Ewok is dying.
On my first trip to see Jim and the animals at his homemade and heartfelt backyard animal sanctuary, Felids and Friends, I met this cat. It was September 30, 2012, the eve of my 39th birthday, and I’d met Jim through the Florida Master Naturalist Program, where he pilots the students in the Uplands Module over a section of southwest Florida so we can see the effects of development from a bird’s eye view. It’s not pretty, and neither am I in the back of a six-seater Cessna, and I found out quickly that I suffer some claustrophobia issues previously undiscovered. Jim took a liking to me, and me to him–by which I mean that we recognized the other as a total weirdo–so when the instructors mentioned that Jim had a big cat rescue in his backyard where we were free to visit, I got Jim’s card and emailed him the next day. One week later, I was in a green plastic garden chair holding my hand flat against a chain-link enclosure and Ewok, who doesn’t normally confer with people, was rubbing his cheek against my palm and purr-growling, thick strings of cat-spit dripping onto my fingertips. I’d never been this close to a big cat before, much less touched one, and this cat, whose gemstone-yellow eyes hold a level assessment before either approaching you or dismissing you by turning his head, had something about him that gripped me in the chest. The sound of him was visceral, like a paleolithic drum rudiment, all those low vibrations rippling across his voice box; that priceless music of the cougar purr. Who knew such a thing was possible?
I could barely breathe.
When Ewok finished with me, he strode to his perch, head high, and clambered to his shelf, his hips giving from the effort, his back legs wobbling before he collapsed in a magnificent cougar heap, and closed his unflinching eyes to doze.
That would be the last time I would see Ewok use his perch, and soon, I wouldn’t see Ewok stand up from his bed of hay that Jim had bought specially to ease Ewok into the last of his days.
I stopped by Jim’s yesterday to pick up a cooler I’d left behind from another visit, and I said hello to the dogs before walking to Ewok’s enclosure. (Jim also has four rescue dogs, all of whom were “special needs” dogs; The Tiger Named Sam, my chatty Rick–the other cougar; a cockatoo–45-year-old Woody, Em Dee the bratty but loveable capuchin, Oliver the emotionally scarred cat, Jose the surprisingly well-adjusted kudamundi, and Pedey, a prairie dog who happens to find my legs delightful chew toys.)
Ewok raised his head when I asked him how he was feeling, as if to let me know his time had come, and then I found myself saying to him, “Your time is here, buddy. I know it. It’s just time.” But I know in my heart that I needed to hear myself say the words so I could begin to accept that his story here on earth was fast concluding. His hip bones rose from his skin, the fur collapsed into hollows around his legs, and Ewok rested his chin against his big paws. I’m not going to lie, I felt my throat seize up and the tears sting in my eyes, but I wasn’t going to cry in front of him because…I don’t know; he seems to be the kind of creature who wouldn’t respect any blubbering on his behalf. Jim suspects that Ewok was a chief in another life, and I get it. Being with that cat is like standing in front of a great king; it’s just the energy of Ewok.
Jim wrote me earlier and said there is a good chance Ewok will pass tonight, and so, beloveds, I wanted you to meet him before his light extinguishes, as all of ours must do. If you ever come visit, I’ll take you up there to meet Jim and “the kids,” as he calls them, and I don’t care how hard you think you are, when a cougar stares you in the eyes, you feel exactly what you’re made of, and it’s pretty magical stuff.
night night, beloveds. And a special goodnight to Ewok, the great king, and to Jim, the courageous.