04/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


If there's one animal that says wild-ness to me, it's the lynx. They're as small as an ordinary dog, about 2 feet tall and slightly longer, but built squat for leaping. They come in several different colors and look like a very large house cat except for the ears and the spots. Usually, they stay well away from people, but yesterday, one popped up on an Olympic ski-run near Whistler welcoming the world to Canada, one of the last wild places on the planet. How long will that last?

Anyway, take a look at him here:

Whenever I saw a Lynx during my snowbound childhood in the Ontario woods, I'd get short of breath. At age ten, I fell into a snow bank when the tip of a cross country ski got tangled in scrub just under the powdered surface. I went over like a large sack and when I looked up, there was a face peering at me from behind a tree 30 feet away.

It was bright, cold day and our breath came in short, excited puffs. I had been noisy as I fell. The cats tufted ears were drawn back, and its yellow eyes shone bright as penlights. I found out later, this brightness is the reason that they're called Lynx. It means shiny.

Lynx's eyes absorb light like StarTron night-vision goggles. They hunt by sight not smell. Like us, they're very visual creatures.

Lurching out of the snow, I yelled to my sisters to turn back so they could catch a glimpse, but it bounded into the woods. No one believed me at first. But then we saw the tracks. We followed them, breaking a trail under the bare maples, until we came to a wedge-shaped hole in an outcrop of granite. We could hear kittens mewing and we stayed away. Nearby there were rabbit bones sporting grey-white tufts of fur: mostly legs and feet. I took one, thinking it was lucky. Mom found it in my pocket later and threw it out.

I remember a local hunter who wore a jacket made from Lynx hides: gray, amber, blue...all the color phases mixed into a furry quilt and sewed together badly. He seemed like a nice man and offered to let me try the thing on after he found out I like 'wildcats' as he called them. The sight of the thing made me feel I'd been kicked in the stomach. Really, they harm nothing. They keep the rabbits down. Shooting them is like shooting a songbird. I said so, but he just shrugged. Still, I touched the coat, curious to know what the fur felt like. I was unhappy for a long time after that.

There are only about 1,000 lynx left in the lower 48 states. Fortunately, there's a hell of a lot more of them in Canada. You have a good chance of seeing one during your visit here. It's been a very mild winter. There's barely enough snow to ski on so it'll be mating season for them very soon. That's when they're most visible. Enjoy.

On the road up to Whistler, you might stop in a little town called Brackendale where you'll see a lot of Bald Eagles eating dead salmon on the western shores of the Squamish River. I couldn't get enough of this place when I first moved here from California in '94. I used to take the boys there for the annual Eagle count every January. It's worth a stop.

Like I say, we got plenty. Enjoy.