The Big Cat: An Odd Tale

Cougar-In July, three 911 calls in a row were place from Almost Iowa. All concerned animals. The first came from Fiona Ferguson.

“I am being attacked by wild turkeys,” she reported.

“Can you get to safety?” the dispatcher asked.

“I can’t move,” Fiona said, “they’ve completely surrounded my Prius.”

“Are you in your car?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have your keys?” the dispatcher asked flatly

“Yes.”

“Then drive away….”

At this point, Fiona, whose indignation is legendary became even more indignant. “I am not going to hurt those birds,” she said, “besides, I have never seen them this hysterical. Something has upset them.”

A deputy, monitoring the call on another line, cut in,”Stay put Fiona, help is on the way.”

Why?” the dispatcher hissed.

“I’ve got to get this on YouTube,” he said.

The next call came in ten minutes later.

“I want to report a cat,” the caller said.

“Hang up and call county animal control,” the dispatcher told him.

“You don’t understand. This is a really big cat.”

“How big is really big?”

“A whole lot bigger than me,” the caller stated.

The third call came in shortly before 5:00 pm.

“I have something the sheriff ought to see,” the caller said.

“Hang up and call the sheriff directly,” the dispatcher told him.

“No, you get a hold of him,” he said, “we have a mountain lion on the loose. I captured him on my critter cam.”

The last call came from Neil Jacobson and everyone around Almost Iowa knows that when Neil says something — it is what he says it is. The man simply lacks the imagination to lie.  So much so, that a neighbor once complained, “Neil has a stranglehold on reality.”

So that was that. A mountain lion was on the prowl. Soon word got out and rumor got out faster.

In short order, two meetings were scheduled. The first, organized by Fiona, called The Friends of Gaia together in the basement of Grace Lutheran Church. The second meeting, called by Darren Jacobson, Neil’s brother, rallied The Friend of Liberty to arms at the township hall.

After Fiona’s meeting, her keyboard warriors took to Facebook to alert their followers that mountain lions are protected. In addition, they wrote, cougars should not to be feared because they are anti-social creatures who keep to themselves. [to which one commenter responded glibly, “and who take a dimmer view of humanity than do The Friends of Gaia”]

Darren’s meeting followed quite another course.

School starts next month,” he warned, “imagine your kid walking alone down a long driveway to the bus stop. Now imagine, lurking in the tall corn..”

Cell phones literally flew out of pockets. Within minutes, the parking lot overflowed with dieseling pickups and a sea of camouflage poured into the hall. With the crowd backing up out the door, Darren pounded on the podium. “Can we get a little order here?” he scolded.

The audience quieted down.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says we can’t shoot this thing,” he began, “but I say we can.”

The gathering murmured it’s approval.

No government agency is gonna tell us that we can’t defend our kids,” he continued. “we all know how unreasonable the DNR is. Well, this is about OUR lives and OUR liberty.”

A voice from the back echoed his sentiment, “I heard the DNR is re-establishing lions, just like they did with wolves.”

Neil confirmed what the voice claimed. “The lion on my critter cam wore a tracking collar,” he stated.

An audible gasp rose from the kitchen where the cattle breeders had gathered around a peculating urn of coffee.

See,” Darren said, “that’s what I’m talking about. The bureaucrats in St. Paul didn’t see fit to notify us. First they ban smoking in our bars then they set a mountain lion loose on our kids. It’s why we formed the militia.”

No one quite followed the line that led directly between smoking bans and mountain lions but they kind of got the picture.

Darren was on a roll. He nodded toward the back of the room and the hall went dark.

What the hell you doing,” his brother yelled.

“We’re gonna watch Braveheart,” Darren said, “it’s about freedom from tyranny! If you are all going to join our militia, you have to watch this to understand our principles.”

I thought we were gonna shoot something, not watch a freak’n movie,” someone yelled.

‘Darren, you’re an idiot,” another voice grumbled.

The sea of camouflage rippled out the door, leaving Darren and the other two members of the militia alone to watch Braveheart for the twentieth time.

Geez, let’s go shoot something,” one member said to the other, leaving Darren alone and feeling not a little betrayed.

The truth is, there was nothing to shoot. The dogs who were pressed into service, couldn’t hold the lion’s trail and for the next two weeks, all the road hunting and field tromping produced was a few obscure tracks and a paper bag of crusted cat scat.

Still, there was a mystique about hunting mountain lion. Though the community remained on edge, there was a magic in the return of a wild thing that brought to mind distant memories of when the area was not so settled and sedate.

In mid August, a cougar with similar markings to the one captured by Neil’s critter cam was clipped a few miles south of Greene Iowa by a pickup truck. It wore a collar just like Neil’s cat but it was discovered to be a woven dog collar, not a tracking collar.

The DNR traced the cat to a Minnetonka couple who weary of the work and expense of owning a big cat, felt entitled to “release it into the wild”.

That made people around Almost Iowa furious.

Sure, there was the callousness of releasing a dangerous animal upon an unsuspecting population but something else was hurt even more — maybe the town had become as settled and sedate as people secretly feared it was.

In oddest turn of this odd tale, Neil, a man without imagination, drove the sixty miles to Greene Iowa and paid the cat’s vet bills. He then took it home and cared for it in a large run he built in his woods.

People asked him why he did it.

“I just like the way he pisses off Fiona’s wild turkeys,” he said.

And when Neil says something, you know it is what he says it is.

Author: Almost Iowa

www.almostiowa.com

27 thoughts on “The Big Cat: An Odd Tale”

  1. We had a mountain lion hanging around out this way last year. DNR swears they aren’t in Illinois, but our 96 acres have played host to one several times. I’m happy to leave it be as long as it steers clear of my livestock.

  2. It’s a wonderful tale, with several embedded truths — including a variation on the old “I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand” theme. More than a few Fionas love the animals. Just don’t ask them to understand them, or get out of the Prius.

    That urban/rural division (sometimes known as bureaucratic/human) is playing out here in the area of fishing. I’ll spare you the details, but as one fishing guide says, he prefers to have one attorney in his boat at all time, to interpret the bag limits.

    1. “one fishing guide says, he prefers to have one attorney in his boat at all time, to interpret the bag limits.”

      I looked into stocking our pond with pan fish. I thought the fish would enjoy it and the grandkids would enjoy catching them (I love creating conflicts and contradictions). It’s a private pond, built by a previous owner….still reading the impenetrable regulations made my head hurt.

      I thought about calling the DNR but my neighbors said, “don’t do that – they will own you forever.”

  3. Your stories walk that tightrope between fiction and nonfiction narrative. When I read you, I always feel like my young niece did at Disney World where she was constatntly turning to me and asking, “Is THAT real?” You stretch the boundaries just enough on quirky characters without losing that stranglehold on reality (to quote a beloved author). Such stellar reads!

    Just last night local news reported arresting a woman AGAIN because she has been feeding the bears (literally setting dog food on her deck for them) for the last two years. The neighbors report her and are freaked for their own safety. The wildlife officials are frustrated because they’ve had to kill 3 bears they weren’t able to successfully relocate. Her offense is a misdemeanir. It all sounds like it could have come straight out of your wildcat tale!!

  4. We as a species have never been good at sharing…which is especially true when it comes to nature. Around here we get the occasional mountain lion that wanders into town and always gets the ranchers cranked up…hey, but they (the mountain lions) live here, too (and were actually here first, if you REALLY want to get pissy). Rodney King was right, we all need to figure out how to get along.

    That said, don’t be dissin’ on ‘Braveheart’ or I’ll have to put on my kilt and kick some Minnesotan ass…just sayin’.

  5. Great story. I can imagine the ebb and flow of the emotions of the gentry as they consider how “protected” they have become under the caring largess of the state government. Your descriptions were wonderful.

    1. And therein is the conflict between rural and city people. Urburbanites often push legislation based on an idealization of nature. To which country people say, “hey, but we have to live here.”

      We had a big blow-up this last session when the Governor wanted to impose a 50 foot agricultural set back from streams.. Not a bad idea for slowing down the infiltration of nitrogen and phosphates into streams.

      But like all ideas, the devil is in the details. The questions came fast and furious from the farmers:

      “Who is going to pay for lost agricultural land?”
      “Do I still have to pay state taxes on the land you just took out of production?”
      “What do I say to my banker about the change in value on my land?”

      And my personal favorite: “Fifty feet from where?” Are we talking the center of the stream, the top of the bank or the edge of the stream? If it is the top, where is the top, a gentile slope can go for miles. If it is the edge, where is the edge? High water, low water….and what happens when the stream shifts?

      The very definition of a lousy idea is a great idea not fully vetted.

  6. Great story. My wife was once surrounded by wild turkeys at a stop sign. People were honking at her, but she wasn’t moving until they cleared away. She loves any animal that walks near our property. I’m sure she’d be feeding the lion.

    1. I don’t know why they do that. They seem oblivious to harm – until the first second of the first day of hunting season then they vanish. It is good to see them though. When we were kids, turkeys and geese were rare – especially in the Midwest. Now they are everywhere.

      We live next to a bird sanctuary (I joke that it is a mosquito refuge) and we see more and more cranes and herons each year.. A great deal of this is attributable to Duck Unlimited who works to re-establish breeding ground in the Midwest and Canada.

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