Life should have a neon sign: Enter at your own risk. If nothing else, human beings could sign a waiver upon the age of reason that says they understand and agree to the challenges and the dangers inherent to living on planet Earth. I’m talking less about our adventurous pursuits than our decisions to live close to mountain and wilderness areas.
Every year someone buys a cute A-frame with acreage and a rippling stream. From the deck of that house, they watch the deer and the antelope play. A home on the range. An American dream. But what should you do when the new neighbors show up to welcome you? They won’t bring an apple pie. I’m talking about the bobcats, black bears, grizzlies, and mountain lions, coming to join your barbecue. Stalking you on your morning hike. Rummaging through your garbage.
What do grizzlies and mountain lions eat? The answer is anything they want, including you. And that’s as it should be. If you want to commune with nature in safety, you can go to the zoo. But you won’t find me there. I choose to go into the backcountry, live in the mountains, and relax beneath the aspens. And I have a request: If I am ever mauled by a grizzly or stalked by a mountain lion, I don’t want you to hunt down the animal or say that she’s become too accustomed to humans or that he is unusually aggressive. I want you to let her be a grizzly. Let him be a lion.
I’m brought to tears when I hear about someone getting attacked by a mountain lion. Why? Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will track and kill the lion. It just doesn’t make sense to me. When someone breaks into my house or trespasses on my land, I have rights. What rights does a lion have when I am in his backyard? If you threaten my child, I’ll come at you with my claws out and teeth bared. Should we allow a grizzly with her cubs any less?
Let’s face it: you’re not likely to find a mountain lion cruising through downtown Denver, so when you decide to live where wildlife abounds, you’ve done just that—made a choice. And the animals shouldn’t have to pay for it. We must agree to be responsible stewards of the wild areas left on our planet. That means realizing that we are guests. The animals reserve the right to revoke our travel visas anytime they choose. And it’s amazing to me that they do so infrequently.
So, when you hear about a grizzly or mountain lion being seen near your home, put your garbage, bird feeders, pets, and kids inside. Make noise. Scare them away. And if by all means you are still worried about your safety or that of your children and pets, please do the animals a favor and kindly relocate to a place where you feel more comfortable. No one is forcing you to stay. But, if you sign the waiver and agree to experience life with all its risks and thrills—if you take responsibility for the ride—you’ll find wonder and awe on the journey.