Friday, March 27, 2009

Catching a Ringtail Cat

A story that I neglected to tell during my Grand Canyon blog posts because it happened gradually over a couple weeks and didn't fit the daily format was the story of my attempt to spot a ringtailed cat.

For being at the bottom of a huge canyon not accessible except for only a handful of points during its 250 mile journey, I was immediately surprised by the variety of fauna to be found. I remember early on in the trip after all the other clients had gone to bed, one of the baggage raft guys produced a blacklight from his raft and shined it around camp. Scorpions have some irredescent component of their exoskeleton and it shows up well under a blacklight. My breath was taken away at the thousands of scorpions that were crawling around everywhere, even on some of the clients tents. Since I spent the entire trip sleeping outside of a tent, I always made sure to unroll my sleeping bag only when I was going to immediately get inside it and always checked my shoes before putting them on in the morning. I spent many a lunch break poking around with a stick but never saw one in the daylight.

I saw lots of lizards, a rattlesnake, condors, a coyote, mountain sheep and many more but one inhabitant continued to elude me, the ringtail cat. I noticed his presence a few days into the trip when I woke up in the morning to find some cat like tracks in the sand only feet from where I had slept. I asked Bronco what had left those tracks and he had told a ringtail cat. Many nights would pass and I religiously would sweep the sand whenever I slept upon it to look for more signs of the ringtail in the morning. Most mornings would reveal nothing or perhaps a little scratch like mark that I assumed was one of the thousands of scorpions but once in awhile I would get another visit by the Mr. Ringtail.

Several nights when I woke up to answer the call of nature or just plain stare at the moonlight on the canyon walls, I would look for Mr. Ringtail. Once, I stayed up for the better part of an hour looking for him but to no avail. My studies were eventually noticed by Bronco who one evening as I headed off to bed told me that the best way to catch sight of a ringtail cat was to smear some chocolate over my face. I presumed that meant that I would wake up to a cat licking my face and thus see him but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I've seen too many cats gnawing on small rodents and crunching through the bones to allow myself to do such a stunt. However, the thought stayed in my mind and one lunch when some candybars were handed out, I pocketed mine.

A few days would pass before I would camp in an ideal place. It would be the camp with a huge sandy beach and an overhanging cliff that I would go to bed alone under but wake up with half the crew and the two Germans who had sought shelter due to a diluging rainstorm in the night. Before I had gone to bed, I had swept the area clean. My sleeping bag ended up only a foot from the wall of the cliff under the overhang and after unrolling it and getting in, I laid there contemplating the candybar. Finally I decided that I had nothing to lose and unwrapped the candybar carefully laying it up against the wall less than a foot away from my face. Sleep was a long time coming.

I woke up to the face of Elena inches from mine on one side and the face of Jorge on the other. It was only with great difficulty that I could maneuver myself so that I could see the candybar, or more specifically the place where it had been. Instead there was the track of Mr. Ringtail who had evidently snatched the candybar, wrapper and all and kept on trotting. His track came within inches of a half dozen people and yet not one had seen him. As I later sat sipping a cup of hot cocoa with Elena and Jorge, I couldn't help but admire the bravery of Mr. Ringtail for going into the enemies camp full of literal giants, walking by so many of them as they lay sleeping and steeling their chocolate. He had my respect.


Sage said...

I've felt all kinds of critters crawl over me at night when sleeping in shelters along the Appalachian Trail... Like you, I don't think I'd put the chocolate on my face!

TC said...

Are you gonna hate me if I say I saw one?

The Real Mother Hen said...

Ah, ringtail cat is quite cute, though I have yet to see one. I generally ain't fond of animals, all animals, including dogs humans, so I sure won't go to attract one on purpose :)

Murf said...

Sounds like a lame excuse for a threesome if you ask me. If only I had a dime for every time some guy asked me if I wanted to see a ringtail cat....

Ed Abbey said...

Sage - I once woke up with the distinct sensation that there was a snake in my sleeping bag. After I extracted myself rapidly, only after much probing with a stick did I determine that the snake was a sock that had snuck in somehow.

TC - Nope. I say good for you and I would expect it given your more lengthy stay in the area than mine.

Mother Hen - I've seen pictures of them and they do look cute. I don't think I would pet one if I saw it in the wild.

Murf - Two women, perhaps but definitely not two guys!

R. Sherman said...

Ringtails are very cool. I feel lucky to have seen one in the wild during the day.


TC said...

I wish I hadn't just read your comment to Sage. :SHUDDER: I might be avoiding sleeping bags for awhile now!!!! YIKES.

Totally end of the season, and we thought it had something wrong with it, because it actually wandered into the lodge one night really late while we were there. (The doors stay open.) Kind of abnormal considering their usual dislike penchant for staying away from prying eyes.

Beau said...

I imagine I would have tried to see one too... knowing they were out there, and so close! Neat idea about the chocolate- not sure I'd put it by my face though :)