Thursday, October 28, 2010

If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down....

Paul and I are at the Marconi Center, a coastal conference place just north of Point Reyes, on the incredible coast about an hour from San Francisco. The grounds -- which smell like eucalyptus, conifers, moss and rosemary-- are very dark at night, and we were walking up a steepish dark trail after the reading last night with two women we didn't know, participants in the conference. Somebody mentioned mountain lions, and we cheerfully recounted the story we'd head from a local fellow, who a few years back was walking in the middle of the day in the golden grasses up on the mountain above the dining hall when he saw such a creature stalking through the grass. He talked about how struck he was by the animal's movement, and I thought how much I'd love to see such a thing, even if were in the dark on the way back to our room. The women grew quiet after we told this story, and I admit that I found myself taking boyish pleasure in scaring them just a iittle with the idea of beastly proximity. I am afraid of various things, but mountain lions are not one of then, and I found myself quoting Jack Gibert's brilliant poem "A Brief for the Defense": "if the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should be grateful that our end had magnitude." I know there's a certain bravura jokiness in that sentence, but I also think I would rather be eaten by a cougar than, say, be devoured by an English Department. My companions did not see either the humor in this or the allure of magnitude, at least not at that moment on the dark path. And needless to say I don't really WANT to be eaten by a mountain lion. Not very much.

4 comments:

Kathleen said...

Makes me think of a scene in Songcatcher, when the woman collecting songs in the Appalachian Mountains comes running out of the woods and down the hill tearing off her clothes...to escape and distract a mountain lion!

Glenn Ingersoll said...

"If a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side, the pleasure, the privilege is mine!" -- The Smiths

We had a mountain lion show up in our Berkeley neighborhood a month or so ago. The Berkeley PD hunted it down and killed it in someone's back yard. A memorial for the lion -- flowers, pictures of pumas, explanatory materials -- were quickly put up in the parking lot of the drug store where the lion was first spotted.

sophie said...

ah - I'm having an amusing vision of righteously storming out of a large departmental meeting, stopping at the door and exclaiming haughtily, "I would rather be eaten by a cougar than devoured by an English Department !!" Not that this will happen anytime soon, but I'd like to keep the line in my pocket for a future scene. :) Thanks for the Jack Gilbert line too.

Charlotte said...

A girlfriend of mine did her PhD research on invasive and native frogs just north of there with one assistant. One evening, on returning to the car, they discovered from the tracks that they'd been followed by a mountain lion. Wendy remembered that the Indonesians wear masks on the back of their heads to deter big cats (who don't like to attack faces, they go for the back of the neck). For the rest of her research period (a couple of weeks) she and her assistant wore cheap Halloween masks on the backs of their heads while crouching along the banks of the Humboldt river (perfect prey position). "We looked silly," she said. "But we felt better."