Took some time today working on an old trail to the top of a sacred mountain in Snoqualmie Valley. This place has a powerful vibe, to put it lightly, and I helped my elder friend and family today in keeping the path alive. My mentor has had vision quests here many times, and supported others in doing so at this special place.
Stewarding land goes beyond Leafhopper Farm; it lives within, and down the block, around the corner, up the street. Backyard can be the stoop, a balcony, or two-thousand acres. The purpose of stewardship is just as broad, from self stewarding (in my case, putting bare feet on the earth and digging my hands into cultivated soil), to whole earth stewarding, we all play our part. Some are better at it than others, like any gift, but it’s a necessity for survival.
Place is so important. Cultivating relationship with that space can be fragile, like peeking into a thin veil, which snaps like a spiders web as you walk though, or spooking a wren into screeching alarm while you try to move quietly through a damp forest. Have these experiences, to stay alive and thriving. Too many of us have walked away from nature, the nature of self is fading with it. Who are we now?
The trail stewarded today has been walked by many people. One such animal, besides humans, is Puma concolor. The picture above shows old scratching marks on a downed log. Ever look at a house cat’s scratching post? Well, this kitty does the same thing. for the same reasons; territory. They tend space, to survive, and will fight fiercely for said space. Right now, in the neighborhood of Leafhopper Farm, cats like this, perhaps this very cat, because the farm is well within the normal territorial range of this animal (lowest range 10 miles, upper range 300-500) at about ten miles away from the farm.
Last month, a person was killed by a cougar in this very forest. Not more than a few miles from where I took this photo. It was the first time a human was killed by our apex predator in Washington State in almost 100 years, so this occurrence is VERY rare. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a cougar. However, certain behavioral choices on your part can greatly increase the possibility, like running, as the 13 year old boy who was last killed in 1924 did, or ride bikes early in the morning up in the deeper forests of The Cascades, as the most recent victims did in late May.
Here’s where the story does take a turn; in this more recent attack, the two bike riders chased off the cat with aggressive stand your ground tactics and even lifted their bikes up to look larger, threatening to throw them at the animal in defense. The cougar was chased off successfully, and that should have been the end of it, save for a few other circumstances which led to the death of one person, and serious mauling of the other.
It has come to light that the two people attacked were “transitioning”, and likely on hormones for the initial stage of shifting from one biological gender to another. These hormones are strong, and sweating off into the air during physical activity, like bike riding. The cougar got an initial whiff in his first attack, then, compelled by the hormones exuding from the two people, returned for another encounter. While gnawing the head of the female to male victim, who would most likely have been on testosterone in one form or another, confused the male cougar into think another male was in his territory (behavioral speculation). Meanwhile the other person, in pure panic, ran. This is the fatal action in most predator attacks, because the prey drive is compelled by fast movement. Having by now, tasted blood and been triggered by phenomenal ambush attack, the cat quickly dispatched the fleeing person and began feeding.
Wildlife biologists for The State of Washington said the cougar was emaciated. Below is a picture of the cat, reported to be a 3-4 year old male cat, weighing over 100 lbs, well within a healthy weight of a male mountain lion. (photo taken by Deedee Sun)
Our impact on the environment knows no bounds. and this is a great responsibility. There is always risk in going outside, but the most risky thing we all do in life is get into a vehicle on a daily basis. Fear of wild things is a reflection of our inner fear of rewilding. Our wild selves are very much alive within us, and without proper stewarding, we become monsters, unhinged by our addictions in dysfunctional living or flat out ignorance. I’m sure to be carrying any one of these faults within, and work to change them by connecting to what’s real around me, starting with the ecosystem I live in. That place can tell me everything about who and what my place is.
Another ancestor who “walks” the trail to the mountain is old growth Pseudotsuga menziesii. There are several along this steep slope, and they were only spared because they grew out of scree fields, and would have shattered into worthless splinters if cut onto the rocks below. This steep side of the climb up is the only grove. All other angles of this small peak were clear cut, and are still managed in active timber plans. It is special to have a grove of old trees standing close to home. The others I know of in my “back yard” are at Cherry Falls.
If the commercial forestry business. which owns and manages these old giants wanted to, they could fell these trees and have them air lifted out without harm to the priceless trunks, but then another problem arises. There are no more mills in Washington State to saw up old growth sized trees. They would have to go to Cananda, and that shipping cost alone would make the lumber price beyond marketable retail, but who knows what money could buy in the future, and I do not assume these trees are safe. Eventually they will die, as do we all. Let’s hope for them, like us, a healthy and happy long life.
Along the trail, this pillar of Dryocopus pileatus reaches all the way up the trunk. Peeling of this bark from a Thuja plicata was intentional, and done by someone with skill. I cannot guess exactly when the harvesting occurred, but it easily could have been before my lifetime. If this tree does mature, its growth rings will gradually re-envelope the dead core with living tissue as the tree matures. Nature always inspires, with durability and lasting action; a structure of exquisite beauty and violent memory. How many other eyes have gazed upon this forest and felt truly wild?