There’s nothing to bring you fully awake early on a winter morning like going outside to experience nature while you walk up the driveway to get the newspaper. The brilliance of the stars in the still-dark sky to the west contrasts with the brightening of dawn in the east. The crispness of snow under your slippered feet and the freshness of the frigid air are invigorating. What really brings you to full alertness, though, is the tingling sensation on the back of your neck that suggests a mountain lion might be watching.
I’ve written about this before, but in the past couple of years I haven’t worried too much about mountain lions. This is probably due to several factors: the city’s effort to thin the urban deer population, a lion hunting season that has reduced the number of big cats in the Black Hills, the idea that familiarity breeds contempt (or at least nonchalance), and the fact that our newspaper subscription now includes full access to the online version.
Then, a few weeks ago, my partner learned something disturbing while he and our next-door neighbor were enjoying some male bonding over a problem with our shared water well. The neighbor said that twice in the past couple of years, he had found the half-eaten carcasses of deer—clearly killed by mountain lions—in the shallow gully between our houses.
The gully right next to our woodpile. The gully where I pick chokecherries. The gully where the neighbors’ kids had a clubhouse when they were younger. The gully that parallels the driveway we walk every morning when we get the newspaper.
I’m so glad I haven’t wasted any energy worrying about mountain lions.
Not that I’m really worried even now. Honest. I have protective strategies. First, I always put up the hood of my winter coat. I know it wouldn’t really protect the back of my neck from a lion’s teeth, but it might affect his aim.
Second, when I get the paper out of the box, I always roll it up into a tight cylinder. As a defensive weapon, it’s pretty flimsy, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays when there are hardly any advertising flyers. But still, surely no cat would appreciate the humiliation of being whacked across the nose with a newspaper.
But the most important strategy is to always take my shower first thing in the morning. That way, when I go up to get the paper, I smell like soap, shampoo, and body lotion. My idea is that any lion who catches a whiff will not associate my scent with food. The reaction I’m hoping for is, “Eeew—what’s that awful smell? Can you imagine getting a mouthful of that stuff? Yuck!” Ideally, any discerning predator will sneeze, gag, and take its sensitive nose and sharp teeth somewhere else.
Of course, there is an alternative possibility. A lion might pick up my soap/shampoo/lotion aura, take a deep breath, and think, “Yum—breakfast! And somebody already washed it.”