I reach the ledge that partially encircles the hollow. My descent here will be tricky, as I face a sheer 50-foot drop of solid granite before the slope continues the rest of the way down to the creek. I will have to work my way around to a cleft in the rock, where I can ease down to the slope below.
It will be dangerous, an easy place to fall, especially with a full pack of canned food and other supplies. But I don’t have a full pack today. Just a couple of frozen steaks, a six-pack of Coors, and a big bag of ginger snap cookies. Ginger snaps were always his favorite.
I sit in the ledge for a few minutes, breathing the cool air and taking in the beauty of the hollow. I think of what must be done. I wonder if our roles were reversed if he would do what I am doing.
Beside my leg I notice a mountain lion track in the soft thin layer of dirt and moss that lies in patches on the granite outcrop. The track is big and fresh.
So, we are not alone here after all.
The wildlife experts all say that the big cats haven’t come back into Alabama. Country people see them on occasion, surprised to switch-on their porch lights in the middle of the night to see a six-foot-long-tailed cat eating dog food from a bowl on their back porches. But the wildlife people always dismiss these sightings in the newspapers. “What you saw was a big bobcat” they say.
Maybe they are trying to keep people from panicking. Maybe they want to keep the cat’s reappearance into Alabama a secret, figuring some fool redneck will try to hunt it down and kill it. Maybe the Department of Fish and Game is just stupid. I don’t know.
Those of us who get off the trails — who have walked these wild places where roads don’t penetrate — we know better.
I reach behind my back and finger the .45 that is tucked into the waistband of my jeans. It would stop a mountain lion. Probably even make a grizzly bear reconsider his position.
But I haven’t brought it for either.
Break time is over. I have an appointment at the creek below, and I need to get moving again.