Leyden Lion

It’s before noon Wednesday. I just finished Chapter 6 of a book I’m reading about a colonial Boston minister and poured myself a soothing cup of tea sweetened by Apex Orchards honey. So, now, here I sit at a familiar station for the first time after more than a month of vacation, looking out at a snowless January front lawn, small flock of bluebirds, six or eight of them, flittering about, perching on a bayberry bush not 10 feet out the window, picking the red berries one by one, flying off a short distance to a multiflora rose bush and returning. The cold has increased their appetite.

I started the morning at the gym, then a brisk mile-long walk on hard, frozen turf at Sunken Meadow, where the beavers are back with a vengeance, flooding three or four rows of infant Christmas trees planted just this past spring. If something isn’t done fast, there’s going to be a problem down there. Well, at least for the tree farmer leasing the property. But I guess it’s all relative when it comes to beaver “damage.” The ducks and blue herons don’t seem to mind the tidy dams and ponds a bit; nor do my dogs, Lily and Chub-Chub, for that matter, both lean and mean and rambunctious in the frigid winter-morning air. But still, why do the authorities make it so difficult to manage beaver populations these days? It makes no sense. But that’s a subject for another day. Today, I’ve plunked myself down to revisit an interesting subject that’s been prolific in this space over the past decade. Let’s just say I don’t have to chase it. No, it seems to pursue me. So here I sit, having talked to myself along the solitary walk, composing potential lines for the first time in some time.

The phone call came from North Leyden Sunday at 3 p.m. I was sitting in what I call my green parlor, toasty Rumford fireplace crackling, watching the Patriots go 21 points down before roaring back for a 49-21 win over the Bills. Seems like the Pats enjoy digging deep holes for themselves, then coming back to win. But you have to wonder if that’ll be a good formula for postseason success. I would guess not. We’ll see. But let us not digress. Back to the phone call from a man named Edward Caron, whose farm is situated on a remote dirt section of Greenfield Road leading to Guilford, Vt. He had seen something two hours earlier that blew his freakin’ mind. He thought the sighting would be of interest to me. He called the creature he saw a mountain lion, and no one will ever tell him different. He said he saw it clearly and claims someone else who stopped in a “blue station wagon or SUV” did as well.
“I wish I could have spoken to them,” Caron said. “I couldn’t see the license plate so I don’t know if they were from Vermont or Massachusetts. I thought maybe if you put something in the paper they’d respond. I’m sure they saw it, but I’m curious why they backed up. They could see it from where they stopped first, so I’m wondering if maybe there wasn’t another one with it.”

Being familiar with Leyden’s Caron family from a good hunting buddy of mine, I asked the caller if he was related to Elliott Caron, the late hunter and outdoorsmen who lived down along the Green River, not far from the infamous rifle range that has created such a ruckus in recent years. “Yeah, Elliott was my uncle,” said his 70-year-old nephew. “I live up top of the hill on the other side of town.”

When I phoned my buddy to tell him about the sighting, he didn’t hesitate to lend credence to Caron’s report. “Coming from one of the Caron boys, I wouldn’t doubt it for a second,” he said. “They’re good ole boys, have hunted all their lives and he wouldn’t call unless he knew what he saw.” A couple of days later, my buddy called a Caron relative to make sure his trusting knee-jerk reaction was valid. The fella he called concurred. He told my friend he knew Ed Caron well and, “if he says he saw a mountain lion, take it to the bank.” Of course, I needed no reassurance. I had spoken to the guy on the phone and had absolutely no reason to doubt him. He knows our hilltown woods as well as anyone, has been a lifetime farmer, logger and hunter, hounding bobcats, bears and likely snowshoe hare, not to mention hunting deer. Who would insult such a man by questioning the veracity of his sighting? Only a fool. Or maybe a government man with a party-line to protect; you now, like the recent reclassification of Eastern cougars as extinct. But let me repeat the man’s story, lay it all out there as told to me. Read it. Then be judge and jury.

Caron suspected something was amiss right off Sunday morning when he released his draft horses from the barn and they didn’t move to a feeding station midway down the pasture, where they feed daily. He didn’t make much of it at the time but his curiosity was piqued as the morning progressed and the horses still hadn’t fed, choosing instead to remain close to the barn. When he finally went out after noontime, there they were, still standing nervously near the barn door and Caron started looking around. When his eyes traveled down toward the feeding station, he spotted the big cat in the background a couple hundred yards away. He could clearly make out the long, muscular body and tail and knew precisely what he was looking at as it moved across the field. Then, when the big animal realized it was being observed, it “started zig-zagging” and disappeared. The horses saw it, too, because they became fidgety and snorted as the passing blue vehicle slammed on its breaks and sat motionless for a while before shifting into reverse, backing up a bit and stopping again. Then, off it went, Caron with no way to query the occupants about what they had seen.

But wait. There’s more. The plot thickens. During our phone conversation, Caron, out of the blue, asked me, “What kind of noise does a mountain lion make, anyway? Does it scream? My daughter-in-law and grandson where visiting for the weekend and they both heard the awfullest scream in the woods Saturday night. They heard it clearly but didn’t know what it was. It was probably that cat.”

Yep, quite likely, but don’t even bother making such a case to government wildlife officials. They don’t want to hear about New England cougar sightings. They’d probably claim the scream was a blustery north wind whistling through a high, jagged break in a toppled oak, the long-tailed animal an optical illusion, actually a bruising tomcat magnified in magical midday sunlight that can deceive the human eye.

Caron doesn’t care what anyone says. He knows exactly what he saw, and “it weren’t no barn cat.”
When I phoned Caron after 1 p.m. Wednesday to check facts, I asked if there’d been any more sightings in the neighborhood. He said no, “but I did tell an abutter what I saw and he told me he had seen one in his field in the summer but didn’t tell anyone because he didn’t want people to think he was crazy. Then he told me another neighbor saw one and didn’t say anything for the same reason.”

Caron wasn’t so timid. No fear. He knew exactly what he had seen and didn’t hesitate to report it.

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