TERRY WOSTER: Can you talk, or are you in the basement?
It was the kind of news that used to prompt a late-evening call from my mom.
She’s been gone for nine years now, and she and I didn’t talk on the telephone often. I’d stop to see her for a bit if I traveled to her town, but neither of us was particularly comfortable on the phone. Even so, certain events were so amazing or frightening that my mom would grab the phone and give a call.
Severe storms in the Pierre area always brought a phone call — quickly if the television screen filled with scary, flashing red-and-yellow radar images, a bit later if it were a word story about a tornado somewhere in central South Dakota or a bit of flash flooding anywhere in Hughes or Stanley counties.
“Can you talk, or are you in the basement?” she’d say after I answered the phone.
Sometimes I knew the storm was on us, and I’d assure her that we were safe, the worst of it was past and this was just a fine time to talk a bit. Other times, I might have missed the news and the storm or hail or high wind might have been much farther away than the radar indicated. Then I might infuriate her by saying, “What’s going on? Why would we be in the basement?”
On those occasions, I’d sometimes have to hurry across the kitchen and family room to switch on the television to see if I could see what was frightening my mom. I would still reassure her that we were perfectly safe here in Pierre and that the funnel-shaped swirls on the radar screen were way, way north of town. We’d talk for a couple of minutes and say our goodbyes.
I thought immediately of those urgent phone calls a couple of days ago when the news broke about a mountain lion in the wooded area below Oahe Dam. It was a confirmed sighting, complete with pictures of a rather large cat strolling through some brush near a couple of trees. The pictures apparently were taken with a night camera. They’re pretty dramatic, at least to me, and they would have frightened the dickens out of my mom.
“Is that anywhere near your house?” she’d have asked when I answered the phone. “Don’t go out at night alone, not even to empty the garbage. He might be prowling in your neighborhood. There are deer around there sometimes.”
Well, yes, there are deer now and then wandering through the streets in my neighborhood a few blocks from the Capitol building. There are deer and pheasants and rabbits and a few other wild creatures in Hilger’s Gulch, a popular, scenic walking area just north of the Capitol. On the east side of the gulch, a wooded area includes stone markers for each of South Dakota’s governors. It’s a lovely place, with a winding sidewalk.
Now and then when Nancy and I have walked that area late in the evening, I’ve had the unsettling feeling that something was watching, not to say stalking, me. If I were a mountain lion in the Pierre area, though, I might hang around that wooded area. Sure, there are people. There are also plenty of wild animals for food and nearby water. It’s sheltered and to my non-lion way of thinking, a fine place to spend some down time.
Of course, I thought that about the dirt bike trail I used to take from the marina near St. Mary’s Hospital to Farm Island. It was a great ride, until it occurred to me that it was also great mountain lion country, especially when the old guy on the bike looked a lot like a meal on wheels.
So I switched gears and started riding across the Missouri River bridge and along a paved trail that leads to the campgrounds below Oahe Dam. I haven’t made that ride for a while. I did it in the evenings after work sometimes and, again, eventually I realized it was prime mountain lion territory.
Turns out, I was right that time.
If my mom were alive, I’d give her a call and thank her for worrying all those years.