In 1923 and at age seventy, when his hands got so wayward and sudden with the scalpel that he feared injury to his patients, Dr. Hiram Flint retired from surgery in Palo Alto, sold his practice for a handsome price, and purchased a gone-to-seed ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. There was a still-upright barn with a paddock and a tilting chicken coop, so “just to keep busy” he got at a livestock auction a few chickens, a milk cow, a well-behaved quarter horse, and a half dozen juvenile cattle. Each morning he hustled through his chores as he would in his hospital rounds, then just luxuriated in a bucolic horseback meander across green pastures so lush that the cattle were filled and lying down and ruminating by noontime.

The old house was a teardown, so he spent three thousand dollars on a mail-order eight-room home, “the Castleton,” from Sears, Roebuck and Co., hiring a handyman his own age, and also named Hiram, to help him with the plumbing and electrical and nailing the shipped materials together.

Each noon the handyman and Dr. Flint ate sandwiches from their lunch boxes and swapped stories about their achievements and regrets, like you do, and the handyman asked if the former surgeon had heard about the catamount.


With a self-importance like his own, the old handyman explained, “Mountain lion. Cougar.”

No, Dr. Flint hadn’t heard of it. The handyman said no one had seen it of late, but the hoary legend was that the cougar prowled the forests at night, being nocturnal, and ate whatever was in front of it. “And he hunts alone. Can’t keep a mate. Which speaks volumes about his character.”

Dr. Flint took this in and drank his lemonade, flatly saying, “Well, I’ll keep my eyes peeled and my head on a swivel.”

Within a few months there would, of course, be an encounter.

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