When we left the urban lifestyle of Washington, D.C., for a more tranquil existence in the rural mountains of Montana, one of our adjustments was learning to live with the new neighbors. Our home was in a different kind of neighborhood. Instead of being surrounded by men, women, and children, we had cougars, wolves, and bears. These predators rarely comprehend the idea of boundaries, or the notion that good fences make good neighbors, so we find them roaming about our property, often very close to the house.
Our most frequent nocturnal visitors are cougars that seem particular interested in our daughters playhouse swing set. Perhaps it is just the curiosity of all felines, but I often wonder what they would do if I left out a ball of string. It’s doubtful they would play with it because it isn’t food. As stunningly gorgeous as they are, we don’t want to encourage their visits. For the safety of my family, dogs, and horses, our goal has always been to discourage predators. As an example, one particular night stands out in my memory.
On the second floor of our home we have a large bedroom window that provides a grand view of the back of our property. While admiring the stars one dark evening the motion detectors suddenly activated the perimeter lights, nearly blinding us. Once our eyes adjusted, we saw standing in the middle of the yard a very large cougar. He paused only long enough to realize the brightness was nothing to fear before walking over to the swing set. This had me wondering how many times he had visited us before, unnoticed. He sat regally in the play area, surveying all about him, like a king overlooking his kingdom. Being a wildlife artist, I was enamored with his beauty and grace, temporarily forgetting what a potential threat he was to our family. It would be dangerous to allow him to believe this was part of his territory.
I was about to comment on this fact to my husband, but when I turned to speak, he was not there, having immediately retreated to the closet. He ransacked it, searching for his rifle and ammunition. As he fumbled to load it, I continued to admire the feline in his pose. My husband opened the window, but was blocked by the mesh screen. As he tugged fruitlessly to remove it, the cat rose from his perch and began to walk toward the woods. On my last look at him, the cougar, who seemed completely unaware of the flurry he had created only a short distance above, slowly and confidently sauntered into the tree line, still secure in the knowledge that this world was his.
We tried to follow his movements through the darkness with a flashlight, but the battery soon died. My increasingly frustrated husband, incensed by the attitude of the beast, rushed downstairs and out onto the patio where he fired a single shot into the air, then shouted, “And stay out!” as a warning for the puma not to return.
I have no wish to harm this mountain lion or capture him, except in spirit on canvas and paper. I have handled many cougars in captivity, but seeing them in the wild is a thrill I will never tire of.
For more stories in our western adventure read “Go West, Young Woman!” https://www.amazon.com/Go-West-Young-Woman-Military/dp/1555718299?
Book website: https://nancy442.wixsite.com/quinn
Art website: http://quinnwildlifeart.com/