Crossing a bobcat's path
It is nearing the end of February, and yet, while spring is shouting out with buds blossoming and fair weather, I find myself craving the cold of snow, yearning for the sting of winter.
With a snow-free Environmental Learning Center on the western slopes of the Cascades, the eastern flanks seemed the most likely venture in search of more local wintry conditions. The Icicle River Valley in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest called me. This valley, located near the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, is one I am all too familiar with visiting in other seasons for rock climbing and backpacking. This trip, instead, was different, a hopeful plea to winter to let me experience a season that is all too quickly melting away.
Even to the east the snow was minimal, but just enough was present so that, for the first time this year, I could slip on my cross country skis and head up the Icicle Creek Road in search of other signs of winter.
The path was wide and icyâ€”not ideal conditions for any skierâ€”but I took what I could get. The feeling of skis takes getting used to and paths like the Icicle Creek Road are a great place to learn for beginners like myself. Like dancing, skiing can be a bit tricky at first. After a few stumbles, however, you get into a rhythm and become lost in the wildness of the moment.
Nearing the first bend, a grand view of the Icicle River presented itself and the composition of Black Cottonwoods and Ponderosa Pines provided a beautiful contrast to the Douglas Firs and Western Hemlocks of the west side. Twig tracking along the path revealed a rich landscape of deciduous shrubs not yet in bloom with snowâ€™s presence, still signs of winter.
After an hour of skiing, reaching far up the valley, I realized the lack of other recreationists around me. Basking in winterâ€™s refreshing feeling of isolation, I turned a final bend in the road and looked beyond. I was not alone.
Up ahead of me, in the middle of the road, a dark figure crouched low in the snow. Only about 300 feet from me, I tried to decipher what it was at first glance. The figure extended its front feet forward, almost as if in a yoga stretch, gazing off the road into the woods. Its two ears extended upward, fuzzy tuffs coming to end in points, and then I realized that I was in the presence of a Bobcat, Lynx rufus.
I have always had an affinity for cats, yet had never had the chance until now to witness one in the wild. The bobcat sat comfortably in the road, neither distracted nor distraught by my presence. Its coat had an overall reddish-beige tinge, with its cheeks and throat, extending down onto its chest, covered in a white as bright as the snow. Patches of black were present all over its body, but most predominantly on the face and back of the front legs. From a distance, it was hard to gauge its overall size, but bobcats usually range from 17-23 inches in height, 25-41 inches in length and 10-28 pounds in weightâ€”about twice the size of a housecat.
For nearly five minutes, I watched in a respectful, yet curious stillness as the bobcat stared diligently into the woods. I wondered what it was watching. Perhaps some prey? Rabbits and hares are staples in the bobcat diet, but they are also known to eat birds, bats and rodents. Surprisingly, in the winter months, bobcats can also prey on deer ten times their size. Bobcats are magnificent creatures, living in a variety of habitats ranging from mountainous forests to brush land. Living up to 13 years of age, they are solitary creatures, craving the isolation of upriver valleys like the Icicle in winter.
I shifted the weight on my skis, breaking the silence and the bobcat looked up. For a moment, our eyes met. I felt comforted, in touch with this creature and with the wildness surrounding me. And then, just like that, the bobcat sauntered off the road in the direction of its gaze.Â It was off to satisfy its own craving, no doubt, just as I had done in that day, in search of winter and some wildness.Photos courtesy of Kelsi Franzen.