Mountain Lions, Struggling Teens, and New Perspectives

Oxbow’s Residential Director, Bill Pollock,  shared this essay by MS, one of our students. “This is the reason that we take the kids out and let them experience what we do,” Bill says. “It is always fun to watch them work through experiences and accomplish things they didn’t know they could.”

The Journey
Early in the morning a staff came to me and told me to get my winter clothes on.  My first thought was,”Oh great, another silly ‘task’ to get done, and this time it was out in the cold!”  Once I was ready, me and several other students loaded up in the van and the staff told us we were going to go track a mountain lion. We pulled away from the warm cozy facility and headed east. The other students and I slept on and off as we traveled toward the snow and cold. Somewhere in my dreams I heard a loud motor and woke to find we were stopped and a four wheeler with our Residential Director on it right outside the van. We piled out and headed for the trailhead.

The trail had over a foot of snow, but it didn’t appear that we were heading for the trail, exactly. We took one step off the trail and sunk to our waists in deep snow. My heart sunk with my feet into the cold snow. We trudged and slipped, plowed, pushed, stumbled, and crashed through the snow, using branches and sheer will to move forward. Finally we plopped down at the top of a hill, huffing and puffing to catch our breath. Our director and guide on this misadventure then informed us that we had only gone about 100 yards and we had roughly another 900 yards to go. I did some quick calculations in my head, recalculated again and no matter how I figured it the math came up the same. We still had a long way to go.

So we continued, slipping, plowing, pushing, stumbling and this time sliding around the terrain. As I was focusing on my momentum and the gravity pulling me down the side of a mountain I heard the dogs.  They were baying, a very good sign.  We found them, about a dozen of them clawing and howling at a tree. Our Guide and several other students were staring up at the tree.  At first a saw nothing but snow covered branches, but as I moved around the tree I saw the Lion.  Our Guide saw the look on my face and Laughed, clapping me on the back. It was truly one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

About Twenty feet in the air, resting between several snowy branches was a full grown tom with paws the size of my head. I stood there shocked at how beautiful and majestic this creature was. I could clearly see the contours of his face and the way the natural colors of his fur blended together creating a stunning camouflage. He seemed content with his perch, despite the armada of canines at the base of his throne. His belly hung low over the branches, full of a fresh meal. He almost seemed to be falling asleep with his would-be captors only feet away.  The epitome of feline nature, he sat with a cool head and crescent shaped eyes, looking down at the world as though he were king of it all.  After some persisting he leapt from his perch in pursuit of a quieter one.

The trek out was equally as difficult as the one in but this one was peppered with taunts from our guide and staff about the delicious, warm dishes that awaited us. Most of my hydration was lost due to salivation over longing for that hot meal.

The day ended with no less than three pizzas and several boxes of cheese sticks from one of our favorite pizza haunts. It was an experience I will never forget and others that accompanied us will have to recover from. That exquisite face, proud eyes, and enormous body that peered down at us will live in my memory, as will the difficult journey required in order to see it with my own two eyes.