Roy and the Mountain Lion
This is the tenth story in a series of children’s fiction. More are coming. I hope you will take the time to read this and the previous ones to your kids or a child you know. Forward them on to friends. A recent survey indicated the average time a parent and child spend together per day is nine minutes (not counting watching TV or watching them at computer games.) Reading to kids is a lost activity. Child psychologists recommend parents and grandparents read more to children.
(Background – Ambrose Dimwitty has a son, Roy, who he has discovered has a special ability to communicate with animals. This story is one of a series he included in a book of his sons adventures. The stories are fiction but are based upon real life adventures of the author.)
Roy slept restlessly on a bed of dry pine needles next to the beaver pond until something awakened him. A strange musty odor, that he could not identify, hung on the cool night air. He lay still, so as not to disturb his sister Millie who slept curled up beside him. An owl called in the distance and crickets chirped incessantly, but Roy’s keen ears picked up another sound. It was too dark to see but not far away he thought he heard the rapid, husky breathing of a large animal. Roy lay quietly in the darkness waiting for the morning sky to gradually lighten the gloom of the late August night. As soon as they could see, the kids planned make their way back to Hidden Valley Ranch and let everyone know that they were OK.
Just twenty-four hours ago my family was sleeping comfortably in our little cabin, on the slope of Coronary Hill, overlooking The Hidden Valley Family Ranch. The ranch was situated deep in the Pike National Forest in Colorado and at that altitude the nights were chilly although the days were still usually sunny and pleasant. The occasional light snow, that greeted us in the morning, vanished into the warm earth by noon. Each morning we bundled up and walked together down the trail to the Ranch House and enjoyed a hot breakfast and warming fire in the great stone fireplace. From our cabin we could see the whole length of the valley, including most of the ranch buildings, the bunk house, and the corral with thirty head of horses standing motionless in little groups. The valley stretched about two miles from east to west and was a half-mile wide. It had a picturesque, gurgling trout stream that meandered back and forth across the lush pastureland. About fifty head of Hereford cattle were scattered around the floor of the valley like little brown statutes against the meadow’s emerald grass. The ranch buildings were in the valley but all of the guest cabins were in the pine forest on the South slope.
Roy and I were usually up and dressed each morning before his mom, Maggie, and sister Millie. We sat out on the porch of the cabin and watched for movement down in the valley, and above it. A pair of hawks and their young regularly hunted the meadow making dramatic attack dives after mice, rabbits, gophers, and snakes. There was a bounty of other life in the valley and surrounding wooded slopes as well, including brown and rainbow trout, frogs, raccoons, and mule deer. Stellar Jays woke the Dimwittys every morning and an owl serenaded them at night. Roy and I noted that a pair of coyotes appeared at first light and romped through the meadow until they spooked a rabbit. It always took close cooperation between them to actually make a kill; their prey usually escaped in the tall grass or down a hole. The little valley was a wonderland of ecology that Roy and I never tired of.
However, at that moment alone in the dark mountains, Roy was on his own and he felt responsible for his sister Millie sleeping beside him. Roy opened his eyes and cautiously looked around without moving his head. He continued breathing slowly so whatever was out there, if there really was something, would not suspect he was awake. There was a crescent moon above somewhere but it didn’t help because very little light penetrated the heavy pine and aspen canopy of leaves. Even with his eyes open he could see nothing but dark shadows among the flickering moon beams. Perhaps it was just his imagination and nothing was really out there after all. Roy lay quietly, eager for morning light, and not totally convinced that he and Millie were alone.
Roy thought about the day’s activities. That morning, after breakfast, Roy and Millie saddled up their horses and rode out along the creek with the intention of following it into the mountains until they found a beaver pond. They packed a lunch and a canteen of water. Roy even brought alone his compass just in case he needed it. The two of them rode all morning not realizing that they had gone so far up the creek. Finally, they reached a small high valley with a string of active beaver dams. Each beaver family had taken good advantage of the little creek and abundant Aspen groves on all sides.
Roy and Millie dismounted, took the saddles off the horses, and tied them up while they explored each pond on foot. The Aspen had already turned a bright gold and painted the forest floor with a tinge of yellow. The kids counted hundreds of Aspen stumps and multiple water filled beaver channels leading off in all directions from each pond. They were so engrossed watching the beaver kits play and the adults work busily cutting trees and dragging branches along the channels back to the pond, that they lost track of time. Sometime while the kids were out exploring, the horses had apparently decided to head back to the ranch on their own. It looked as if they just pulled on their bridles until they were free. The kids never even missed them until lengthening shadows and evening chill told them it was getting late and they should hurry back to the ranch. Roy was upset with himself for not tying the horses more securely, but the damage was done and he vowed he would not make that mistake ever again.
When the kid’s horses returned to the ranch without them that afternoon, there was great concern. Maggie and I, and the ranch hands were worried. They sent out search parties until dark. Unfortunately, they had no idea where to look because Roy and Millie had neglected to tell anyone where they were going. Roy readily accepted the blame for this oversight, but at least he wasn’t lost. He knew exactly how to get back to the Ranch but it was just too dark that night to see the trail. They would have to spend a cold night at the beaver pond on a bed of pine needles in the dark. The next morning they would be able to walk back to the ranch by retracing their steps along the creek.
A gentle tap on his shoulder abruptly interrupted Roy’s restless sleep. His first thoughts were that someone from the ranch had somehow found them, so he rolled over and looked in the direction of the tap. At first, he could make out nothing but dark shadows but finally his eyes focused on a dark shape, lying not more than three feet away. He finally realized this dark shape was some kind of large animal. What appeared to be a large dark paw reached out and gently tapped Roy’s cheek, like a cat’s paw playing with a mouse. Roy was amazed at the softness of the touch but still he did not move. Roy felt his heart pounding in his chest; it seemed loud enough to wake his sister.
Even though Roy had not identified the mysterious animal in the dark, he felt he should do something. He started talking softly to the dark shape next to him as he had done so often to animals in the past. He realized the animal would not comprehend his words, but the sound of his voice was sincere and non-threatening. Such tactics had worked before with large dangerous animals so Roy hoped it would work again with this creature. His dad had a theory that Roy could communicate with animals in some mysterious way, perhaps by voice or through body language.
“Hi, I’m Roy and I want to be your friend. I mean you no harm,” he murmured very softly, almost in a whisper. “Who are you? Have you come to pay us a visit?” Of course Roy’s words were meaningless to the animal, whatever it was, but their sound carried a clear non-threatening message.
Roy heard a low rumble come from the dark shape beside him as it moved closer, until it was inches from him. Roy could now see the broad, black nose and large, round pupils that identified the creature before him. A large mountain lion, (often called, puma, catamount and cougar,) was curiously sniffing his face. Roy knew that it could have easily attacked and killed Millie and him while they slept, but for some unknown reason had not. Roy felt the big cat’s warm pungent breath on his face and, then momentarily, their noses touched. The cat lowered its head like a big tabby and rubbed its face against Roy’s face. Its stiff whiskers tickled his cheeks; a rough tongue slurped across the side of his head. Roy relaxed somewhat at this friendly greeting and cautiously reached back to squeeze Millie’s arm and awaken her.
Roy’s movement and one-sided conversation with the cat had already awakened Millie, but to her credit, she had not moved or cried out in alarm. She was well aware of their potential danger but she also was aware of her brother’s special ability with animals. After all, she had been involved in many of his past animal encounters.
In the past, Millie often acted spontaneously without thinking and this habit earned her the nickname of Silly Milly. Perhaps that was why she boldly reached across her brother to touch the lion before Roy could stop her. Without interruption, the deep rumbling purr continued and encouraged Millie to continue stroking the lion’s face and ears as if it were just a pet dog. Roy continued conversing softly with the cat, watching its apparent pleasure with Millie’s caresses. Eventually the lion moved closer to the kids, rested its sleek head on Roy’s chest and closed its eyes. Millie continued to stroke its face, ears and neck while Roy put his arm around it and ran his hand down its soft, muscular back. It would have been a strange sight had any one been there to witness it. In the dark, on a bed of pine needles three bodies lay peacefully together. Two kids from the Bronx, NYC, and a wild cougar from the Colorado Mountains that, before this encounter, had never felt the touch of a human hand.
Roy and I had no scientific explanation of the affinity he had with animals. Even the staff at the Bronx Zoo back home were baffled. No one would ever believe this latest story were they to tell it to the folks at the ranch or their friends back home in the Bronx. No one, except of course, Maggie and me. To us, this would be another amazing story to be added to the list of strange events that made our son special.
The lion left the kids sometime before the eastern sky began to lighten. It had heard something out in the darkness. It stood up and melted into the night without a sound. Not long after, the kids heard a blood-curdling cry in the darkness and some crashing branches along the creek. It sounded to Roy and Millie that their feline friend had made a kill not too far away.
The kids did not sleep anymore that night. They lay on their pine needle bed and shivered while they waited for morning. As soon as it was light enough to see, Roy and Millie started off along the creek, that would eventually lead them back to the ranch. They had not walked more than five minutes when they came across the place where the great cat had made its kill. A partially eaten, young mule deer lay next to the creek. Grass and nearby saplings were flattened to the ground and blood was everywhere. The kids stopped and looked around for their friend, but could see nothing.
At that very moment, they heard a shout from down the trail; some one was calling their names. It was the search party on horseback, moving at a gallop in the kid’s direction, and I was with them. It was a sweet reunion; I hugged the kids while the ranch hands checked them out to see if they were OK.
The rescue party noticed the freshly killed deer at their feet and splattered blood on the trail and in the grass. They felt that the mountain lion might be nearby watching them at that very moment. In fact, the horses were uneasy and whinnied nervously. The ranch hands had brought two extra horses with them for Roy and Millie so they were soon mounted and on their way along the creek back to the ranch.
The ranch hands and other guests asked many questions about their adventure and the kids answered honestly. “Yes”, they had heard the lion prowling around them in the night. And “Yes”, they heard the sound of the kill, but they never mentioned that the lion had spent some of the night snuggled up next to them. No one would have believed them anyway. After breakfast, when the family returned to the cabin, the kids told the complete story, to our wonderment. Maggie fretted and worried that the kids might have been hurt and she scolded Roy for not telling anyone where they were going, and for letting the horses get away, and for losing track of the time, and for riding too far away. Roy accepted his mom’s scolding and apologized to us. I didn’t say much. I sat patiently and listened to the kids’ story with a twinkle in my eyes so Maggie told me.
That afternoon after lunch, as Maggie sat by the pool and played cards with other guests, Roy, Millie, and I went on a secret trail ride and returned to the beaver ponds. We relived last night’s adventure in detail. I wanted to hear everything again and, of course, we all hoped to see the cougar again, but there was no sign of it. I listened attentively and asked all sorts of questions. I planed to record their adventures in my journal. I was proud of my kids and hoped to publish their adventures in a book for children. Adults wouldn’t believe the stories but kids would love them. True, the stories were mysterious; but then again, they were not so strange that they could not have really happened. I didn’t care if some people considered the stories about my son to be fiction or not. I wanted the stories to touch the hearts of kids and adults and give all readers a greater love and appreciation for animals and the endangered environment.