Shannon, her mother and I went for a hike and then a run in a local nature reserve yesterday. Unfortunately, the sun-bleached maps and brief trail signs led to us being a little off-course when we came back down off the mountain, so we had to skirt around the edge of it. We found a short-cut through the forest and had gone perhaps a hundred yards when Shannon – who was on point – said “I see I bobcat!” We stopped behind her and looked up the trail to see a large, dark cat disappearing round the corner. “You sure it wasn’t a household cat?” I said. “No,” she said, “I actually think it was a mountain lion cub.” “It wasn’t a bobcat?” asked her mother. “No,” said Shannon. “The tail was too long.”
We ran further along the trail and saw it again. It stopped and looked behind us. A shaft of sunlight through the trees lit its fur better, and we could see that it was mottled. “It’s a large domestic cat,” I said. “No, look at how thick-set it is,” said Shannon. “It’s not a bobcat?” asked her mother. “No, look at the tail on it, Mom. Bobcat’s have short tails.” The cat padded on and we followed, but we couldn’t see it on the path ahead.
We reached the point where I’d last seen it. I looked through the scrub and saw that it was perhaps thirty yards downhill, waiting to break cover onto a larger, gravelled trail. I was reminded of disputed footage of the Beast of Bodmin Moor, and the analysis of body-tail-leg ratios. I could at last get a proper perspective on it because I could see it against the type of leaves on a bush right next to me. There can’t be many domestic cats with such thick legs and large paws, and with a body a good 18 inches long. And its head was not bulbous like a domestic cat’s – rather, it tapered to a head from a thick neck set on broad shoulders.
“It’s a cub,” said Shannon. “So its mother may be quite close by.” “Yeah,” I said. “And junior’s leading us right into an ambush.”
The coast evidently clear, it set off on the main path, and we scrabbled down through the bush to follow it. I ran up ahead and saw it disappear into a dense thicket that looked like the kind of place an animal would call home. A bird began an incessant alarm shriek for the benefit of the neighbours. We ran back to the car.
“Do you know how rare it is too see mountain lion?” said Shannon. “I’ve never seen one before,” said her mother. “I suppose it’s just par for the course for me, isn’t it?” I said. “He has this thing with animals,” said Shannon. “It’s amazing. Tell Mom about the time you had a fox run with you in London.” “It’s not just animals,” I said. “It’s women too.”