During my tenure in Dolores, I've had three close encounters with wild felines. Once, three blue-eyed bobcat kittens graced my presence during an early morning bike ride. On another foray, I caught a glimpse of a large mountain lion after I scared its breakfast - a rabbit - from the sage brush.
The third and most amazing happened a few summers ago during an evening hike to a favorite haunt.
Walking at dusk, something spooked my dog, and she quickly fell in line behind me at the top of a small draw.
"We'll go down together," I reassured her, suddenly aware of the wildness of this seldom visited area.
Reed grass, reaching 4 feet high, blew in the wind. Then, just 20 yards below, there she was, an adult mountain lion gliding away from me at an angle through the grass. I grabbed the dog and squatted down for cover. A strong breeze blew uphill toward us hiding our scent, and to my great delight, three medium-size kittens appeared bounding alongside their mother.
Still unnoticed, I watched her cubs frolic about while she sat under some oak brush with her backside toward me. Gnats buzzed around her ears, causing them to flicker.
After several minutes, I felt like I was intruding on a quaint family moment, so I stood up and uttered a small cough.
She whipped her head around and glared at us with a mixture of alarm and anger. We stared at each other for a few moments, and I felt the hair on my neck rising looking into those wide golden eyes.
I casually backed away with the dog on a leash, and she and the cubs streaked out of sight, scuttling loudly along some nearby deadfall.
Observing such a natural scene made me feel proud there is still room for people and wildlife to coexist. I stopped going to that area to respect her privacy, although I would like to retrieve the water bottle I left in all the excitement.