Friday, January 06, 2006

Do I have a mountain lion story

Well, its hard to believe, living on the outer fringes of the DC suburbs, the sound I heard the other night did sound a lot like what people tell me is a mountain lion.

Go to:
http://www.partnersinrhyme.com/soundfx/animals/BigCats.shtml
and then click on 'cougar6'

You'll hear something that sounds a lot like what I heard (especially the third part of this rather long cry) New Year's Day morning.

But whether, what I heard was a cougar, or whether it was a fox (they sure put out a noise that sounds like a demented child screaming in the night) or, my choice, a barn owl, I do have a real life, almost got eaten, mountain lion story for you.

Here it is:

We are in San Francisco for a long weekend a few years back and decide we should take off an afternoon for a hike. I had an old book of trails in my bag and from the descriptions the closest afternoon hike was just over the Bay Bridge.

So we get in our rental car and drive north over the bridge and along 101 until we found the turn off described in the book. Of course, since the book was a few years old a lot of development had changed the landscape and so the trail head was hard to find. Meaning, we drove around for a half an hour not finding the trail but finally stopping at where another trail headed down a gully.

We walked for several miles through the woods without seeing anyone and then the trail climbed back and forth up a mountain and then along a ridge where it joined another trail.

This trail, something new, developed for mountain bikes and horses, was full of people, flashing by on their expensive bikes and every once in a while, clumping along on horseback.

Not where we wanted to be.

After a while, though, we saw a poorly used trail going off to the left and then up and around a small peak. Of course we left the traffic and set out on this unused trail, back into the brush.

We had hardly left the bike trail when looking down at the ground on our new path, we could see regular piles of scat. Scat with high concentration of fur. Now, that should have been a warning of some sort but here we are just outside of a major American city, in fact, off in the distance, in between the ridge tops, you can, actually see the Bay Bridge.

And there was that bike trail not to far behind us. A trail just loaded with suburbanites on their bikes.

I didn't think much more about the scat and we kept on climbing. The trail weaved it's way further and further back along this hillside and then up along a canyon rim. Several miles passed by and now we are walking on a trail that is surrounded on both sides by shoulder high brush. Real thick brush.

Anyway, I'm walking in the lead, in front of Wenonah, the trail is so narrow you can barely go single file, and we come around a corner.

And there, right in front of me, not more than half a dozen paces away, sunning herself, right in the middle of the trail, is this cat. A huge cat. Probably longer than I'm tall (not counting her impressive tail).

And the cat wakes up.

And jumps...

And me, apparently, not thinking too clearly, starts running. Not away from, as any reasonable person would do. But, instead, right toward the cat.

Chasing her.

At the same time as I'm running, I'm trying to get my camera, this really nice Nikon, out of my day-pack so I can get a picture.

This cat, likewise is running, fortunately, in the same direction I'm running. Meaning, she's running away from me.

In just a few seconds, before I could get out my camera, she runs down the trail and disappears around the next bend and, temporarily, out of sight.

I guess, not wanting to have her picture taken.

Because, by the time I get to the bend in the trail, and I should mention that I haven't slowed down either. The only thought I'm thinking is that I'll never forgive myself if I don't get a picture. Anway, I get the camera out of my daypack and round the corner, I couldn't have been more than a half dozen seconds behind this large, I mean this very large cat.

And I turn the bend, just a few seconds behind the cat, with my camera out and...

No cat.

The trails empty.

I'm standing there in the middle of this rather narrow trail. A trail that is surrounded on both sides by thick, dense, shoulder high, brush.

Down hill, maybe half a mile away, I could see a dozen deer in a clearing grazing. And around me, flying circles in the air, are birds. Birds which, no doubt, had been in the brush a few seconds ago before being disturbed by a cat. By the large cat. I mean, by the large mountain lion.

I stood there for a while. at first peering into the brush, looking if I could see where the cat had run to. Increasingly, though, realizing that what had just occurred in a rather happenstance manner was rather fortunate. I mean, I realized, there was no reason that the cat had decided to run with me chasing her. The cat was large enough that it could have just as easily been the other way around. Me running away and her, with her long tail swishing behind, chasing.

By then Wenonah had caught up with me and was asking, not having seen the lion on her own, was asking what I thought I was doing. Running off down the trail like that leaving her all alone.

And as we stood there, the two of us, I had the strongest feeling that we weren't alone. That somewhere, probably somewhere very close by, there was someone else, someone with a very large tail, this someone just inside the thick wall of brush.

Watching.

I started to explain all this to Wenonah. That here we were, close enough to San Francisco that you could see the top of the Bay Bridge, and that only a few feet away was an animal that hadn't yet accepted the idea that humans were something to be feared.

But then, I hadn't taken a picture of it and how else are you going to get anyone to ever believe a story like that.

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