From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 19 - 1/4/01
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Death Became Him Not

by Paul Rock

I feel blessed. About a week or so before Christmas, I was up snowshoeing around the CCC ponds near Fremont Lake when I saw a mountain lion up close and personal. It was near dusk; daylight was on its last legs. About half the sun was still above the horizon. Plenty of light still in the western sky. I had snowshoed up to an interpretive sign that overlooks one of the ponds. The pond that has the big beaver lodge in it. To read the sign, you have to get maybe 30 feet off the trail. I turned around after reading and took a step or two back toward the trail. From the right edge of my vision, a fair-sized animal came into view. It was moving but not fast, kind of like in second gear. I stopped. At first I thought it was a deer, but I quickly saw that this was no deer. The body was more muscled, closer to the ground, and the head was definitely different. There was none of the tippy-toe deer daintiness in the movements.

The lion moved in a slow lope from my right to my left on the trail. It was magnificent. A big adult male. I had never before seen a mountain lion in the wild, though for a long long time, I've had a dream about seeing one. And here I was finally seeing one in almost perfect conditions. The ideal winter sighting. A big Wyoming sunset going on. The backdrop of willows reflecting up the last booming red light. A foot or so of snow powdered on the ground. The air was quiet; the scene hushed.

As the lion jogged along, it made little crunchy sounds as its paws hit the snow. He had that no-nonsense mountain lion look on his face. He appeared well fed. No ribs showing. All the muscles working well. The energy from the running flowed down his body from front to back and then exited with a flicked-off little clump of snow from each paw as the legs reached the back of the stride. I decided to take a calm approach to the situation and just stood there watching.

When the lion got even with me, it gave me a quick look. Just a fast little jerk of its head to the left. I remember thinking, "Gee, I hope it just keeps going." The lion apparently did not consider me much of a threat nor even of much interest. Something easily ignored. Not enough to distract from serious lion business. Maybe he just was not in the mood for any trouble. The lion continued on. I had him in sight for several seconds until it moved off the trail and was engulfed by willow branches and tree trunks. It disappeared as if a cloaking device had been activated.

Wow, I thought. I finally saw one. With the thrill came the thought that many people, most people even, go through their entire lives without the honor of seeing a mountain lion in the wild. I thought of some of my other once in a lifetime animal sighting wishes. I still have not seen a bear in the wild, and I've yet to look up and see a vee of geese aloft, flying silhouetted against a full moon.

After the lion went on its way, I did too. I finished my snowshoe jaunt and returned home. I told my wife about seeing the lion and was almost jumping up and down with excitement during the telling. She urged me to tell the Wyoming Game & Fish Department about seeing the lion. I knew that was the proper thing to do, but I have to admit a part of me did not want to do it. A vision came unbidden to my fervid imagination. I saw angry villagers carrying pitchforks and torches running through the night hounding the lion to its death. Everyone hysterical with the nameless fear. The lion elevated near to the status of werewolf. People scurrying for silver bullets. With me starring as the dirty rat who snitched the lion off to the cops. I calmed down.

I saw the lion on a Saturday and told the G&F about it on Monday. The game warden thanked me for the information. Other people had seen it also. I even shared with the warden my fear about lion hysteria, and my hope that the lion was not immediately killed. The warden smiled. He knew what I was talking about. Somebody with a lion hunting license did, however, get that mountain lion later the same day.

I saw the lion carcass in the back of a pickup truck. He did not look as large as when he ran across me at the CCC ponds. There were other things missing too. Death did not become him.

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