Lately I’ve had several experiences that have challenged my desire to live in Golden, NM. Individually, these experiences are not things that would send an outdoorsy person packing, but taken together – well, you’ll soon understand.
Dusk, Approaching Storm
The first in the string of events happened maybe six weeks ago. I was hiking with my dogs along our favorite trail in the Sandia Mountains. I really enjoy my hikes in the Sandias because I get to hike in tree cover as opposed to my daily routine of rock, sun-baked dust, pinon, chamisa and cactus. I usually let the dogs off-leash once I’m away from the road, and we hiked this way for most of the trail. Towards the end of the trail, near where a 1/4 mile spur takes you back to the parking area, I just had a feeling I should put their leashes on. As we walked along the path I heard a rustle and saw some brush moving down the trail on my left. I was very curious about what could be making so large of a disturbance – I guessed it was something a bit smaller than my dogs 35 and 45 pound dogs. As we got to the point where I had seen the rustling brush I turned my head and came eye to eye with a bear cub peaking out from it perch about 4′ up a tree. I sensed something watching me on the right of the trail but did not want to be eye to eye with mama whilst in between her and her cub. Without thinking twice, I simply pretended that I didn’t see the cub and cheerfully encouraged my dogs on down the trail. My heart beat like a hammer with every step I took. I was trying to stay calm and not give off any sense of fear or stress. I didn’t let my mind go to thoughts of an attack, I just put one foot in front of the other until I was far enough away to take a big gasp of breath and count my blessings.
I talked to some rangers and locals and found out that the bears had been very active this summer. There are five 3-year olds that were on their own this summer, that means five juvenile but full-grown bears looking for territory. This spring another set of twins and triplets born last spring. The bear population is too big for the small confines of the national forest – the only place that hasn’t been taken over by highways and sprawl. I was saddened to hear that two of the young bears where hit trying to cross the highway.
The next few weeks I stayed away from the Sandias, a little shaken by my experience. I returned instead to my daily walks on the vast expanse of old mining roads behind my house. Looking back, knowing what I know now, I shiver a little bit when I think of those late September walks and the danger that was so close at hand. I quickly became aware of my mortality on a Tuesday evening in early October. Dusk was falling, the setting sun casting a golden and red glow on the land. I heard the dogs outside start barking intensely and incessantly. After several minutes I went out on the porch to investigate. I asked them what they were barking at and they pointed there noses north-east, towards the gate that we use to take our walks. I saw something move, something big. I assumed it was brother coyote, a desert constant. But then I saw the golden tail that swooped all the way to the ground and curved up again, the white butt contrasting with tawny flanks. The slow, unconcerned gait. A mountain lion. The demeanor gave it away quicker than anything; here my dogs were barking up a storm trying to be very fur-ocius and this giant cat is just ambling towards them like it was checking out the menu board at a local deli.
Needless to say, since then I’ve been a little nervous on my walks. In fact, I didn’t step foot past the fence for a whole week. Seeing the cat had brought together a string of evidence that confirmed a suspicion I had since August, that a young cat had moved in and decided to stay. Some of this evidence including morning scat so fresh it would have been steaming had it been colder air temperature. But mostly it was just a feeling.
After I saw the mountain lion and quite taking my morning and evening walks I began having doubt about staying long term in Golden. My walks where already tense with a constant vigil for rattlesnakes. And then there are the ubiquitous mine shafts and air holes pock-marking the landscape – trying to keep the dogs from running across these as they madly chase after rabbits is an exercise in futility. Then there’s the human element. Some of the people who wonder back there are friendly miners with legitimate claims, but most of the folks who are back there have less then lawful reasons for being there. I started thinking: “lions, bears, rattlesnakes, cactus, migrating tarantulas and the tarantula wasps that hunt them, hunta virus infected mice, poisonous 6″ centipedes, children of the earth, mine shafts, gun-happy poachers and meth-cookers – ok already!”
Maybe I’ve had my fill of the country, maybe city living isn’t so bad after all . . .