with no one inside.

At home, I put a warm water bottle in his bed and tried to feed him again, but he still couldn’t swallow. He died without even a whimper while I was holding him. Having raised two kittens by the bottle, I knew the commitment and time required, but the mother in me was heartbroken.

I buried Little Lion in our backlot, crying as I shoveled out the dirt; placed the perfect little body, wrapped in a rag, in the grave; and shoveled the dirt over him.

As I tried to stop the tears, I told him he was loved here on earth because I loved him, and he was loved in heaven because, as John says, God is love.

The next day I took a branch and covered the other little kitten with dirt, and a few days later buried another kitten that I hadn’t seen before, lying out in the open about a hundred feet from Oggie’s hole.

Wishing I could have done more to save the little lion and his litter mates, I continued to grieve.

Finally, I remembered a story that Dr. Zach Bush, M.D., told about a night when he was working in ICU.

During that 36-hour shift, three of his patients died. Against all odds, he and his team resuscitated all of them, but upon being revived, each one asked Dr. Bush, “Why did you bring me back?”

On the other side, they told him, they felt totally accepted and loved for the first time in their lives. Instead of death being a contraction, Dr. Bush says, it is a “massive expansion of consciousness, of reality, of awareness, and ultimately of love” (The Best Monologue Ever: Zach Bush, M.D. / Rich Roll Podcast).

A week after Little Lion’s death, I bathed Oggie in preparation for a visit to the vet. Not wanting her to get dirty on the trails, I decided to walk her on Blanding’s old dump road.

On the way to the old dump, this paved road dips into Westwater, rises to the top of the canyon, and then passes the junction for the Westwater Community.

Oggie and I were just descending into Westwater when a vehicle passed us, did a U-turn, and pulled up beside us.

One of the Westwater community residents rolled down her window and said, “Please be very careful. I saw a cougar on that plateau yesterday.” She pointed just below the rim in front of us.

“Are you kidding?” I had never seen a mountain lion in the wild. “A cougar?”

“I know. I couldn’t believe it myself. I brought my dogs inside and looked again. It was definitely a cougar, so be very careful.”

I thanked her, and she turned around and headed into Blanding.

Oggie and I didn’t encounter the real mountain lion on our walk, and I hoped it would soon return to wilder canyons.

But since Little Lion never had the chance to walk, I also hoped the cougar sighting symbolized his spirit, in all its luminous power and glory, briefly prowling the canyon of his birth before his journey to total love and acceptance on the other side.

San Juan Record

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