The following stories are true – but unfortunately, I have much better documentation for one than the other.
Part 1 (the part I can prove): While my son and I were changing clothes and gearing up for our weekly mountain bike ride, we had the following exchange …
Son: Dad, why do you always bring your camera on these rides?
Me: Just because … you never know what you might see out here.
So we headed off to the trails, where I took some pictures very much like the vast majority that I take: shots of him from a distance, with a bit of landscape in the background.
As luck would have it, later in the ride we saw this guy crossing our trail:
A pretty good-sized bobcat walking softly through the brush, quietly stalking some little snack. Almost immediately after I snapped this photo, he pounced into the nearby bush, but came up empty. He briefly glanced our way as if to shrug off the missed opportunity, then continued ahead in search of the next one.
The photo quality is pretty bad, but it’s the first bobcat I’ve ever captured on film. As for my son, it was the first one he had ever seen in person – so I’m glad I had the camera to remember the moment. Because you never know what you might see.
Part 2 (the part you have to take my word for): While I was doing one of my customary 6-mile loops through Carmel Valley two mornings ago, I saw this guy crossing my trail:
OK, so that’s not an actual photograph I took – think of it as more of a dramatization. It was dark (at about 5:30 AM) and raining heavily, so I left the camera at home … but I sure-as-shooting saw a full-grown mountain lion; he was walking across the path ahead of me when I caught a glimpse of him in my headlamp beam. He stopped in his tracks and stared at me, and we stood there face to face for about 10 seconds. And since we’re doing dramatizations, here’s a good depiction of what was going through my mind right about then:
Fortunately, the lion wasn’t overly interested in me, and I finally remembered the conventional survival wisdom to wave my arms and make some noise to discourage any aggression. He finally decided I wasn’t worth his trouble, and shrugged me off to return into the bushes. (Maybe he chose to wait for the next runner.)
In all the years I’ve been running these roads and trails, I’ve only seen two mountain lions in person. Both times, I’ve come away with an almost electric charge at what awesome creatures they are, as well as a strange feeling of thankfulness at the opportunity to glimpse one up close. Of course, “close” is a relative term, and I certainly wouldn’t like to be any nearer than the distance of my headlamp beam for future feline encounters like this one.
However, I might rethink leaving my camera at home on these pre-dawn runs of mine – because you never know what you might see.