Call of the Wild
Nope. Can’t hear it.
Monmouth Oregon, where I live, is bordered to the west by Oregon’s Coastal Range, and to the east by the Cascade range. The latter celebrates Mounts Hood, Jefferson, Adams, and the Three Sisters. Both ranges contain large swathes of wilderness devoid of any signs of human development other than widely strewn nature trails.
Which is not to say that they’re devoid of people. Oregonians, in general, love the outdoors and will start a day-long hike at the drop of a hat. I’ve learned, the hard way, to keep my hat tied carefully to my head to avoid the impression that I’ve dropped it. But these wilderness areas are often full of people attempting to get away from each other. Which is why I stay home.
Mountain lions are “common” in these areas. “Common” isn’t really the right word. They are solitary hunters, unlike their African brethren, so you won’t stumble on a pride hanging out in a tree. Each one stakes out a range and takes a dim view of other lions attempting to move in.
But sitings are fairly frequent up in the mountains, and hikers, joggers, BMXers, and their ilk are warned to “…take precautions when traveling in remote areas”. I’ll return to that unfortunate phrase in a moment.
A few years ago, my wife and I traveled to Tucson to visit her mom and stepdad. One of the highlights of our visit was a trip to the Sonoran Desert Museum which, if you ever find yourself in Tucson, is very much worth the drive. While we were there, I somehow became separated from the rest of the group and while idly wondering where they might be, I discovered a large window into an open-air animal enclosure. Lying on a rock directly behind the window was a mountain lion.
Mountain lions are big. When I was a kid, I somehow got the idea that they were like overgrown lynxs or something, but that moment in Tucson put this misconception to rest forever. A mountain lion is every bit as big as an African lion. The cat I saw could take down an average adult human without breaking a sweat, never mind an overwieght, over-the-hill specimen like myself. I felt genuine respect, and more than a little awe. Backing away, I decided to go look at the hummingbirds for a while.
So when I was first told to “take precautions when traveling in remote areas”, I had two questions. The first was “How?!” After considerable research, I determined that the best answer is simple: “Stay out of remote areas”.
Which just begs my second question: “What consitutes a remote area?” Well, clearly the wild, mountainous areas of out local ranges qualify. The lions are after all mountain lions, so when you go up there you are very much on their turf.
I am at peace with that. The mountains are beautiful and I enjoy gazing wistfully at them while thinking vague thoughts about Frodo and Rings of Power, but clearly people who go up into them have lost their minds.
Having thus reconciled myself with nature-at-a-distance, I could not have been more disturbed by this short post on a local facebook group:
Dallas is about five miles from us, and it is not by any measure “up in the mountains”. I’m not familiar with the Aquatic Center, so I looked it up on Google maps, hoping it would be in some remote area of Dallas:
No such luck. You can see the Aquatic Center by the big red dot. Just below and to the right of that you’ll see a green dot with the label “Creek Trail”. That’s where they saw the not-really-about-the-mountains lion. And yes, those are houses on either side of the creek, where people live. Like me.
Okay, so you’re thinking “Well, it’s five miles away, no need to panic, right?” Sure! Except a very similar wooded area with a creek runs behind my house — I’m looking out the window at it as I write.
I texted my good friend Dave for advice. I liked his suggestion of a machine gun mounted on the deck rail, but decided on a flame thrower instead. Why? Well, descriptions of flame thrower functionality often include the phrase “blankets the area in flame”. I think it’s safe to assume that if I’m facing down a mountain lion I will be at least slightly panicked and am unlikely to be capable of accurate aim. So a general point-and-click approach seems best. The phrase ‘proportionate response’ ought to fit in here, but I’m not sure how.
On the other hand, after some reflection I started imagining news reports along the lines of “The entirety of Polk County is in flames tonight because some idiot from New Jersey thought he saw a cat”. I don’t want to be that guy.
So I’ve chucked the whole idea and have accepted that it might just be my fate to provide some large elegant feline with a meal. Still, I now get chills every time Gulliver starts licking his chops.
Okay, enough goofing around. In all seriousness, I believe that these animals have as much right to their lives here on Earth as we humans do, and it is up to us to use our big old brains to keep ourselves safe while letting them pursue their own lives. There’s an old saying that “A cat can look at a King” which means, to me, that animals have no interest in our laws and social conventions. So often, this fact is used to rationalize the belief that they are inferior. The belief that we have to right to do as we please with them is nothing more than the old saw that “Might is Right”.
I will not grind that axe any further here, but I do not want anyone who reads this to think that I would wipe out wildlife for my own safety. The not-always-comfortable pleasure I feel in sharing this planet with such a broad range of strange and amazing creatures is a treasure I would not surrender for anything.
I’ll be gone someday fairly soon, and I’d like to think that I am leaving a strange and wonderful world, not one covered in parking lots and shopping malls.