Going on a Lion Hunt

February 07, 2022

 

Pinyon, Late AfternoonPinyon, Late AfternoonRed Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, Arizona

This article appeared in the third edition of Trouble magazine:

Going On a Lion Hunt

By Matt Witt

“Going on a lion hunt! But I’m not afraid! Cause I got my guns! And my bullets at my side!” – Scoutorama.com

“Going on a Lion Hunt” is a children’s activity used by Scout troops, summer camps, and others. I remember it from when I was a kid. Children get in a circle. The adult leader starts a call-and-response chant about going to hunt a lion. The kids call out that they are not afraid since they are bringing their guns on the hunt, and then they act out overcoming obstacles like muddy terrain, a river, a cave, and more.

“For those who long for rugged beauty unspoiled and untamed by man, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is one of the few places in the Southwest that can lay claim to such a lack of man's accomplishments. This area is home to black bear and mountain lion as well as a number of less celebrated but just as notable creatures.” – U.S. Forest Service

One morning in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness south of Flagstaff, Arizona, my brother, his son, and I encountered an older man in hunting clothes talking to someone by two-way radio.

Soon, we realized that the side of the hill ahead of us was crawling with hound dogs – running, sniffing, and baying.

At first, I was hesitant to approach the man. I live in Oregon, where armed men not long ago took over a national wildlife refuge for more than a month, trashed it, and threatened its employees, yet the leaders walked away scot free. The rural part of the state where I reside is increasingly plagued by armed groups that espouse a mixture of white male supremacy and hostility to public lands. Asking even innocent questions of strangers with guns could be a mistake.

But then again, the old man could be like a former neighbor of mine in rural Virginia. That neighbor hunted because he didn’t have a lot of extra money and counted on five deer per year as part of his household’s food supply. Although we didn’t hunt ourselves, we were willing to let that neighbor cross onto our land when he needed to fill his freezer.

So after a few minutes my brother and I asked this man what he was doing.  

“Nothing gets the blood pumping more than coming up on hounds that have bayed or treed a mountain lion!” Arizona Guided Hunts Outfitters

He said he was serving as the base for a group of men who were following ten hounds he had provided to them.

When he didn’t reveal more, I asked, “Are they tracking a mountain lion?”

“Correct,” he said.

When I asked how he knew the cougar was in the area, he said he had found a deer it had killed and eaten, and the dogs had followed the big cat’s scent from there.

We saw that he was closely monitoring a GPS device that received signals from transmitters attached to each dog so he could tell the men the hounds’ locations.

“Is the idea that the hounds will tree the cougar?” I asked.

“Correct,” he said.

If the hounds got close enough to the lion, ancient instinct would kick in from the time, long ago, when cougars had to fear packs of wolves. The terrified lion would climb a tree, knowing the hounds couldn’t do the same. Eventually, the men would arrive where the baying hounds were gathered and shoot the motionless cat at close range.

“I don’t know if we’ll get this one,” he said. “It’s a runner.”

“5 day Guided Mountain Lion Hunts are $5,000.00 per person. Weapon types can be archery, muzzleloader, centerfire rifle or centerfire handguns. Weapon choice is not as critical as other big game hunts.” – Arizona Guided Hunts Outfitters

“5 Days Any Legal Lion $5000. These hunts are conducted on side-by-side's or 4wheelers.” – Killer Lion Hunts Guides

It seemed the man wasn’t eager to share much more information, so we didn’t ask about the financial arrangement between him and the men who were following his dogs. But when I got home I searched online for the going rate. At $5,000 per person, this apparently is not a hobby for the Walmart worker who makes $11 an hour, or for teachers or health care workers or Uber drivers or anyone else who lives on a budget.

“Mountain lion hunting is meeting the Department’s management objective of… providing recreational opportunities for 6,000 hunters per year.” – Arizona Game and Fish Department

“As long as the mountain lion hunters are walking into the wilderness and are not using any mechanized form of transportation and no motorized equipment, they are legal under the Wilderness Act.” – U.S. Forest Service

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, “About 850 livestock operators presently graze 56,000 cattle on public lands in Arizona.” But protecting ranchers’ profits isn’t a significant reason for killing mountain lions. Only an average of 27 of the big cats are killed in Arizona each year because a rancher claimed a case of “cattle depredation” – less than one-thirteenth of the average annual “harvest” of lions in that state by “hunters” seeking “recreational opportunities.”

“Trophy hunters have killed approximately 29,000 lions in the U.S. in the last decade.” Humane Society Report, “Cecil 2,” 2016

“Since 1890, there have been 29 fatal attacks by mountain lions on humans in North America.” – Arizona Game and Fish Department

My brother, his son, and I left the old man and continued hiking. We could still hear the hounds’ baying and see their movements. I wondered if this might be my long-awaited chance to see a mountain lion. A few years ago, I came across fresh prints in newly fallen snow not far from my Oregon home. And my son and daughter-in-law saw one calmly walking through the woods only a couple hundred yards from our house. But I never have had that good fortune.

I found myself imagining the big cat racing across this Arizona trail in front of us, and wondered if we would try to use our hiking poles to fend off the dogs long enough for the cougar to escape, and what sort of confrontation that might create with the gunmen. That didn’t happen, of course, as the lion seemed to be getting away without our help.

During our time in the area, we climbed to the top of massive red rock formations caused by powerful natural forces over millions of years.

We walked on an iced-over stream that reflected reds and yellows coming from steep and narrow canyon walls.

We trekked for miles through clumps of giant old trees – pinyon, alligator bark juniper, oak, sycamore, and more – and wondered what will happen to them and other living things there as the climate continues to get hotter and drier.

“The southwestern United States is expected to become more prone to droughts with climate change. The resulting loss of vegetation will not only impact herbivores like mule deer; their main predator, mountain lions, might take an even larger hit.” – NASA

In our visit to red-rock wilderness we had gone on our own kind of hunt. But contrary to the old kids’ game, we were afraid – not of the lion, but for our common future.


New Start

January 25, 2022

New Start Along Bear Creek After FireNew Start Along Bear Creek After FireTalent, Oregon

This photo and text were published by New Verse News on Dec. 16, 2020:

NEW START

By Matt Witt

It used to be

that if you walked along Bear Creek

that runs next to town

you could see the stream

only in a few moments

because the view was blocked

by brambles of highly flammable blackberries

and tangles of branches.

 

Then this summer’s inferno

burned everything to ash,

clearing out the old understory

and leaving only a sprinkling of

charred tree trunks,

like ghosts from the past.

 

Now you can walk freely

across cleared black ground

and see how the stream community works,

the side creeks feeding it,

the ducks and coots and geese

finding food and

shelter from predators.

 

It used to be

that if you walked through town

you could see the money stream

only in a few moments

because the view was blocked

by fairy tales about

rugged individuals and

the generosity of the rich

without ever asking

who all that wealth was

taken from.

 

Then the fire burned everything to ash,

leaving those who could least afford it

to scramble for survival

while developers and bankers met

to discuss how they might profit

by grabbing up the close-in valuable land

and moving “their” workers,

many with brown skin,

to the valley’s outskirts,

all in the name of charity.

 

Now you can see

how money and power flow

from bottom to top

filling giant pools for a few

with not much left to trickle down.

 

Along Bear Creek,

just weeks after the fire,

small sprouts of green

bring the possibility of

a new community

better than the old

with each plant and bird and animal

doing its part.

 

In town,

new sprouts of community

are taking root too

as people work together

to make sure everyone has

food and shelter and hope

and to ask what we can do

so what grows back

will be better for all of us,

now that we can see.


The Executioner's Face

January 25, 2022

WelcomeWelcomeTalent, Oregon

The following was published Sept. 16, 2020 by New Verse News.

The Executioner's Face

By Matt Witt

We load the car --

two sets of clothes and

a lifetime of memories --

as skyscraper flames are destroying

hundreds of homes of

friends and neighbors

a mile away.

Did they get out in time?

And then what?

 

We hit the back roads,

searching for safety,

with Bob Dylan howling through car speakers:

"The soles of my feet,

I swear they're burning."

 

Decades of reports said

this was coming

without climate action.

"Hotter temperatures."

"Disappearing snowpack."

"More frequent and more intense fires."

"Urgent transition needed to solar."

"Rapid investment in energy efficiency."

 

We can already picture

the photos the media will feed us

of some scraggly guy with stringy hair

who may have dropped a match --

with headlines: “What caused the fire?”

 

There will be no photos of

corporate lobbyists

whose puppets for years said

let's double down on what got us here

or who gave us half measures

and asked for applause.

 

We drive through the smoke,

community destroyed,

and now Dylan’s voice is sounding more desperate:

"The executioner's face,” he wails,

“is always well hidden."


Legacy

December 31, 2021

Whitebark PineWhitebark PineCrater Lake National Park, Oregon

This poem and photo appeared in the third edition of Trouble magazine:

 

Legacy

By Matt Witt

 

Alone

trying to find my way up

with no trail

no footprints to follow

just snow

 

Through woods of firs and hemlocks

climbing steep open spaces

that would be meadows in summer

but now are huge white expanses

too cold to melt

 

Higher

a whitebark pine

alone

sticking out of the snow

 

After three miles

the Crater Lake rim

formed by a volcano

thousands of years ago

 

The lake

a caldera

twenty square miles

winter blue

 

Frigid wind

cornices of unsupported snow

one wrong step

into the water

two thousand feet below

and almost two thousand feet deep

 

To the left

a massive peak

named by white men

for a president’s son

 

To the right

another

named for a federal agent

who annihilated native people

 

Peaks named as if this place

is a monument

to their legacy

 

This place

that was here

long before us

and will be here

long after we

melt away

like the snow

I am standing on

 

Back then

average snowfall

was nearly twice

what it is now

and the lake and air

were many degrees cooler

 

Habitat for

furry pikas

whitebark pines

and gray-crowned rosy finches

already in danger

and that’s just the beginning

 

Our legacy

what to name it?


Migrant

December 11, 2021

Green-Tailed Towhee Taking a BathGreen-Tailed Towhee Taking a BathCascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon

This poem and photo were published by New Verse News on May 27, 2021.

MIGRANT

By Matt Witt

This green-tailed towhee
that weighs about an ounce
migrated more than 1,000 miles
from its wintering home in Mexico
to its annual nesting ground
in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument,
where I watched it taking a bath at a tiny spring.
 
It migrates every year,
eluding hawks and falcons,
braving snowstorms and lightning,
never losing its way.
 
This bird is a lot stronger
than I’ll ever be.
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