Paper Lions

Reading the newspaper with breakfast and a cup (or two or three) of tea is an important part of my morning. My day doesn’t quite start properly without it.

The good news is that our newspaper is delivered reliably. It’s there in its little white plastic box every morning by 5:30 or 5:45. The bad news is that the newspaper box is out at the street, at the end of our sloping gravel driveway, about 100 feet from the front door.

During the summer, this isn’t a problem. The trek after the paper is a pleasant little jaunt in the early morning, a chance to take a few deep breaths of cool morning air and get a first taste of what the day will be like.

During the winter, it’s different. For one thing, going after the paper becomes a project, involving putting on a coat and trading my cozy knit slippers for a pair of snow boots. That isn’t the real problem, though. Even when it’s cold or there’s snow on the ground, it’s still pleasant to get outside in the freshness of early morning.

The real problem is the mountain lions.

We certainly do have mountain lions here in the Black Hills. The population is increasing, and every now and then one is seen in town. A while ago, one even grabbed a small dog as a snack while the dog’s owner was out in the yard only a few feet away.

Still, I’ve never actually seen a mountain lion. In truth, I’ve never actually seen a mountain lion track. The risk of encountering a mountain lion in my own front yard is miniscule. I’m far more likely to be injured by slipping on a patch of ice or stumbling on the gravel. The trouble is, though, that at 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning in the winter time, it’s still dark. And when I start up the driveway, I can’t help thinking about mountain lions.

Once I start thinking about lions, it’s only one short imaginary step to seeing them behind every rock and pine tree. I stay exactly in the middle of the driveway—that means I might be two pounces away from the nearest hiding place instead of just one. I walk as fast as I can, but I never run. I might slip on the gravel, and besides, they know you’re afraid if you run.

I speed-walk up the driveway, grab the paper out of the box, and start back toward the house. The trip back is worse than the trip up, because all the critters my mind has conjured up are behind me. So I scoot down the driveway—is that heavy cat-breathing I hear in the shadows behind me? I trot across the grass—I’m almost there; maybe it won’t get me this time. I scurry up the steps onto the porch—thank goodness, I made it again!

By the time I’ve started my morning with this self-inflicted dose of adrenaline, I hardly need a cup of tea.

My partner expresses his sympathy and understanding by saying, “If you do get attacked, could you please just toss the paper toward the house? That way it won’t get shredded by the lion’s claws, and I’ll still be able to read it.”

Most winter mornings, I just let him go up and get the paper.

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