Saturday, February 12, 2011


Saturday February 12 2011

I wander up a hill in this Montana forest, savoring the winter snow.

The snow is heavy and wet, dragging at my feet. Deer tracks litter the snow, telling the story of a busy forest over a highway that's hidden in the summer. Without snow, the forest always looks empty. It's not.

I clumsily slop and slosh and half slide along deer highways and down a snow covered logging road - until I stop dead in my own tracks.

Cat tracks!

Small, but unmistakably (I'm hoping - I'm pretty sure) cat tracks.

Has to be a bobcat. The tracks cross this logging road and go straight up the hill.

The cat is long gone, but of course I have to follow. Up I scramble, slipping, falling, slithering, panting, grabbing onto roots and brush to keep from sliding back down; ridiculously, maddeningly graceless as I follow pawprints of an undoubtedly graceful, efficient, effortless cat.

I can't read snow as well as dirt, but with the softened, sunken print in this softened, gently melting snow, I'd say the tracks came from the night before. The cat was on a mission, tracks undeviating, heading straight up the mountainside. On a southern facing slope with sparse trees, the snow disappears, and with it, the tracks and any hint that anything passed this way.

I slide back down the hill (actually sit on my coat and slide down) and follow the tracks where they came from. Still a straight line - across the road back into the forest, over the snow-covered little creek (water flowing beneath, snow thick enough that I don't fall in), until the tracks finally fade in ice.

The snow will melt, the tracks will disappear.

But the cat will still be here... somewhere.


  1. Great adventure. And yes, I agree, a cat. Apparently bobcat tracks are about 1 1/2" X 1 3/8". Cougar tracks more like 3 1/2" X 4". How does that size work.

    I too would have been fascinated by them. But doesn't it just go to show how clumsy we are in comparison when it took you so much slipping and sliding to follow them as far as you did? Incredible.

  2. It was DEFINITELY a cat! today I came across some coyote tracks - more symmetrical and you could definitely see the nails (a dog can't retract its nails; a cat walks with its claws retracted). I still agree it was a bobcat though. CLOSE to a big cat... but not quite. And probably a good thing. ; )

  3. Could have been a lynx too. I think in parts of Montana and Idaho Bobcat and lynx share the same range.

  4. Totally agree about the cat. Several years ago, my horses were scared out of the paddock--jumped a chain link fence--when some kind of critter came into the arena. Those tracks showed definite claw marks so I figured it was a coyote. As you say, that is the main difference with cat tracks as they don't snow their claws.

    Too, the size might be affected by some snow melt...yeah, snow melt in sub zero weather?

    Wouldn't it be fun to have one of those remote motion activated cameras out there to get some pictures?

  5. one time on a trail ride I took plaster of paris, and there were some bear and Mtn. lion tracks, so I made plaster casts, went on my trail ride, and when I looped back they were dry and I picked them up and brought them home. It's fun to do.

  6. Merri those look big enough from pic to be cougar..... be careful~: