Magnetic North July 29, 2009: Poetic Antidote to Colvill Cat Fever

Animals in pasture
Animals in pasture

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Welcome back to Magnetic North, where my six goats, one llama, eight rabbits and heavens knows how many feathered creatures live in blissful ignorance.  

Of what? Well, for instance:
• They don’t know winter is three months away
• They never obsess over the price of a bale of hay or bag of lay mash
• Nor has the fact that a cougar was within nibbling distance of them recently ever crossed their so-called minds

Yes, the report about a cougar sighting in Colvill that aired last week right here on WTIP referred to MY very own neighborhood.
My neighbor across the road spotted the big cat as she pulled into her driveway. At first, she thought it was our dog, Scout. Scout is a yellow Lab, a smallish yellow Lab, but a big dog. On second glance my friend realized that this critter was waaaaay bigger than Scout. AND its tail was longer. AND its face was a cat face. Hmmmm, not Scout. Not good.
It’s funny how the human brain defaults to denial when face to face with something that could eat us. Years ago when Paul and I were just getting acquainted with our woods, he came in from a long hike through them with an almost dazed look. “I just saw a really big German Shepherd out there,” he said.
“Who has a German Shepherd on the road?” I asked.
But he wasn’t so much talking to me as doing a mental moonwalk away from denial.
“It looked like a dog, but ........more like a wolf. But it acted like a dog. I mean, I was coming up that first slope back behind Johnny’s shed when I saw him. He was just loping toward me. Then he stopped and looked right at me. Really stared and I stared back......then he just turned and disappeared into the woods. On second thought, I think I just saw our first wolf on the property. Or....maybe not.”
My reaction to all this is lost in the fog of time, but what I can tell you is that the next time I saw my dearly beloved head off into the woods, he was toting his rifle.
But back to the cougar sighting last week. My neighbor said that the cougar – a/k/a mountain lion - reappeared in her yard later that same day. One of her grandchildren saw it this time. And again the child’s first reaction was to label what she saw as something benign, sweet old Scout. Then, the mental moonwalk began...twice the size of Scout, too long a tail, cat face.....”Gramma, come here!”
My neighbor contacted local wildlife experts and me, simply because I have a barn full of tidbits for a big cat. My understanding is that cougars kill what they are used to killing, ungulates like deer. That is why humans are relatively safe from attack and my goats are not.
Still and all, after my neighbor’s warning call I alerted another neighbor down the road, someone with children running around outside. And I kept the goats and llama in for a day. Oh, and I made one trip to the barn with a bucket of water in one hand and Paul’s rifle in the other.
After a day on alert, though, I decided to envision safety, rather than danger. And I am happy to report that we are just fine. For now.
Being content with being fine for now is the trick, though, isn’t it? We time travel back and forth between what was and what might be and get good and sick in the process. When we could just as easily stay where we are.
On our farm, staying in the moment happens naturally. When I’m trimming goats’ hooves I pretty much have to be right there in my head or risk losing a finger. And I defy anyone to sit and stroke a baby angora rabbit and wander off into the ‘what if’ woods.
I agree 200 percent with the 18th-century English poet, Thomas Gray, who said, “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”
For the poetry afflicted, here is the entire stanza from Gray’s  “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.”
To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemned alike to groan;
The tender for another's pain,
The unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! Why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
Tis folly to be wise.
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