Editorial: We want to believe

By Bas Lammers via Wikimedia Commons
Bas Lammers via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Walter Nicklin


  1. Unfortunately the only one I’ve ever seen in Virginia was dead. In the late 90’s prior to when the area exploded with development there was one dead on the side of the road on route 29 in Gainesville. It slowed traffic enough for me to confirm it was a Mt Lion.

  2. The wild, free-roaming, native eastern Cougar, puma, mountain lion, is NOT DEAD. These BIG CATS continue to freely travel the foothills and ridge-tops of the Appalachian Mountaisn, from southeast Georgia, to the Canadian Provinces of New Brunswick. Just 2 weeks ago, a southern Warren Co, Va., citizen called to report seeing a wild mountain lion, along the western side of Shenandoah National Park….while another report was given to us from Skyline Drive, when a cougar crossed drive ahead on Oct. 15th. We would like to hear from anyone, who think, they have seen 1 of these lions. Contact: epuma@frontier.com or call 304-749-7778.

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