Monday, April 7, 2008

"Here There Be Cougars"

This is dedicated to Aaron, my college boy...

"Let's wander down the road and explore; we'll see what we can find," I suggested to Nicky, the five-year-old neighbor girl I've just begun watching after school.

It was warm and sunny yesterday afternoon, so Nicky was as eager as I was to be outside. As we started down the road, she casually remarked, "Maybe we should take a gun."
This took me aback.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because of the cougars," she said. "Brenda (a neighbor who lives on our country road) was just driving along the road one day and some cougars walked across the road right in front of her!"


Just then, Brenda herself popped out of my nearest neighbor's driveway and began walking alongside us toward her own home, almost half a mile away. I noticed Brenda wasn't packing a gun.

Nicky said, "Tell Susan about the cougars."

"Oh, yes," Brenda answered, gesturing into the distance. "Right up here on our road..."

And just then we were interrupted by another neighbor riding along on her four-wheeler. Often we can walk the length of our mile-long road and back without seeing a soul, but yesterday everyone was out and feeling chatty. Must have been the weather. We're all coming out of hibernation after an extra hard winter.

We walked all the way to Brenda's without remembering to resume the cougar conversation. I'll have to remember to phone Brenda to get the whole story.

Later that evening I remembered the cougars and told Melissa what Nicky had said.

"Okay. That's it! I am never going for a run out here again!" (Melissa regularly goes running down our road.)

Many thanks to Aaron, who regaled us (against our will) throughout the years with stories of death by cougar, complete with minute details and vivid descriptions, so now we are all a bit paranoid about meeting one of these creatures face to face. Paranoia, though, seems like a reasonable attitude to take toward cougars.

And then Melissa had a bright idea.

"I know! I'll carry a spray bottle filled with water when I run, and if a cougar approaches me, I'll spray it in the face. Cats hate to get wet, so it will run away."

She's kidding, of course. And anyway, I think cougars attack from the back if I remember correctly. Maybe Melissa should wear rearview mirrors.

I read somewhere that there are currently more cougars in southern Oregon and northern California than anywhere else in the US, and they are particularly drawn to the kind of terrain that surrounds our home.

When we camped in Yosemite National Park two years ago, we took a drive one day to the Mariposa-something-or-other-Grove. There was a big sign right at the start of the trail warning visitors that cougars had been spotted there recently. And then there was a list of guidelines to follow:

1. Little ones should stay close to an adult.

2. Groups should stay close together

3. If you see a cougar:

a. Don't run! The cougar will see you as prey. Stay put!
b. Make yourself really big and scary looking.
c. Make a lot of noise. Yell. Throw things.

We read the sign, and we practiced the tips all the way up the trail. Little ones clinging to big ones. The group huddling together and making ourselves look big. We were good at it. Cougars stayed away.

Cougars supposedly tend to avoid humans unless they are threatened or especially hungry, but when you know they're around it's hard to ignore the fact that they do occasionally attack humans, and from what I can tell, once cougars truly zero in on their prey they are pretty dauntless and fiercely determined. They don't want to back down.

Still, I suppose the cougar-repelling tips give one something to do while waiting for the cougar to decide what he wants to do. :-)