KNOWN by a plethora of names: cougar, panther, puma, catamount, mountain lions are, in some ways, the La Llorona, Large Marge, or the hitchhiking ghost of the wilderness: rarely spotted, almost mythological creatures of deadly intent. Growing up in L.A, I was frequently regaled with tales of mountain lion sightings, mostly as a flawed method of attempting to woo me. High school weekends invariably ended in stoned, drunk late-night hikes through the mountains that attempt to protect Los Angeles from the Valley’s lameness. Once removed from any sign of Los Angeles beyond the dim brown smog layer illuminated via city lights, one of the dudes would ominously warn the girls that mountain lions were rumored to prowl the area. It’s unclear to this day how that was supposed to result in anyone getting laid. I’d just stare at them and say, “the punchline better be that you have a gun, because if a mountain lion attacks us, we’re screwed.”
I did not date much in high school. Boys found me ‘difficult’. I find me ‘logical’.
But let’s be honest: if a mountain lion came bounding out of the darkness toward you and a guy trying to stick his hands in your pants, he’d scream like a girl and take off running, while you stood there, eyebrow cocked, arms crossed, shaking your head as the mountain lion cheerfully engaged in the fun of a chase and subsequently mauled him.
Finally, I had a real kind of not really sort of close encounter with a cougar that wasn’t a 45-year-old hag trying to hit on my brother or a poor, mangy caged creature at a drive-through safari. I was hiking in the woods at night with two gays, so I can trust that the one, who grew up in the area, wasn’t telling me a tall tale to seduce me with fear. He paused, looking terrified, and said, “Backinthecarbackinthecar,” the way people do when they’re being robbed or I do when I see a spider. After we’d retreated to the safety of his ancient Cutlass, he said, “Did you hear that crying? That sounded like a baby? That’s a mountain lion, and if you hear one, you’re too fucking close.”
We never did see it but I took his word that no one buried a baby in a pet semetary that day so that it would rise again and make its way home through the woods.
Which brings me to my three favorite local mountain lion tales, both personal and newsworthy.
Story 1: One of my punk rock friends in high school was cursed with the burden of residing in Simi Valley. Simi Valley is a haven of sameness: rows and rows of housing developments forcefully instilled on the mountainous region of Southern California. Strip mall after strip mall of identical chain stores, enormous SUVs, and bland, personality-deprived homes attempt to blight out any hint of a world pre-1980, but the Los Angeles wildlife don’t give a fuck, and still reside in the hilly landscape. Simi Valley is not distinct in this: my own home in Coldwater Canyon was a haven for deer, raccoons, skunks, and enormous coyotes eternally grateful to retarded cat owners who let their beloved pets outside to ‘be free’, which is as sensible as saying a four-year-old should have sex because it ‘feels like it’, but responsibility is so 1958, what are you, a fascist?
Anyway, for a while the animal population dropped down. The deer receded, the only skunks were in zoos, and the most exotic local creature was an opossum. But thanks to the above-mentioned irresponsible pet owners, the animals came back. Including mountain lions.
My friend who lived in Simi Valley called me one day and said, “I know you’re home, turn on the news. Check out my house.” It seemed that his mother had decided to wake up and bake pies that morning. Upon leaving, she left the kitchen window open to air out the space. My friend came home after nightfall, wandered to the kitchen, flipped on a light switch, and lo and behold, there was a mountain lion eating a pie on his counter. Unsure what to do and not wanting to be mauled, he turned the light off and backed as slowly and quietly out of the house as possible. He then sat in his car and waited for his mom to come home so he could honk and warn her.
The mountain lion made all the local news stations, who followed closely with tense accompanying dialogue to update Californians on the mountain lion’s every move. You see, this was the first major domestic encounter in ages, and we all watched, fascinated, as the lion emerged from the house, climbed a tree, and went to sleep on the roof. It was like an African safari in suburbia. More importantly, it was a plot from a children’s novel, waking up something raw and Where The Wild Things Are within us that longs to have cities crumbling and returning to nature. Repossess your property, we silently urged the mountain lion! You go, girl.
Finally, animal control tranquilized it and removed it, and no more was heard about that particular creature.
And so that brings us to Story 2, where a seed has now been planted in the hearts of those watching the telecast and sympathizing with the mountain lion’s plight against a world that invades its home and gives it the boot like some asshole King of England shit. If only mountain lions had the right to bear arms in order to resists having soldiers quartered in their homes! Mountain lion rights! Todos somos illegales!
Sensing a disquiet and discontent against the masses, it was in the city of Los Angeles’ best interest to provide evidence that eviction and extinction are the best answer. That said, they introduced: the mountain lion serial killer.
Anne Hjelle was riding her bike through the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County when a mountain lion leaped out and viciously attacked her. The cat clawed and bit at her face, attempting to drag her off the bike path and into the woods. This Ted Bundy motherfucker’s plans were spoiled when two other bike riders heard her screaming and began assaulting the cat with any potential weapons around: sticks, logs, fists. The lion gave up and ran off.
A subsequent search of the area turned up the half-buried, gnawed-on body of Mark Reynolds. Finally, a chance to put down any potential myth that mountain lions are innocent creatures just making their way home like the rest of us. They were, it was reported, blood-thirsty and deadly, fast-moving, and learning to be unafraid of people and their magical robot transport machines.
A mountain lion was shot and killed near the site of the body, and initially news reports sensationalized the manliness of shooting a creature doing its thang in its home by claiming the cat charged at the rescue team. Regardless, once a cat has a taste of human flesh and a concept that people are quite vulnerable, experts argued, that animal now had the sociopathic insight of any other serial killer and needed to be done away with.
But Story 3 argues that is, like so many lies this world tell us, a slanderous misrepresentation of a mountain lion’s motives when attacking a person.
I was riding on a train back from Santa Barbara in the days of yore when I was holding out to be the oldest California resident with no idea how to drive a car. (I made it to 24! Go, me) While watching scenery fly by, I struck up a conversation with a park ranger next to me. Now, this is unusual. Normally, when I go on a train, the only way I will talk to anyone is if I’m being very obvious about reading Strangers on A Train, after which I turn to the person next to me and say in my most sinisterly smooth voice, “Care to make a deal?” Most people just stare at me and move away. Actually, usually someone will stand rather than sit next to me on a train, because I have perfected the Stare of Go Away, accompanied by headphones, a book, a laptop, a taser on the table in front of me, and a t-shirt that says ‘I hate people.’
This ranger, though, lived dangerously and started regaling me with her experiences. “Mountain lions,” I asked her. “Tell me about them.”
She shook her head and sighed. “People,” she started off. “If only they would just die.” This is the basic attitude of most people I meet who work with animals or in any kind of nature preserve, which echoes my own misanthropic attitude and makes me ponder whether I want to wait and be the Twilight Zone guy who gets a city to himself to read in, or just start caring more about the environment. Since my eyesight has gone south recently, the latter seems more sensible.
So, mountain lions. She told me that in twenty-something years of park ranging, she’d only had one call where a mountain lion inflicted injury on a person. It seems a two-year-old was wading in the shallows of a river where signs indicated everywhere that mountain lions had been spotted. Of course, human arrogance causes us to callously disregard those signs, the same way a teenage boy tells me, the moonlight reflecting off his braces, that should a wild cat charge out of the trees, he will protect me.
As the child played, a mountain lion leaped down from a hill and tried to reverse its actions mid-air after noticing people. It landed on the kid and badly scratched the crap out of it before retreating, petrified, into the woods. The parents began demanding that the animal be tracked and put down. The park ranger stared at them, internally flipping them off, and said, “So if a mountain lion breaks into your house, you shoot it, but if you break into his house, you shoot it? Hells naw.” (Side note: For the sake of journalistic integrity, she may not have said ‘Hells Naw.’ That could be the author’s creative liberty)
Animal experts speculate that the assault on Anna, the wayward bike rider, may have been the result of a mountain lion protecting its kill from other predators, since a multi-assault in one day is extremely rare. Others point out that a female mountain lion was struck and killed by a car close by, and her cubs were found later, leading them to believe she was potentially protecting her litter. While the motives of an animal can never be completely known, there is also reason to suspect that the previously attacked deceased man actually suffered a heart attack and the lion took advantage of his weakened state. Nature. That’s how it fucking works, no matter what a Juggalo might think.
In conclusion, this is the cutest thing to defy nature ever: