Looking out my window Saturday morning, a sudden movement caught my eye. A short brown tail, rimmed in black and set off by bright pale ‘bloomers’, protruded from the underbrush out near the street. Expecting a deer, I was startled as a very large cat backed out of the scrub. I called my daughter to the window, and together we shouted for Mommy to come and see as well.
We all watched as the cat crossed the street, staring intently into the woods, and crossed back again. We moved to an upper window for a better vantage point. My father, in a lifetime of fishing and hunting the mountains and streams of the Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula, and Alaska, has seen a bobcat only once. I knew what we were watching was unusual, to say the least. I wished for a camera close at hand, but knew in the time it would take to retrieve one the great cat could disappear.
We watched as the beautiful animal criss-crossed the road. Almost four feet in length, the bobtailed cat was leonine and assured in its movement. The coat was a tawny sable in color, very heavy, with darker gradient along the back and blended on the sides. Remarkably large feet, nearly white on the chest, the belly, and the haunches; the animal was taller at the hind legs than the fore, and clearly built for speed and power. Its cheeks were notably tufted and angular, the tail short and twitchy. The weight, while difficult to estimate given the heavy coat, perhaps 40 pounds but looking larger. A big cat, but obviously not a cougar.
About 200 feet up the street, the cat stopped again in perfect profile as though to be certain I would never
forget what I saw. Taking a prodigious leap into the air, the cat seemed suspended for a moment about four feet off the ground, with forelegs tucked under its chest. It landed in the grassy ditch by the side of the street, obscured for an instant by a swirl of leaves and debris, then emerged again. Facing away from me, the head and shoulders convulsed as it quickly chewed and swallowed its prey.
Some photographic research revealed that the animal was not a bobcat, but its larger cousin, the lynx. I called the Department of Fish and Wildlife to report it, concerned that the animal is well outside of its typical behavior; being sick, injured, or under unusual food stress could place an animal like that on an open street at daylight hours, and could move it to threaten pets that live just a short distance from me and which are constantly being walked (not always on a leash) along my street. The Department of Fish and Wildlife was polite but unconcerned, taking my address and county but not my name or telephone number. There was some insistence that at the size and color I observed, it had to be a deer. If it was a cat, definitely not a lynx…and anyway, bobcats and lynx are potential nuisance to domestic animals, but not to people. Thanks for calling.
After reading this paper, I have a greater understanding of the nonchalance I was met with. Lynx do not exist. Rather, in 2001 it was assumed that there were 100 or so lynx in the entire State of Washington, as this animal–which used to range upon the spine of the Cascade Mountains from British Columbia to Oregon–was hunted to the point of extirpation by the 1940s. There is no possible way that I could have seen a lynx, 500 feet above sea level in the Cascade Mountain foothills of Western Washington in 2011. How could an animal such as the lynx survive these decades in patches of wildlife corridor, parks, and forest preserve? Mate, reproduce, hunt rodents and other forest creatures that are not its habitual diet of snowshoe hare? Could my family be the only people to observe a lynx here in almost 70 years? I suppose it is possible that what I saw, what my wife and daughter saw, was the spectral history of this once-primeval-forest, a wraith of the past acting out its life as a haunt in this physical world. But I know what we saw.