Susan Luzzaro 4:30 p.m., Dec. 11
The other day I saw a mountain lion. Though it was far away, I was able to catch its eye. There was a quick moment of suspended terror, and then it walked out of sight. It didn't run. I wanted to run, but felt momentarily paralyzed. When I started to hear myself breathe again, I swiftly jogged back to civilization where I felt more clearly in my place. I also felt a little pathetic.
Now I must specify here in order to make this a true, true story. This cougar sighting didn't exactly happen yesterday. It was two years ago. And it wasn't that close to me, though I was able to see its eyes. From time to time I'm reminded of it in my dreams, and when I was staying in Pine Valley very recently, I was reminded again of the incident.
But I don't think my memory was sparked by the setting-- the smell of pine and oak mixed with dust; the less green than brown mountain range. I honestly think what reminded me of the lion was something about its eyes. They were penetrating. They were desperate. And after the initial fright, I felt a bit saddened. Not only was I pathetic in my defenseless inability to even flee, much less fight, but this stunning animal was trapped. I imagined it caged in by the vast deserts and San Diego suburbs that surround it. Its habitat is constantly shrinking. Its food supply is dwindling as building gradually pushes further east. Meanwhile, this California native is expected to master the survival laws of nature, while also abiding by the boundaries of human society.
This is what happened to me just the other day (March 11, 2009): When I was hiking in Cuyamaca, I felt that I had stepped out of a San Diego filled with desperation, and was reminded of that mountain lion's eyes. It was clearly desperate for survival. Now I see those eyes every day when I'm in San Diego. I see the amount of homeless people-- simply trying to survive day by day-- increasing more rapidly. At every intersection a desperate man or woman is pacing a concrete island with a sign crying out for help (or a beer). In downtown there are homeless people surrounding the public library and post office like never before. Whether they are part of the newly unemployed or a drifting underclass, they are like the mountain lion. They also feel trapped. They are desperate and hungry. And they're not the only ones. There are those that fear losing their current jobs. The anxiety in their bloodshot eyes may indicate an awareness that the ground which keeps them at middle class status is about as sturdy as the paper money we use. There are also the countless students who look to the future ominously. No longer dreaming, they are hoping simply for a job-- any job-- when they graduate. Even many retirees have that combination of fear and sadness as their nest eggs crumble before their glazed eyes.
Desperation lingers everywhere nowadays because of the current economic depression (yes, depression). But, understandably, nobody wants to talk about it too much. That's why this story is about a mountain lion.
So, that day two years ago when I caught the stare of the mountain lion, I went home and did some reading. I discovered that there had been many wild cougar attacks in the 1990's and then no reported incidents for about 8 years. Then between 2004 and 2007 there were numerous sightings and attacks. A few people had even been killed. And in every single case of attack, the mountain lions were immediately hunted down and killed. Though they are wild animals in their own habitat, they are killed for attempting to survive and for not being rational beings-- like us.
I remember reading about mountain lion attacks in a high school school class and debating whether they should be hunted down or not. I said 'no' then. I still say 'no', even after my recent brush with death (yes, a bit of an exaggeration). Why can't the state park service offer a better solution than the death penalty? Can they not reserve some land and let the humans know to enter at our own risk? Can't they provide some form of sustenance since lack of dietary resources seems to be the issue for these hungry lions? It is the lack of alternate solutions that seems to be plaguing this issue. Now there seems only two options: Let these unique animals starve to death in an ever-shrinking, resource scarce environment, or hunt them down if and when they attack someone? So does the state simply ignore their existence until a problem arises?
This situation can be stretched all the way from Mount Laguna to downtown San Diego. How? Though it's rare, you may see it if you look directly into one's eyes. Their survival is on the line. They are pinned up against a wall. In that situation any animal, human or not, would react similarly.
Don't get me wrong. Obviously, I'm glad I didn't get attacked or killed on that day two years ago, or two weeks ago. I wouldn't be writing this if I was. But if I did get mauled by such an untamed and unruly beast I would want my family, friends and the San Diego media to know that I said this, and offered it as a metaphor too:
Don't kill the Mountain Lions!