Bobcat never comes back.
Brent said, as our car was driving forward while the photographers in the car behind us decided to stay and wait, after we all caught a glimpse of the tail of a bobcat disappearing into a bush.
“Bobcat never comes back?” I murmured this line to myself, repeatedly.
“That’s zen. That’s the secret to life.” I said to Brent.
Bobcat, a word that is so sexy in the wildlife photography world.
They are so secretive and elusive that they are constantly on the top of want-to-photograph species for photographers, sharing the spot with wolf, mountain lion, lynx, wolverine, big foot and unicorn.
As JFK said:
We choose to go to the moon, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
We wildlife photographers are the same. The more difficult, the more we want. Besides my near hypothermia experience and close encounters with bears, I have seen my friends falling from a cliff onto a tree trying to photograph dall sheep, breaking a leg in the snow trying to photograph an owl, and being charged by grizzly and bull moose.
We are crazy.
4 years ago, when I first started wildlife photography, I came face to face at point blank range with a bobcat in a parking lot at Inland Empire. I didn’t even know what she was and how lucky I was. I took two quick snaps only, even though the bobcat stayed with me for quite a few minutes. In the bobcat world, it meant an eternity.
Long story short, 4 years and numerous trips to wherever friends told me they had bobcat sightings, I saw ZERO bobcat, including two Winter Yellowstone trips where we would be in snow coach driving all day in -20F. I missed the bobcat sighting each time by a day or two.
And one experience still haunts me when I missed that opportunity.
I became so famous in failing to photograph a bobcat that good friends start to send me their rare bobcat encounter photos from time to time to tease me. Seems like everybody got their bobcat fix, except me.
Few months ago, I got tips from photographer Brent Paull that there’s a healthy population of wild bobcats near Pinnacles National Park.
I drove back and forth on those 60 miles of back roads for over 15 times, almost blinded my eyes looking everywhere near and far, and only had two not-so-good bobcat encounters.
Then I broke down and went to join Brent Paull with a few other photographers. I am never embarrassed to admit failure and seek help.
In one day, Brent had 15 sightings and I had 1, or maybe 2 while we were in his car. Most of the sightings were within 50 yards. I learned a whole lot from him.
But one thing in particular that stunned me, which was one of the reasons I failed so miserably before, was I didn’t know that “Bobcat never comes back”, aka “The Zen of Letting Go”.
We drove for a few hours that morning without any sighting. We were starting to doubt if it would be another bad day.
Then all of a sudden, we saw her. A silver-rish bobcat. Just 15 feet from the road. she’s looking at us. Our eyes met. Stunned by her beauty and her elegance, our pupils dilated, we started hyperventilating, jaws started to drop. Just when we realized that we had to hold up our cameras, she had already walked into a tall bush. Our last memory was her wiggling short tail disappearing from the bush.
Our hearts were still racing. We looked at the tall bush intensely.
So we were not dreaming. That was a bobcat that went into the bush. A species we all longed for. Just few feet from us.
Wow. I was going to set a tent there to wait, I thought. We were all having a big dumb grin on our faces, thanking our goddess of luck, and imagining how great a shot it would be when she walked back out.
We asked Brent, “So, what do we do now?” Expecting him to instruct us to set up our cameras and start our long waiting game.
“We … move on”. Brent said, coldly, to us, and also into his walkie talkie signaling the people in the car behind us.
Our hearts sinked. Was I not understanding English again?
He stepped on the gas pedal and the car moved. He was not joking.
This was the craziest thing ever. We just found this elusive and beautiful bobcat in close distance! How could we leave? That’s a sin!
The photographers in the car behind us refused to leave. We saw their car disappeared in our rear view mirror as our car picked up speed.
“Bobcat never comes back,” Brent said, “bobcat never comes back out after they went into the bush, in my last 20 years photographing them, no matter how long you wait.”
And this is the secret of life.
Brent continued “Look, we only have 2 more hours of day light. You can wait here for 2 hours but it’s very unlikely they will come out. But each second you wasted waiting here, it’s one second you could have used to find a much less skittish and much closer bobcat who would let you photograph them.”
But how could I leave this spot. I was indulging in my self pity after I missed the shot. I could have prepared better. I should have llifted the camera one second faster. I should have arrived at the spot one second sooner.
A lot of times in life, we indulge in our self pity after some people broke our hearts.
Once we become complacent, it feels scary to explore a new territory. The uncertainty brings so much fear.
In Zen Habit, Leo Babauta said:
The root of all our problems is our inability to let go.
We are fear of change. But really, nothing in this world is forever. Every person, every subject, every situation, everything are impermanent.It’s liberating once we know that truth. we are trying to hold onto nothing really.The only way to deal with the fear of change is to accept it. We can fight and suffer or we can accept and move on.
Our life is limited. We only have two hours of good light left.
Death is like a freight train in the future, heading towards us, closing the hours, second by second, between now and then. — Robert McKee
Whether we keep moving, or stay at the same place, the death train is gonna come at the same speed.
We could live our lives in sorrow, or we could move on and look for our happiness. We need to have faith that they are out there waiting for us.
James Altucher said:
If someone is a drag on me, I cut them out. If someone lifts me up, I bring them closer. Nobody is sacred here. When the plane is going down, put the oxygen mask on your face first. Family, friends, people I love – I always try to be there for them and help. But I don’t get close to anyone bringing me down. This rule can’t be broken. Energy leaks out of you if someone is draining you. And I never owe anyone an explanation. Explaining is draining.
Once you decide to hit the gas pedal, once you move on, once you cut out those negative people in your life, you are in control of your own destiny. Don’t let the others to decide your fate. You are passive if you stay and wait. Once you move on, you are the captain of your life. You can keep driving as long as there are still light. You don’t even need to stop when you see another bobcat when you instantly know the photo opportunity isn’t good. You are confident you will find a better one. No one can tell you when you need to stop.
Looking back, I have wasted way too much time waiting at the same place, hoping the missed bobcats would come out from the bush, and wasted all the good day light left. And in reality, they never came back out.
Because bobcat never comes back. It is difficult. It is scary. But it’s time to hit the gas pedal and be on my way, with a smile on my face, to meet the bobcat who is waiting for me in the beautiful good light.