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WOSTER: I know what I know, and that's what I know

My big brother, Jim, knows cattle markets, and my little brother, Kevin, knows the outdoors. Me? I know what I know.

I like to think of myself as pretty rational in most ways. I spent most of my life as a newspaper reporter covering state government, the state court system and the Legislature, and I developed a deep respect for facts. If I wanted to know how much was being spent on a program, I looked at the budget. If I wanted to know a Supreme Court decision, I read the published opinion. If I wanted to know who voted for a bill in the House or Senate, I read the journals. No sense coming up with my own facts if they existed from a source I generally could trust.

That's pretty much what my big brother used to do when he reported the livestock markets. The numbers he reported were the best ones available from his most trusted sources. At least that's what I always figured. Same way with my little brother and the outdoors. If he called some prairie vegetation bluestem, that's probably what it was.

We all grew up with an appreciation for facts. I find as I age, though, that in spite of my respect for facts, I inherited a bit of my mother's ability to "know what I know,'' facts notwithstanding. I don't do it all the time, and I usually limit it to a few topics. I'm probably rationalizing — well, I know I am — but it's relatively harmless, maybe? Here's an example:

I was reading something my little brother wrote the other day about the mountain lion population in South Dakota's Black Hills. The brother said he tended to think the lion population is trending down or at least has reached a plateau.

That reminded me of a conversation he and I had some time ago in which I suggested mountain lions, or cougars, were everywhere, wandering the state as freely as rabbits or prairie dogs. He didn't think so. He thought there might be an occasional lion out in the state somewhere, but mostly they hung close to the Black Hills. He cited wildlife studies and other sources.

OK, but he has always kind of hung out with Game, Fish and Parks experts and other outdoors folks who tend to think if a person sees something that looks like a mountain lion, it is probably just something that looks like a mountain lion and not really a lion at all.

That's sensible. They're the experts. They seem to have marshaled the facts.

Here's the deal, though. Every time I go out behind my garage at night to dump stuff in the garbage can, I'm aware that a mountain lion is watching me from somewhere nearby.

What? No, I can't prove it. I've never seen one. I don't see wicked yellow eyes gleaming from the neighbor's tree or anything like that. Don't be silly.

What it is, is that I can feel it. I can sense it. I'm pretty sure I know it's out there.

As I said, I can't prove it, at least not in the sense of, you know, facts. But it wasn't that long ago — OK, so maybe 6 or 7 million years ago if you listen to some of the experts, but that's a blink of an eye in the time-keeping of the Universe — that man had keen survival senses. You take that first man, hand him a big sack of garbage and send him out around the backside of my garage to put the trash in the dumpster. If there's danger out there, he'd sense it, wouldn't he? Assuming, I mean, that he's the one who survived to pass along the genes? Yes, he would. You know he would.

So what's to say I didn't inherit that set of genes? I can tell you this much. If my mother were alive and I told her I thought there was a mountain lion out in my alley somewhere, she wouldn't doubt it for a moment.

She knew what she knew, and I know she passed it on to her middle son.