At La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, I had an encounter with P.O.U.S. (Peccaries of Unusual Size), so large I thought at first they were a small group of tapirs, concealed by the late afternoon shadows in forest. Then they started grunting and clacking their tusks, all in all making it very clear I was not welcome. White-lipped peccaries have garnered some fame for running hapless tourists up trees, and these being of unusual size, I found myself glancing at nearby trunks and gauging which tree would afford me the easiest climb. Fortunately, the P.O.U.S. decided I constituted an insignificant threat and having made their point, continued on their way.
I've also seen a number of white-faced cappuchin monkeys, koatamundis (raccoon-like creatures that are charming until tourists start feeding them, and they figure out how to get into backpacks), agoutis (true Rodents of Unusual Size) and abundant squirrels. As an extra-special treat, the tayra, a giant cat-like weasel, has crossed our path more than once.
But what I feel like I've had the most luck with this summer are the cats. I haven't actually seen any cats -- well, I did see one, I think -- but we've come across their tracks numerous times. Large puma tracks graced the path on our first day out; and we've seen smaller cat tracks as well, perhaps left by the jaguarundi or the ocelot.
Seeing a cat in the forest is, in many ways, like seeing ghost. Afterwards, you're never quite sure whether you really saw a cat, or if it was just your imagination. Wishful thinking. A momentary hallucination brought on by mild dehydration. Or perhaps that mushroom I took a photo of had Spores of Unusual Potency.
Such was my most recent cat encounter: I was walking alone, descending a gentle slope, when the animal crossed the trail some thirty meters in front of me. Sauntering, as a cat does, without hurry or concern. I saw the animal shoulder-to-tail, clear as day, and then it vanished without leaving a trace, without making a sound. Not even a pawprint in the dirt to confirm my suspicion. And I hadn't seen the head, so now I still wonder. Was it a small puma? A jaguarundi? Or some other animal with which I am unfamiliar?
Or had I just been wandering alone in the woods for too long?
Eolyn's cat is the Lynx, which does not inhabit Central America, but is found in the forests of the northern hemisphere. Like all cats, the Lynx of the South Woods is ever-present, though it seldom lets itself be seen.
When Eolyn first loses her way in the South Woods as a little girl, Lynx tracks her, thinking the starved and disoriented girl easy prey. Just as the cat is about to pounce, Dragon appears in the form of Serpent and tells Lynx about the girl's destiny. From that moment forward, Lynx becomes Eolyn's protector. Eolyn never learns of this event. Nor does the reader, because this story is never told in the novel.
Lynx, according to some mythologies, is a keeper of secrets and protector of ancient magic. When she appears to Eolyn, it is in key moments and with very specific messages. During her rite of initiation, Eolyn climbs a rocky ridge to Lynx's lair, where she petitions Dragon for her staff of High Magic. When the young maga decides to return to Moisehen, Lynx is the animal who bids Eolyn farewell.
Lynx acts on Eolyn's behalf in many other ways, but for the most part the feline's actions remain secret and in the background. Though it appears infrequently, Lynx is one of my favorite animals in the novel, because of the rich subtext of mystery it represents.
So when you are reading the novel, look for Lynx in all those forest scenes, behind tree trunks and on rocky ridges. Look for her resting up in a tree, keeping an eye the action below. Who knows? You just might see something in the South Woods that I, even as I was writing, did not...