I liked reading about the possibility that cougars have been visiting neighborhoods in the greater Seattle area. The article by Hannah Weinberger, “Unconfirmed Seattle cougar sighting is no reason for alarm, experts say,” was in Crosscut last week. It included a very convincing pair of pictures of a cougar wandering around Renton at night.
I’m a fan of urban wildlife. When you’ve been homeless, you can’t help but identify, especially if your own mode of survival was similar (staying out of sight).
The article recalls previous sightings of cougars. After multiple rumors of a cougar in Discovery Park, one was captured in 2009. The cougar was believed to have followed railroad lines from the north, the same route bears and deer have taken to get near Ballard.
As recently as 2019, a cougar somehow got on Mercer Island and was spotted along the southeast side. I wonder if it swam from Bellevue or Factoria. Surely it wouldn’t take Interstate 90. Oh, yes: It was about three miles from Cougar Mountain, which I do believe is named after its own kind. Maybe that sighting was not so strange.
Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park has cougars, for sure, along with all sorts of other wild animals such as black bears, coyotes, beavers, mule deer, weasels and bobcats. They’re all within three or four miles of downtown Renton. So, why wouldn’t a cougar be spotted in Renton anyway?
It reminds me of an Eastside high school class I visited in which the students flatly stated there couldn’t be any homeless people in their region. They insisted homelessness was a Seattle thing. That was in the 1990s, and in those times, I’m sure, they’d never seen any homeless people who fit their expectations. But I was able to tell them just as flatly that they were wrong, because at least one of our vendors made it a practice to camp every night in the Coal Creek Natural Area, which probably had cougars, too, as it is also close to Cougar Mountain. He liked to camp there because he was from the Eastside, originally, and wanted to be as close to home as possible while staying out of sight. Like the cougars, coyotes, bears, etc.
I encountered the same attitude, the scoffing “they can’t be here,” in the 1980s when I told an acquaintance I had a face-to-face encounter with a coyote up the hill from the University Village. He said, “No you didn’t, you saw a dog.” I told him I knew the difference between a dog and a coyote. It’s in the gait and the carriage and the way they hold their tails.
He said, “Nonsense.”
A week later, it was in the news: A mother coyote and cubs were found near the north side of the canal in woods by the University Village. Speculation then was that the coyote came by following the Burke-Gilman Trail. At the time, one of my best homeless friends — whom the scoffer also knew — routinely camped at sites just off the Burke Gilman trail himself, but did so about a mile or two north of the coyote’s camp. He wasn’t at all surprised there were coyotes there.
“Sure. Why not?”
A few years later, I was living in a house on 16th Avenue NE near 50th and turned a corner by the house to see I just missed a hawk killing a rabbit on the sidewalk in my way. The rabbit looked like it must have been some university student’s pet, so I wasn’t all that impressed by the hawk’s killing prowess. But when I showed up, the hawk casually picked up the dead rabbit and easily hoisted it up to the third-story roof of the house for a little extra privacy. That was impressive. The rabbit was as big as the hawk.
I think of Leviticus. There’s probably something in there to the effect that you shouldn’t eat raw, bloody rabbit. But it’s OK. The hawk is definitely exempt. He/she is a hawk. It has never even read Leviticus.
I think about Leviticus, also, when people talk about schemes to solve the homelessness crisis by eradicating encampments. If not the justice of Leviticus, then what justice? When people are living as best they can, what are they doing wrong?
And if sweeps aren’t genocide, what are they?
Dr. Wes is the Real Change Circulation Specialist, but, in addition to his skills with a spreadsheet, he writes this weekly column about whatever recent going-ons caught his attention. Dr. Wes has contributed to the paper since 1994. Curious about his process or have a response to one of his columns? Connect with him at [email protected].
Read more of the Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2022 issue.