In The Beast in the Garden, David Baron weaves a compelling parable of man and animal, of the Old West and the New West, of wildlife that is no longer wild. Looking back at the history of mountain lions in Boulder County, Colo., over the past 150 years, he writes about our changing relationship with these predators.
with Isabella Bird’s 19th century comments about "cowardly,
bloodthirsty" cougars, the author shows how mountain lions, once
enemies to be exterminated, have become revered symbols of a
wilderness that no longer truly exists.
Though he frames
the story around the death of a young Idaho Springs man from a
mountain lion attack, Baron tells the larger tale of ever-growing
conflicts between humans and predators. In Boulder County, as in
other places where the urban and the wild come together, the
numbers of deer and other prey have increased dramatically. These
animals flourish in an artificial environment of protected open
space, man-made lakes and lush gardens.
prey attracts cougars, and inevitably, the cats become more and
more accustomed to humans, moving around during the day instead of
at night, lounging on decks, and eating dogs. From here, Baron
argues, it is a natural next step for lions to confront, chase and
even devour people. Sadly, his predictions have been borne out by
recent cougar attacks in Southern California.
is all too familiar around the West: We move into the foothills and
forests to be closer to the wild. Then bears get into our garbage,
our dogs are eaten by mountain lions, and we feel betrayed by
nature. Baron offers a common-sense prescription for making peace
with these great beasts in our gardens: Keep the pets inside, stop
feeding the deer, and learn to give our wild neighbors as much
respect as our human neighbors.
The Beast in the
Garden by David Baron
274 pages, hardcover,
W.W. Norton & Company, 2004
Big cats on the block
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