It began as just another workday for Lenny. Deep in the bush, he was running survey lines through mature timber. A tough, light-footed fellow, Lenny had worked in the woods for many years, walking big kilometres every day, through devil’s club and slide alder, across creeks, up and over steep valleys, with hardly a rise in breath.
On this day, one like many hundreds of others, Lenny was traversing forest a hundred or so kilometres from the nearest town. He was alone, like usual, a two-hour hike from his truck, which he left at the end of a logging road. Like anyone who spends thousands of hours in a certain environment, his senses were tuned. He can hear the rush of a creek long before he reaches it. He knows the birds that sing in the canopy high above, or when he’s upset a colony of squirrels or rustled a grouse. He has encountered big animals before — bears, elk, moose — but usually they stumble upon each other, share glances and continue on. Nothing scares Lenny out here and he never feels like he is in danger.
But on this cool fall day, even though he was warm from his efforts, for the first time he felt a certain chill. Not one from the approach of winter, or a rush of wind down from the mountain. No, this was different. He stopped to scan the trees and the thick brush. Nothing. He continued on, away from his truck, but something didn’t feel right.
Lenny tried to be as quick as possible without panic, his head on a swivel, senses as heightened as they’d ever been, desperate for a sign, a shadow, anything. It went on for what felt an age. For a time he’d convinced himself he was spooked for no reason, then there’d be another snap of a twig, branches rustling in a way they shouldn’t. As he got closer to the road he forced himself to stay calm, to walk to the safety of his old pick-up. He’d never been so scared.
When he felt he was close enough to outrun anything that might be stalking him, he sprinted the last few metres to the truck, jumped in and slammed the door. And there, at the edge of the forest, a massive cougar stepped out of its cover. A sickening feeling washed over him. His hands trembling as they reached to start the truck. Predator conceding to prey.