Sunday, December 07, 2003


I'm somewhat behind on everything--thus a blog about something that happened about a month ago...

I was at mile 13 of a fourteen-mile trail at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge when a big cat walked onto the trail about 70 feet ahead of me and started coming toward me slowly. It was somewhere between 50 and 65 pounds--a big, panther-like animal. Gray back, rust-red chest, longish tail. It was one of those moments where you feel both utterly helpless and completely exhilarated. I mean, I had a small buck knife and a walking stick, and it's sauntering toward me like it doesn't even care I'm there. I'm downwind, so it can't smell me. I have few options. If I retreat, I'm going to have re-trace my steps to the tune of possibly 13 miles to get back to my car. That's really not an option. So I'm standing there with my knife and my walking stick, just mesmerized by this big cat coming toward me. It's not stalking me. It's not running. It's walking, and looking over at me with this look that's indescribable. I'm thinking, am I really going to have to try to fend this thing off? Everything was so still, and I couldn't move. Both because I couldn't think of what to do, and because it was so surreal. The animal got to within 20 feet, still watching me, and then jumps off the trail into the underbrush. All I can think of is Rilke's panther for some reason.

I talked to a friend who knows a ranger when I got back, and it was either a juvenile Florida panther or a very large jaguarundi, a type of South American cat introduced to Florida in the 1940s. In either case, a very rare sighting for Florida, particularly North Florida, and one that left me rather breathless. It seemed like a very magic realism moment.