Budget Cuts

We—me and the Park Ranger—
went back to where I found
the dead man.

He was not there anymore.

He left an easy trail to follow:
booted heals furrowed the soft ground.
Massive cat paw prints suggested we not follow,
but we did.

The trail beat the undergrowth.
Pungent leaves and berries knocked off
small stems and broken twigs.
The trail lead to an old growth cedar.

At my foot, an elk jawbone
depressed into mud under my foot
with the green leaves and vine that twined it.

We spotted a dangling, tooled, red leather boot above.

The mountain lion lounged
on a leaf-obscured branch.

My expectation that the Ranger
would take out her pistol went unmet.

She pulled out a GPS device,
saved the coordinates,
and then we retreated.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


When I lived about 10 miles outside Port Angeles, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula I regularly had fresh mountain lion tracks go through my property. Happily that mountain lion and I never met. In fact, when hiking the only major land animal I have not come upon is a mountain lion. I am not sure that I ever want to.

About one person a year was killed by mountain lions on the Olympic Peninsula back then. I hope they have lowered that count in the years since I left.

During that same my time there Olympic National Park had its budget cut and they had to reduce the number of rangers and staff on duty. This caused parts of the park to be closed and other parts to be “at your own risk”. People who did not know better went walking on the glaciers. Not all of them came back or came back without a lot of extra effort. The wild is dangerous and unforgiving.

In my years of hiking, I have helped a few people back to their car or to a care facility. Usually this involves broken bones or sprains severe enough to require help. I have not come across dead people. So, I fabricated this poem from bits and pieces of hiker stories.

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