Letter from the Editor

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Where the wild things are...

It's the depths of winter in Iowa, we're cooped up with one another as cabin fever sets in, the thermometer reads a depressing 7 degrees as I write this, and we have nothing to argue about except Britney Spears' weirdness and mountain lions cruising Newell.

If I had to venture a guess, I'd bet that the mountain lion is closer to real than is Ms. Spears.

There are three general schools of thought around the coffeeshops and hunter internet sites on the Newell beast: A. Lion (polling about 2:1) B. Here kitty kitty; C. Fake-o-rama. Think whatever you will, I'm just glad we have something to talk about.

My philosophy is generally to trust someone until they prove you can't, and your basic Iowa farmer/hunter is a generally more worthy of trust than most. Why would these guys make up a lie and then attach their own names to it? And a guy who's a lifelong outsdoorsman gets a good long look through topnotch binoculars and can't tell a tabby cat from a mountain lion?

I've looked at the pictures like everyone else, wondered at the angle and the distance (300 yards?) talked to the DNR experts, even blown the images up to 10X - the first critter picture looks mountain lion-ish to me alright, the one in a second shot, more like a collie or a coyote - pointed ears and white-looking fur on front. If the tracks were indeed four inches across, as one veteran tracker tells us, that "housecat" is mainlining Barry Bonds steroids.

Bottom line, we didn't see it, so we don't know squat.

I do believe, however, that there are or have been cats among us - I was getting reports from local hunters I know and trust of mountain lion sightings not far from here, back when the DNR was lecturing me that it wasn't possible.

I think people would like to believe something exotic and rare could be true, and indeed other sightings have been mistakes and in few cases hoaxes). And I think the DNR wants to shut down reports before they scare people (or maybe they don't want the job of protecting such an animal?) Somewhere in the middle is the reality - there are mountain lions ranging into Iowa, but so few and far between and elusive that very, very few will ever see one. I would love to be be one of them.

With rural habitat in the midwest being soaked up by subdivisions, and the climate perhaps changing, some odd stuff is happening.

First 'yotes, then bobcats came back statewide. A wandering moose here and there. An occasional bear crossing into the state from Minnesota. Tons of bald eagles. An elk meandering near Spencer just a couple weeks ago. Great gray owls. Last fall, the first-ever sightings in the state of the black-tailed gull (from Japan!) and the fork-tailed flycatcher (from Costa Rica). The Great Plains skink and Leonard's Skipper butterfly have lately been discovered. Whooping cranes. Wild boar in east Iowa (from dumped hogs I'd wager). Next may be north Iowa wolf sightings, mark my words...

This isn't cryptozooly, just a reminder we don't know it all.

Not much surprises me any more.

A guy brought a full-grown Alaskan wolf into my office once. It sat in my chair - I did not ask it to leave.

Up at Okoboji, they showed me a couple of wicked-looking stuffed eels that enjoyed the local waters at one time, apparently.

I was taking pictures of a Civil War cannon battle recreation, of all things, in Circle Park, when a wild momma mink ran across my bare foot, with a baby clenched in her mouth.

I've had my lunch stolen by a ground squirrel, and have the picture to prove it. Come unexpectedly eyeball to eyeball with a big beaver in the tiny old pond on the Storm Lake golf course. Had a raccoon pop out of my garbage can in Ames. Encountered rattlesnakes on a river bluff. Had an owl, and later a possum, set up housekeeping in my garage here. And very nearly collided with a whitetail while biking in Lakeside late at night last summer.

I was in on a crew that found a pair of deer sunk up to their eyeballs in quicksand muck in the first dredging spoil site - by the time we got them out, we were muddier than they were.

I was volunteering for lake cleanup one time and found a dead turtle on the shoreline near Frank Starr - with a shell bigger than a jumbo pizza and front feet the same size as my hands - I've spent a lot of time on this lake and seen nothing like that before or since.

I must admit, I've even reported a "Bigfoot" sighting. According to a former deputy, an entire reputable family saw the large hair-covered creature from only a few feet away, having stopped their car to avoid hitting it. They were legitimately scared to death, and the deputy said that there were reports of livestock going missing in BV County over the next several days.

I figure the DNR is stocking sasquach into Iowa. Using black helicopters and embedded chips, no doubt.

My one and only cougar sighting in Storm Lake is this photo, which I took on Lake Avenue some years ago. I'd still like to know the story behind it. I'll bet he's never had the radio stolen out of his truck.

For one, I'm glad for the Newell mountain lion story, regardless. It's the time of year people need something to talk about.

Wander on, puss in boots, wander on.