One blustery and cold day in mid December four friendly faced animal trackers arrived at my house to hopefully help set some fears to rest. It had been an adventurous summer and fall around here, as you may well know if you have seen my previous postings, with the cougar roaming our area. I had been through all stages of emotion. Disbelief, wonder, denial, and then finally Primal Fear. This last emotion was odd to me and really foreign, and I know full well I never would have entered this paralyzing wasteland if it were not for the fact of my two little ones. But after the second personal sighting of this large feline, and then the subsequent sightings of close by neighbors, I realized I had to accept the fact that we were living with big cats. Then I had to figure out a way to deal with myself. I couldn't go around always looking up at the tress or over my shoulder. Thoughts of... what do I do if it grabs one of the kids and runs? Will I be calm and of sound mind if we have a run in face to face? I thought I knew the answer to these questions until I started doing some research. When I learned that a puma can spring forty or so feet I decided I was in over my head if it decides we are dinner. If I were alone, I know I'd be more calm, but I don't think calm is the emotion I would feel. No, definitely not calm. It was when I was putting up the Christmas lights on the front porch and was in a cold sweat that I realized I had a real problem. It was 35 degrees outside. Paranoia had set in. The trackers had heard about our goings on and offered to come out and have a look around. They were animal lovers just like me and wanted no harm to come to the animal, if in fact it could be determined that we all weren't seeing things. I awoke that day to a really cold, rainy, and windy day. What a day to cover 25 acres looking for clues. Our neighbor offered up their land as well because my instinct was that the cat was traveling our creek bed that runs through a really steep ravine, most of which is on their land. So here were my bright smiling faces ready to brave both wind and water. I had been slow cooking hot cocoa for them all day- after a few hours out there they were really going to deserve it. Hours passed and every now and then I caught a glimpse of them through the windows. They actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. I wasn't going to feel so bad if they turned up nothing. When they came back to the house I served cocoa and we sat around the kitchen table. I couldn't read their initial faces, but I soon figured out their odd looks as no one really wanted to be the first to enlighten me. While they were clearly excited, I think they knew that what they were about to tell me wasn't exactly the anecdote to my fear. The hike turned up nothing conclusive, just what we already knew. I had a virtual cougar paradise. Then, at the end of their foray, they decided to check out my hundred year old barn. What they took pictures of both astonished me and filled me with dread. Looking at the print for me was like looking at my first ultrasound- it had to be explained in detail. All I could see was limestone gibberish. Then they showed me a puma print alongside the gibberish. It became immediately clear. The cougar was catching a snooze in our upper loft of the barn. Inside my head, I was thinking that these could be old. It doesn't mean it is our cougar, right? I'll spare you the visual of the next photo, but they had proof that our little friend had visited in the recent past. Cougar poop has a distinct look. You never forget it once you see it. Matted with deer fur, it looks like a string of sausages. Their photo was as close to living proof as I was going to get that day, but there it was. It was a relief to know we weren't crazy, but then again, we had turned a whole new corner. Said poop is currently being analyzed under a microscope and a night vision camera is being set up in the barn. For weeks, coming in from the grocery store at night has been mind boggling. The barn is 50 feet from the house. You can only imagine how that must feel. An intruder? No problem, they would be dealt with and most likely carried out in a black bag. But a cougar, well, it's a little different. Even a gun doesn't do you much good. The skill required to actually take down a cougar is daunting. Try doing it while it has you by the back of the neck. Now that I have had a few weeks to adjust to this news I have made a sort of peace with this new inhabitant. I believe it's been here a lot longer than any of us are happy to admit. I think it is having a fine dining experience with all the deer, rabbit, livestock, and bird population. I think it has found a safe place to catch a snooze and stay somewhat sheltered. If like most puma, it runs through it's various haunts every few weeks, it explains why we still see domestic felines in the barn now and then, and bobcat in the fields. Make no mistake, when the big girl- or guy- is in town, you see NOTHING. I also hold a firm belief that if we remove this animal and it is part of a larger population, our next resident who takes over the territory may not be such a good neighbor. Knock on wood, but this one has left our dog alone, only been seen by complete accident, and hasn't willingly shown itself to a human. All in all, it sounds like a healthy individual. Welcome to our Wild Kingdom.