As I have had 2 encounters with mountain lions, I thought I would include one in a story.
| The windshield wipers moved with their mechanical rhythm, occasionally emitting an irritable squeak. The snow had changed to a light rain, as it had been doing off and on for the past hour of driving. Soon it would return to snowing and stay that way as the journey would be gaining altitude.
He had been driving for one and a half hours. Four and a half hours of driving time remained. Plenty of time to reconsider, He knew. He also knew that He would not listen to that voice of reason and there would be no changing His mind. He had thought about this journey for far too long. As far as last resorts, this was His choice among many.
He did not play the radio or cassette player which His car contained. Silence was to be one of His traveling companions. The sounds of the car, another. The voices and thoughts playing in His mind, the others.
He would stop along the way several times for rest breaks, with no need to hurry to His destination. It would be there waiting for Him in due time.
He reminded Himself of the nobility of His decision. Too many times people had made much poorer decisions. The newspapers and news channels were always full of these instances. No, this was the way for Him. A journey of grace.
The road His life had taken for Him to arrive at this point. Those happy and simpler days. The ease of which a person's life seems to flow sometimes, with no hint of a future turmoil. Days and years of a carefree existence, with a few bad days blended into them. Then out of the blue life goes off course and all efforts to right the ship are futile. The more one cares, the worse things get and the more the ship seems unsteerable. After awhile the arms get tired from trying to turn the rudder and all efforts at course correction cease. The foul winds become the captain and the captain becomes the captive.
He had driven this route many times before, in better days. But this time His mind was not interested in the many sights that constantly were to the right and left of the highway. Sometimes He did notice a familiar sight that brought back memories of being on this road before. Fleeting recollections. This was not a sight-seeing journey. This drive had another purpose.
As the odometer ticked by like a gauge on a time machine, He drew closer.
Three hours and forty-five minutes from the start of this drive, He saw the appropriate exit and slowed to make the transition from freeway to a state highway. He had stopped several miles back at a rest area for a 10 minute break. Now He was on the state highway and there was about 2 hours of driving to His destination. Still plenty of time to change His mind. But somewhere inside of Him, He knew there would be no such change.
He was driving in a similar mental state to highway hypnosis, making His way on an internal autopilot. Without much conscious effort, He kept His foot on the accelerator as needed and used the break as needed. As He had made this drive many times in the past, in those better days, He did not need a map for navigation. It was only a matter of driving and of time.
And onward He drove.
The rain had changed back to snow some time ago and it would remain snow as He traveled upwards in elevation. No more rain, He thought. No more rain.
He now made a familiar turn on to a smaller state highway. The highway traffic had lessened. A road less traveled than the previous two. The ground was white around Him as the snowfall here was sticking, and accumulating.
He had checked the weather forecast before beginning His journey. There was a large low pressure system moving across the state. High snowfall totals were expected before it made its way on eastward. High snowfall followed by brutal cold for several days. The mountain region always felt the brunt of these winter systems, unlike the lower elevations from which He had began His trip.
His car was clean on the inside. An air freshener was hanging from one of the vent directional adjusters. He liked cleanliness and order. It was that way in His life, though there were many scattered pieces of debris that littered His life's path. He looked down to see that He had brought His almost empty pack of cigarettes along on this journey. It lay on the center console. He would not smoke while driving to His destination. He would save the few cigarettes for after arrival.
With images and voices and feelings revolving in His thoughts, onward He drove.
After what seemed like an eternity yet an instant, He pulled into the state park and drove the small winding road past the entrance to the gift shop and slowly followed the road which continued on towards the camping area. The going was slow due to the amount of snow that had already fallen and the rate at which it continued to fall. Visibility was poor and He drove cautiously onward.
As He drove slowly for the last half mile of His long drive, a rabbit bounded out of the whiteness and ran across the road out in front of His sedan. Then it disappeared again into the other side of whiteness.
He had not seen any deer since arriving in the state park. In past years when He had visited the park, there were many to be seen. They were around, He was sure. The state park had many wild residents. Nature had a full tiered food chain here and licensed hunting was illegal. They were protected to live naturally.
He arrived at the empty parking lot near the campground. He eased His car over to an area of the lot where He had once parked on a previous visit, and brought it to rest, leaving the engine running. He had a little more than a 1/4 of a tank of gas left.
The snow was coming down at a good rate now. It was because of the elevation. He pressed the button on the car's climate control panel to show the outside temperature. Thirty-one degrees. With the wind that was blowing outside His car, He knew the wind chill was even lower. A good old-fashioned mountain snowstorm.
He sat in the sedan and thought about the past, and about His past. Three years ago He would never have thought this situation was a possibility. He would never have even thought about this at all. It would not have been in His thoughts. Now He sat here as the wipers intermittently cleared the snow from the windshield. Sitting in almost silence.
He double-checked His mental list by looking at what He had brought along on this drive. His coat was in the backseat. His almost empty pack of cigarettes was on the center console. He had traveled lightly.
He checked His dashboard clock and verified it with His watch. The time was 3:47pm. He would sit there for another 13 minutes to give Himself a few more minutes to reconsider.
As He sat there, He quickly thought about His plan of action if 4:00pm came and He was still of a mind to continue on this path. He would walk to a hiking trail that still should be there, then break from the trail and traverse on into the forest, heading toward the far end of the ridge and beyond.
His thoughts turned to failures that haunted Him. Failures He could neither rectify nor reconcile. That was the hardest part, being in that position.
He turned the ignition key to the off position, withdrew it and laid it, along with the other keys on the key ring, on the center console. He picked up the almost empty cigarette pack, gave a quick pat to His right front jeans pocket to make sure He had His lighter, and opened the driver's door to get out.
He stepped back away from the car, shutting the driver's door, and felt the cold hands of the winter storm. The snow was falling heavy but not falling straight down. The wind was blowing the snow and for a brief moment He felt as though He was in a giant blender of ice and air. Visibility was poor at the most.
He opened the door that would give Him access to His coat laying in the backseat. Reaching in He grabbed it and withdrew it from the car. He effortlessly put it on, not bothering to zip the front. He slipped the cigarette pack down inside the right side pocket to keep out the frozen precipitation. He shut the door and turned to the rear of the car, noticing how His tire tracks in the snow, were disappearing, being filled in by falling and drifting snow.
There was dead silence as He stood there feeling as if He was standing on some snowworld of a planet in a far distant galaxy somewhere out in the universe. But He was on this world, His world. A world He knew all too well.
He began to walk to where He knew the ridge line would be. His journey continued on foot now.
Up the slope it silently moved, occasionally stopping to analyze the air with its keen sense of smell. Its sight was good, but its ability to detect scent was its main radar. The blowing snow and ever changing wind direction was confusing its senses of sight and smell. Its ears only detected silence.
It was a biological machine with a most dangerous programming. It could bring down a deer with a quick strike to the back of the neck. It was programmed to attack from behind with the intent of snapping its victim's spine below the skull, rendering the prey immobile.
Hunger in its belly had it on its feet, moving it with a random purpose through the deepening snow. Onward it moved with silence.
Having walked for what seemed to be 2-3 miles, He found an area of rocky outcroppings. He climbed down through an opening, able to walk after making it over some huge pieces of fallen rock. He made His way through the scattered rocks, of small and large, to a small clearing. The area was open, surrounded by trees that became forest again. But there was a high rock wall that extended back up towards the ridge line above. The falling snow cloaked its upward height.
At the base was a section of rock that appeared to be free of snow. He made His way to the base of the outcropping to have a look. There was something familiar about this clearing though He knew He had never been this far out the ridge.
He stopped and looked at the base, at a section of rock that recessed far enough back for a person to sit, though He knew He would have to pull His knees in towards His chest while sitting there. He walked over, dropped into a sitting position, and did just that.
For the silent stalker, this hunt would be important. Each feeding is energy for the next attack. And it had failed in its previous attack. In a lunge at a startled deer, it had injured a muscle in its right hind leg. After 4 days laying in its rocky den, it had healed enough to come out for a feeding. It had grown quite hungry by now. It needed to feed to keep its feed-attack-feed cycle going.
It was at its most dangerous on this day. And it would have to feed soon.
He sat there, back against rock, and knees up. He remembered His few cigarettes and pulled the pack out of His pocket. He could see there was only 3 cigarettes. He worked one out of the pack and placed the pack back into the pocket.
He straightened out His right leg to get His hand into His jean pocket to get the lighter. He cupped His left hand up to provide a windbreak and got the lighter lit long enough to get the cigarette burning. The wind blew the lighter flame out. He put the lighter in the pocket with the pack of cigarettes. With His right leg still laid out straight, He sat there thinking, and knocking off the first of the ashes.
He wondered how long before family and friends, back home, would miss Him. He knew He was gone long before He had gotten in His car to start this journey. He had reached His breaking point long before He had started the engine that morning. But unlike some who hurt and destroy others after reaching their breaking point, He had decided this was the way He wanted to deal with His. He knew most of what was to follow. He knew this was where it would all end.
After a number of inhales and flipping ashes, He field stripped the cigarette, placing the empty butt in His coat pocket. He had too much respect for the outdoors to flip the butt out onto the forest floor.
He had left His car keys in the car so that His abandoned car could be removed more easily once it was found after the storm. No need to make things more difficult.
He had not smoked on the drive up because He was saving those last cigarettes for His ultimate destination.
He noticed the snow was falling less and the shaking of His body under His clothes was His body's attempt to create some warmth. He knew what was coming. The body would make its attempt for only so long. It was a fail-safe biomechanism, but one that had only a short duration. How wondrous a creation, the human body.
Suddenly it stopped. Its sense of smell had detected something. It turned its head slowly from right to left then back to the right. A scent it did not know, followed by another it somehow knew. It turned its head back to the left and moved with a slow purpose in that direction. It was being driven by hunger and led by a scent.
He did not cross His arms across His chest, as one would do if trying to stay warm. He made no attempt to thwart the frigid air. He just looked out across the open area as His body's shivering became closer to a trembling. He knew that when He began to feel sleepy, that would signify the last stage. Soon no more worries about failures. This would be a success. And no more pain.
After some zig-zagging around trees and rocks, it stopped to test the air. The source of the scent was nearby, though as yet, it could not be seen. It stayed motionless and took some time to rest. It would need all of its energy if there was a short chasing of its prey.
He stared into the distance, but not looking at anything. His heart still pumped blood, but He was falling further into a dream. The trembling of His body was fading back to a shivering. Soon the shivering would also diminish. He had reached the point of no return. But He was not aware of this. He was staring with a faraway look in His eyes. He saw nothing that was out in front of Him. He saw no snow. He felt no cold. But inside, His heart was slowing.
It moved around some rocks to a clearing. It jumped up onto a large rock to get sight of the source of the now close scent. Its nose aimed its eyes to something that confused it. It could sense a feeding, yet it was hesitant.
It would not stay long on the rock. Hunger would put it into motion at the right time. Its tail snapped back and forth like a serpent having a seizure. No, it would make its advance very soon. In seconds it would spring from its rocky perch to attack.
In the moment when His heart stopped, no one would know His success. In a macabre irony, He was not even able to know it. His lifeless eyes continued to stare out across the clearing. If He was conscious and aware, He would have seen the big brownish-tan cat staring at Him with eyes of death. But His dead eyes were open and unseeing.
The appropriate signals and impulses were being sent and relayed throughout the big cat's mind and body. It leaned forward for its initial leap when it suddenly ceased its intent. It eased back as it saw something appearing in front of its intended prey.
A whitish-blue haze began appearing, at first with no defined form. Then it came into focus as an oval semi-transparent bubble of a slowly swirling fog .
Inside was the shape of a human. Its face was the same as that of the lifeless man that sat before it. And like the sound of a melodic soft wind, a voice spoke to the lifeless form at its feet.
"No more pain My friend. No more pain."
The apparition began to dissipate and after a few seconds, it was gone.
The big cat watched in stillness, its senses beginning to realize a more normalness to its surroundings. Its programming and hunger were now taking back control of its functioning. Its eyes focused as it again leaned forward. The powerful surge of its initial leap was driven by its overwhelming hunger. The pain of hunger. Soon that pain would be gone.