It is nearly 6 pm and the rest of the crew has left for the weekend. I love camping alone. My camp, is at the base of the sacred Chicoma Peak, at nearly 9,500 feet and my tent is nestled along a tree-line. As I eat my dinner, I look out towards the grassy, yellow plain and notice a figure sitting still. It’s a Bobcat. He sits there, in no hurry, maybe 200 feet from where I am. As he turns and looks about, his passive beauty amazes me. He begins to walk through the plain towards the trees I am camped. He hasn’t noticed me. As he walks westward, I walk quietly along side him. There is a run of trees between me and him and periodically I spot him through the trees as I walk. I stop, when he stops. And continue, when he continues. He still hasn’t sensed me. He turns slightly and is going to intercept the course ahead of me. He disappears for a moment before emerging to my side of the trees. I stop. Now he is directly ahead of me, no more than 20 feet. I can hardly believe it. He stops, still unaware of my presence, then turns his head towards me. I kneel down even further so as to offer him no threat. We look at one another, frozen. I look into his eyes, and appreciate this meeting. Wonderfully clear markings on his face give him his individuality and are breath-taking. After a momentary gaze, he turns, bolts into the forest and disappears. I breathe, smile and walk back to my camp feeling deeply grateful for that opportunity.
As this was a purely in-the-moment experience. I do not have a photo of the Bobcat. But I remember the experience so vividly. I don’t think there is not a single wildlife encounter that I have ever forgotten. And I’ll surely never forget the day I met a Bobcat up close. I am grateful for all of the wildlife encounters I have had. They are always unexpected and never allow me to forget that nature holds a wisdom we all share. Anytime I am allowed to come close to and sometimes connect with, a wild animal, I feel a deep sense of appreciation and honor. It is as if I have met a Sage in the mountains.
So few of us have the privilege to experience a meeting of this kind. Wildlife are not exactly a common sight in our day to day lives, some people live out their entire lives in urban cities and will never have a wildlife encounter, aside from the potential urban wildlife sighting. Connecting to a wild animal within a natural environment is a lost tribute. A lost and ancient “rites of passage” of sorts. This very special bobcat encounter took place in the beautiful Jemez Mountains near a site I was working on as a restoration biologist. I have worked, living out of my tent, in those mountains for two seasons. The work done, deeply rewarding, especially since we were able to witness incredible restoration successes in just one season to the next. The feature photo below, depicts one of many sites I was so fortunate to have worked on. In the photo you can see the obvious, that a massive fire had consumed the area. And you can also see Chicoma Peak in the background. My camp was situated around 2,000 feet higher in elevation than this site and was not affected by the fire.
We know that this fire was of an un-natural cause from a fallen power-line in the lower elevations. The false tributary seen in the photo was caused by incredible erosion event caused by rain during a monsoon season post-fire. Before our restoration efforts the valley-bottom of the channel was only a silty, sandy bottom, eroding away at every rain event. However, this post-restoration photo shows well established vegetation along the channel’s bottom. The establishment of native vegetation has completely stopped and even reversed erosion. Establishment of vegetation increases the moisture content of the soil, acting as a sponge, creating a stabilized foundation. Over time this stabilization will continue to resists erosion and eventually help raise the water table. So long as the area does not become over-grazed, the restoration will succeed. For example, if somehow cattle were to be allow to wander there and completely graze the vegetation, all restoration efforts would be undermined.
As I mentioned before, this work is incredibly meaningful to me, because it works. I love the idea of giving back and nurturing the land to uphold or restore an existing ecosystem. When we work as nature’s allies and as stewards in conservation, the Earth benefits greatly. I feel as if the Bobcat experience was a “thank you” from the mountains. A gift for returning life back her. This is the type of work I live for.
I will continue doing a series from time to time about different wildlife encounters I have had during my time working in the field or simply while backpacking. So stay tuned and remember to stay close to nature.