“Did you know cougars pounce on hikers?” I asked the Dimple, one night in bed. I was reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods where he claims, ‘Mountain lions (cougars), especially in northern California, have been known to snack on passing cyclists, joggers, hikers and even the odd unsuspecting person enjoying a BBQ.’
The Dimple should have said no-one has been eaten by a cougar at camp.
“That’s why I carry a knife,” was his response.
“What if one pounces on us?” I said.
“I’d stab it in the heart,” he said. “You should be prepared too.”
Well, that did it. A flood of unprepared tears came next. I started to fret, not for me, but the children, who must look like playful fluffy dice to a mountain lion. Stabbing wild cats was not a skill I acquired in advertising.
Daniel Boone once described parts of American woods as, ‘So wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror.’ It’s curious, one tree by itself is not scary – it can’t up root and gallop after you. But throw a whole bunch together, in an endless mass of knotted, sheltered, hooded forest and the result can be downright spooky. Woods come alive. Especially when you’ve been reading too many facts about cougars – known to exist where deer live – and considering we see Bambi scat in the garden, all the time.
After one long rainy day inside, I went out for a walk. Alone. I hadn’t realized it was right on dusk, where everything was blue, and pitch black would be lurking just around the corner. Then I felt it. Something was watching. Watching me! A flash, just out of the corner of my eye, up on the bank, made me jump. I stared into the densely weaved foliage hoping to see what it was, at the same time hoping to see nothing. I saw nothing.
It flashed again. I could have sworn it was white. Curiosity evaporated and I sprinted up the track, in my heavy hiking boots, about three miles from home. Sounds leapt at me: branches snapped, leaves rustled, teeth gnashed, saliva dripped and my heart hammered. The air felt heavy, like breathing through a wet flannel.
After the tears episode, the Dimple came home with Mace and a foghorn (bless) but I had left them in the nice, safe emergency cupboard at home. I wished I had strapped a knife to my trousers. Or a fork. Even a potato peeler.
That bitch cougar played cat and mouse with me; the faster I sprinted, the faster IT sprinted and every time I stopped, IT stopped. The woods turned on me next. Grisly faces formed on old tree trunks and familiar stumps became ghastly crones. Darkness crept in, swallowing the track edges and grabbing at my ankles. Then I tripped, and toppled like a toddler. “HELP!” I shouted, but the crones just laughed.
The mountain cat didn’t pounce, just waited for her mouse to get up – which the mouse diligently did. On and on and up and up, too scared to look over my shoulder, I ran, wondering where she would bite. As a mother, I thought, I’m no use dead, and I’d be terribly grumpy without limbs.
Finally, I hit the road back to our house and flew down, at least two feet above the gravel. Words galloped out when I sailed through the door… ”Cougar chasing, stupid shoes, mean stumps.”
After a hug and glass of wine, the Toddler asked how big the mountain lion was. I pulled up the image in my head but it was too dark, in there, to see properly. I looked at the Dimple, his grin drenched in doubt. “Well, I didn’t see specifics,” I said. “I just sensed its horribleness.”
A bath and second glass made the whole incident seem unreal, not that I admitted such folly. The woods, our never-ending patch of harmless trees, seem to mirror my thoughts – if I’m happy, they’re wonderful to be in and if I’m anxious, they’re full of peril.
Mother Nature is a formidable neighbour. Quiet, but never dull.
Sometimes, after hearing about city life from friends, I feel like we’re not advancing – I too, want an iPhone, but alas, there’s no cell coverage. I confessed this to the Dimple recently and he said, “You’ve battled poison oak, scorpions, widow makers and now a cougar, Mrs Boone. That’s advancing – in the wild. Plus you’re notching up stories.”
I guess he is right. Although, does it matter, in the heart of darkness, if the tales are getting taller and taller?