What I know about you I’ve heard on this thing we call Facebook. We are the people in houses at the edge of your habitat, where we type onto screens our scuttlebutt about the neighborhood. On Facebook I read that you have walked into backyards, mounted deck steps, and passed by the utility office. Sightings of you are plotted on a Google Map—they cluster behind my residence and the neighbors’ on either side.
Now you are the mystery that invades my dreams.
Most of us along this road live in older houses built at the edge of public land. Your land. Some call you “she” because they say you are smaller than your kind’s male. It’s also rumored your den is directly, though we know not how far, behind my house—that place where you raise your children. I want to think that a female is less violent, but what if I should stumble across your home? How could I convey my utter solidarity, my apology, my haste to retreat when every expert says “hastily” is exactly the wrong way to back off?
Mountain lions don’t attack people, some experts say. Others disagree. Fatalities have been few; some humans you gripped have fought you off; other locales report attacks on cars with drivers inside. Do you not understand that we have enough fear of the violence we inflict on each other right now? How could you sense this, and how could I even ask you to be considerate?
Some wonder if you might be peaceably caught and removed…but where would you go? There are people everywhere. They won’t want you either. You make us feel too vulnerable, because you literally go for the head and neck when you aim to kill. And I can’t get that out of my mind. I’m sure you never forget our fences and loud vehicles either, nor the monoculture of grain that suits not your palette as a meat eater left to winter on your own.
In a haunting movie entitled Alpha, it’s the Ice Age and a couple of dads plus their teen boys go into the night to hunt. A lion is a shadow around their campfire barely seen, then switches back, pulling the weakest of the young boys off into the blackness in a motion so swift and unalterable that no one moves. It all happened so fast. Is that how you might get me?
But why now, after decades tromping without a thought for danger, am I afraid?
Because I’m old. Not too old to wander these woods though! And I’m up on the advice, if you should stalk: stand tall, slowly wave arms at the beast, open your coat, try to look bigger, speak stern and Don’t Run!
The bear spray was delivered. It comes with its own holster. Thirty dollars for five seconds of a chemical designed to disable you fast. I’ve carried it, but don’t know if I’m more afraid of it going off accidentally, the safety-trigger being too tight to maneuver if I need to spray, or you. And what if you sneak up on me while I’m sitting inside the circle of my special three trees?
I found those trees last winter, in the place I call the Underworld. Ringing the lake, where years ago the flood was so high and so lasting that acres of trees perished but still stand gray. It’s a haven of spindly towering death that refuses to go away.
There they were, three trees of younger age—possibly not even killed by the flood–making a perfect triangle, and when you look straight ahead: the vaginal cleft on one of their brethren that speaks of the great Maw (Ma) of creation/destruction. I was comfortable with this–as I said, I’m old. I’ve sat with death before and left holding the hand of long-term grief.
Hunker down in the space of this little triangle, that’s something I came to do often. A long coat to buffer the cold ground, but what if you creep up on me from behind, lady lion? I come here because it’s where I ask my important questions, and often enough receive important answers. What if your den is close by? They say you are a quiet sneaker upper.
I could say a prayer for safety, could visualize the triangulated space as off limits to danger. Would the sound of my voice keep you at bay? But self-conscious babbling doesn’t cut it inside my little niche—I need quiet to achieve the state of heart that allows trees’ voices to be heard.
Something else is at the root of all this: at what age does one starts staying indoors?
Dear mountain lion, would you go for me as vulnerable meat, or is this elder flesh less the delicacy? I’m aware of how slowly I rise to my feet these days, more than a little stiff. Would you have me by the scruff of the neck before I can whirl around? Do you intuit I’m no longer in my prime? What does this mean for me?
“Take a friend along!” There’s obvious strength in numbers, though mountain lions have stalked small human groups. But I can’t work the pyramid of branches with anyone listening. So is this how it begins—I can still go outside, just no longer alone? It would be so hard to accept a loss this dispiriting, a marker that age is gaining on me–for alone in nature is where I recharge, re-find myself, part the veil between worlds, and walk home changed. It’s where the magic is. My lioness, will you keep me from this?
You were here first. Dusk to dawn, you hunt the deer that we can see from our deck. They are your top choice for tasty eats. You have to feed your children. Dear mountain lion, please help me decide how and if and when to walk where you go barefoot in every kind of heat, snow, or rain.
Perhaps at high noon I will dart into the Underworld, gray fortress of shapes that dying can’t uproot until a high wind bests them to topple. The sun doesn’t penetrate, even with all the green gone, even with winter opening spaces to view the expanse of lake where frozen waves frill its edge.
At the noon hour, despite latitude or cloud cover, the sun prevails. Humans take a meal then, but you drowse, lion friend. Dreaming of delicious necks, of your belly full, your tots well provided for. You have checked out my kind and found that we are unpredictable. But you can take us down, one at a time. And maybe for overrunning the earth and never giving your needs one flimsy thought, that is what we deserve.
Featured Photo by Meg Jerrard on Unsplash
Lion cub photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash
Cougar on rock Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Mountain Lion in Snow Photo by Robert Sachowski on Unsplash