Saturday, December 06, 2008

Lions, and (No) Tigers, and Bears (Sort Of), Oh My!

"IF YOU SHOULD ENCOUNTER A MOUNTAIN LION, WAVE YOUR ARMS OVERHEAD AND MAKE PLENTY OF NOISE TO FRIGHTEN IT AWAY. Report any wildlife that displays aggressive behavior or does not retreat when confronted by loud or assertive human actions to Park Headquarters or to the Department of Fish and Game."

I happen to be attending a math educators' conference at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, CA (right near Monterey, which is where I'm actually staying). This is (since I've never been one of those lucky few who finds herself headed to places like Hawai'i for conferences), hands-down, the most beautiful conference venue I've ever seen. It most certainly beats Anaheim, which is where I've ended up the past two times I've attended conferences in California.

So, I guess one of the pitfalls of attending a conference in a state park is that nonhuman animals like to hang out and hold their conferences in beautiful places as well. Specifically, judging from the fact that I've seen two signs indicating such, mountain lions. The quote above is featured on these signs. That first sentence is, I'm guessing, PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT.

Really? That's what one does when confronted with a mountain lion in her path? Well, I suppose mountain lions do happen to be related to the common household cat. And judging by the behavior of 99.8% (can you tell I've been at a math conference?) of all the domestic cats I've encountered in my life, I'd say the magic formula for getting cats to disappear into thin air (or at least to hide under the bushes for hours on end) is to wave your arms over your head and make plenty of noise. I trust that if someone has just walked into my house who is dying to meet my cat, such extremes as arm-waving and yelling probably aren't even necessary. A mere wriggle of a pinky finger and a whisper would probably suffice in keeping him out of sight until this suspicious stranger who has invaded his turf decides to leave.

However, do I trust that when confronted by something that weighs 10 times what my kitty weighs, and that is poised in that very-familiar-about-to-pounce-and-attack position, that a mere wave of my arms and a few shouts is going to scare him away? Even when I'm told, in capital letters, that's what I should do? Do I trust that I'm not either going to a. be frozen to the spot or b. run like hell? (For those of you who might be wondering, these are rhetorical questions.)

Here's an even better (rhetorical) question. Suppose I've turned and run, thus convincing the mountain lion that I am a fun little toy to bat about, kick, and chew on for a while before settling down in a nice spot in the sun to wash his paws. Am I supposed to report this "wildlife that displays aggressive behavior and does not retreat" to Park Headquarters if I am lying on the ground, missing half my face and bleeding profusely from the place where my right arm used to be? Maybe someone will come along and find me, infer what has happened, and report the mountain lion for me? But by then, my guess is that Mr. Lion will have wandered way off in search of food and other toys.

I remember when we were in New Mexico, seeing similar signs about bears. I can't remember the exact wording, but the advice concerning bears was even more counter-intuitive than this advice about mountain lions (especially given the fact that I've never had nor known a common household bear): don't panic and lie still. Well, it might be pretty easy to do that if I've fainted from fear, but again, I'm probably most likely to resort to the old "flight" rather than "fight" instinct. I'm not a chihuahua or a terrier, so fighting, when confronted with something that much bigger than I, wouldn't cross my mind. Apparently, though, "going with your gut instinct" when encountering a bear is not a good idea. It seems bears most like to attack fleeing subjects.

Stastically, if confronted by either a mountain lion or a bear, I'm highly likely to get mauled, since I can't see myself remembering to follow the advice given. It's a good thing, then, that my chances of being confronted by either of these animals is quite slim. Don't get me wrong: I'd love to see a mountain lion running across the dunes above the waves crashing off the Pacific where I was walking yesterday, or sitting majestically atop one. I'd also love to see a bear lumbering down the side of a mountain. But I think I'd love to keep all my body parts in working order just a little more. So, it's zoos for me when it comes to close encounters of this kind, and I'll keep making lots of noise along the paths I hike when I see wildlife warnings of this sort, because, you know, I'm not too keen on being, "that poor woman who was mauled by a mountain lion at the math conference" for the rest of my life.


Anonymous said...

Wow--Asilomar. That is an awesome patch of the coast, less than two hours from where I used to live. If you can drive south a little bit towards Big Sur, do it, and stop at Nepenthe for lunch. Best views in the state, and Henry Miller used to live there.

litlove said...

Hilarious! You remind me of the old joke: What do you call an angry gorilla? - Sir. Do you think the people writing these signs actually think about the statistical likelihood of people shouting and waving in just the right way to scare the lion, rather than the way that inadvertently amuses it enormously and whets the appetite? I like my nature at the safe distance of the television set, thank you.

This is a perfect Emily post, by the way. So adorably you.

Anonymous said...

Well, I suppose if you ever do chance to meet a mountain lion or a bear you had better hope they aren't hungry! ;)

Eva said...

You're in PG?! We could've met up! :)

Emily Barton said...

Hobs, I did head down to Big Sur today (my only free afternoon before heading back). Absolutely beautiful! Lucky you, living near here.

Litlove, oh I love writing a "perfectly Emily post," whatever that is. Since it's adorable, it must be good.

Stef, yes, I'd better run into them after they've overstuffed themselves at some gourmet venue (like I did at lunch today).

Eva, so close, and yet so far! These conferences are so busy, there's not a lot of time for much else. Maybe next time, if I plan well in advance? I will say, as I did to Hobs, lucky, lucky you getting to live here.

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. The notice to report any mountain lions that don't run off when you wave your arms (and presumably eat you) belongs on one of those lists of hilarious signs from around the world.

Rebecca H. said...

I do kind of want to meet a bear in the wild, but it needs to be a nice safe eastern black bear -- no way do I want to see any large wildlife out in the west, which seems so much scarier and more dangerous. If I did have such an encounter, I'd get my directions mixed up and shout and wave at the bear and lie still with the mountain lion, and it would be a disaster.

Emily Barton said...

HPH, yes it does belong on a list of hilarious signs from around the world (especially since there is more than one sign that says it!).

Dorr, oh yes, a nice Eastern bear. I once heard about one that showed up in someone's swimming pool in Danbury and felt that having a swimming pool might be worth it if that were to happen!

Anonymous said...

I generally pfff cats away. I do not think it would work with big cats, though.

Susan said...

Unfortunately we have so many people who get attacked by bears, and some get eaten, that we are now all confused over what to do: do we wave our arms and shout? wear bells? Sing loud songs?run away? Don't run up a tree, either, apparently black bears can climb. Dogs are good to bring, except they get mauled too. Don't bring candy into your sleeping bag/tent, etc. And if you travel in a biking group, don't be the last one in the line, they are often the ones sadly attacked and eaten. All these are real-life cases, by the way!!!
So your post was hilarious! No one has these answers! In BC, mountain lions exist, and run away with small dogs and rarer, children. I'm not sure running at them helps.
And cities aren't proof, we once had a black bear and her two cubs on our bus transit way!
Sorry, are you nervous again? the wilds of Canada, indeed!!!