Laurie Nichols Kelly doesn’t claim that she saw a mountain lion while she was walking back from collecting her newspaper last week. No, the large cat that crossed her path remains a bit of a mystery.
But she said she knows it wasn’t a bobcat. Or a Canada lynx. And she’s not ruling out mountain lion, even though her subsequent online research didn’t turn up any clear matches.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” the Holden woman said.
Kelly was walking back toward her Davis Pond home on Collette Road in Holden at about noon on Sept. 10 when she saw the animal about 50 yards in front of her.
“I looked up because I caught movement. We have a lot of deer down here. But I looked up and said, ‘That’s not a deer,'” Kelly said.
The cat was muscular and tall, with its back at about her mid-thigh level, she said.
“I’m staring at him. He’s staring at me. And in the meantime, I’m thinking, ‘This is such a gorgeous cat. I’d like to walk right up and pet him.’ He was just beautiful,” she said.
After a brief stare-down, Kelly decided that she needed to take action.
“I’m staring at him and he’s staring at me for a good 15 seconds before I said, ‘I’d better do something,'” Kelly said. “I decided I’d make believe I was a bear and make myself big. So I did, and said, ‘Hey, hey. Get out of here!'”
The cat didn’t seem scared, but it did amble into the woods.
The worst part of the encounter: Kelly didn’t have a camera or a phone with her.
“I always said when I got this phone, ‘I’m not going to have it attached to my hip.’ I can’t stand that,” she said.
Kelly said that this time, she wishes she’d had her phone with her.
But she did get a really good look at the animal, and said the cat’s odd coloration and sleek coat caught her attention, Kelly said.
“The coat almost looked like a bulldog’s fur. It was short fur, and shiny. I couldn’t take my eyes off the fur. I was just mesmerized by the fur,” she said. “And it was a two-tone cat. I would say the head and the back were dark brown, and the rest of the body down was medium brown, like the color of a deer.”
The road was sun-dappled at the time, with the right side in shadows and the left in bright sunlight. She wondered if that’s the reason the cat looked two-toned. When she returned home and looked at online images of mountain lions, she never found a photo that really matched what she saw.
That has left her wondering what’s wandering in her woods, but it turns out that a couple of neighbors have also seen similar large cats recently.
Not too many years ago, if a Mainer spotted a large cat crossing the woods, they’d be more likely to keep the story to themselves than they would to share their story with others.
The reason: Mountain lions — the cats that were the subject of most encounters — weren’t supposed to exist in Maine. In fact, the eastern cougar, also known as the puma, catamount and mountain lion, is officially listed as extinct.
But back in 2011 a wandering mountain lion walked from South Dakota to Connecticut, where it was struck by a car and killed. At that point, wildlife officials said a cougar making it to Maine was a possibility.
Biologists still say that many reported c ougar sightings in this state are cases of mistaken identity, but recent BDN queries have shown that many Mainers think they’ve crossed paths with mountain lions, whether they’re listed as extinct here or not.
Kelly doesn’t know exactly what she saw, but said it was bigger than wild cats like bobcats and lynx. And she sure wishes she’d been able to snap a quick photo or two.
“Of all the [possible] times, I didn’t have my camera with me,” she said.
We ask again: Have you seen a mountain lion in Maine? Do you have a photo? John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.