Ask me and I wouldn't be able to tell you what made me glance to my right. A cougar in movement does not make a sound and if you look straight at it you might not even see it because it blends so perfectly into the terrain. You see it in your peripheral vision and almost as an afterthought in your mind. And there is something of a delay there; you don't really believe what you have seen and your mind needs a moment to process the situation to convince itself that it is really happening - perhaps much like the experience of another vehicle careening towards your passenger side. Your peripheral vision sees it and what happens next is the moment of truth. Fortunately, this is probably occurring in slow motion so in a manner of speaking you have plenty of time to react instantaneously and to do something about it. You either survive or you don't.

As a boy, my father had told me about peripheral vision; or brought it to my attention so to speak. He had suggested that I become aware of it and develop it. He had explained that as a young cowboy riding the foothills of the Crazy Mountains in Montana, he had learned to develop the ability to 'see' virtually everything to his right and his left as he looked ahead - to the extent of knowing the health of every one of the hundreds grazing steer scattered across the range that he was riding through. By their stance a good cowhand would know how they were doing and which needed attention, all without really looking, unless he chose to look, though more as an autonomic response rather then thought or choice - into which the other senses may play a subliminal part to one degree or another.

Perhaps it was an undetectable movement of air that made me look to my right to see the cougar passing by silently and quickly, heading up into the hill above. It was really just a blur of movement and it was small. It was only much later that I concluded that it was a young cougar. My camera was out of my pocket and in my hand as I impatiently waited for it to come to life as I attempted to follow the cat (with the camera; not me) and not loose sight of it as I tried to capture shots with absolutely no time to aim and focus as he progressed right to left up the hill and over the ridge. I was resolutely keeping my eye on the allusive cat as I attempted to point the camera in the general direction and press the shutter, hoping it will end up within the picture.

In no time I was firing up my notebook in the van and transferring the images from the camera into a folder I created for this lot. Then I took a look at them. I was mildly disappointed to find that I had taken only ten pictures; I was very disappointed to find the cat in only one of them, image 8, and there after very tedious and careful scrutiny of all. It was not until many months later, in fact about two weeks prior to this writing, that I decided to take another concerted look, though this time using a slightly different method.

On my screen, I placed two consecutive shots adjacent to each other, aligning the borders so that I was looking at the same rocks and bushes in each. Now I could look for the differences; differences in shadows really, where on closer inspection, a shadow could turn out to be a cat. Beside image 8, I found that shadow in eight of the remaining nine. If you would like to see the enhanced cutouts of nine shadows, take a look at An Allusive Cat on the Joshua Tree 2006 web site.

I am still not entirely sure that this was a cougar so I would appreciate input from anybody that knows something about the species, and/or could suggest an alternative. I do know, without a doubt, that it is not a bobcat, desert lynx or stray house cat.

An Unallusive Cat
A dirt road wanders along the irregular contours of our hill twisting and turning just enough to avoid dipping into the shallow water-washed canyon below. The road heads north as it comes along beside our 'yard' and then it does a sharp left at the driveway entrance to head more-or-less straight west. It then passes between the properties of our neighbors Tom & Katherine and Bob & Neena, by Jean and then by Carol & Rick, turning left-right-left-right down and around various ten acre parcels to eventually join the main paved road down in the valley. That main thoroughfare cuts through the valley from the town of Joshua Tree out to the old Keys Ranch, which is now The Joshua Tree National Park. I described that because it is a fascinating view and a pleasant walk.

I was out in the yard when I detected some movement off to the side. The casual and jaunting movement suggested a neighborhood dog. Coyotes come that way too though they tend to be more skittish. Even horses occasionally, people, bikes and the rare vehicle but you usually know when they are coming. So I looked up expecting to see a dog, and I froze in my tracks. This was not a dog. I had negligently left my camera back in the trailer. My mind raced. The rule is that you stand your ground and face them, doing your best to make yourself too big to eat. You do not bend over to pick up a rock; you do not run the other way. I had never seen or heard of anything like this; it was not a cougar or bobcat and it was larger then the latter. It almost appeared friendly, though completely unconcerned about me.

I did not run; I moved sideways real fast towards the deck and into the trailer door. By the time I was back out with camera in hand, it was approaching my neighbor's front door. I did not have their number so I called their landlord in Vegas and got Katherine, Tom's significant lady. I gave her a description of the cat and hung up as she then called the tenants to warn them not to go out their front door. Then the cat was gone.

Within 45 minutes, she had done her research and sent me an email: "It's the desert lynx!". I then did my research and found that it is a domestic cat-bobcat hybrid, loved by many as pets though I don't think this one was anybody's pet.

A week later another lynx, probably the same one, came by again though this time crossing the hill above me, and this time - I had my camera. Hence, the series of shots that you may have seen back on the main 2006 page.

The Newsletter and The Journal
In its original incarnation, this document was written pretty much as an off-the-cuff newsletter. It was then reincarnated as "The Journal" which is what you see here - a more recent, more refined and more interesting version of the newsletter. It is more interesting primarily because it includes relevant pictures. When The Journal is initially published (uploaded to the web site) then the original newsletter gets sent out. The recipients then can choose between reading the raw newsletter or going online and reading The Journal.

Besides the pictures, what also makes The Journal more interesting are the modifications that will then take place. When the newsletter/Journal is being developed, I'm usually in something of a hurry to get it out for fear that something else will come along, as many things do, that will require my attention, and the thing won't get published at all. It is conceivable that it could suddenly be time to begin the next year's newsletter/Journal before I'm done with the current one and that terrifies me. Once it gets 'published' then I can relax. Then over time I can add information as I think of it, and rewrite paragraphs that still bother me. Hence it becomes more polished and hopefully more pleasant to read as I smooth out the rough spots, enhance and embellish.

The latter also tends to occur when I see that the search engines have been taking people to a particular paragraph and that they may be reading only that paragraph, perhaps out of context. This can create an entirely different impression then the one that had been intended. For that reason, I love this method of online publication - I can return in the future to change the past. Sadly the newsletter cannot be helped in such a manner; it is done and gone. It would be rather difficult to enter a recipient's computer and rewrite the text, especially if they have installed a firewall, and I'm not sure that I would want to take the time to enter a couple hundred computers anyhow, nor would I want to deal with the potential legal ramifications if they found me in there fooling around. ;)

Likewise, books. Last year I read an excellent novel by an excellent author, whose name I do not recall (so I will return here one day when it comes to me), so I was amazed to find the exact same conversation between two characters occurring in two different areas of the book. He had obviously decided to move that conversation from its original location, but forgot to delete the original. I can imagine that by now he has become painfully aware of his gross error and will have to live out the rest of his life with that gut-wrenching humiliating embarrassment. It does not say much for his proofreader, editor and publisher either; they should all be fired.

I don't have that problem. I do indeed make some glaring mistakes now and then and if I am fortunate enough to discover them, I can return to fix them, especially when an astute reader has been kind enough to point them out. However, Eileen is my first proofreader and she is very good at it.

While on The Newsletter vs. The Journal subject, those of you that received the newsletter last year may recall that is was rather short and 'cleansed'. Its sole purpose was to encourage the recipient to go to the web site and read The 2005 Journal. This was done in an attempt to avoid being mis-labeled as spam by overly sensitive email filters and thereby being arbitrarily cast into hill without the recipient even being aware of its existence. Some of you did indeed respond with great comments about the subject matter and those comments are now appended to the end of that 2005 Journal. However, the response was nowhere near that of previous years when I did send out the entire thing. Either some filters killed my short clean newsletter, or some people did read The Journal but did not subsequently reply to the newsletter, or some did not even proceed to read The Journal.

I can understand that it is much simpler to just read the newsletter and respond to it and be done with it, even though you miss out on the wealth of other interesting information to be found within The Journal. Therefore, this year I have reverted to sending the whole darn thing and hope that it reaches everybody. However, I think that I may also send a one-liner by separate email so that if one does not receive the real thing then at least one will know about it and will have the option of going online to read This Journal.


I think I will stop here, move it up to the web site, add pictures, and send it out. After I perform one or two other looming tasks, then I'll write some more.


August 25, 2007 9:29 AM          Subject: News from Joshua Tree 2006

Hi Van, Great pictures!!!!!! You sure carry your camera when it counts. Ive begun to carry mine more now and have gotten some nice pictures, yet I keep missing our coyotes when they hang out under our bird feeders. Then I got a phone with a 2MP camera and got some important pictures that I would have missed ordinarily.

I think I read about those cat hybrids, they sell them and call them "Pixie-Bobs". They sometimes get too big and rough for a family so they just let them go. They can survive where a regular house cat cannot. Most of them are fixed, so they dont re-enter the breeding cat population, they just die out. There was one which weighed about 35 pounds in a local cat rescue place and Freddie was looking to get it, but the people decided to keep the cat. It was still a kitten so probably would get around 40 pounds at maturity. That would be fun, no coyote in our yards would tangle with a cat that size. We will probably get another dog soon, we sure miss our Muffin so much. I made a quick page in her memory. I took some HTML lessons and then bought Dreamweaver which I am beginning to learn, this web stuff sure is fun.

I took a class in Dreamweaver, but the instructor sort of went AWOL so I didn't finish it, but here is a strange page I made where the pictures slide over the background image. I think I did it by mistake, but liked it and kept it. I did sign up for another class which I did better in.

Weve got an air show at Otis Air Base today that Julie will take Max to, as she has a friend who is a pilot. We went over yesterday for the practise, those Thunderbirds are just spectacular. But the MPs kicked us off the base, but not until I got some pretty nice pictures. Anyway, Its great to hear from you. Janie

Reply:  Janie, Your pictures are excellent, much more clear & realistic then mine - even on my Windows machine. You are not a beginner; you obviously could teach this stuff. Re: 'but here is a strange page ...': I see nothing like that on my screen; it looks good. Probably a MAC defect.

Been watching the Thunderbirds from our side of the Cape; fascinating. With a slight phase shift in my past, I would have loved to be flying one of those things, or the Phantom. My uncle, Fred Blakeman, did during NAM.

As to your brother Freddie, he said some darn nice things about me at my sister's memorial service. It was nice to hear, though somewhat surprising. Perhaps it was a message that she needed to hear. :) Van

10:11 AM  Van, you write beautifully. I'll delve into this more when we return...we leave shortly on a ten day sojourn to Bishop for climbing and hiking. You will notice some changes around here, both straight on and with your superb peripheral vision.

My mother and grandmother were born in Montana. In fact, family on both of mom's side arrived in Montana in the 1860's. Sun River area, then Florence, in the Bitteroot mountains. Accused by Mounties of smuggling horses across the border. First cattle ranch along the Milk River in Canada set up by my family. I love that area. My father arrived on earth in the Territory of Arizona, before it was a state. So much for Western family history! Katherine

Reply:  Sun River is about 178 miles NW of Melville, where my father was born Xmas eve, 1909. His uncle started the Lazy-K ranch, which is linked to on my home page.
Thanks for the compliment. Have fun. Van

Reply:  My mother was born May 11, 1910 in Great Falls. Her sister, three years earlier. Have you heard of the Milk River Cattle Company, the Spencer-Taylor Ranch? On the Canadian side, down to the river. East of Coutts. It's now the Pinhorn Grazing that part of Alberta looks as it did when Mom was ever so young. Her father was William Alan Taylor, and his uncles were the Spencers. Interesting connections, Van. Cheers, K

01:21 PM  Funny you should mention the cougar. We keep our RV at a park called Baden Shores, in the Ewharrie National Forest, North Carolina. It's exactly an hour from home, totally different terrain. We live in what is called the Sandhills (much like Cape Cod). Baden Shores is what I would call low mountains and that awful red clay that gets on everything.

It has been exceptionally hot here this month, breaking all kinds of heat records, 105 official temp last week. It's too hot to go up and stay, the coach is air conditioned but going outside is murder. We have more room to hide from the heat in our house. Rick usually goes up there once a week, just to check on our expensive investment. He saw a very fast moving cat when he went up this week and thinks it was a cougar. It moved so fast he really couldn't get a good view of it.

Not only have we had this awful heat but there has been no rain at all. Every time we look at the news of flooding in other parts of the country, we all want to cry. This is farming country, many farmers planted lots of corn because of the ethanol thing. Field after field is totally brown. On our local news report this week the announcer said that there is not an ear of corn to be had in all of North Carolina. There is still a lot of tobacco being raised, even with the government subsidies gone. That, too, is suffering, turning yellow.

Those that raise cattle have had to go into their winter supply to feed them, causing many to sell them off, low weight, which means lower prices. And to add insult to injury, April was nice and warm, many days in the 80's, making the farmers who raise peaches and apples feel they'd have a bumper crop. Unfortunately, in what has been termed the "Easter freeze" we had 5 nights in a row, temps 24-25 degrees. One local farmer lost his entire 40 acres of peaches, along with many others. Some were able to use heaters and fans to save some, but we've become so addicted to the peaches right off the trees since coming here, it's sad. No wonder so many farmers are giving up and selling their land for development.

Will you be going back to Joshua Tree this coming winter? We'll be going to Sarasota FL again, December - March. Say hello to Eileen for me. Ginny

August 27, 2007 7:56 AM           Great story, great pictures. Sue

Copyright © 2007, Van Blakeman