Chapter 1 Returning
Bright sunshine warmed the morning as wispy clouds floated across the sky. Last evening’s rain had given way to a beautiful day. Everything seemed peaceful as I set out from the cave, passing underneath the low branches of the spruce tree that partially concealed the opening. I paused on the ledge next to the tree to take in the view before starting down the trail. The path was gentle, only slightly worn, an easy grade curving around the rock formation. Best of all, almost the entire path was concealed by interwoven branches and scrubs. As I neared the base, coverage opened somewhat and the ground began transitioning from rock to packed earth and soft grassy patches. I was happy to be back in the Olympic region with it’s thick, old growth trees. Everything was green and brown, the flowers vibrant. The rich earth smelled wonderful and it felt like home. There was one particular evergreen, a bit off the trail, a nice old growth tree with a spot about midway up where the branches splayed just right for a nice platform to sleep on. Each sound of the forest was noted, a nearby stream, a small group of grazing elk. Squirrels and Jays scolded each other high in the trees.
As I neared the edge of the clearing, I slowed and scanned the area before breaking into a lope, enjoying the feel of the tall grasses as I passed thru them. Too soon I’d crossed the meadow and entered the opposite trees. The breeze was light, birds chirped and I was simply enjoying myself. The ground began to change as the carpeted forest began to give way to small rocky patches. The trees slowly gave way to rocky ridges. Drawing closer, I judged the best angle to reach a out-cropping; then gathering my muscles, I leaped. My front paws barely touched the rock before pushing off so I could set my hind quarters, then I pushed off again while angling up and slightly left for the next stepping stone. A few moments later, I was rewarded with a spectacular view. The tree line was broken by a narrow river. As I continued looking left, the river dropped away into what I remembered was a beautiful waterfall plunging down to the canyon below. It had been nearly 20 years since I'd passed this way but the Preserve seems to have changed very little. It was peaceful here and likely this spot would become one of my favorites. It would be a perfect place to relax in the mornings with the warmth of the sun beating down upon the rocks, giving me plenty of time to soak in the surroundings. Perhaps I would remain in Olympia for a while. There was plenty of wildlife, enough that there was little fear of culling them too much. I’d seen bears, wolves and other cats but none like me. This area had not been claimed. Also there were no humans for miles, although there was a small town further down to the west... Forks was it?
The wind shifted, now coming from the south. Opening my jaw a bit, I sampled what the wind brought. The fresh scent after a rainstorm, musty earth warmed by the morning sun, a small herd of mule deer were grazing in the trees past the river. I tensed suddenly, raising my head slightly focusing on a faint pungent odor that jostled a memory but the next moment it was gone. Hmm, perhaps because I had returned to the area, my subconscious was pulling phantoms from long ago. I'd seen no other sign. Of course I hadn't searched much to the south of here. There were none during my last visit here. However, something could have triggered a new generation and only one creature could have done so. I tried to shake the thought away but knew I would need to find out. And there was no time like the present...
Letting my nose guide me, I jumped down and proceeded across the meadow at a more southern route than my last crossing. I remembered where the tribe had been and it was doubtful they had strayed far from that location. About 20 minutes later, I stopped near an old hiking trail. Too many human scents had crossed the area which meant I would be giving it a wide berth for the most part. Although I wanted to know where the humans were going, I did not want to interact much with them.There it was again... that smell...that musky wet dog aroma what seemed to burn my nostrils. Could it be? I thought they'd all died out.