after a bout of the creeping crud a week or so ago, i succumbed to cabin fever. and by that i mean i needed to flee to my dad’s cabin and spend some time outdoors. i walked up the little draw that dead ends against the ridge, beyond which lies the salinas river. it’s generally filled with blooming things this time of year and it stays cool and green. i hiked up through perfectly undisturbed meadows of needle grass and wild oats and budding clarkia. i struck a path and stuck to it because i hated marring the grass with my passage. when i had finished poking around, smelling peonies and black sage, i turned to follow the same path back to the cabin. i noticed that the kekiella and the grass thereabouts was filled with woolly bears. little checkerspots to be. i decided i’d come back in a few weeks and admire a chrysalis or two. i returned to dad’s and we got to gabbing. i forgot all about the checkerspots until two little girls in the library reminded me of them. they were having a conversation about some monarch larvae that the children’s librarian had in a jar on the desk. one of the girls was concerned that, though three of the caterpillars had begun to transform, the fourth was not moving much. i reassured her and said it was also getting ready to transform. her sister chimed in and said, “yes, he’s getting ready to turn into a canoe.” it killed me. when i next spoke to my dad on the phone i related the conversation of the girls and we had a chuckle. i remembered that i’d wanted to go admire the checkerspot canoes, so i went out the following day to visit dad. my mom came too and while she fired up the weed-whacker, i climbed up the draw to the kekiella patch. before i left, my dad handed me a pair of secateurs and asked me to climb to the ridge and cut some blooming fremontia. i never made it that far however. i got to the first little meadow in the draw and noticed that the grass was trampled down. there were trails darting off in every direction, some headed down towards the cabin and some headed up the draw. some went up the almost vertical walls of the draw too. i figured it was the work of turkeys, since deer usually stick to one path. i kept climbing up the floor of the draw. then i noticed something mighty peculiar. under an overhanging hank of poison oak, all of the grass had been combed down in one direction. it wasn’t matted the way it is when deer bed down. and it wasn’t scratched up this way and that like it is in the wake of a turkey harem. it was very neatly combed over. i poked at it with my foot and saw a fragment of housecat jaw roll out. pissants galore. i pushed back more of the grass and there were minute shards of bone and wads of cat fur. i immediately looked around the draw and into the branches of the oak above me for signs of the lion that has been hanging around dad’s cabin. the hair on my nape was bristling. i was spooked, but like a fool i decided i’d climb up a little higher and see what i could find. i pushed the grass back over the cat remains and headed on. what i found was a housecat hecatomb. and the last body, the one highest up in the draw, was fresh. so fresh that there weren’t flies. so fresh that there weren’t pissants. so fresh that it hadn’t been buried. lorquin’s admirals and swallowtails were puddling on a rended cat gut. my knees gave way a little. i turned to hightail it back to the cabin and on a dry bank i found paw prints carefully threaded through the chia. one of those was a wee bit bigger than my palm. (it’s hard to see in the photo below, because the sun was high. the strobilus toward the bottom right of the photo marks the heel of the lion’s print. the grass shadow marks the top.) there were smaller paw prints nearby. not a place you want to be standing solo. i very much felt the urge to run down the draw toward home. but i heeded my gran’s advice and walked (briskly) back, singing as loudly as i could and generally making a shitload of noise. i love lions, but i don’t particularly want to be eaten by one. passed a huge pile of scat and stopped to photograph it. (shut up.) my feet started to sting like mad and when i looked down at them they were covered in fleas. apparently, lion and co. have spent quite a bit of time sleeping there.
when i saw the lion on the porch, its behavior was heartening, because it immediately ran away. it’s a good sign, in that it indicates she hasn’t become so accustomed to humans that she no longer fears them. on the other hand, sitting on the porch is pretty brazen behavior, and cougars are ambush predators. in most human attacks, the victim doesn’t see the lion at all beforehand. so. her presence does make me fret. i suspect she’ll take herself away once her cubs are a bit larger. meanwhile, the housecats are keeping a low profile, and dad has changed their feeding schedule to throw off the lion. my father is not a sentimental person and doesn’t reserve much space in his heart for beasts. he generally considers them food. but he loves cats of every kind. understandably, he feels torn. the marmalade cat i found in the draw was one of his especial friends, and he’s very upset and angry that tom was torn to shreds. on the other hand, he doesn’t like the idea of the lion being destroyed. we’ve ordered trail cameras to keep tabs on the lion’s movements. i’m keeping my fingers crossed that a few noisemakers or other deterrents will help keep the lion away and there won’t have to be a drastic conclusion.