Story: COUGAR COUNTRY.
Updated: Feb 10
In Port Townsend Washington everybody knew that the Black-Tailed Deer had set up residence in town as a means of escaping predation by the cougars that prowled in the woods beyond the city limits. The deer had no road sense and sauntered around as if the streets belonged to them. They eyed passing car drivers with a kind of indolent and defiant contempt.
The point is that everyone agreed that there were cougars out in the woods beyond where the houses stopped.
In Port Ludlow, where I lived in my trailer, there was no city; just a gas station with a convenience store, a beach club, and several isolated tracts of housing. You didn’t see many deer (or any cougars), but you had the uncomfortable feeling (whether rational or not) that there might be cougars around.
There had been a recent sighting of a bona fide mountain lion (same thing) on Marrowstone Island, fifteen miles east of where my trailer was parked. That had been verified.
During a conversation about deer and mountain lions and Marrowstone Island, Mike B said quite casually about Port Ludlow: “Oh, you’re definitely in cougar country.”
“Jesus,” I said. “Don’t say it like that. You make it sound like a death sentence.”
I must admit that most of my fear was the result of an over-active imagination. No human adult had been killed by a cougar in Washington State in eighty years.
Cougars are ambush predators. They sneak up on the unwary (usually unwary deer). They (the cougars) are most active up to an hour before dawn and up to an hour after sunset.
I had an app on my iPhone that told me when sunrise and sunset were, and I avoided going outside the trailer during the proscribed hours.
My trailer had two technical issues. The first was that the pressure from the city water connection was too high and created a plumbing leak. So, I had to use the parallel water source that was fed by a pump from the trailer’s internal thirty-gallon fresh water tank. This tank had to be filled from the standpipe outside the trailer.
The other problem was that the black water holding tank for the toilet was smaller than usual, often got clogged, and had to be emptied and flushed more frequently than was customary for most of the other trailers in the park, which in general had bigger black water tanks.
You had to go outside the trailer, usually at night, to perform both these operations. I had a Petzl camping headlamp that I wore for this. I put on my headlamp, made a single recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, and stepped out of the trailer into the darkness.
I scanned the surrounding trees with the beam from the Petzl headlamp, looking for the reflection from the characteristic malevolent pale green eyes of the cougar that had me on its menu.
I never saw a sign of them.
One night around Christmas time I saw a large rabbit hopping around half-heartedly near the back of the trailer while I was re-setting the drain valve for the black water holding tank.
The rabbit had the same coloring as Bugs Bunny. He was gray, with a white patch on his chest, and he was big. He probably weighed more than ten pounds.
He was not as cheerful as Bugs Bunny. The reflection from his eyes was not malevolent green. It was more like a kind of tired pink.
My guess is that the rabbit had earned his tired pink eyes the hard way. He had to be vigilant. Whereas no adult human being had been killed by a cougar in Washington State in eighty years, the rabbit had no such comforting statistics on his side, and nothing could have been more appetizing for a cougar than the sight of a large lackadaisical bunny hopping around in the darkness by himself on Christmas Eve.