Editor’s note: This was written in response to our Sunday editorial.
Make no animal sacrifices on behalf of my ravaged remains. I’m telling you this now in the unlikely event that you chance upon my mauled corpse on some mountain trail and come to the mistaken conclusion that someone — or something — needs to be held to account for this. Being unable to express myself after my demise, this is what I want you to know:
You’re too late. What’s happened has happened and any opportunity for making things right, if it ever existed, is long past. Retribution against Mother Nature is a fool’s errand and I want my sorry cadaver to play no part in it.
It’s part of the bargain I made with Destiny when I laced up my hiking boots. Way, way down in the acceptance-of-terms clauses and assumption-of-risk waivers was the remote possibility that a wild animal might bring me to the end of my days. Not that I was terribly worried about it. The likelihood that the Grim Reaper would take me out with a bear or a rattlesnake pales in comparison to the statistical probability of getting killed in a car collision en route to the trailhead. Still, the highly improbable is going to happen eventually.
I know, too, that wild lands do not exist solely for my recreational pursuits. First and foremost, they are sanctuaries for the nonhuman life forms that have been pushed into a marginalized existence by relentless loss of habitat. I am a visitor in their domain when I decide to explore their homeland. I get that.
So how is it that a state agency that can’t afford its own game wardens is able to drum up money (your government taxes at work here) for laboratory CSI to see if the prospective cougar carcass in hand turns out to be The One That Did It? With our pound of convicted puma flesh on the scale of justice, are we then to believe that the forest around Mount Hood is once again perfectly safe for hiking? That this was just a one-off cougar criminal? That the other 6,600 cougars in Oregon want nothing more from humans than to saunter into our living rooms for some afternoon shuteye and then vanish into the twilight, leaving nothing but Facebook-posted video clips to authenticate their brush with humanity?
None of this is to make light of death on the trail, any instance of which is fully as horrific as any urban homicide or highway fatality. But while we shrug off tragedy that is routine, we lose all sense of reason when tragedy is of a novel or exceptional complexion.
Understand this: Not every human soul that expires in the great outdoors represents a need for some kind of theatrical intervention. Undeserved misfortune is a part of human experience. So. Let’s allow people to venture into the wilds — or not. But let’s accept the risks that come with doing so, and do it without assaulting the dignity of other species — or insulting the dignity of our own. Please.
Steve Bismarck lives in Medford.