Things in the Long Grass

“There are no mountain lions in the eastern half of Flat State. Any that are found in the western half are migrants from Somewhat Lumpy State.” The park ranger pontificated very well, and left the rest of the group nodding, calmed by the steady assurance of an expert. So I waited until they all left to wander over and inquire/state, “I take it this means the warning last month was really for a large, tan dog that could climb trees?”

He gave me a tired grin, the sort usually given to partners-in-crime. “We’re not supposed to say anything because of the media and the people who will call in squirrels as mountain lions. You see tracks?”

“Not this time, but I was on the main, lake-side trails.” You see, I take mountain lions* and other critters seriously. I’ve been stalked by something in the long grass.

The place was a nature and archaeological reserve in a stream-cut valley and breaks in the western part of Flat State. It’s pretty well-known in the region because of the springs there, and because of major archaeological stuff and some questions about the Spanish having come through in the 1600s. Back in the day it had more springs, but it is still a great place for an easy hike and wander. The valley drops about a hundred feet or so below the surrounding terrain, and there are some steep bluffs and cave-like areas up at the tops of the valley. The plants are mostly mid-grasses to tall grasses in the bottom, with cattails, sedges, and other water-lovers around the spring and little stream and lake-let. A side canyon has some cottonwood and pine trees, either survivors or planted back before this was a park.

My work schedule was large block of time on call followed by shorter block of time completely free of the electronic leash. As a result I tended to skip out-of-town when I was off duty, and said lake park was one of my frequent destinations, especially when my off days and week days coincided. A cold front had passed through, followed by a few more, and a frost that weekend, so the time was ripe for a hike.

After skirting the little lake, the trail cut pretty close to the foot of the bluff. OK, it crossed the base of the bluff, and because of the runoff from the cliff up-slope, an area of very dense, tall grass grew along that section. I’m a touch over five feet tall, and some of the grass had two feet on me easily (tall grass indeed). Some of it had begun dying, the rest was just starting to lose the green of summer for the tawny and red shades of autumn and winter. So imagine a short woman, boonie-type hat on head, hiking stick in hand, be-bopping along, aware but not really paying 100% attention. After all, I was alone and had the park to myself.

And something moved in the grass. Against the wind. I stopped. It stopped. I moved forward. The grass rustled forward. Oh sheepdip.

Did I back up or keep going? I stood near the center of the tall grass, so whatever was pacing/stalking me had good cover for a hundred yards both ways. Leaving the trail meant sliding down a steep slope into an arroyo. While I tried to decide, the thing in the grass remained still. The wind blew through the stand of grass, making the tips wave and rustle. A hawk rode the wind up the canyon wall above me. Stay, or retreat?

I swallowed hard and decided to keep moving, steadily, calmly, watching the grass as I did. Sure enough, as soon as I moved, the thing in the grass moved. We came to a low spot, where something had flattened some of the stems, and I sped up, not running but not lingering, either. Once past that area, I could hear the rustling again. When I had the trees in sight I accelerated once more, probably leaving dust puffs like the roadrunner in the cartoons.

The thing never left the grass. When I crossed paths, literally, with a juvenile bobcat about a year later, I guessed what had been pacing me. But. Mountain lions are spotted on a regular basis in that area, and between the Thing in the Grass and the encounter with the dog pack in a different area (climbed a cliff to get away), I started carrying something appropriate for far-too-close encounters of the wildlife kind.

*Every other year, or more often, mountain lions attack people, joggers, children, generally from ambush. Two joggers had been attacked the previous month the last time I visited the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, jumped in a canyon park that is not too far from the resort. As a result the park was closed to hikers. About four years ago or so, a mountain lion grabbed a toddler from a park on Sandia Mountain near Albuquerque as the child’s parents stood a few feet away.

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12 thoughts on “Things in the Long Grass

  1. I sold a dog to Texas a few years ago, intended mainly to hunt bobcats, but the guy I sold it to usually caught a lion every couple years on the ranches he hunted. Lions are classified as varmints in Texas, rather than managed as big game like most states to the west and north of them. Which means that the population is kept generally very low; there is a difference though, between very low and nonexistent.

  2. This is a mistake. “There are no mountain lions in the eastern half of Flat State. Any that are found in the western half are migrants from Somewhat Lumpy State.” … “We’re not supposed to say anything because of the media and the people who will call in squirrels as mountain lions.”

    A very bad mistake. Humans of the Urban and Suburban regions have no, zero, survival skills. We blunder about, awed by nature’s beauty and forget the dangers. We don’t know the signs to watch for. Telling us that there are no dangers only leads us to make the kind of mistakes that lead to deaths. Unfortunately, too many times the deaths include the predator that was only doing what nature instructed. To them, humans are lawful prey.

    I won’t go into my full on rant. I’ll only say that too many people are perfectly happy to have all the alpha predators killed off, forgetting that God created them the same as us, and gave them a place in this world too.

    • Nit, if the alpha predator doesn’t hunt humans, I’d say “let them stay” but alpha predators that hunt humans have to learn that we’re not their prey.

      The only way they’ll learn that we’re not their prey is if we kill the ones who kill humans.

      Note Wyldkat, I’m not saying that you would be in favor of alpha predators killing humans, but there are people that I suspect would be in favor of alpha predators killing humans as long as they & theirs were the humans being killed. 😦

      • Killing them does not teach them, Drak. The ranchers have tried that ever since man first domesticated livestock. 😉

        My position: If I am stupid enough to wander into the bush without proper precaution and Charlie the lonesome cougar decides that I look too much like a nice fat doe then my death is not his fault – it is mine. Why should “Charlie” pay for my mistake? Now, if “Charlie” decides to come down into the city and becomes like the Tsavo lions, then I agree. Those need to be removed. They were known to make efforts to enter the compound – they were deliberately hunting man.

        The problem is, too many “too-stupid-to-live” people want to go in Charlie, Smokey and Lobo’s territory, they want that beauty but they don’t want the risks that come with it. (Meanwhile, Bambi and Wiley have decided to move in with us, creating other risks.) There is too little of their territory left. We should learn to move in their world, we shouldn’t expect them to adapt to the invader. If you can’t walk there safely, then stay with someone who can, or stay the hell out.

      • Killing our livestock is one thing but killing us is something else.

        There were very few animals that regularly hunt humans because humans would go after the individuals that did prey on humans.

        Note, any person who goes into cougar country not ready to defend himself/herself against Charlie deserves to be killed.

        I just don’t want Charlie to get into the habit of killing humans.

    • I don’t know if it was the case in TXRed’s tale, but often they’re not supposed to say because if they admit it, they have to implement a management plan, with all sorts of costs associated – and such agencies don’t usually get a budget bump to cover doing so. Therefore, denying as long as possible often reduces budget drain – at the risk of human lives.

      • Apparently the state needed X number of scientifically confirmed observations of mountain lions to officially report mountain lions in an area. At that moment, there had not been X, and the Powers That Were felt that reporting lions would cause more problems (people with cat fever shooting things; paperwork; calls about cats that proved to be tan German Shepherds) than benefit. Park #1 was not that visited, and most visitors came in groups of 10+.

    • This is a discussion where emotions (mine) can run high, very quickly. So I’ll make my comment, and probably not reply to any replies, in order not to wear out my welcome with the hostess.

      Humans ARE the alpha predator, we ARE part of nature, we ARE NOT an invader. That being said, with the exception of wolves (which weren’t here until they reintroduced them) I don’t want any of the other large predators killed off. Well actually I would lump any stray grizzlies in with the wolves, not because I wouldn’t love to have grizzlies around here to hunt, but because everytime the government finds grizzlies in an area, they shut it down for “grizzly habitat” and then nobody can do anything (hunt, log, ride atv’s or snowmobiles, drive on the logging roads, etc.) that they have always done in there. Somehow the grizzlies moved into there while the people were doing those things, but to continue to do them will “disturb” the ‘endangered’ grizzlies.

      See the thing about large predators is that they need to be managed, and the most effective way to manage them is by sport hunting, and I enjoy hunting predators, so I want there to be plenty of them around for me to continue to enjoy hunting them. The other effective way to manage them is for the government to pay someone to kill them. This is what they do on the West Coast, after they outlawed all the effective methods of sport hunting. So instead of the state generating income by selling hunting licenses and tags (not to mention the money hunters spend on gas, groceries, hunting supplies, motels, etc.) they pay a limited few to kill as many (actually in almost all cases government hunters kill more predators each year, than were previously annually killed by sport hunters using the same methods, before it was outlawed). In many of those states the hunting of predators was outlawed by the Initiative process *deletes rant on managing game by popular vote, when the State Fish and Game is payed to supposedly “scientifically” manage game*. My opinion is if the voting public thinks it is cruel and wrong to kill the predators, then they should live with the predators, not pay someone else to kill them. If you don’t think it is okay to use dogs to hunt mountain lions, then it shouldn’t be okay to use dogs to catch the lion that eats your kid, and it certainly shouldn’t be okay to use them to catch the one that simply wandered through your yard and ate your housecat. After all, that is simply the lions nature.

      If humans of the Urban and suburban areas have no survival skills, maybe they shouldn’t legislate how the rural humans exercise their skills. And if they do legislate that, then they should have to live with the consequences, not call somebody from the government to come use the skills they have forbidden others to use, in order to keep their and their families lives safe and comfortable.

      • I know you said you probably would not respond, but can I just say one thing:

        I can see, and feel, your passion in your words, Bearcat. Some of your beliefs run counter to my beliefs, but you spoke only to the idea, not against the person. For one to hold back his passion and speak with reason shows great control and maturity. (I am not always so reasoned myself) I respect that. And because I respect it, I will speak no more on this matter here.

        Peace Brother.

  3. Just to say thank you for your comments, and for helping make this one of those places were we can disagree, agree to disagree, and leave in peace. I really appreciate it.

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