Teri Orr: We are just renters
February 13, 2015
Looking out my upstairs bedroom window on a Sunday morning, I rubbed my eyes. There was a cat in the neighbor’s yard. I didn’t yet have my glasses on but I could see it was big and moved in a powerful, purposeful fashion. Then I realized the size of the cat was not consistent with a house pet. The sleek cat was, well, a wild animal set in a field of white and framed by barren trees. I was seeing a mountain lion ease on down the meadow.
I grabbed my glasses and confirmed the size of the beautiful creature and, as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. I sent an email note to a friend who is a runner and owns dogs and walks all around and is much more outdoorsy. I asked her if I saw what I thought I saw. She confirmed that mountain lions had recently been spotted in Round Valley.
Later, as I recounted the sighting to another friend, who lives in Salt Lake City, she asked if I had been frightened. It was for her a natural question — her life is defined by city sounds and sights, which I find, if not frightening, at the very least jarring. But honestly, it never occurred to me to be scared. It felt like a touch of the sacred.
I have no house pets at this point in my life. After a lifetime of cats and dogs and land tortoises and hamsters when the kids were little, I am happily pet-less. I appreciate others people’s animals, but I don’t need to own animals anymore, and they are better off, considering my erratic life and travels, not to have to depend upon me. In fact, I have even become a negligent bird feeder this winter. Which is strange, because if ever there was a winter to easily make the rounds to the myriad of feeders in my yard, it is this winter. And the flutter of the birds and their colors and songs bring me great joy. There are even bags of seeds and nuts waiting in the garage. I am grateful the birds do not need my care for their continued existence.
There are prints in the yard showing the deer have been looking for seed at the feeders, and I have seen a moose out front, eating tiny crabapples off the tree. I consider these visits more like visitations. They are spirits who wander into my space and remind me I am small and mortal and just renting this land in this little subdivision and my time on Earth. Creatures great and small have much longer loved the land and will continue to, long after I have left it.
So did the big cat scare me? No, but it did give me pause. Chinese New Year falls late this year (Feb. 19) and so I have not paid attention to what this is "The Year of." I knew it was not me — I am a rabbit sign and not due to have a year again until 2023. Turns out this is the year of the goat (or sheep depending upon on your interpretation). And it should be a good year for rabbit people.
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A few years ago, in Washington, DC, I saw an outdoor exhibit of all the characters of the Chinese zodiac as imagined by the controversial Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. They were imposing and fanciful and powerful in their giant designs. I took some photos, working hard on the angles and light. I meant to blow them up and print them. The edgy artist’s stylized version of these massive, centuries-old symbols made me feel both small and bold at once. And like animals and art can do, they inspired awe.
The recent release of real-estate statistics for the Park City area have given many of us pause. The current value of my house is not in the old tract house itself; it is in the flat lot in a desirable neighborhood that lies underneath. My friends/neighbors and I have had this conversation. There was a time you would, say, think about putting hardwood floors in your home and know that it would improve the value of your property. Or maybe remodel the bathrooms or kitchen. Add a great deck or invest in creative landscaping. But now we know that we should only do those things to improve the quality of life we want for ourselves. Because our properties will never be purchased at these inflated prices because of the fading, uninspired structures that were mass produced on them in the ’70s. They will be bought solely for the land. We are the proud owners of future teardown homes.
Which gives one pause. And when a muscular cat, which turns out to be a lion, crosses your path in the year of the goat when you are rabbit, you have to consider it all. We are just renters here, of the land we pretend to own, of the air, the water, the trees, the birds that flutter by. That "cat" was a reminder to be a good steward of the land for my brief stay here. The very least I can do is to fill those bird feeders, this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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