Friday, December 22, 2006

Those shy and sensitive wild beasts

Shortly after we opened our first bookstore, my husband stepped out the back door, only to fly back in and slam the door. It turns out he'd nearly stepped on a mountain lion standing at the bottom of the steps. This was inside a lean-to that ran along the back of the building and opened onto the parking lot, mind you, not out in the open air. The cougar had invited itself inside.

The bookstore was in a building that had been a feed store, and before that a truck repair shop, and I'm not sure what else over the years. Somebody along the way had built a floor over the service bays, leaving the deep pits as they were, and incidentally leaving enough room between the old floor and the new for a cougar to maneuver. This cougar had decided that this set-up made a perfect den. Never mind that the floor above her head housed a bookstore and computer repair shop, and that people came and went, came and went, footfall after footfall after footfall, day after day, hours every day. It was apparently a good enough den to compensate for the neighbors - hey, it even came with heat - and it turned out she accessed it through a hole near the back steps, hence my husband's close encounter of the life-endangering kind.

The Fish and Wildlife people were kind enough to come trap her and relocate her to the deeps of the forest somewhere, just before she had her kittens. (Thanks again, fellas!)

She was just one of three cougars that I remember we had trouble with in that location. One was an old cat, too crippled up and toothbare to hunt anymore. He came for the trash cans behind the building next door. The other was a young male cougar, who'd trot through the parking lot now and then, just passing through. Never mind that we were along a state highway in a town that's been around since the 1860s.

I took to running outside with warnings to anyone who let their children or pets loose to play outside. But a curious thing happened. I'd tell people that they probably shouldn't let their five-year-old run off steam beside or behind the building because we'd been having cougar sightings, and some of them got on their high horse with some variation of "What do you take me for? Cougars are wild animals and they'd give a place like this right on the highway a wide berth. Everybody knows that."

Well, no. A thousand times no. They'd found easy pickings in pet cats and dogs and trash cans, and they'd proved themselves perfectly happy to put up with the hustle and bustle and cars roaring by. (Your children don't want to hear this, but sometimes the first clue you've acquired a cougar as a neighbor is when pet dogs and cats disappear. Although they don't generally provide as much meat, they're ever so much easier to catch and kill than deer and elk, etc.)

More than once, I've seen a cougar chasing deer on the hill above the elementary school here. It's apparently a good hill for ambushing deer...

At any rate, some people do tend to vastly underestimate the ability of animals to adapt to - i.e. ignore - life's little annoyances, human-caused or otherwise. Laer's The Fish Guys And The Bear Guys post provides a pretty good illustration of the point.

hat tip: The Paragraph Farmer (includes book recommendation)


Sherry said...

Kathryn, I'm making the rounds, wishing everyone a merry Christmas. I enjoy your blog so much, and I hope 2007 is a year for you filled with joy and good books.

Kathryn Judson said...

Sherry, Thanks! Merry Christmas to you and yours as well, and best wishes for a joyous New Year.

Anna said...

Merry Christmas Kathryn!

She was just reclaiming her space there! In a fight between man and nature, in the end, nature wins! Hurricane Katrina - a perfect example, you build below sea level, you've got to expect to pay the price.