Down Home: The Mountain Lion

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Storytelling is a fine art in the part of the country where I was raised.  We often visit those same places in our travels today.  Tall tales are told in various events often called a “Liars Contest.”  The stories are most often told in the first person and are very often either humorous or scary.  Most stories are passed down from one teller to the other by the oral tradition.  Many of the stories also had some moral or philosophical teaching attached to the tale.  Most of the ones in my memory had something to do with animals like the family story about my grandfather and the mule. What follows is a traditional story heard in recent days at a music festival in West Virginia.  The story was told by a contestant in the Liars Contest at the festival.  Follow over the fold and down the trail to Possum Valley for another tale from possum and his friends.

The possum family travels at regular intervals to various points mostly inside the United States.  One recent trek took us to California just about 30 miles inland from the ocean in a mountainous part of southern California.  We stayed in a small cabin as part of a larger contingent of folk attending a convention of sorts at the site. 

One morning I took it upon myself to take a walk for health and refreshment.  Trails led from the back of the convention site into a large forested area.  The first sight along the trail was a bulletin board with various rules and regulations for the forest.  In the middle of the postings was a computer generated picture of a mountain lion with the warning:  MOUNTAIN LIONS SIGHTED IN THIS AREA. 

hacker, Flickr, Creative Commons

The poster went on to suggest actions one should take in case of face-to-face confrontation with a mountain lion.

alexstaubo, Flickr, Creative Commons

The first thing to do is to make one’s self look as large as possible.  Well, that is pretty tough for a guy like me who as a teen could turn sideways and hide behind a small sapling.  Time has expanded the girth a bit, but not so much as to be very noticeable.

The second recommendation is look the animal right in the eye.  “Stare with focus and intensity,” the sign said.  OK, that seemed like a fine idea and one that could be managed without real difficulty.

Last, but not least, move backward away from the mountain lion.  Well, for a change there was some real sense in this thing.  Moving away with all alacrity seemed to me to be a reasonable idea, but the sign suggested moving slowly.  Food for thought I thought.

I took the trek in spite of the warnings thinking that this was too beautiful a day to be in any sort of danger at all.  The trail twisted and turned along a mountain ridge.  The river could be heard not far away down the slope.  Just around one turn I came face to face with the world’s biggest, meanest, fangs hanging down, saliva dripping, chipmunk.

ogwen, Flickr, Creative Commons

And right behind that chipmunk was the world’s biggest, meanest, fangs hanging down, mountain lion ever seen in those parts.

guppiecat, Flickr, Creative Commons

That mountain lion took one look at me and must have thought to himself that here was a better breakfast than one little chipmunk.  As soon as that chipmunk saw the mountain lion looking at me, he took advantage of the situation and headed off into the underbrush alongside the trail.

I thought of the poster back at the beginning of the trail, lifted my T-shirt and tried to look as big as possible.  The effect was more of one large pop tart than of any real threat to the mountain lion.  He continue to stare while I stared back and tried to back away slowly.  All the while my mind was whirring with ways to end this standoff without my ending my days on this earth.

A vision of Tarzan came to mind.  Whenever a lion attacked Tarzan, he ducked down under the leaping cat, reached up and grabbed the lion in midair, twisted him around and caught the animal in a full Nelson over his shoulder.  The technique always seemed to work for Tarzan so why not for me?  Now just remember that large pop tart and think how afraid you’d be if a pop tart attacked you in the kitchen one morning before breakfast.

The mountain lion soon tired of staring and leapt.  I ducked down, reached up and caught the creature in midair, twisted him around, and caught him in a full Nelson over my right shoulder.  There we stood.  The mountain lion was restrained, but was beginning to be pretty unhappy at his circumstance.  The situation was not helped one little bit by the presence of the chipmunk who had returned to say, “Nanny, nanny, boo-boo” to the mountain lion. 

My mind continued to whirl.  What was I going to do with a live and angry mountain lion?  I could not let him loose for fear of another attack nor could I hold him this way for very long.  Suddenly inspiration struck like a lightning bolt.  I was once a preacher.  For several years I delivered a sermon every Sunday.  I learned people were affected one of two ways by such sermons.  Either they were saved or they went to sleep.  I began to preach with all my might.  Pretty soon that mountain lion was sound asleep and snoring.

That brought a new dilemma–what to do with a sleeping mountain lion?  I was afraid to put him down for fear he’d wake up and attack again.  I could not hold him forever either.  The idea of a baptism came to mind.  After all if he were saved he might just begin to find a new way of life and not attack me after all.

Off to the river I headed.  Now my preaching was in a church that sprinkled folk, but I didn’t really know about the lion.  I thought he might be from a different line of thinking and maybe a real dunking would be a better way to go.  We reached the river and I waded in.  I dunked that mountain lion right under the water.  When we came up for air he was mighty miffed.  In fact that wet cat was downright angry all over again.  I had forgotten how much cats dislike water.

Then I remembered that cats have nine lives.  That meant he needed to be baptized nine times to save all of his lives.  Back to dunking I went.  We dunked about seven or eight times when a voice from the bank rang out, “Unhand that mountain lion!”  On the bank was this vision of long golden hair in the sunlight.  Closer examination revealed a woman wearing a uniform.  She held out a wallet with a badge and underneath fell a foldout of various membership and identification cards.  She was an officer of the California Department of Natural Resources and a card carrying member of the Audubon Society, the Tea Drinkers of America, Yogurt Consumers Association, and about a dozen other nature and natural resource societies.

Without even thinking about what I was doing I let loose that wet and angry cat.  He went off to the right toward the bank while I headed to the left.  That was the last either the mountain lion or I saw of each other.  And that is the end of this tale.

Moral:  Experience is what you get most often just after you needed it.

Down Home: Hunter’s Stew © – Possum Tales

(This is a Possum Tale! Dear readers, we are so very privileged. Possum is cooking tonight. Dinner is served. Please join in the delights. The smells coming from the kitchen are delicious. I am hungry with anticipation, are you? – promoted by Betsy L. Angert)

Cooking was a ritual experience in so many ways in my childhood.  Family reunions, church suppers, supper at home, and the occasional special dinner were all associated with cooking rituals that were observed in religious fashion among my family members.  Follow out the door, hover over the kettle, and listen, children, to another of the possum’s tales.

My father was an old timey country cook who apparently learned both from his mother and from the school of hard knocks.  Of course there were lessons in his college time working in a cafeteria.  All added together to make Dad a pretty fine cook in his style.  Once a year my father put on a special dinner for invited men (only men, no women or children allowed for this one).  The main course was Kentucky burgoo, a traditional hunter’s stew for which basic recipes are all similar, but then each cook made his own variant.

Each year Dad started a wood fire early in the morning.  Always an early riser, on these days he was out even earlier.  The cooking was done about 100 feet from the house in a very traditional spot behind the crape myrtle hedge, beside the old office (now a dog kennel).  Wood was always the fuel of choice and was obtained in advance from local farmers with woods on their property.  The stew was prepared in a large cast iron cauldron (probably about 30 gallon capacity).  Water was heated to near boiling before foodstuffs were added.

The recipe varied from year to year depending on what we had left in the freezer.  Various sorts of game animals (rabbit, quail, venison, duck, goose, squirrel, or any other available) were basic to the recipe.  Beef or pork were used as supplemental meats if the freezer was not well stocked.  Fish was not added to this particular dish, or at least not by my dad.  Vegetables including carrots, potatoes, peas, celery, tomatoes, and beans were added fresh from local farms or the market just down the road.  Seasonings including copious amounts of salt, pepper, and various spices were added to the mix.  My father was particularly fond of Tobasco sauce and vinegar in all his cooking and so large amounts of each were poured right in.

Tasting went on all day as the mixture simmered slowly.  By the end of the day the stew was a dark brown, thick mixture that could be smelled for quite a distance.  Once guests began to arrive, us kids were herded into the house.  We were allowed plates of the stew, but we were not encouraged to eat heartily.  This party was for the men.

Those dinners were held in our large, old, two-car garage.  Tables were made of planks on sawhorses.  I never knew where chairs were found.  As I remember there were usually about 50 men consuming stew and drinking fine whiskey on those evenings.  The stew, by the time of eating was cooked down so far that all meat was off the bones.  A plate of leavings would have a small pile of bones, but all the thick, rich gravy was sopped up with bread by the men.  Loaves of white bread from the grocery store were my father’s choice for those meals.  We boys were long asleep before the event ended and folk went home.  We awoke to the leavings the next day and were encouraged to help with cleanup.

One fateful time Dad was cooking about mid-morning when vinegar time arrived.  The amount of vinegar consumed in our household meant we always had gallon jugs of vinegar in the closet.  In those days every liquid came in glass jugs or jars including laundry detergent.  For reasons that will never quite be clear, Dad picked up the detergent instead of the vinegar and ruined the entire batch of stew.  Such sadness was rarely expressed by my father in all his days.  The stew was poured out.  The party was called off. 

My father was a quiet and soft-spoken man who rarely ever expressed any feelings about life.  He had opinions about how life should be lived, but otherwise he kept pretty quiet.  He never talked about politics or religion for fear of offending someone who might be a client.  We as a family were taught to keep our opinions to ourselves for the same reasons.  Never again was that batch of stew mentioned in our household and never again did Dad cook burgoo.

Crossposted at Daily Kos and NION.