Now Bobcat, she was always a tough one. She knew her own mind, and she wasn’t about to let anyone change it—not without her permission, anyway. Her range wasn’t the biggest, not like her cousin Lynx’s, but she defended it fiercely. And she knew it well. Nobody stepped onto Bobcat’s doorstep without her knowing about it. Not much escaped her when it came to prey, either. She was sleek, well-fed, and came out of every Winter with a shiny coat and a smile on her lips.
She never hurt for suitors, and why should she? Why, a fine huntress like Bobcat would be an admirable mate, and the beauty of her spotted coat and well-tended whiskers didn’t go unnoticed, either.
But she chose not a single one of them. Not Coyote, with whom she had hunted on more than one occasion, and who told her he’d never seen such sharp, deadly claws on any creature smaller than a bear. Not Wolf, either, who invited her into her family pack despite Bobcat’s solitary nature. Nor did she choose River Otter, though her playful antics amused the feline huntress on more than one occasion. She even refused the attentions of mighty Grizzly Bear, himself a rather blustery and forceful sort, but good-natured when well-fed.
And yet they continued to visit her, and one day the four of them arrived at the same river where Bobcat preferred to drink, all at once. They soon began to fight for who would gain Bobcat’s love first. It started first as a friendly rivalry, but then Coyote said something quite rude about Bear’s hunting prowess, which then turned into Otter making a snide remark about Coyote’s other talents, and Wolf declaring that the lot of them were all off in their heads if they thought Bobcat would choose such contentious suitors. The commotion they raised in Bobcat’s back yard was so great that they woke the cat from her nap, and she silently stalked to the river to see what the fuss was all about.
When she arrived the four suitors were taking turns tearing into one another, until finally Bobcat had to hiss and growl to get their attention. Coyote flicked his torn ear, Wolf licked at a scratch on her leg, Otter pawed at a bump on her nose, and Bear grumped about the bite that someone had unceremoniously delivered to his short little tail. But they all sat at attention when Bobcat approached.
“Why do you bring this noise, this arguing, into my very home? Whatever did I do to you to deserve this cacophony? Do you think this will attract me? Is this how the fine folk of the forest propose love to their intended?” Her eyes glowed bright amber, and the tips of her whiskers trembled furiously. She sat and groomed herself into calm again.
“Dear Bobcat,” Wolf said, “we only wished to each come to you with our intentions”. “Yes,” continued Coyote, “we had not planned to all be here at once”. Otter added, “We would each want to have our time with you, without the rest here”. “Is there anything we can do to make it up to you, anything at all?” Bear implored.
Then they set about begging and pleading with her to allow them to do something to make up for their trespass that she finally cried out “Enough! All of you, that’s well enough! If you must do something, then bring me the following: the hide of a deer, the feathers of a pheasant, the bones of a buffalo, and the clay from the river that flows at the southernmost edge of our forest.” And then to keep them from fighting about that, she told Wolf to bring her the deer hide, Coyote the pheasant feathers, Bear the bones, and Otter the clay.
It took the suitors three days and three nights, but on the fourth morning they each returned with their offerings. They laid them before her so that she could not refuse them without being impolite, and immediately began to quarrel over whose gift was the finest, and which one Bobcat had wanted the most, and to whom she would give her love. To escape their fighting, but so as to not make the arguing worse, she carefully took up the gifts, and silently ran away to the deepest part of her range.
It took three days for the suitors to stop fighting and notice she was gone. It took another three days for them to find her in the tangled underbrush of her range. And on the morning of the seventh day, she came forth from her hiding place.
She had taken the deer hides and created a veil and belt which she wore. She had decorated them with the feathers and the bones, and with the clay she had painted both images of her suitors’ follies, and her own victories. She walked toward them, while they looked upon her power and beauty in awe.
“You fight over me as though I am a prize to be won and owned. You gave me these gifts as recompense for that insult, and then the giving became yet another argument of ownership. So I took the fruits of your conflict, and I created something beautiful.
“And today I am to be married—but not to you. I am marrying myself, with my sharp claws and my solitary home, my laughter and my hunting prowess. For no matter who I am with, I am always with myself, at the beginning and the end, and today I honor that love.”
“Shall we no longer be able to court you?” the suitors asked. “We apologize for fighting so much. We were so busy arguing we forgot about you. Will we never be able to visit you again?”
Bobcat sat in her veil and her belt, and she thought. Then she went up to each of them and touched their noses with hers. “You each wish to marry me for your own reasons. Coyote admires my success in hunting, and Otter loves to make me laugh. Wolf wishes to make me part of her family, and Bear wants to share food with me. These are no small things, but they are not all that I am. If you so desire, you may join me as you will to learn of all that I am. Perhaps I will someday marry one of you, or even all of you. But today, I marry myself, and you are welcome to join in that celebration.”
And so they did celebrate Bobcat’s wedding, all together in the forest. And then each of them, Coyote and Bear, Otter and Wolf, visited Bobcat in her range, and no longer did they fight. Perhaps they were married after all; only the forest knows for sure, and the forest keeps its secrets well.