The beast of the bog

I grew up in an older, residential section of my hometown, where the houses were fairly close together. My bedroom window was separated from our neighbors' living room only by a driveway, and most summer nights I fell asleep to the sound of their television. Other noises filtered through the dark: cars pulling in across the street, Mrs. Grace calling for her cats, and my parents' muffled conversation.

In ways, the sounds of humans were comforting, but mostly I longed for the tranquility of my grandparents' farm.

Eventually I married a fruit farmer and moved to the country. The first house my husband and I occupied sat near a main rural highway, and the nights were never silent. Police cars, snowplows, and midnight commuters rolled by my windows.

My husband and I wanted a quieter abode, so we built our current home near the center of our farm. Living half a mile from any road or neighbor, we sequestered ourselves from annoying sounds.

Spring peepers filled the night and sang us to sleep in the first months after we moved. An occasional sandhill crane or flock of geese might interrupt our peace, but these were all music to our ears.

And then one night we heard it: a half-human scream rippled up from the depths of our blueberry bog. My husband and I stared at each other. "What was that?" we asked.

The scream moved closer, and my husband leaped out of bed. "I'll go see."

"No, you don't!" I said, but he dashed outside with a flashlight and scanned the woods behind our house. No clues surfaced, and finally the screams subsided.

We named the visitor "the beast of the bog," and began to ask around about the spine-chilling voice. No one in our immediate area could offer a solution, but a memory tickled my mind.

While I was volunteering in eastern Tennessee at a mission, my young charges would entertain me with tales of snakes and panthers they saw or heard. These children lived deep in the hills, up rutted creek-bed roads, and into the hollows. The cry of a mountain lion wasn't uncommon.

A mountain lion in southwestern Michigan? I knew pumas had been sighted in the Upper Peninsula and as far south as Cadillac, but several large cities separated those regions from my farm.

Once a month the beast returned to wail as it circled our bog. We mentioned the regularity of the beast's visit to a naturalist friend who answered, "Sounds like a bobcat." He knew that in a nearby state park a bobcat had been sighted.

Was this our beast?

One snowy morning just before dawn, we heard the cry near our house. We rushed out, but all we could find was paw prints. But they matched our tracking manual and confirmed our friend's guess.

On and off for 10 years we listened for the beast in the bog - smug that our farm could hint at being a wilderness. We would tease overnight company about the possibility that the bobcat's scream might disturb their sleep.

And then one night we realized that we had not heard our beast in several weeks. Months lapsed into years, and only the calls of owls and coyotes filled the dark.

A few weeks ago, my husband wandered in after making the rounds of our farm. He had met up with our neighboring farmers, and they had told him of sighting a bobcat. Back by a large bog where humans seldom travel, they had watched the tufted-ear feline melt into the woods.

We waited and hoped until one recent night a familiar wail rippled through the blackness. The beast in the bog was back.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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