Late one snowy afternoon the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2000, a big yellow cat jumped in front of my truck up into a hayfield off Lobelia Road. This cat seen mostly from the back was pale gold with a large hind rump and a long tail.
About two months later I had yet another sighting!
One late afternoon while riding uphill on a bicycle toward Briery Knob Road – I came upon a tall panther style cat – skinny physique, long tail, pale gold. I’m not sure if this was the same cat I saw before. This cat ran away from me up the road and into a cluster of tall trees across from the Carrie Morrison farm. It climbed way up and fast disappeared silent as a wisp. There was just enough daylight to look around where it crossed the snow pads leaving unmistakeable gingko shape paw prints — dug in and dainty – pure economy of traction-to-weight ratio.
Now I began to compare notes with all my friends and neighbors on “did ya ever see a big cat?”
Bobcat sightings in all seasons is quite common— but to see a panther, if ever, is rare indeed.
Brad Cox told me he saw a big panther-type cat stalk him hunting over near Droop Mountain some years back and he believed it to be dark in color. Kenneth Boggs told me a big cat ate his lambs, and Craig Carroll said once a thirsty Cougar drank some beers he left out.
Just around this time Outdoor Magazine had a feature article titled “Phantom Cats of the Northeast,” offering evidence to confirm cat sightings and habitats along mountainous and wooded areas – even in marshlands along coastal plains and near big cities. Their range is widely known throughout the continent.
Fast forward to a late summer afternoon, I was riding a bicycle toward Jacox near Johnnie and Madeline Hill’s house when I saw a big golden cat in the far end of the hayfield to my left. I stopped and silently took cover behind an overgrown fence line. It didn’t see me. It was grooming itself over a groundhog hole. I stepped off the seat and stood motionless straddling my bike watching this wild cat! For almost a half hour I watched and watched alone until a bug bite made me scratch my left elbow. That did it. I was seen. The panther didn’t look up, it just stood up and looked away from my direction, revealing a full side view of its golden girth.
This cat with a head close to the size of a basketball and a tail more than three feet long silently disappeared over the hill and out of sight never to be seen by me again.
Immediately I rode over to the Hill house and rang the bell. Johnnie came to the door and the aroma of dinner wafted outside. Perhaps that’s what drew the big cat to the neighborhood. I reported to Johnnie, “I just saw a big gold panther behind your mailbox in the hayfield.”
Johnnie replied, “I’ll have to tell Madeline we have a lion!”