Encounter with a Young Cougar
Three evenings this week I've been privileged to see a young cougar visiting my home. The first time, Sarah went out in the evening to cut grass with a grass whip, along the orchard fence. Suddenly a dog-sized animal rose quickly out of the long grass fifteen feet away from her, dashed along and around the corner of the fence, and over the bank. I was just walking out of the house and saw the tawny blur of it.
"What was that?" we both wondered aloud. I thought it was a coyote; Sarah thought it moved more like a cat. I cautiously stepped down over the bank to investigate. There was a slight rustling movement in the bushes. I couldn't see anything. We both smelled a strong wild animal odor. Sarah handed me binoculars for a better look. I scanned the bushes, found a dark hole of branches framing a face: eyes looking calmly right at me: definitely a cat's face. A cougar.
The next day it showed up napping in the afternoon sun in the same spot in the long grass beside the fence--while the ducks and chickens went warily about their usual business inside the orchard. Occasionally the tail would flick, the paws stretch, the head turn. It was good to sit and watch the big cat napping in the sun. But we knew we ought to scare this young animal away, because it had no future coexisting on such friendly terms in this human settlement of which we occupy the edge, beside the wilderness. Better that it should chase deer and wild meat, on its forest tracks.
Sarah called a neighbor to come and see our visitor; Chris came stepping gingerly past the sleeping creature and joined us from our vantage point on the house roof. Finally we raised our voices; shouted in unison; banged on the roof. The cat slept on. When Chris got down and threw a couple of pieces of firewood next to it, the cat finally raised its head, stood up and looked at us as if to say, "Hey guys, why interrupt such a pleasant nap?"
It seemed a year or two old, five feet long with a smallish head and thick, black-tipped tail. I missed that shot with the camera, but snapped a good one as the cougar loped off toward the trees. We chased after, shouting, doing our duty regretfully.
Last night I came home at dusk, riding my bicycle up the driveway. The cougar came to meet me by the woodshed, standing less than ten feet away this time, begging, I imagined, to be petted or befriended in some way. I just stood there, unable to find the proper way, knowing there was no way, but wishing there was. Finally I set down the bike, to go to the house to let my daughter know, because Nashira had been away and missed the previous visits. She's been paranoid about cougars for years but never seen one. If she saw this one, I felt sure, she'd lose her fear. But the cougar, disappointed in my response or lack of it, turned and once more loped off, more slowly this time, to the forest. Again I chased it halfheartedly, scolding it like the parent it might just be missing.
© Nowick Gray