Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dust of the Earth, chapter 22

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

Chapter 22
I knew that bears - the black bears that inhabit the Southwest -- could usually be scared off with loud noise, shouting, and hand waving. Black bears rarely attack, and when they do, it's because of only a few reasons. They might be protecting their young - so don't get between a mother bear and her young.  Or more commonly, some bears developed a taste for human food and lose their fear of people. Bears will become territorial over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I thought of my pack lying next to me.

But what about mountain lions? I rehearsed in my mind the stories I had heard as a Boy Scout camping in this area. We rarely see mountain lions because a) they are mostly nocturnal, b) they shy from human contact, and c) their movements are silent. Very rarely, though, mountain lions will attack humans. Usually the culprit is a young male trying to establish his territory. If the young male can't find his natural prey, he might become hungry enough to prowl the outskirts of human habitation, developing a taste for poodles, dachshunds, and the occasional small child. Only the most desperate mountain lions will attack a full-grown human - and then it seems to be more of an issue of defending territory rather than feeding.

So what should you do if confronted by a mountain lion? First, don't run. Second, don't play dead. A bear will usually leave you alone if you adopt a fetal position. He might bite you a bit (and thus, it's a good idea to clasp your hands behind your neck, protecting this vital part), but eventually the bear will lose interest and amble away. A mountain lion, on the other hand, will continue to harass you. Mountain lions have that feline habit of playing with their prey -- for simple entertainment, apparently. There must be an evolutionary explanation for this behavior, but to your basic anthropomorphizing human, cats are just sadistic.

Your only chance to survive a mountain lion encounter is to stand firm. Face the cat, backing off slowly if necessary, but never turn your back. Hold something between you and the mountain lion, a walking stick or a dead branch. A guy who was hiking in Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson faced a mountain lion in this way and slowly backed down the trail nearly a quarter of a mile before the big cat finally lost interest.

These were the thoughts that filled my head as I lay in my sleeping bag, my ears straining to hear the slightest sound. The knowledge I dredged up didn't occur to me in nearly so organized a manner as I have presented it -- and I wasn't sure I could actually put any of it into practice -- but I was comforted somewhat by the knowledge itself.

I lay still for what seemed a very long time, long enough for the moon to rise higher in the sky and for my surroundings to grow brighter. I wondered where Ehmet had gone so abruptly -- and I wondered which I preferred: absolute darkness with ignorance of everything around me; or the light of the moon creating shadows everywhere, any one of which could be something to fear. But I was startled out of this consideration by a sudden racket nearby.

To Be Continued...

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