The screeches and screams reportedly heard rolling across the hills and vales of Rappahannock were not wails of disappointment from residents whose favored candidates did not win on Tuesday. But what were they?
Maybe the cries of foxes? Or the howls of coyotes? Or the Blue Ridge version of Big Foot?
Or could it be, someone hazarded a guess, a mountain lion? Is that really possible? This apex predator was driven from the eastern United States long ago by hunters and farmers fearful for their flocks. Its absence helps explain the presence of coyotes from the West; they’re filling a void.
In the century since mountain lions have gone missing, sightings (hearings?) are occasionally reported. Locally, the late environmentalist Bob Dennis swore he once caught a glimpse of an eastern mountain lion, or cougar, near Flint Hill. But he admitted that what he saw might have been influenced by what he had drink.
And there has never been any hard evidence — scat, tracks, clumps of fur — to confirm that the wild cat still lives among us. All we have are active imaginations and occasional place names — like Wildcat Mountain just across the Rappahannock River in Fauquier County.
Still, we want to believe. That the mountain lion, despite our sins against nature, is still amongst us gives rise to hope: No matter our sins, they can be subject to redemption. No matter how much we became captive to our fears, they can be transformed into awe and appreciation.
In the woods, dark and deep, which Rappahannock still has in abundance, we’re lucky to be able to at least entertain the notion of perhaps rediscovering the long-lost mountain lion. That possibility somehow mitigates our very worst fears, those springing from the wilderness’s most terrifying unknown: not nature, but human nature itself.