Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Doofus in nature

I saw a mountain lion yesterday evening. In the park where I love to walk. I was walking down the paved road that runs through the middle. It's a narrow road, with a one-way lane for cars and the other lane for pedestrians and bikes. It has guard rails on both sides to keep people from walking off the designated trails.

The mountain lion was just about 40 feet away on the other side of the guard rail, sitting next to some big, flat boulders. I wasn't afraid, but maybe I should have been? It was not very big and it was just sitting there. Didn't look like it was in an aggressive mood.

So I just stopped, turned to face it and stared at it for a while. It just stared back. Then I walked away while still staring at it (hoping that I was giving it my best "Don't even think about following me" look.)

So here's where the doofus part comes in. I had no idea if I was supposed to tell anyone about it. I thought maybe they are just there all the time - it's really their habitat, not ours. They have a statue of one at the visitors center at the entrance to the park, so they obviously know that the mountain lions are around.

I kept walking to the visitors center about 3/4 mile away. Looked for a park ranger but only found a large group of boy scouts with their parents. I went up to a couple of Dads (they had tan faces so I figured maybe they were the outdoorsy types and would know what to do.) Asked them if they thought I was supposed to tell anyone. They said YES, not in a condescending way, just a little excited.

There was a phone number for the rangers on a sign so we tried that. They guy that answered the phone said that he was just the guard at the gate and gave me another number to call. That number led to the voicemail of the park rangers. We saw the non-emergency number for the police on another sign and so I called that.

The dispather took the information and asked if I could wait for the patrol car. She asked me to wait inside my car even though I told her how far away the mountain lion was. The police officer showed up and said that a park ranger was at the other end of the road looking for it. I told him where I saw it and said that I could show them exactly where if they needed me to.

The cop had that attitude like "I am so completely in control of this situation and at the same time, so completely bored by the whole thing, Ma'am." He asked me how big it was and I guessed the size of a big dog, about 60 lbs. So that was all he seemed to want from me. He was just going to sit in his car and wait to hear from the ranger.

AND he was also not stopping anyone from walking down that road. I also made a point to mention to him that there were a bunch of Boy Scouts outdoors at the visitor center, but he didn't really seem to care. So I guess it really isn't that big of a deal to them. I did call the park ranger's voicemail and left a message to give him my number in case he needed any more information from me.

And it wasn't until I was driving home that I thought 2 things:

Like an IDIOT, I didn't even think to try to take a picture of it with my cell phone. I use my phone to talk - it just doesn't occur to me to take pictures of everything. But I also think that there is something special about just enjoying that unique moment - staring into the eyes of a mountain lion. Rather than wasting time fumbling with my cell phone, I was really present at that moment. And who knows, weird beeping noises might have spooked him.

Like an IDIOT, it never occurred to me that there might be MORE THAN ONE OF THEM. I remember thinking that the one I saw was smaller than I would have expected. Holy crap, it could have been a BABY and that means the MAMA might have been right around the corner.

I did some reading about mountain lions when I got home. Turns out that I did mostly do the right thing.
(from US Forest Service website)
The following suggestions are based on studies of mountain lion behavior and analysis of attacks by mountain lions, tigers and leopards.

Do All You Can To Appear Larger: Raise you arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Again, pick up small children. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that your not prey and that you may be a danger to it.

Fight Back if Attacked: A hiker in Southern California used a rock to fend off a mountain lion that was attacking his son. Others have fought back successfully with sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.
So maybe I am not such a doofus. I knew not to run. I knew about making yourself look larger and talking in a loud voice ("I am NOT your dinner!")

At no point during the encounter did I think anything bad was going to happen. I had full confidence that I would be able to scare it away if I had to. I was bigger than it was, for goodness sake. So is that being an unrealistic doofus? Or is it that law of attraction thing - I didn't imagine any bad outcome, so it didn't happen.

The other weird thing was that I had been thinking about mountain lions the whole walk. The road is 1.8 miles one way. I walked to the end and then was on my way back when I saw it. Before that I had been looking in trees wondering if there were mountain lions there. Maybe that statue at the visitors center just puts that vague thought into my head every time I go there.

Or maybe I wished it into existence with my special, super-secret powers.

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