Marlboro, Northfield Repors

On the cougar front, two more interesting notes from readers; one arrived via snail-mail from an 80-year-old, Readsboro, Vt., poetess who grew up on her family farm in Marlboro, Vt., the other by e-mail from a Northfield resident. Both had something to share about western Massachusetts/Vermont cougar sightings.

First the poetess, Bertha F. Akley, a nature enthusiast who patrolled the woods of Marlboro around Akeley Mountain (“That’s the way my last name was spelled years ago.”) beginning during Depression days. She saw her first “catamount” cross the road in front of her at the age of 6 on her daily mile-and-a-half walk home from grammar school, and continued seeing them for years to come around Akeley Mt.

“I ran into the house that first time and told my mother I had seen a tiger,” she recalled when reached on the telephone. “How could I ever forget it? I was in the first grade.”

Mrs. Akley informed a local game warden about her daughter’s sighting and he assured her the little tyke had seen a “hedgehog.” The eye witness wasn’t buying it. No sir.

“I knew then and still know today it was no hedgehog,” she said. “What I had seen was a catamount, a big cat with a long tail.” And it made quite an impression on the young girl, whose passion can be felt in the poetry she sent me describing some of her cougar sightings. She saw their tracks, their tawny bodies crossing her path, and even stretched out on a massive beech limb above. She also saw a dead calf that had been killed and covered by leaves on the forest floor.

Akley wasn’t the only person seeing big cats around her family farm back then. So were hunters who traveled there from North Adams and Stamford, Vt. “They’d see them late at night along the road as they drove to their hunting camp,” she recalled. “They’d tell me what they saw and I’d tell the game wardens. They didn’t want to be bothered talking to the wardens. They were there to hunt.”

Akley says she was apt to catch a big cat lurking in an overgrown mowing or avoiding her as she walked the deer runs, searching for signs of wild creatures. After seeing the one on the beech limb, she says she always looks up as she walks the woods, never forgetting the sight of that slothful, muscular beast lying on that limb.

The last big cat she saw was in 1993 “up on the mountain,” where her roots lie.

“I had caught my shoestring in the brush and was tying my shoe, no idea there was anything there,” she recalled. “Then a catamount jumped out in front of me and went off. I chased after him but he went off and disappeared.”

Her credibility radiates from her poetry. You know it’s real. Her words paint the picture in vibrant color. The poetess with a tale to tell, tales of our elusive big cats, the ones people see and wildlife experts say has been extinct for a century.

And now, on to Northfield, where Judy Radebaugh had something to add about a reported sighting in her hometown, one I publicized at the time and later apologized. At the time, because the report had noted a long tail and faint spots, I speculated she had seen a bobcat, not a cougar. But then I learned that immature cougars wear spots until about 18 months old, thus the apology.

Anyway, Radebaugh, who lives with husband David on Main Street in Northfield, says she reads with interest every time there’s a story about a local cougar sighting; with good reason — a neighbor reported seeing one under her backyard apple tree and reported it to the police about a year ago.

“We were not at home but Sgt. Robert Leighton came in the evening and told us about the report,” Radebaugh wrote in an e-mail. “Matt Duska said that he watched it for a long time, said it had a very long tail, he knew it wasn’t a bobcat. About a week later, a couple who lives on Gulf Road saw a cougar (perhaps the same one) and that was noted in The Recorder.

“So, for those doubters I say, ‘there are too many people who have had the experience of seeing this animal to not believe what they have witnessed!’ ”

It seems that more and more “thinkers” are employing Radebaugh’s logic.

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