Cat tales

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s gloating. Which is why I’ll keep this short and sweet: I told you so.

See, for the last few months, I’ve been convinced that during my occasional early morning forays into the wild backcountry of Durango, I have not been alone. We’ve all had that feeling – you know, the one where the teeny hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you can’t help but feeling as if you’re in somebody, or something’s, crosshairs.

Like the morning I was riding along, listening to Axl Rose welcoming me to the jungle, when I was suddenly creeped out. Not a sweaty-gyrating-Axl-in-short-shorts kind of creep-out, but a “hey, pay attention, you dumbass” kind of creep out.

I instantly took a reading of the dog’s hackleometer, which registered a negative. But I knew I heard something. I steadily rode on, over pins and needles, too dumbstruck to do anything but try to remain relatively calm and remember to breathe.

And sure enough, in a few moments, it was confirmed that my hunch was right. OK, so my “predator” was wearing a Wheel Club jersey and arm warmers, but I still think he had no idea what sort of grave danger we were in.

“I thought you were a mountain lion,” I confessed as he passed without a care in the world save for logging some miles before work. “You know, this is their prime feeding time.”

He didn’t seem to mind, and quite frankly, I was glad just to have someone within earshot of my screams when I was mistaken for a steak sandwich on wheels, and my dog, a tasty little cream puff.

Of course, nothing ever came of my keen sensitivity that day, other than a couple of palpitations over old, downed logs and gnarled tree stumps. Nevertheless, I was exonerated in the next few days when it became apparent that yes, indeed, there were some members of the upper echelons of the food chain out and about in Durango. And we’re not talking measly old rattlers or bumbling brown bears (who now seem downright cuddly in comparison). We’re talking the stealthest of the stealth: mountain lions.

This after all summer being told (unconvincingly, I might add) by others that they didn’t hang around town. And if they did, they would want nothing to do with me or my wild, cross-eyed freak of a dog. Cats hate dogs, don’t you know.

I suppose next you’ll tell me they’re afraid of water, too.

Of course, like most local residents, I also was filled with sadness to hear that both young lionesses, probably sisters, were killed. I know, the public’s welfare was at stake, and little mischievous kitty cats grow up to be big mischievous kitty cats. But still, there’s a part of me that, in addition to loving “The Lion King,” respects and values the nonDisneyfied version of the animal kingdom out there – creatures just trying to make their way in the world like you or I.

And I know, the more we freak out about lions, or any wildlife in our midst, for that matter, the more problems we’ll see. In other words, be and let be.

Even if you happen to be scared shitless.

“Always pay attention to your surroundings,” advised a knowledgeable source when asked how to cope with the chance meeting of a ferocious feline. “Just don’t ride with your head up your ass.”

Of course, this is easier said than done for someone who suffers from chronic cabezarectulitis and considers it a small miracle just to get out the door in the morning.

Nevertheless, I took the advice to heart, realizing that the more I sent out the scaredy cat vibe, the more likely something was to home in on it. As for the dog, long thought to be a big cat deterrent, I also discovered that she can actually serve as a mountain lion attractant. Sort of like trailing a big piece of chum behind you in shark-infested waters.

So, in a pathetic and last-ditch effort to preserve my peace of mind while traveling in lion country, I outfitted my bike with a bell. OK, so it sounds totally stupid. But I figure at the very least, it will help ease my fears (provided it doesn’t actually act as a dinner bell) and maybe alert any forest inhabitants that I am passing through and mean no harm. (And if you think that’s stupid, I won’t even tell you about how I accompany the bell-ringing with a friendly, “Hello, Mr. Mountain Lion.”)

Sure, there is one foolproof solution to all the worry: never leave the house, as I was kindly reminded by a peer who had possibly heard one too many whining sessions.

Of course, such a suggestion is unthinkable. Live in Durango and never go outside? You may as well live in Flint. Or Cleveland. (I’m sure both are beautiful in their own way.)

After all, I would wager a guess that most of us who came here from somewhere else, like Flint or Cleveland, did so for the scenery and the outdoors (lord know it wasn’t for the stellar air service or New Mexico news stations). We didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives reading about it, watching it on YouTube or seeing it propped up in a museum. We wanted to live, breathe, touch – and occasionally come fact to face – with all the rough, wild, thorny, sharp, beautiful and very much alive things the West has to offer.

Sure, with that comes risks. But these days, you have a better chance of getting attacked by a lion in a zoo than actually out in the wild.

The lions’ odds, unfortunately, are not as good. Granted, maybe the recent flurry of activity in town was a fluke. But I can’t help but think that those lions came here to deliver a message (the lesser being never to mow the lawn in the middle of the day.)

And as Durango continues to contemplate moving in new directions, annexing here, expanding there, we need to heed that message. It’s not us versus them – we all know who would ultimately win that one. The question is, when the battle over who lives where is done, can we still live with ourselves?

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

July 18, 2024
Rebuilding Craig

Agreement helps carve a path forward for town long dependent on coal

July 11, 2024
Reining it in

Amid rise in complaints, City embarks on renewed campaign to educate dog owners

July 11, 2024
Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale