BY KATE DOMENICHELLA
Juliet is not your typical 21 year old. Although she does enjoy using her dad’s credit card, her mom’s extra cash, and her paychecks from her work to spend money on pointless materialistic things, she yearns for a deeper fulfillment in life. She has a hidden love for the wilderness, and living in Colorado in Jackson County, surrounded by the Colorado State Forest, it’s a pity that it’s hidden. She hides her love for nature because her parents don’t approve. Her father is an airline pilot who flies around the country daily, releasing carbon dioxide emissions. Juliet’s mom hates anyone who stands up for the environment because she once was an environmental activist, but an arrest at 19 disheartened her and she became a lawyer who fights for companies being sued by environmental activists. She has been successful in her 30 years of practice.
Juliet spends many hours of downtime researching environmental activists, like Remi Fraisse, a 21 year old killed by a police grenade at a protest in France 2 months before.
Juliet had finally graduated. The summer was her parents’ busiest time of the year. She knew that they wouldn’t care where she was or what she was doing if she was gone for days at a time, as long as she left a note. On May 21st, Juliet left her life behind in the house she had grown up in and walked into the Colorado State Forest, 3 miles down the road from her house. All she carried with her in her knapsack was a journal, pen, long white t-shirt, winter pants, a winter coat, and snow boots and all she wore was a plain white short-sleeved t-shirt and black Bermuda shorts, with Toms.
She was surrounded by lush greenery, beautiful scenery, and the rushing current of crystal blue water down a tiny stream.
During the first week, Juliet grew familiar with her surroundings. She had done research in her school’s library about the plants and animals that inhabited the forest she now occupied. She learned the mating calls of the Black Bear and the Grizzly Bear, the hunting calls of the Grey Wolf and the Mountain Lion, and the evocative calls of the beautiful Lynx and the furry Wolverines. She learnt the sounds of the Acorn Woodpecker, the Hispid Pocket Mouse, the Yellow-throated Warbler, the Big Brown Bat, and the Pygmy Shrew. She familiarized herself with the difference between the Common Kingsnake and Night Snake.
She made herself comfortable in the limber pine tree - the branches she used as a bed - carefully balancing herself so that her back was to the trunk of the tree, and her legs lay parallel with the extending branches. Until she found other shelter, she would tie herself into this position every night with the woven rope she brought from home.
Each day she would learn new things. She learned how to fish in the stream, using a tree branch she had sharpened into a spear. She would cook the fish using her campfire composed of a ring of dry rocks - collected from her walks around the top of the mountain - and a combination of twigs, sticks, and larger brushwood. Juliet had trouble finding the right combination of firewood and starter fuel - shaved bark, oily green plant matter, and leaves- at first, but was able to log her exact findings in her journal, the only thing she had brought from the outside world, to remember what worked and what didn’t. She had taken extra caution to ensure that she had previously recorded the names and pictures of various plant life that inhabits the Colorado State Forest.
Juliet had grown accustomed to her every day routine - wake up each morning and find berries, walk around and see the animals, eat fish for lunch, explore, eat fish for dinner, explore, sleep and then wake up and do it all over again.
There wasn’t much for Juliet to eat every day, but she made do. Juliet would catch fresh fish each day for lunch and dinner, usually one fish would do for each meal, but some days she was more hungry than others so she would catch two. She alternated between Kokanee Salmon, Mountain Whitefish, and Walleyes.
One day in June while Juliet was out on her walk, she encountered her first animal in the two weeks she had been on her own. She saw it there, out on the edge of the mountain looking out at the world. Its back was to her, but its ears were distinguishable. The black tufts of fur atop his ears rustled with the breeze. Juliet knew that if she turned to run for safety, he would chase her. She also didn’t want to hide, in case she made a sudden noise and spooked him. So Juliet just sat there, in the plush green grass, watching the beautiful Lynx in its natural habitat. It was a picture perfect moment, but Juliet had left her camera behind so she used her memory to capture these inconceivable minutes.
She looked down at her ragged white shirt, streaked with earth, and picked up a few twigs for her firewood that night. When Juliet looked up, the Lynx was gone from its position on the cliff, and was now cautiously approaching her. Its striking opaque silvery-brown fur, stunning face and black tufted ears rustled in the wind. His sunset eyes stared into Juliet’s emerald ones.
She knew better than to scream. She remained calm as he moved to sniff her. Once he had inhaled her scent, Juliet offered him her outstretched palm. She wanted to befriend this beautiful, endangered animal. She knew she would need protection and she wanted a companion. The solitary lifestyle had begun to take a toll on her. She missed her friends, two cats, and three dogs. Juliet even missed her parents, her hard-to-love, forgot-she-even-existed parents.
He sniffed her hand and pulled back. Just when she thought he would refuse her hand in friendship, he tilted his head down. Cautiously, she reached for the fur surrounding his ear and began to scratch. He remained with her for five minutes until she heard the calls of other Lynx in the area, and he bolted.
She knew she would never see him again so she headed back down the mountain, towards the stream where she would find her dinner.
It was now early August and she hadn’t seen her furry friend since that day in June. She wasn’t sure where he was, or if he was even still alive. She knew that Colorado had reintroduced the Canada Lynx into their state forests because they were endangered and protected under the government. But Juliet didn’t know about the poachers that still killed the Lynx for their stunning fur.
Hoping to see him again, Juliet packed up her journal and pen, along with a few berries and wrapped the bloodied remains of carrion, feeling eager that that would lure him to her.
She could hear the creaking door with squeaky hinges and the wail of an ambulance siren with a failing battery and knew it was the calls of the Lynx. She continued up the trail without a second thought.
Hours and hours went by as Juliet sat by the cliff. She watched as the sun began to set just beyond the other side of the mountain. Although the Lynx would come out during the day, he was a mostly nocturnal creature. Her body was begging her to seek shelter and sleep, but her heart was telling her he was coming and her brain sensed fear.
She removed the deceased carcass from her cloth knapsack and placed it exactly eight feet in front of her. Far enough away that she could give him space but close enough in front of her that she could see him, if he ever came.
She began to drift off, propped up against a tree trunk, the bloodied remains still in sight. Juliet was awakened by the brush of soft fur against her hand, which had fallen on the ground beside her leg. Instinctively, she raised her hand and began to scratch behind the furry ear. “Aww that’s a good boy,” she cooed, as she patted his back.
Juliet finally awoke and realized she was petting the back of her elusive Lynx. Careful not to scare him away, she slowly crisscrossed her legs and sat up a little straighter, making sure to keep her hand near him, letting him know she was harmless.
Then the he did something she had never seen from a grown, male Lynx. He lay down next to her and put his head in her lap. It was cold on top of that mountain, and Juliet knew there would be no way for her to get warm so she embraced the warmth of his fur.
His piercing yellow eyes and frightening demeanor didn’t alarm her, she knew he would protect her.
Like owner and animal, they fell asleep under the stars.
For the next two weeks, Juliet and Aster explored together. She began sleeping during the day so they could hunt together at night. She learned the ways in which he did things, the way in which he cared for his babies and the mother of his offspring, the way he would skillfully stalk his prey before he killed them, the way he would hide the remains of a dead animal in a secretive place so he could eat more of it later, and the way he would call out to her, to make sure she was with him. Their relationship was remarkable.
The cold, harsh winter came sooner than Juliet expected. Aster stayed with her, never allowing her to be alone for more than a few hours. From the furry remains of dead carcasses, Juliet made adjustments to her snow garments. She added fur to the insides of her coat, keeping her warmer than it had before. She also added fur to her snow pants, just for the extra warmth. Since there had been many animal remains left behind by various creatures, Juliet was able to put together a fur blanket. She did this by sharpening a stick she found in a dry part of the cave she lived in and braiding together thick weed to weave through the fur. It took her many times to find the right amount of weeds to make sturdy enough thread, but she did it. It kept her warm throughout her cold winter nights.
Juliet was awakened to the wailing sound of the dying ambulance sirens. She knew it to be Aster’s cry for help, but it was mid-afternoon and they hadn’t had plans to hunt until quarter of nine that night. She didn’t understand why he would be crying out for help when she was right with him. She stirred from her sleep, rubbed her tired eyes and looked around- Aster was nowhere to be found. He cried out again. Not thinking about her wellbeing, she ran out of the cave in only her long sleeved shirt and pants made of fur.
Juliet ran up the trail, completely missing the blood splatter that was covering the pure white snow. She ran and ran until she encountered a young man about her age, sitting in a black pick-up truck. She asked him if he had seen a Lynx, and when he smirked at her, she had a sinking pit in her stomach. She continued to run until she found bits of fur and more blood spray, her beloved Aster lay tranquilized on the cold, snowy ground.
As she lay down next to him, she put her head to his chest. Juliet could hear the faint sound of a heartbeat, despite his state.
The next step was for them to kill him for his stunning coat of fur.
She heard the two poachers approach and felt one of them pull her off Aster. His calloused hands felt cold and heartless above her loose fitting and thin shirt. His partner, the man in the truck, approached Aster with a Winchester. Juliet screamed Aster's name and began to fight the man who held her in his arms. She screamed for Aster to wake up and run, to fight for his life, but his hopeless body just lay there, gasping for air as each second passed.
As he loaded the over pressure ammo into the Winchester, Juliet watched helplessly as her beautiful and faithful friend turned to look at her with only love in his eyes.
As he aimed the gun at Aster's heart, Juliet's heart broke. Mustering up the last bit of courage she had left, she broke free of the man's grasp and flung herself on top of Aster, covering his heart with hers as the gun discharged.
Although the men were evil and cruel, from the bottom of their hearts they felt remorse for what they had done. The poachers dragged both of their bodies to the tree by the creek and put them in a deep grave and covered them with snow and leaves. Above their bodies, they carved into the tree the date for the girl and her beloved Lynx.
Although they were puzzled by these circumstances, their duties as humans dictated their response for a proper burial.
The songs of the two intertwined souls can be heard atop the mountain in the Colorado State Forest, but only by those who believe in the power of love and friendship.