Part of what made them so easy to spot this year is that there are so many–6–while previous years litters were half that size. Of course, now that we expect them to be there, we start looking (and listening) come spring. With 6, the odds are good that at least one will be defending–out loud–her stick, his spot, their sibling resting place–belly, back, head; but if we didn’t know any better, we’d assign these sounds to the return of the birds rustling in the bushes, and, in fact, it isn’t until we first see the pups that we know the sound belongs to them.
Over the course of a month, they’ll mature and begin venturing from the den, becoming increasingly stealthy like their parents, only seen by chance or desire–theirs. In the earliest days, in late May, however, I could almost always come upon them, at least two or three, napping, atop one another, under the ferns at the foot of the rock outcropping above their den just off our back door.
But things are swiftly changing. Their eyes are clearer. They navigate the boulders without tumbling. They use their paws to scratch at the dirt. They explore flowers and sticks and berries with their teeth. They practice foraging which will soon lead them further and further from the den and my open view.
I missed seeing them entirely yesterday. I left early and I wasn’t around during the hours when they are most present on rocks. When I went looking for them in the evening, they must have been out with their parents or tucked in for the night. What is so striking is that there are times when they are so readily available, that I could spend an entire morning or afternoon beside the den watching them or I could return at any hour for another fix of new life.
Other times, like yesterday, the rock outcropping is vacant as if the whole thing was a dream.
The empty nest feels a lot like that as I wander from room to room.
One day last week, in the eerie absence of pups, I got up close to the place where they crawl back into the den between the rocks.
So many times, I wished I could follow them. Or at least, send a camera inside after them.
Theirs is such a contained world. The rock outcropping off our back door is their front porch. The overgrowth of bushes and trees encircling it is like a livingroom. And there’s even a backyard—between our garden path and the woods behind our house.
I imagine it is a sweet place to grow up, particularly safe from other predators given that the den sits just beside this dwelling with 3 welcoming two-footers, and we pass it daily to hang the laundry, to take an outdoor shower, to garden, to get something from the shed.
Once, in a previous year, I watched from my writing desk as my husband walked past the den from the shower to the laundry line completely unaware that the pups were there watching him go by.
Family life, like early summer, has such an expansive and timeless quality to it, which is why I suppose the ending feels like a punch in the gut.
Maybe this explains my abiding affection for the Mother this year, she, who has, two times now, remained still so that I could gaze at her atop the rocks; and didn’t she gaze right back at me, the two of us looking into each other’s eyes for some time.