During my winter break back in the Midwest, I decided to visit a family place near a lake in northern Michigan for a few days for some â€œnature time.â€ Â As much as I love seeing family and friends in the Chicago area, after a few days I start craving the abundant nature I have been spoiled by in the NorthCascades.Â Fortunately, there is such a place that I grew up visiting every year, and only six hours away.
I arrived in northern Michigan late afternoon to a world coated by an inch of fluffy snow, which created a lovely winter wonderland. Â My first step upon arrival is toÂ always visit the lake to say hello and pay my respects.Â The lake was not yet frozen, though there was a slushy ice ring around the shoreline, tinkling like little bells.Â I took a short walk down the path along the lake and came across some tracks in the snow.Â It was still lightly snowing, yet the tracks were distinct, so I knew they had to be relatively fresh.Â As I bent down to examine them, I could not believe itâ€”they were clearly bobcat tracks.Â I had never seen bobcat tracks (or the real thing) here before, though perhaps I had not known what to look for in the past.
Back home at the North CascadesÂ Environmental Learning Center, I had gone on a few tracking hikes in early December and had been ecstatic to find bobcat tracks several times.Â However, even though this house in Michigan is in a semi-rural area, I did not expect to find tracks here.Â There are certainly plenty of deer, some turkeys, a very occasional bald eagle, and a few beaver that make their home in these woods. But I had never thought of the fauna to include bobcats, which I have always wanted to see.
I followed Bob’s tracks under our neighborâ€™s porch, and decided to look for them again the next day.Â Accordingly, I headed out for a walk the next afternoon and paid a visit to the porch to see if there was any activity, but the snow was new and unmarred.Â Instead, I flushed a grouse, watched the antics of a pileated woodpecker attacking a tree, and closely examined a brave black-capped chickadee.Â Very worthwhile, despite a lack of finding Bob.
I whiled away the rest of the afternoon curled up with a book, but as the sun prepared to set, the thick clouds that had covered the sky all day blew off to the east, and as the sun started lighting up the shoreline, I knew I had to go out and take in the sunset.Â I decided to walk the short way down to a point to stay warm as I watched and waited, and lo and beholdâ€”tracks!Â I immediately forgot the lovely skyscape and began following the bottle cap-sized tracks, under the neighborâ€™s porch, down the path, around several docks stacked on the shore, under the next houseâ€™s porchâ€¦and the next porchâ€”hmm, I was noticing a pattern.
I have not been able to figure out exactly why I find tracking animals so thrilling.Â I never expect to find the animal itself at the end of the trail.Â And being an amateur, I cannot interpret my discoveries too deeply.Â Yet there is a childlike delight in the treasure hunt of seeing where this beautiful and elusive creature went, knowing it could very well be watching me from under one of the porches.
Eventually I had traced its last loop (though I was unsure where exactly it had ended between visits to all the porches), and remembered the setting sun.Â It turned the snow a pale blonde, casting deep blue shadows behind the trees and snowdrifts.Â The water looked like liquid gold, ice shards of glass shimmering mesmerizingly on the shore.Â I fought against the numbness spreading across my cheeks to soak in every last drop of the beauty.Â I was certainly getting theÂ nature time I had craved.Â I would return the next morning to stalk Bob again, and create more golden memories of this place to take with me when I returned to the Learning Center.Â While the North Cascades are where I hope to stay, a part of my heart will always reside in these MichiganÂ waters and woods.
To learn more about bobcat ecology, visit this link.