I hear steps across the creek. Hooves thump. Two deer. They are slowed by the intermeshed branches of the oaks. This would be the perfect spot for a mountain lion to ambush deer.
When I was first in this canyon in 1978, we found a dead mountain lion. It was early spring then, and we were exploring for plants on the sides of the canyon. There was fresh growth of grasses, and their bright green leaves were long and their tips recurved. Among the grasses we found the matted carcass—yet still with tawny brown fur—of the mountain lion. It had probably died during the winter and might have lain for a month or more under snow.
Today, we have followed the fresh tracks of another mountain lion into this box branch of the canyon. As we move slowly through the oak thicket —catching on branches, tripping on tangles of dried grass—I wonder whether the mountain lion watches my stumbles.