new neighbor

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One of the pleasures of living on the outskirts of Fairfax is that we are in contact with wildlife, though I seldom comment on it. From the beginning when I was camping on the hillside above the house during construction, I knew this spot was going to expose us to deer, skunk, raccoon, fox, owls, hawks, vultures and dozens of kinds of birds, several kinds of snakes, and perhaps bobcat. I’ve not been disappointed, I’ve seen all of them.

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Northern pacific rattlesnake, about 32″, in front of our house

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Deer peeking in our great room window

The neighborhood got a real wake-up call three weeks ago, when several folks on nextdoor.com reported seeing a mountain lion on the other side of the ridge behind our house. We probably see 50 people a day walking their dogs on the street and on the trails of our canyon, and the word spread quickly: we are in cougar country. Perhaps little Fluffy should be on a leash after all.

Also called cougars, panthers and pumas, Puma Concolor were hunted to extinction in many parts of the US. Not so in California, where they are a protected species, and their population has recovered to the point they are now sighted on the edges of towns. If you want some idea, go check out the Bay Area Puma Project website, where you can see records of many sightings in the San Francisco area.

Then a couple of days ago, our neighbor told us she saw what was probably the same mountain lion crossing our street near our houses at around 5pm. Aaack, that is close!

Finally, last night while hiking the trail across the canyon from our house around 5:30pm, we heard a weird sound, like a child crying, up the hill above the trail. At first, we were sure it was a child, and we are wondering if we should go investigate. The sound moves toward the trail ahead of us. Then it turns into a cat fight. Big cats. We can’t see anything, and choosing discretion over valor, we scramble back down the hill, away from the fracas.

We feel adrenaline for hours. The experience was unreal, especially since I had spent the first part of the hike telling Jen about the neighborhood discussion. Did I manifest this experience by putting my energy into it?

Of course, I had to search the inter-tubes for information. It didn’t take long to find this YouTube video, confirming the sound we heard. One of my friends pointed out that it might have been two cougars mating. Sure enough, more searching reveals that they generally mate in December through Marchand cougar screams are associated with mating activities.

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Neighborhood overview, showing sightings. The left side is a little valley in our canyon, and the right side is a ridge separating our street from the Cañon Club in the right corner.

So I feel surprised and honored to experience this. And living with one or several large predators in the neighborhood, changes how I feel on some primitive level. When I’m outside, some part of me is just aware. There really isn’t any danger, as I’m sure they are well fed, and cougars generally avoid all human contact.

Still, a 6-foot, 180-pound cat is a presence to reckon with. And much more immediate and interesting than the daily soap opera of our national government.