Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Walkin' With My Baby

In October, Dave and I went to the mountain and tried to get a last hike in before our favorite spots were covered in snow. It had been dumping rain in town for a month. And it was supposed to rain that day too, hard. We set out under ominous clouds.

There are two million people living within an hour of this mountain, and on this day none of them is anywhere near us. We amble along the White River by ourselves. Two miles in, we see a trail emerging from the forest, all dwindly. We take it without knowing where it leads. After about a mile I begin to put together where we are. In fact, suddenly I know the Pacific Crest Trail is going to come up on our left--and there it is.  And that if we continue on the trail for another hour or so, we'll end up at the Timberline Lodge, where they sell beer. But the days are already too short, and we don't have enough time to get there and back again. We pick a turn-around spot at random and watch the peak of Mt. Hood flirt at us behind a swirl of clouds. Finally it emerges altogether, doing a dance of the veils.  We can see a hundred miles in every direction. There is nobody around.

Nobody. Nobody.

We watch for much longer than we should, and then turn back in a race with twilight. Behind us, the peak slides behind its veils again, waiting in vain for another audience. We squint until we delete the distant ski lifts. Until we're on a deer trail, made by the rare local waffle-soled deer. Until we become the First Humans, and, in the absence of our kind, we are humble before beauty. Then we slip down below timberline and follow the dwindly trail until it peters out at the White River canyon. And that's when we hear it.

Sounds like a raptor, at first. About a hundred yards away. A sharp, downward squeal, and a weird, low, growly bit all a-rattle at the bottom of it. Then it repeats. And again. Every ten seconds. Skree-roowr, Skree-rowr.

"I think that's a cat," I say to Dave.

"I think it's a bird," he says to me.

That was no bird. I briefly imagine our old dog Boomer, gone now twenty years, perking up and scampering off to investigate. There would be a short, edited yipe and that would be that.

There are plenty of invisible cats on that mountain. We've seen lots of sign. Gigantic kitty footprints and big, furry, tapered turds.  One day we'd taken an abandoned trail up a long rise. We couldn't make it twenty feet without clambering over or under a log. And the farther we went, the more sign we saw. Basically that trail was fast becoming wall-to-wall cat shit, and we had it to ourselves that day, too. It was supposed to end with a view over a precipice, and everything pointed to it being a cougar convention spot, with all attendees taking a dump and sprucing up a bit before they arrived. We began to feel...observed. Dave helpfully explained his strategy to look bigger by holding me in front of him, and we cut the trip short that day.

This day, I wanted to get closer to whatever was making this noise. Also, I didn't want to get closer. We listened, and we wondered, and then we went on our way.

Back home I Googled cougar vocalizations. The female in heat calling for a mate was similar, if not exact. But even humans in similar circumstances have a lot of variation. "It was a cougar," I told Dave.

"It was a bird," he told me. Dave guards his big ol' heart against disappointment.

But that mountain was all ours that day. That was our view, and our trail, and our moment in a world uninfested by our species. So I'm calling it. That was our cougar. And our honor.

Happy birthday to Dave, who always puts me first.

38 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday, Dave! We love you. Also Murr.

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  2. Happy Birthday! What a way to celebrate the day. Gorgeous surroundings!

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  3. Happy B'day and all that. In my decades of roaming the Cascades from Hood down to Shasta I've never seen a mountain lion. Several black bears, couple bobcats, but that's it.
    Where I live now we had a bear up at the end of the street a month ago, but they are in hibernation now.
    Happy holidays, to the both of you.
    Mike

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  4. Happy Birthday Dave.
    And some day I hope that you both see the Cougar-bird.

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  5. Happy birthday Dave! Maybe you could have gone to the lodge for a beer or three and just spent the night.
    We only have occasional big kitty sightings here, but I am often being watched when I am in the woods. Hopefully, I'm not very appealing as snack to anyone.

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    1. You need a fubsy nugget to hold in front of you.

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    2. Preferably a LARGE one. Happy birthday, Dave!!

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  6. I was reading, mental images accompanying the words, and think it was a nice change not to have any Senatorial scat and mendacious political hopefuls.
    And dang! if you didn't mention cougar scat. But so much better than the afore-mentioned kind.
    I'll drink to many more birthdays for you, Dave.

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    1. I'm kinda sad I keep writing political posts of late, but I don't seem to have any control over what comes out.

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    2. Yeah, I see what you did there.

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  7. I'm en awe of your encounters with nature. Heck, back here in the east, our dog Dottie brought a dead rat into the house last week. Does that count as nature? (I'll be truthful, there wasn't any poop related to the incident.) HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAVE!!

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    1. Ohh, that counts as WAY too much nature!

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  8. Seriously, would it really be a genuine Murr story without poop?

    Happy Birthday, Dave!

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    1. It wouldn't be one of your quality ones.

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  9. Happy Birthday, Dave! And it sounds like you two may have been lucky not to make it onto the menu ...

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    1. Dave is still protesting it was a bird. If it was a bird, that bird could've taken us down.

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  10. Happy Birthday, sweet Dave. You two are so lucky to have each other.

    (Just like Keith and I.) Wish we were there.

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    1. When can we pencil you in for the spare bedroom?

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  11. So glad it was the elusive cougar raptor, and not the sound of a kid playing with a drone. Hippo birdie two ewe, deer Dave!

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  12. Such a lovely hike, I am envious. I also fear those cats more than anything predatory...even sharks in the water when I snorkel and when I used to SCUBA dive. Cats love the game of stalking as much as they love the capture and you will never see the one that bring you down.

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  13. Sounds like a wonderful day, all the more for not ending up on anyone's menu... I count every sighting of bear or beast in the woods as a magical gift from the universe and even those less overt (vocalizations, scat, paw prints...) count in my memory bank of hopeful moments that the world is still a wonderful place... Thanks for the vicarious pleasure of ambling with you both... Enjoy the snow! Cheers to you both!

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    1. We ARE enjoying the snow. Walked about seven miles in it yesterday and smirked at the cars. Walking makes you smirky.

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  14. You're both wrong. That screaming was a hermit who just found out the results of the election. And that scat has GOP written all over it.

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    1. NOOOO! Quit trying to take my mountain lion away from me! Even for laudable political purposes!

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  15. Thanks for reminding me about the outdoors. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

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