On Saturday I did a solo creek crawl up Sugarloaf Creek, in the Mayacamas mountains. Beginning at the parking lot for the Goodspeed trail, I went directly up the creek, taking my time and enjoying the landscape.
About a quarter mile I started coming across tracks here and there, one of which appears in the photo. The knife in the photo is about 4 3/4 inches long closed. The track appears to be feline; there are no claw marks as would be expected for a canine. It seems too large to be a bobcat. I'm thinking Lion.
The sand was wet and there were sharp ridges in the tracks, so I figured they were fresh...maybe even within the past 15 minutes or so. I crept upstream as quietly as I could, with my camera in hand. There is a special feeling to stalking a mountain lion, alone on a creek. You feel very alive and alert; there is a thrill to knowing that there is an apex predator nearby and that you might be privileged to get a glimpse of it.
After another quarter mile a well-maintained human trail appeared on the flank of the stream, and I saw no more tracks. I finished my crawl by going up a long series of beautiful cascading waterfalls and ponds.
Along with my friends and fellow guides Scott Davidson and Lindsey Mitchell, I went with a group of parents and sixth-grade students from a local charter school for a day of nature connection at Abbott's Lagoon in Pt. Reyes National Seashore. I learned about Abbott's Lagoon from Scott, who is an expert tracker. It's a perfect place for semi-supervised fun and for getting involved with a wide variety of tracks of many species...the wind-packed sandy substrate is idea and holds tracks well, and there are many to hold. Bobcat, coyote, otter, deer, fox, various bird species, amphibians, mice... the landscape offers many detailed stories in a way that is much easier to read than in forest or just about any other environment.
There were about two kids per adult, which gave us a great opportunity to do some mentoring with the parents...with the focus being how to mentor the children. The mentoring strategy we use has as a main goal strengthening the child's connection with those things that capture her imagination. We follow these natural "child passions" by noticing what the child is interested in, joining with that child by getting interested ourselves, and then asking questions that deepen curiosity and hone observational skills. There is very little emphasis on giving answers or dispensing knowledge. Simply dispensing a fact with the voice of an expert can actually extinguish the sense of wonder that is at the heart of nature connection. So we begin with easy questions, such as "what do you notice about how it looks?" and then move into more difficult "edge" questions--questions that take the child just beyond the edge of what is obvious or what they already know. We may ask, "How do think these shells got here?" and support the child's thinking process when they realize we are a couple of hundred yards from high tide line. Coming to a "correct" conclusion is less important that engaging in inquiry. Leaving questions unanswered (but alive!) is a part of the fun.
It's been a good year for me for bobcat sightings. First there was the kitten that I followed into a field, where its camoflauge was so perfect that even when it was right at my feet I couldn't barely see it in the long dry grass. That was in February. I've a couple of other encounters also.
Maria Owl and I were walking in Annadel when we came across a bobcat by the side of the trail. He was perhaps 40 feet from the trail, hanging around on a rock. He watched us watch him, and tolerated me taking multiple photos of him. At one point he licked his paws then moved casually through the grass to another rock.
As we watched other people came along the trail. They stopped for a moment or two, perhaps snapping a photo on their cell phones, then taking off on foot or bike. I realized that I was so excited about the photo op that I was forgetting to simply be present. Maria stood down the trail away, a blissful smile on her face, saying softly, "Thank you, thank you." I set the camera aside. The bobcat stayed put. After five minutes or so we moved on.
Early May: the forget-me-nots are at their peak. As I wander in Cooper's Grove I come across a bare area in the dirt, about a yard on each side. I look closely and it appears that soil has been packed by deer hooves. A mystery...for a few moments. When I wander a bit farther I see a spotted fawn, slowly taking what must be among its first steps. When I approach, it hears me (it doesn't appear to see too well) and lays down, holding perfectly still.
I have heard that while they have spots fawns have no scent that attracts predators. Their mothers range for hours, foraging and then coming back to feed and tend to the young ones. While they are away the defense of the fawn is simply to hold very still, be very quiet, to sleep and wait. By the time their spots fade and their bodies are creating scent they are big enough to run and to have a fair chance against predators.
My friend Scott Davidson, an expert tracker and very skillful mentor and guide, told me he found two fawns by his sit spot. He wondered aloud, "How many people find fawns while their moms are away and assume they have been abandoned, and perhaps interfere?"
Amos Clifford, Guide and Restorative Council Mentor; trainer in restorative justice, restorative dialogue with nature, and circle-keeping and the way of council; mentor.