A welcome and shrewd meditation on looking for a mountain lion and the art of seeing.
Using the format of Japanese nikki bungaku (“separate, yet interrelated, short narratives that proceed in a continuous line from beginning to end, and which tell a sort of story”), Thorp (Sweeping Changes, not reviewed) sets down his experiences in pursuit of mountain lions on his home turf in northern California. He is not a naturalist, wildlife biologist, or hunter—“I didn’t think of myself as being particularly stealthy, devious, or oblique. I was far from expert in the subtleties of sideways approach”—yet the mountain lion had become an “inescapable condition” for him. It spoke of something elemental, a glimpse of it in the zoo raising the hair on his neck. His quarry’s elusive qualities are challenge for the hunt, and its evanescent nature is akin to Japanese art, flower arrangement, haiku, and Noh theater—appearing and disappearing, living and dying. Thorp, a student of Zen, discovers plenty of similarities between his search for the lion and his study of Zen, how the pursued are often unattainable, what the role of chance is in experience, how there can be a fabric of nothingness—since the lion may as well not exist for all his sightings (though, à la Peter Matthiessen and the snow leopard, maybe seeing isn’t the best part). He does see things—fox, rattlesnake, eagles, and a “lunatic shrew”—and he comes to feel comfortable walking in the dark (the lion is mostly nocturnal), with the dark’s heightening of reason and alertness. After all the thinking and footwork, it doesn’t sound so jejune when Thorp says of his search: “It’s all just part of living.”
An artful quest—curious, full of misgivings, humble: “searching for something was liberating, even though the object of the search had begun to feel more and more irrelevant.” (Line drawings)