Posts Tagged With: mountain lion

Breakfast in the Driveway

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.”

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Grandmas With Guns

It was the lead story in the Rapid City Journal’s Outdoors section this week. There was a photo of two smiling hunters with a mountain lion, which wasn’t smiling, probably because it was dead. The headline under the picture? “Grandmother bags a mountain lion.”

As if that weren’t enough, the teaser headline at the top of the paper’s front page read: “Grandma, 75, Shoots Mountain Lion.”

Why is it that every time a woman older than, say, 50, does something mildly adventurous, unusual, physically challenging, or illegal, the first and sometimes only word journalists use to describe her is “grandmother”? She might be a business owner, a barrel racer, a cancer survivor, or an artist. She might do all sorts of interesting things.

It doesn’t matter. If she’s over a certain age, and she has kids who have kids, reporters grab that “grandmother” label, slap it across her forehead, and think they’ve summed her up.

Maybe she shot a mountain lion. Or drives a semi. Or runs marathons. Or has a seat in the Senate. Or wrote a sexy book called Sixty Shades of Scarlet. Or makes meth in her basement, for that matter. The tone of the news story is, “Oh look! See what this sweet little grandma did! Isn’t that cute?”

If a man with kids who have kids does something newsworthy, he’s almost always described as a mechanic, a lawyer, a rancher, a professor, or whatever his work happens to be. Once in a while, admittedly, in a spasm of equal-opportunity condescension, he’s labeled a “grandfather.” But by and large, it seems to be assumed that a grandfather has a life beyond the facts of his age and his grandkids.

But once that first grandchild shows up, grandmothers seem to be expected to lose all other parts of their identities and retire into a one-dimensional state of grandma-hood. Presumably they are allowed to knit and bake cookies. But committing acts of adventure, or career achievement, or actually having a life apart from grandkids, is just so not grandmotherly.

I have a herd of grandkids. I love them all, from the ones who are barely walking to the ones with baritone voices who are taller than me. While I have taken some of them hiking, I’ve never knit anything for them. (Well, apart from one half-finished baby blanket. If the kid it was started for is lucky, I might get it done in time for his own first baby.) And if they want cookies, they’ll have to bake their own.

Maybe, if they really love me, they might even bring me some.

Categories: Family | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Black and White and Dread All Over

One of the pleasures of hiking in the Black Hills is seeing wildlife. Mule deer stand and watch you go by with casual interest. Whitetail deer leap away through the woods when they hear you coming, their tails waving to signal danger—not seeming to realize that if they just stood still you probably wouldn't see them in the first place. Turkeys flap away in flight as inelegant as the first attempts of the Wright brothers. Chipmunks dart across the rocks as if an invisible force were pulling them along by the tails that stand straight up over their backs.

On one recent hike, though, we saw something different. We were walking along an old railroad bed that had been built some 130 years ago a short way above the bottom of a narrow canyon. A moving flash of black and white in the canyon caught my eye, and I thought, "There's a Border Collie."

Close, but not quite. It was a skunk, the biggest one I've ever seen. (Of course, it's hard to get an accurate comparison, since most of the skunks I've seen were in various stages of squashedness in the middle of the highway.) It was a beautiful animal, with its dramatic striped coat and magnificent plume of a tail. Presumably the stripes help camouflage a skunk at night, but in the sunlight it seemed a tad overdressed, like a socialite in pearls and satin at a backyard barbecue.

Since skunks are both nocturnal and also one of the most common carriers of rabies, it's not a good sign to see one in the middle of a sunny afternoon. We kept very quiet, preferring to remain anonymous while we watched this one. Its behavior seemed normal enough. Though since we tend to do our hiking in the daytime and had never seen a skunk in the woods before, how would we know?

It was obviously on a mission, trotting down the bottom of the canyon. It came to a little spring, stopped to get a drink, then pattered on up the canyon and out of sight. Reassured—at least until we realized the skunk was between us and our car—we went quietly on with our hike in the opposite direction.

A little further along, on the opposite side of the canyon, we saw a huge bird perched atop a pillar of rock. We thought it was an eagle until we spotted its red head. It was a turkey buzzard, basking in the sun. It sat and watched us watching it, seeming to wait while we got the camera out. Then it spread its wings into an elegant sweep, the sun behind the long pinions haloing them in golden light. We expected it to launch into the air, but instead it just sat for several minutes, sunning itself, watching us take pictures almost as if it were posing.

Or maybe it was just waiting to see whether we would stop moving long enough to be considered lunch. We made sure to stay in motion, and after a while it gave up on us and flew away.

Some people might consider seeing a skunk and a turkey buzzard in the same afternoon a bad omen. It may have been. Or maybe not. We were just glad neither one was a mountain lion.

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Things That Go Bump in the Dark

I've written before about the hazards of hiking up our driveway on dark, cold mornings to get the newspaper. The worst of these is the emotionally real if physically imaginary (I hope!) mountain lions that lurk behind every shadowy tree and bush.

It's completely unreasonable as well as embarrassing for a mature adult, who can do public speaking in perfect comfort and is eight and a half times a grandmother, to be scared of the dark. Over the past couple of weeks I've been attempting to confront this fear.

It started one morning when I headed outside at 5:45. The front walk and the driveway were such a brilliant white that I thought it must have snowed. When I stepped out onto the porch, though, I realized the brightness came from the nearly full moon, backed up by a blaze of stars. The front yard was silver in the still predawn air, and the sky was breathtaking.

As I walked up to get the paper, delighting in the beauty of the morning, I kept hearing quotes in my head from Alfred Noyes ("The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor.") and Clement Moore ("The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave a luster of midday to objects below.") This kept my mind so busy it almost forgot about the imaginary mountain lions.

Ever since, I've been concentrating on the beauty of the early morning sky in an attempt to trick my brain into becoming more comfortable in the dark. It's been working, too—sort of.

At least until a couple mornings ago, when the moon had shrunk to a narrow fingernail clipping above the trees and the shadows were especially deep and black. I crept warily through the shadow of the my spouse's parked SUV and headed up the driveway, walking as quietly as one can on gravel.

I made it to the top of the hill, grabbed the paper out of the box, and started back down, doing just fine until I heard the noise. A throat-clearing or coughing sort of noise, just the kind of sound my brain imagines a mountain lion might make before it springs. Or (it occurred to me later) just the kind of sound a neighbor's garage door might make.

I walked faster. Quite a bit faster. A biased observer might have even said I broke into a trot—not so easy to do in one's bathrobe and slippers. Nervous but still under control, I crossed the last strip of driveway and reached the shadow of the SUV.

Where an ominous figure loomed. It was so silent and still that I nearly crashed into it before, with a heart-thumping jolt of adrenaline, I realized it was there.

My dear partner, not knowing I had already ventured into the darkness, had started out after the paper. He was standing near the car, wondering whether that creature he heard blundering about in the driveway was a mule deer or a mountain lion.

It's a good thing neither of us was armed. Shooting each other in our own driveway would have made for embarrassing headlines in the next morning's paper. Though no doubt the nearest lurking mountain lion would have appreciated it.

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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