"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

-- The Dalai Lama

Sunday, March 13, 2005

For Janine: Tales from the Biosphere

Janine says:
I can't believe nobody has asked this yet: I want to hear Biosphere stories!
For those of you who aren't familiar with the Biosphere (and there's no real reason why you should be), here it is, in all of its glory:

I lived in a 4 bedroom house, located just to the left of this picture, with 7 other people. At 25 I was considered "old," and was never allowed to forget it! Although I had a great time during the semester, I never really "fit in" and was often desperate to get away from the very close quarters of the small village.

To that end, I decided it would be a good idea to set up camp in the middle of the desert and live out there. And so I did. To the right of the picture above there is a fairly good sized ridge and beyond that pure desert for a good ways. I set up my tent, a headlamp hanging from the ceiling for light, and it was there that I did my homework and slept. It was paradise. At night there was a big, bright moon, stars, and a velvet black sky. And perfect silence, aside from the occasional owl or coyote. Never before and never since have I felt such perfect peace.

Until one night, as I was heading out from the house toward my tent, around midnight. Pack on my back, Nalgene water bottle swinging from the side. Good sturdy boots on, with a Petzl headlamp lighting the way, I made my way along the top of the ridge to the little trail leading down into the desert, glancing down every few yards to not miss the turn. It was during one of these glances that I saw them. Two huge, green, glowing eyes calmly staring at me from just above the tips of the tall grass.

I froze. Time stood still as I thought the following thoughts, faster than I had ever thought thoughts before: "Is it a raccoon? No, too big for a raccoon. A deer? Eyes are in front of the head. Deer's eyes are on the sides of the head." Then the realization: It was a mountain lion. An honest to goodness mountain lion. Another quick series of thoughts: "Are mountain lions the ones you play dead with, or back away slowly? I'm pretty sure they are the back away slowly ones. If they come at you, are you supposed to run or fight back? I think the fight back ones are bears. Grizzly bears or black bears? Wait. That doesn't matter right now. You know, it's still looking at me. Maybe I should turn off the light."

And so, quick-witted me turns off the light so the human (me) in the situation cannot see while the feline (the mountain lion) still can. Good. The brilliant strategy continues with my reaching for my Nalgene bottle - because, yes, this is an excellent weapon for defending oneself against a giant cat.

Slowly, slowly, I backed away. No moon to help me out tonight, I'm engulfed in almost pitch dark, and now have no clear idea where the lion or the edge of the ridge are. About ten paces later I turn and walk very, very carefully in roughly the direction I came from. However, as I walked on, I become kind of agitated. I don't want to go back to the house in the village. I want to go to the peace of my tent. Am I some sort of scaredy-person (note the avoidance of the term "scaredy-cat")? No! I am indeed not some sort of scaredy person!

With defiance, I do a 180, turn the Petzl back on, and walk the slowest and most carefully I have ever walked, my eyes glues to the tops of the grasses. Finally, I make it to the turn, not spying the eyes and hoping against hope that the eyes have not spied me. I book it down the trail to the tent and hop inside, zipping that zipper as fast as it would zip.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep great that night. But I believe I would have slept worse had I tucked my tail and slinked back to the village, letting a little old mountain lion keep me from my desert.


Janine said...

What a great story -- I can't *believe* you went back to the tent for the night. That's fantastic. Thank you for sharing!

stag said...

That’s a great story. I can’t believe you went back towards the cat. There’s no way I would do that. I remember as a kid avoiding rooms for weeks after I’d seen a bug in them.

DeniseUMLaw said...

Way cool story! I'm right there with the rest of the scaredy cats; I'd have headed for safety!