Lessons from Travels: Missed Cats

by Carl Strang

One disadvantage of travel is the limited time one has to spend in distant places. Twice I have found myself caught by itineraries that prevented me from seeing wild cats. The first of these was at Big Bend National Park in 1986. We had been exploring that beautiful, remote Texas park from its mountains to its desert floor to the river’s edge. On the last day I got up early and went to a spring we had not visited.

Croton Springs. The water is just visible far below this vantage point.

Croton Springs. The water is just visible far below this vantage point.

The soil around the spring revealed that a mountain lion and bobcats had been regular nocturnal visitors.

Mountain lion track, Big Bend National Park

Mountain lion track, Big Bend National Park

We had to leave that morning, so I wasn’t able to try an overnight stakeout. The other location was farther south, in Belize, in 1989. We were on a guided tour with an even more rigid itinerary. One of the most memorable stops in that trip was a cave, high ceilinged and open at each end.

Here is the end we entered. The contrast between the gray stone of the cave and the lush greenery of the tropical vegetation just outside cannot be described.

Here is the end we entered. The contrast between the gray stone of the cave and the lush greenery of the tropical vegetation just outside cannot be described.

That contrast was more than just visual. All the senses were involved, smell and hearing and tactile, as well as intuitive sensations for which there are no conventional words.

Here is the other end. You can see the river that flowed through the cave and presumably helped to form it.

Here is the other end. You can see the river that flowed through the cave and presumably helped to form it.

There were cat tracks on the cave floor. No doubt all manner of animals passed through that cave. One of my thoughts upon returning home was that if I were to repeat that tour I would like to skip the first few days, just take some water and food and spend the time in that cave, experiencing it fully and watching how the animals traversed its length.

Back home in Illinois, history is the itinerary that prevents our seeing local wild cats. A couple hundred years ago, mountain lions and bobcats were here. Now there is little chance of seeing one. The rare wandering mountain lion from the Black Hills might be glimpsed, but it’s a lottery bettor’s odds. A bobcat is a better possibility. That cat is known to show up at Waterfall Glen from time to time, though so far only signs have been found. Perhaps the greater Palos area, with Waterfall at the northern fringe, has a tiny population of these shy felines. If so, my winter tracking efforts thus far have failed to connect.

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