Two cougar sightings in less than a week on this well-groomed urban butte. Grey moss hangs in wisps from the crackled doug fir bark, and I’m alert in my peripheral vision in a way I haven’t been, maybe ever. Looking for the flick of a tail in above the ferns, herbivore side-vision kicks in.
Hiking alone, I’m prey. I seek a herd. Find a bunch of mustached hipsters, stinking and loud. Move on. I’ll take my chances. If I see a cougar, I’ll stop. Stay calm. Appear large.
I’m too scared to wear my headphones. Not that I’d hear it coming. Approaching every tight corner, hemmed in by salmonberry, dogwoods, creeping vine maples, my mind screams AMBUSH. I’m literally scared of an animal that I likely outweigh by 100 pounds.
The top is a lichen covered crag crawling with ground squirrels and floppy-haired college dudes. Dusty plumes spiral up out of the worn out fields to the north. Ugly mountains march off to the south, hacked off tree farms bounding the southern edge of the Willamette valley. Fern Ridge, where the city’s run off piles up in a slack lake, butts up against the Coast Range.
Rationally, I know there are zero recorded mountain lion fatalities in Oregon. But headed back down into the cougar’s labyrinth, I can’t help but wonder how many canine-pierced bodies would turn up if we could comb the woods for every missing hiker.