I never know who to root for in those predator / prey nature specials. Usually, the narrative is set up so that if you’re introduced to the lion first, you root for the lion. If it’s the gazelle, well then you’re hoping it speeds away to live another day. In real life, the roles of hero and villain are more subjective.
Now that we have a small piece of genuine wilderness in the Boulder foothills, we have an unedited look at the trials of life. I’ve lived in Colorado 17 years now and I’ve seen my share of wildlife but not nearly this intimate. The most spectacular, and a bit scary, was the first mountain lion kill-cache I’ve come across. The dogs were off leash (on our land) and started sniffing at what looked like a pile of dirt behind downed logs. It took a moment to see the tawny deer fur under the dust and pine needles. When it registered in my head what I was looking at, I knew we had to get the dogs on leash and out of there ASAP, which explains my lack of photos.
It was a proof-of-concept that mountain lions were indeed roaming our land—and that the pretty deer we see grazing on a daily basis have a permanent spot on the hit list. What was most impressive about the kill (a medium sized deer torso, minus the head) was how meticulously it was covered. There were no scratch marks on the ground and the duff and dirt nearby didn’t seem to be disturbed. Tucked against the downed logs, I walked 3 inches by it without seeing it. The debris was expertly sprinkled atop the carcass and there was no obvious scent and no gore. If the dogs hadn’t sniffed it out, I would not have seen it. Even though I knew the discovery meant business, I couldn’t help but be impressed at how masterfully the kill was concealed. If nothing else, it was a firm reminder to never underestimate how well adapted the local animals are to this environment.
As the seasons go by, there’s a lot to see. We have plenty of black bear scat, so they are patrolling the area. Gobbles ring out in the woods as turkeys somehow survive and prosper. My favorite local critters, the black, tufted Abert’s squirrels, scamper about in the trees. I figured these little guys were hunted by the birds of prey, including the bald eagles that regularly soar in the air above our cabin. When I came across my first bull snake on the land, I realized the squirrels have a threat from the ground as well (and bull snakes are good climbers, easily slithering up trees to attack bird and squirrel nests). Since it’s tough enough to thrive for the wildlife, we decided to show some patience ourselves. Rather than evict the woodpecker momma who had taken up resident in the side of our cabin, we allowed her chicks to fledge and be on their way before boarding up their nest. We have a role here too. Fundamentally, we must try to respectfully blend in rather than impose our heavy-handed will.
It’s a whole new world for man and dog alike. We’re learning to be more vigilant about being on leash, that’s for sure. I remind myself that despite many of these things being new to me, they are not new to the land. I’ve not seen an actual mountain lion yet, but I guarantee they’ve seen me. There are real consequences for disrespecting the realities of mountain living.
Soon we hope to install a couple of wildlife cameras to catch the action while we’re away. In the meantime, while it’s a bit intimidating, it’s also thrilling to be closer to nature operating under its own methods. It’s humbling to share space at the top of the food chain, though not a bad lesson to remember that humans prosper not because of their brawn but because of their brains.