Thursday February 17 2011
All this talk about cougars, after my story on bobcat prints, and I'm looking over my shoulders.
Inches of snow fall overnight. I'm out walking in the new snow next day. Some flakes are still falling, but the temperature has risen to just above freezing. Some of the snow stacked on the needles of the pine trees occasionally slides to the ground with a sudden WHOMPF in the otherwise quiet forest. One lump lands beside me. I jump a foot in the air. Another lands behind me, WHOMMPHFF and I leap and whirl a 180 in the air, my heart thumping.
Silly, I say, it's just snow. There are no cougars out here. Haven't seen any tracks, the horses haven't been nervous. Well, sure, cougars are out here, but not right here. Surely.
Today I flounder through more fresh fluffy snow - hard packed inches of snow covered by ice covered by the new snow - graceless, noisy, incompetent. Vulnerable. My feet heavy and clumsy, grabbed by the snow with each step, sometimes sinking to my knees if I don't stay on a track.
I look over my shoulder, a lot. Not that it would help, if a cougar were close. I wouldn't see it stalking - unless it boldly walked behind me in my tracks; I wouldn't see it hiding through the trees where they grow close and the low branches drape the snow. And I'm so loud when I walk. My feet crunch, my clothing swishes, my collar creaks - which makes me jerk my head around, thinking it's something else behind me.
I'm not nervous; I don't feel anything amiss. I'm just looking around a lot. This is no different from the many other forests I've hiked through - often after dark, far away from human habitation.
And yet... there has been a lot of cougar discussion that has stuck in my head more than usual. Including the fact that you're more likely to be struck by lightning twice before being attacked by a cougar.
And, I see no cougar tracks around here... or are there?
What are these? I walked within 30 yards of this spot 3 days ago. Today I discover old tracks in the snow - big tracks. They have since softened and melted and expanded, and have been snowed in by inches of snow the last 24 hours, but there is unmistakably a track of something that has left big footprints. I can't match the stride without jumping from step to step.
Hmmm. It's not a deer; tracks are too small. Wouldn't be a bear; they should be hibernating now. Elk perhaps? Tracks still seem too small. But wait - that can't be an elk, it goes from heavy undergrowth trees, across an open spot to more heavy undergrowth trees. What else is that size with that big a stride... ??
Perhaps I'm stretching my imagination. I continue to enjoy the snow walk. But now I'm jumpy as a cat.