The best 2012 essay for Noxon High was written by Cara Stettler

Cara won $250 for her entry into the FSPW 2012 High School Essay Competition by telling us about her “Most Memorable Wilderness Experience.” Read her essay in its entirety below.

A Close Encounter of the Cougar Kind

It was terrifying seeing an animal that huge and muscular, only twenty feet away from us, not knowing what will trigger his every action. My name is Cara Stettler and I have had an encounter with a Cougar. I guess you can say it was a bad first time camping experience. It was only a year ago but I remember the experience like it was yesterday.

My sister lives next door to a lady you would never forget. This lady’s name is Amy White. Amy called my sister one evening when I was at my sister’s house and asked if we wanted to go camping with the rest of her family because it was her birthday. At the time, I was certain I wanted to go. I guess it was mainly because I had not been camping since I was younger and could hardly remember the experience. I knew it was up to my parents. So I was on my way home to ask. My mother didn’t mind what I chose to do so I was certainly going to go. So I was off! I showed up around eleven and there were a total of ten of us. I met some new people and it was nice seeing the old ones. At first I was shy but everyone was so open with conversation and very caring. I felt comfortable and at home.

As the night got longer and the moon light beamed off the water, we were all getting very tired. It was about two in the morning and we all finally decided to go to our tents. I stayed in a tent with my sister, her husband, and there two year old son. Not even ten minutes later we heard something to the right of us like sticks breaking. Amy and her husband and everyone else were to the left of us so we were a little curious. We soon realize that it is something much larger than any of us at the camp. We could see the cougars reflection off of the tent from the fierce fire. Cody says quietly to everyone, “stay where you are at”. We all pause to think of what it could be. All of our imaginations ran wild as our hearts started to beat and the nerves kicked in.

Where I was positioned in the tent, I could see a big portion of the campfire. It was huge, scary, so curious, yet so powerful that I couldn’t help but watch. The movement of this animal was like non other. So magnificent that I couldn’t bare to even blink an eye. Even though my senses had kicked in and my heart was beating so fast, you could hear if from a mile away, I knew I would be fine and everything would work out perfect. The Cougar just sat there for what seemed forever but was only five minutes. It just sat and watched us. No movement or action taken at all. Everything was dead silent as Cody reaches back for his weapon just in case something didn’t go as planned. As he reached for it, the cougar got up so slow that the motion of his body was just incredible. He took a couple steps back then it was dark. We couldn’t see the Cougar any more but we were sure he could see us. We were now being watched. Not knowing where from or what this animal will do. Our vehicles were all very close to our campsite so we were all going to plan to get everything in them and leave for the night. As Cody stood to watch, we all quietly hurried to get everything we could in the car. We got almost everything but decided to leave a few accessories to grab in the morning. So we all left the campsite.

In the morning we went back to get the rest of the stuff. We found that there were no sings that the cougar was even there. Only we knew what really happened and how lucky we truly were. It is an experience that I will never forget. That none of us will ever forget. Even though that night was a bad experience, I met someone I now will be in touch with the rest of my life. A new best friend. So I believe everything happens for a reason and if you have the right mind set, good will always come out on top.

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Categories: Blog
About The Author:

Sandy Compton has been program coordinator for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness since 2009. He is also a storyteller and author of both fiction and non-fiction books, and the publisher at

In addition to his other duties, he runs the FSPW All Star Trail Team (, which works on Forest Service trails in the Scotchman Peaks. He is a trail surveyor as well, and a C-Certified Crosscut Bucker/Feller and USFS National Saw Policy OHLEC instructor.

Sandy grew up on a small farm/woodlot at the south end of the proposed wilderness and lives there still. He is also board member of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and a planning team member for the Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills Institute.

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