While we were still living in San Francisco, but in escrow with a house in Los Angeles for our upcoming relocation, my husband visited our new house with a friend. He only wanted to drive by and show his friend our pending slice of LA when he noticed news vans parked all along our street. A helicopter hovered overhead. He and his friend decided a young, tortured actress must have offed herself in her home and so started scouring the Internet for news about our street. That’s where he learned about P22.
There was a mountain lion, or cougar, in the crawl space beneath the house across the street from us. Right- it was not under our house, phew, but still across the street is miles closer than we want to be to that kind of animal (especially with three kids, one being three years old). More on him later.
You can imagine how nervous this all made me. We were leaving the Bay Area with mixed emotions, and what I would miss most (after friends) would be the natural beauty of Northern California. Yes, we lived in the city proper but you could easily drive 15 min any direction to get the quiet Redwoods on Mt. Tam, or a fog-laden beach at Half Moon Bay, or the deliciously sunny and warm climate of the East Bay.
We weren’t moving to the beachy side of Los Angeles, with its long stretches of sand and palm trees and coastal canyons. We were moving to East Los, and my preconceived notion allowed me only to project concrete, suffocating heat, and freeways.
But I was wrong. We live near one of the largest urban parks in North America, Griffith Park. I’ve only known it in the summer, when it’s dusty and the foliage is parched. But apparently the park gets very green (please, rain.) In our backyard we have hummingbirds and dragonflies, woodpeckers and Blue Jays. We have a vast amount of lizards, and I’ve seen one beautifully alien-esque Praying Mantis.
The wildlife continues to get larger and more thrillingly scary. Neighbors have warned us about rattlesnakes in our backyard. When our kids go out to their playstructure, we’ve been instructed to take a stick and go verify it’s reptilian-free. This morning I went for a walk in the park and was a little startled to read a sign warning me of rattlers.
And there’s the coyotes; its population in the park alive and well. I’ve heard many stories of coyotes attacking small dogs, even a woman walking with her stroller, and not always at dusk or night. I’ve seen only one coyote in the three months I’ve lived here. I was driving up our street right before dusk and there he was, trotting down the sidewalk as though he had a bus to catch, not looking particularly shaggy or underfed. Definitely not having any qualms about trotting through a human neighborhood. Late at night, every single night, there’s 60 seconds of howling. It starts with one or two and escalates until it sounds like the hills are chock full of werewolves. I’ve grown to love it, while safely tucked in my bed with children behind locked doors, but I don’t know if I would feel the same if I encountered one out in the open.
This brings us back to P22, the largest predator (besides us humans) in the area. He’s a beautiful mountain lion, tagged P22 by researchers and scientists who are monitoring his life. He is a local celebrity, even featured in National Geographic, and his trek to Griffith Park is astounding. P22 was born in the Santa Monica mountains, and he traveled about 20 miles toward downtown LA looking for a soul mate. He crossed not one but two major, eight-lane freeways. He ended up in Griffith Park, and continues to live there. Back in April at our neighbors house, after hours of being “hazed” with beanbags (and other humane methods), the relatively docile cat finally left on his own the following morning.
Los Angeles has pleasantly surprised me with its natural side. It is dangerous and wild, both probably appropriate metaphors for its human side, too. But I’m ready to tentatively welcome it, and say goodbye for now to its tamer cohort known as Northern California.