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Lions in the Streets

Traversing our front yard, a mountain lion. Across the street, three toddlers, playing. Events not simultaneous, but with little enough distance between.

In quest of its next hot meal, that prowling Felis concolor did so by night, the Carrigan tots safely abed. Next morning by the clear light of a January sky I found its moves easily legible in three inches of new snow and set off to see where they led. From our place the big cat had, leapt up onto a low terrace and padded westward to the Wurmans’. Briefly nosing among swings and kiddie-colors of the playset in their yard, it had then veered due north and downhill for about a quarter-mile, passing through several other unfenced yards till blown snow filled all traces and I lost track of it. Yet I’d a hunch where it might have been heading.

Till recently, all our neighbors were grownups. Then the Carrigan, Wurman, and Quereau offspring moved in to rejuvenate us. Oh, I know. Charm is only one of a preschooler’s vocal effects. From my across-the-way perspective, however, squabbles and piercing shrieks of toddler anguish are a mother’s cue, not mine. Freed by the span of blacktop between us, I find the lilt of little children at play wonderfully listenable. I say more. To my ear, no other music comes close to the spoken melody of small children overheard.

On lions in the streets, I’m mindful of what might befall, but conflicted. As a forest-worshiping, clean-camping, soft-walking, save-the-salmon type, I hold that homeowners encroaching on lion habitat have asked for whatever they get. That was before the big cats started cruising our neighborhood. Once youngsters showed up, I got what I hadn’t asked for: perplexity.

Houses like ours sit at a human/wildlife interface which the Denver Museum of Nature and Science illustrates with an exhibit titled “Edge of the Wild.” It’s where buffalo don’t roam but night coyotes do, yipping and caterwauling all too often about fifty yards from our bedroom window, and where a mountain lion’s main prey, deer, browse in abundance. Well, choices do have consequences, 3:00 a.m. coyotes included, though when we chose our spot those deer were much warier of humans. Lion sightings were, therefore, few and far between, since they and deer are separate halves of one circle.

Historically, it has been very much in the Euro-American grain to kill or displace every last, least thing getting in the way of our gun sights and “growth.” Less than two generations ago our Western “ethic” on big cats, bobcats, bears, and wolves amounted to slaughter more befitting Attila and his Huns than a so-called civilization. Absolved by our birth dates, we who came later remain righteously appalled at that trigger-happy past. Back then, the imagined West was a horse, a herd, and a handgun. To many Easterners it still is.

However, even we seminatives of Colorado prefer ranches with wildlife on the side to mall miles and urban sprawl. The “growth” routine is familiar. First, ecological lip service. Then the word “compromise.” Then the word “regrettably.” Then bulldozers. But my wife and I got here from there. A bulldozer did the excavating for our house, whereas we prefer seeing ourselves as part of the solution.

Are time and ignorance any excuse? When forty years ago Anne and I moved close as we could to open space no one foresaw our increasingly compromised boundary between large carnivores and humans—to say nothing of mule deer using our lawns and landscaping as second homes. Back then, a rancher’s cattle did the browsing on our mesa slopes, not deer. Table Mesa Drive was gravel, not blacktop, with actual cowboys on horseback looking for the occasional loose steer or heifer. Then the rancher sold out and Odocoileus hemionus, our mule deer, moved in, with mountain lions right behind.

In Shakespeare’s day, any topsy-turvy turn of events blurred lines fixed by nature, such as the line between the orderly life of towns and the lawless wild. Thus, the Bard has one of his Roman rulers say that a recent political upheaval was “unnatural” enough to have shaken “lions into civil streets.” Oddly, that’s us.

Nonetheless, on my side of our street I’m pro-lion, unbudgeably so. On the other side, we’ve this passel of knee-high children living just a hop, skip, and jump from our door. That is, when they learn to skip. For now, precociously bright little Quinn Carrigan, currently in his fireman phase, may be just this side of hyperactive, while his year-younger brothers, the fraternal twins Cole and Delaney, are a playing-nicely pair of inseparables. Still in their early stages of walking and talking, they totter about their driveway while keeping a balance so endearingly precarious that my calling them the Wobblies caught on with even their mom and dad.

If the flared nostrils of our red-meat-eating night visitor had picked up some lingering whiff of their presence from across the way, they might have been deciphered as munchies. So my affections work both sides of our street, and in that I’m typical. Everyone in Boulder has known the score for ages. Sooner or later, we’ll have a lion attack, right here in town. Should the target be some Uzi-oiling survivalist, I’d try to bear up bravely as possible. On the other hand, it could very well be a very small person. Just this year up in Larimer County near Colorado’s northern border, the coroner finally brought closure to a sad case by ruling that little Jaryd Atadero, age three, missing since 1999, “was probably killed by a mountain lion” after straying only a short distance from his party of grownups amid wilderness west of Fort Collins. Less than fifty miles north of Boulder, that city is also nervous about lions in the streets. As Fort Collins resident Peter Ramirez put it, “We’re not thirty-acre ranchettes. This is a neighborhood. My concern is the risk to our children.”

Adults? In my view, they can take care of themselves.

Would I feel that way even if a lion were to clobber me? Provided I wasn’t fear frozen or instantly made helpless, my own animal rage would meet it, carnivore to carnivore. Later, if my bleeding leftovers proved viable, who knows what my lion love might become? But that’s not the issue. The real issue is wanting things both ways.

Lions make their living by not being seen, and, quite frankly, the life-spice of their invisible presence does lend interest. Walking trails by night I admit to now and then looking over my shoulder, uselessly, of course. Might as well try threading a needle with rope. Besides, hiking where there’s only the remotest chance a big mammal can maul or kill doesn’t seem daft if you live here.

Yet I must also confess that events in the past few years have finally made dusk my limit—an intent I set aside only yesterday, owing to a handy half-moon. But no more late-night hiking alone. When I mentioned this to a head honcho at Colorado’s Division of Wildlife who also lives in Boulder he said, “Me, too.” We agreed it’s probably safe enough, though less safe than it was. Being a cat, Felis concolor likes to pounce. Day or night, however, if ambushed, I at least dream of not wanting the lion hunted down and killed for simply doing its kind. The folly and fault would be mine. Alive inside a whole skin, such magnanimity comes easy. Yet the instant our neighborhood tots swim into that picture I want any big cat prowling their vicinity live trapped and relocated or shot dead.

That said, no sooner do I admit as much than some quasi-sacral aura given off by a predator of such grace and power causes “shot” to feel like betrayal.

Or does so till I glance across the way. Blond, bumptious, and broad-shouldered little Quinn Carrigan, age three, keeps darting about under his fireman’s hat, doffed only at bedtime. His underling brothers, the Wobblies, dawdle with pull-toys, palavering in a lingo known only to them and their mother, Arlette, who decodes for me like an interpreter. From his big brown eyes, the poignantly gentle, dark-haired Cole may gaze at her, at blue jays, at me, the mailman—then totter over to give his twin a spontaneous hug for no particular reason, the best of reasons. The more ebullient Delaney from under his tousle of light blond curls returns love for love with an affection all the more touching when we adults consider what time and the world will inevitably do to innocence that pure. For now, at least, the twins pass hours dithering and lurching about on their driveway, or bending low to examine a bug.

So my street allegiances come to this: mountain lions are indeed legendarily strong for their size, but against youngsters it’s no contest. Lions lose. They’re used to it.

Especially in summer, but even in ski season, we have a saying, “Keep Colorado green—bring money.” Since 1965, Colorado’s Division of Wildlife (DOW) has upgraded the mountain lion from enemy of man (meaning livestock and pocketbooks) to big game, a target increasingly marketable. Although licenses to kill one are cheap for residents—in 2003, a mere thirty dollars or so—nonresidents cough up eight times that figure. Their prey, the sly, wary “ghost of the Rockies,” is partly for that reason invisible in the wild unless you can also afford to improve Colorado’s economy by hiring a pack of dogs and a professional guide. Even then, the success rate among lion hunters is low—if not from the shot lion’s point of view. That success varies from forty percent of hunters licensed for lions in 1999, down to twenty percent in 2000, then up again in 2001, a record season, with 439 lions “harvested” compared to 370 during 2003, the most recent year for which stats are available.

What with license fees and the annual armies of out-of-state hunters spending freely in restaurants, motels, gas stations, groceries, and sporting goods stores, our elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and lions are definitely a cash crop.

Greenbacks may or may not have nudged the Colorado Wildlife Commission into setting its 2003 quota on lion licenses at 790, despite its own staff’s suggesting a much lower figure. Furthermore, the commissioners authorized the higher quota while officially admitting neither they nor anyone can say how many lions are actually out there. Biologists’ best guesses range from a low of 3,000 to a high of 7,000, which amounts to cluelessness with digits in it. And because—among a certain kind of male—gunning lions is sexier than ever, there are ten times more licensed hunters now hoping to kill one than back in the early 1980s.

Big cats not only impel so-called sportsmen to aim their rifles from point-blank range at a lion treed by dogs; they also make mighty good copy. Lions are devilishly handsome and lurid. Lions are furtive and deadly. Isn’t the morbidly best of all possible cheap thrills hearing tell how a wild beast disemboweled someone alive? Recently, the lion-ravaged vitals and face of an eighteen-year-old jogger, lion felled, became the tease, central omen, and climactic pièce de résistance of an entire book whose theme was “The lions are coming!” That lad’s death happened back around the breakup of the Soviet Union, so it’s closer to being history than a current event. But morbid allure carries no sell-by date. Thus, scarcely a year goes by without yet another lion book and collateral spate of man-eating articles on the animal variously called cougar, puma, panther, painter, mountain cat, and catamount, different labels for the same critter owing to its wide if seldom-seen occurrence up and down the Americas.

While I do more tramping about amid our mountain foothills than the average Joe, I’ve observed only four lions in ten times that many years. Yet my sleeping head has lain spookily close to one. When camping on the rim of Dark Canyon in Utah with fellow members of a peregrine falcon survey, I crawled from my one-person tent next morning to find, inches from the entrance, lion prints in sand dampened by light rain fallen after I’d turned in for the night.

My first actual look at this elusive creature happened here on our mesa. Dawn collecting having drawn me forth from our house into the dusk of early light, there it was: several hundred feet above me. Just below the rocky rim it quickly flowed past stunted clumps of squawbush, then streamed from view, allowing me only an unforgettable glimpse. Accustomed to morning coyotes, I talked myself into supposing that’s what it was, though not because its gait was anything like that of Canis latrans. After all, hadn’t more than one outdoor professional told me they’d never seen a lion? Then what chance had I? Must’ve been coyote. My very eagerness to spot a mountain lion became proof I’d seen wishfully.

Yet the instant I sighted that big rimrock cat I knew perfectly well no coyote ever flows. It may trot, walk, or run with a canid’s gait, all very well in its way, but never so fluently as the creature I saw. That self-skepticism lasted over a year, despite my truer self murmuring otherwise.

Then a neighborhood event supplied circumstantial evidence, complete with photo. In it, a lion disturbed at its feeding on a freshly-killed deer looks straight into the lens. Because the shot was taken at night, the flash rendered those big eyes white as snow, a vacancy made eerily intense by a beheaded deer lying on its left side at the animal’s feet. Laid wide open, the deer’s chest cavity had already been emptied of every mountain lion’s favorites: heart, liver, lights, and kidneys—nourishing fare as it happens. From a sundeck eight feet above, Richard Ball—in whose back yard it was feeding—had leaned over the rail and taken the shot. As he later told a reporter, the big cat’s cool reaction to being photographed was merely to pull its half-eaten prey “about fifteen feet behind a bush.” Typical behavior—stashing a kill for return visits.

For Arlette Carrigan—whose house sits on the hillside just above the Richard Ball place—that was way too close for comfort. Her vigorous husband, Patrick, cleared their back yard of its juniper bushes to improve the view, but with a collateral effect they now welcomed. Homeowners in lion country are routinely advised by the Division of Wildlife: “Remove vegetation to eliminate hiding places for lions.” The tall iron fence they then erected was entirely motivated by Felis concolor. Arlette knows well it isn’t leap-proof, just better than none at all. How could any mother not be exercised by the fact of lions prowling and killing so near to her toddlers?

Uneasiness rose a notch when, at the Johnson place right next door and in broad daylight, Vicki Johnson looked up from her needlework to find a mountain lion staring into the house through one of the tall windows flanking the entrance.

In the past ten years or so, sightings have picked up markedly. Liz Schmidt, a family friend, was walking her dog on the path up Skunk Canyon not far from our house. She’s an outdoor girl who reflects her Austrian heritage: expert skier, mountain hiker, forestry professional. Andy, her female golden retriever, is a wimp, wary even of house cats and squirrels. Imagine, therefore, Liz’s surprise when—on sighting a mountain lion—Andy bolted toward a predator many times deadlier! Lions do eat dogs but also flee them, which this lion did, disappearing with Liz’s hitherto timorous canine in full cry behind. She, remembering the better part of valor, betook herself rapidly in the opposite direction, expecting a dire fate for her dog. Luckily, Andy came trotting back unscathed. With quadrupeds as with bipeds, you never can tell.

Nor on our edge of town can you tell what may turn up.

Take for instance the summer evening around 11:00 p.m. when our son Tim, returning from a stroll, espied by poor light what seemed a large golden retriever like Liz’s coming toward him down the bike path just across the fence from our house. “Except,” as Tim later told us, “it had this really long tail.” The “retriever” ignored him and crossed our street to the Keslars’, where it leapt atop a brick wall, momentarily loitering there before taking its way around the house into the ravine behind. Given our dim street lighting, its identity might have been uncertain if not for that wall business. Jumping atop even a low wall is strictly feline. No canine ever would. The lion’s route toward the ravine, however, may have been briefly interrupted by sniffing traces of the Keslars’ dog, possible prey.

Only last week, amid Kohler Mesa’s fine stand of ponderosa pines, I met Sheila, sole owner/operator of Fuzzy Friends Adventures, a pet-sitting and dog-walking service. Her five frisky customers tugging at their leashes that morning included a black Lab retriever, a border collie, a matched pair of springer spaniels, and a gray-eyed husky. I asked about the big can of pepper spray dangling from Sheila’s pack. “About six months ago,” she said, “I’m sure I was stalked by a lion. I think it was after this same Lab. She was the only dog I had that morning.” Her eyes and tone made it clear that, dogs or no dogs, she wanted nothing to do with Felis concolor.

As she knew well, broad daylight doesn’t mean no lion is stirring. Last summer on my mesa walk at about 10:00 a.m., I spoke with four college-age males visiting from the Midwest who told me they were resuming an intended ascent of Bear Peak broken off the morning before. Precisely where the trail crosses Bear Creek they had come upon a mountain lion taking its languid ease up in the shady box elder that overhangs a pleasant pool. Their host, an older man, had said, “Boys, I believe this is as far as we ought to go.”

By comparison, bears don’t count. Ursus americanus often ambles into town, snacking at bird feeders, messily delving into trash cans. Getting chased, treed, wondered at, and admired by townspeople. Surrounded, sedated, and tagged, it gets packed off to relocation. As omnivores, bears aren’t averse to meat, can kill deer and elk, and sometimes do. However, I’ve not heard of such a kill anywhere near Boulder, although our deer in residence are well fed and readily found. Unlike lions, bears don’t augment their diet with house pets, nor do they seem menacing while in town. Rather, they’re feel-good entertainment. To be sure, in our high country they can be less tolerant, with many an “incident” and some blood, but never a death. If every so often they do burgle mountain cabins or houses, it’s just to raid pantry and fridge, though not without breakage enough to make a Hell’s Angel blush down to his knees. Bears are also unlike lions in disdaining to “slink,” “creep,” or “steal” along. They barge.

The less than half-dozen black bears I’ve crossed paths with have placidly lumbered along looking for roots, carrion, and chokecherries if in season, though I admit the hairs on the back of my neck have stood at attention once or twice. In contrast, last summer Anne’s friend Myrna, two blocks down, found a bear comically seated atop her trash container, as if saying, “Dibs.” Less than fifty feet from our house, my neighbor, Roger Keslar, found an early-morning bear in his front yard. More recently and at about twice that distance from us, another neighbor, Matty Teufel, found perhaps the same Ursine Americanus in her yard, too.

Both instances proved our black bears are nice bears. On confronting one, of course, its degree of niceness remains to be seen. One sunny noontide while picnicking by the creek running through Eldorado Canyon, my brother, his wife, and I felt suspense regarding that niceness issue when a large Ursus americanus appeared on the opposite bank, all our food in plain sight and smell. For a moment the bear paused, as if perhaps to join us for lunch. Then came stolidly splashing across to our side and kept going, whereupon normal breathing resumed.

Several years ago and strolling at night along a gravel road less than five minutes from home, my son Tim’s breath was similarly arrested when he startled a sow with her two cubs. As everyone knows, a mama with cubs may be less nice than we’d like. Tim was lucky. Instructed by their mother, the cubs promptly climbed a power pole, while Tim backed slowly off, returning the way he came.

Last week around 8:00 a.m., my friend Don Glen, living nearby, got a call from his neighbor who had just seen a mountain lion taking cover within the thick juniper bushes of her back yard. Being the dedicated naturalist he is, Don grabbed a couple of cameras and soon found lion tracks in the snow but no lion. Red smears next door made it easy to see what had happened. Virtually at that door, blood and tufts of deer fur from a recent kill were still fresh on the patio slab. The lion had fed, then dragged its prey under low spruce boughs and covered it with a token scraping of leaves, grass, and pine needles before vanishing. Coyotes thus warned off by that lion’s way of saying “dibs” won’t touch such a carcass for days, lest it prove their undoing.

On the phone with Don I recalled that other kill just north of our house, and asked, “How about the chest cavity? Was it eaten out?”

“Oh, yes. One whole side of its rib cage was gone, but there was plenty uneaten. We all talked it over. Everybody wanted to see a lion, so we left the doe’s carcass where it was and kept a lookout.”

Then Don’s wife had second thoughts. Rather than wait for the lion’s return, she felt they’d better have the dead deer collected and checked for CWD, chronic wasting disease, now spreading alarmingly. A phone call to Boulder’s Open Space & Mountain Parks office soon brought two rangers. Then, just as Don was ready to help load the carcass into their pickup, Ranger Pete Taylor said, “First, let’s make sure we’re not being watched.”

Indeed, they were. Given its proprietary interest in that carcass, the lion had been eyeing them all the while within those thick junipers some twenty-five yards from the kill. To flush it out of the neighborhood and back into open space, the rangers tried shouting. The lion didn’t stir. After asking bystanders to give leeway by withdrawing across the street, Ranger Brian Thome leveled a shotgun at those junipers and fired its M80 charge, a harmless noisemaker. Still no movement. Again they tried shouting. Out of the bushes emerged one big Felis concolor.

Flowing between houses straight toward those wide-eyed onlookers, it veered slightly, passing within twenty feet of Don and his neighbors in what he described as “a smooth, graceful lope, seemingly unhurried, but going fast.” Then leapt a fence into the back yard of yet another family with small children and out of sight.

“Hot pursuit” is surely not the best term to describe rangers armed only with firecrackers and rubber pellets as they harry a goodly-sized red-meat-eater through a succession of fenced-off back yards. Besides, the lion wasn’t cooperating. Instead of heading to open space, it was going deeper into our neighborhood. Don and onlookers heard more shotgun blasts. When a third ranger drove up to assist the other two, followed by a police car, things took on the feel of street theater. Don asked the cop if he were there to protect residents. The officer smiled. This being Boulder, he was there to protect the lion. “People can get into a mob mentality and start chasing. Bad things can happen.”

Oh, yes. When it comes to lions in the streets, passions run high. Not always in the direction you’d suppose.

After crossing Table Mesa Drive it ran between dwellings down into the same ravine where Tim’s nocturnally sighted lion had gone. This spurred a woman angrily forth from her house, demanding to know who had called the wildlife guys. When Don said he had, it hit the fan. Convinced the rangers meant to kill a beautiful animal, she accosted my ever-courteous naturalist friend as if he were a bounty hunter in a game preserve. Despite her insisting that he was, on the contrary, a stool pigeon, Don tried to reassure her. The rangers were using just blanks and, if need be, rubber buckshot. They only meant to haze the lion back where it belonged. Hah! She knew what she knew. Having given him both barrels, she hustled across the street and started in on rangers Brian and Pete, who fared no better. When they drove away, she once more lit into Don, a man exemplarily active year-round on behalf of wildlife.

Finally, once the dust of all that had settled, the three rangers carted off the partly-eaten doe for testing. Don suspected, however, that their big cat might return. It did. Next morning, new snow revealed fresh lion prints in his driveway and yard. It had indeed come back for another helping of meat no longer there. And, as at my house, with small children next door.

As I say, dwelling at the “Edge of the Wild” you never know. After watching April’s latest dawn from my favorite spot on the mesa, I started home and was about to cross Table Mesa Drive when—loping right toward me down the bike path—here they came. Their sudden apparition—a mama lion and two cubs—so took me aback that fear existed on neither side. In fact, when they passed me by I felt snubbed, as if venison were incomparably the better choice. Swiftly crossing the street onto sidewalk, they then curled round the corner house and down into the same ravine that Tim’s and Don’s lion had made for.

Witnesses often tell the police, “It all happened so fast.” Me, too. I only knew that three long-tailed shadows had gone gliding by. Dusky, but lions beyond a shadow of doubt.

Ever since Darwin, zoologists have recognized that prey and predators are creations of each other. Stealth in lions developed as an answer to the vigilance and fleetness of deer, whose speed and alertness to movement have, over eons, refined lion cunning. Alas, to keep mountain lions off the streets we must first banish those semidomesticated cervids from our yards, then further yet. Much further. But how? A local variant of China’s Great Wall? Hitler’s idea of the Final Solution, adapted for mule deer?

The predator side of this circle has occasioned for our Division of Wildlife much flack-catching, despite its annual dissemination of flyers and trail warnings. Year round, the DOW implores us: “Please don’t feed the animals. At night take in your children, pets, and birdseed dispensers. Don’t put out salt licks for deer. Bearproof your trash cans. When hiking, don’t let youngsters run on ahead or lag behind.”

Does any of it work? Somewhat. Two lion warnings stand placarded within less than a literal stone’s throw of my house. This October, during a visit from Chicago, my brother’s wife, Lois, set forth up our bike path for a stroll but halted at a bold waening in red: ATTENTION! RECENT MOUNTAIN LION ACTIVITY IN THIS AREA. Smaller letters in black offered cautionary points recommending, among much else, that people “walk in groups and make plenty of noise, keep children close. . . and within sight at all times” and carry “a sturdy walking stick.” Should she actually see a lion, Lois was further warned: “Stop. Don’t run.” One might almost suppose that the writer had a fey sense of humor in advising, “Stay calm,” followed by a vocally trickier assignment: “Talk loudly and firmly to the lion in a low voice.” If the animal behaved aggressively, Lois was advised to hurl things at it: “stones, branches, or your belongings.”

Not the sort of counsel a post-middle-aged Chicagoan wants to be given only a few steps into her stroll. At our lunch in Eldorado Canyon two summers earlier, she hadn’t lost her cool on seeing Ursus americanus, but this was too much. Lois turned right around, betaking herself and belongings—throwable or otherwise—back into our house.

Airing my misgivings in a talk with Ranger John Koehler, the DOW’s man in South Boulder, I put my cards on the table face up. “We’ve small children living on all sides, with known lions using our neighborhood, so what’s the official policy on live trapping and relocation?”

Being public servants, Division of Wildlife personnel must please all the people all the time. We’re taxpayers, aren’t we? Okay, then, what’s the DOW strategy in our situation?

Turns out, there’s no quick fix in sight. The policy, as John explained it, amounts to a cautious wait and see. “Take that lion and her two cubs. We know of a killed deer in that ravine. It’s choked with brush and small trees. We know deer use it. When you saw those cubs and mother they were probably going down for a feed. Yes, we could relocate. The thing is, with them gone out of that territory, a displaced young male might move into it, and young males can be . . . kind of like delinquents. You can’t say what might happen. Where there’s empty territory with deer to be had, some lion’s going to take it over.”

Better the lions we know than the lions we don’t know?

Understandable, but hardly reassuring for Arlette with her three little Carrigans. So what’s our alternative? None. So long as we’ve deer galore, Felis concolor will be the other half of that picture, which means we’ve a “boundary problem” big time. As if we didn’t know. When it comes to young male lions being “kind of like delinquents,” the Mesa Verde lion, which in 1997 grabbed the four-year-old Rafael DeGrave by the head and began dragging him off, was indeed a male yearling. Though lacerated, the boy lived. That same season and month, ten-year-old Mark Miedema was attacked and killed by a lion in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Between its lion-coddling left lobe and child-cherishing right lobe, my brain would probably have remained a mixed message if those many lion sightings hadn’t happened within a few hundred yards of my house. Even so, our local nostalgia for a once-wilder West now exploited out of existence continues not only to tolerate, but virtually to celebrate all token survivals: coyotes, bear, mule deer, and Felis concolor—despite knowing well that something’s got to give. So to jolt us from our edge of the wild indulgence, what’ll it take? The communal sacrifice of one of our young?

Thus far, no town child has been harvested.