Tabby’s American Cousin

Cuyamaca Mountain east of San Diego is 7000 feet/2100 meters and is snow covered for part of the winter. My second ex and I had lived in San Diego not even a year. We had a VW camper van which was great in snow, so we piled in our back country skis and headed to the mountain. We’d never been there, but one thing about California is that trails are marked. It’s also a bad thing, in a way, but this isn’t that post.

We headed up the mountain trail. It goes straight up for a while then winds around the mountain for a view of the city 30 miles distant and the ocean beyond.

The snow was wetish but nice, about a foot deep, heavy enough to hold our skis, but soft enough to ski. As we went around a curve, I saw fresh cougar tracks in the snow. It was the second time I’d seen them. The first was outside of Red Lodge, MT, when we were skiing in the Beartooth foothills. My ex insisted that we turn around. We hadn’t skied very far, and I was disappointed. I thought the cougar knew we were there, had run for cougar-cover, and we would be fine. A little argument ensued. Strangely, I would have gone ahead, no matter what happened.

It was an interesting thing to learn.

At that time we lived across the street from Balboa Park which is the home of the San Diego Zoo. We always got a membership and we loved the shows. One of my favorites was “Animals of North America” which included a mountain lion whose best friend was a golden retriever. The zoo often put big cats used for shows with golden retrievers when the cats were kittens and the dogs were puppies. They grew up together. The golden retriever was good at making friends with the cat, gave the cat a playmate, and helped the zoo accomplish the kind of relative domestication they needed for the educational programs. The first time I saw this, I got tears in my eyes. I’m sappy. At that time I did not yet have a dog of my own. I didn’t even know I wanted one…

The cougar came out with the golden. They were clearly buddies. They jumped up onto their platforms, got treats. The zoo keeper gave a talk about the importance of mountain lions in the wild (what else would she do?) and then showed us the mountain lion’s attributes — giant teeth and claws — and discussed his diet and behavior. She explained that humans were not his preferred prey and briefly touched on safe hiking in lion country which was really all around us. Having scared everyone into respecting the big cat, she then scratched his ears. The cougar leaned against her chest and she hugged him, still scratching his ears. She said, “The mountain lion is the only feline, other than your kitties at home, that does this…” She held the microphone to his throat…

The show also showed us common raptors — retail (red tail, you stupid autocorrect) hawk, golden eagle, kestrel, turkey vulture — then a wolf, a coyote and a bear. All but the raptors had a golden retriever companion. Of all the amazing shows at the zoo, I liked “Animals of North America” the best.

My Real life Mountain lion stories…

17 thoughts on “Tabby’s American Cousin

  1. I do like the typo “retail hawk”. I presume that is a subspecies of homo sapiens. In Wisconsin I always skied on waxable wooden skis. I thought waxless plastic was silly. Then I moved to California and found the snow conditions changing every few minutes – from sunny to shady side of the mountain, as the day warms up, in and out of trees, windier and less-windy areas…I bought some plastic skis. Now this just made me sad that it is warming up and the snow is melting and I haven’t been able to ski this year. I’ll be fully healed next winter and the skis and skates will be back on my feet!

    • That’s hilarious — damned auto-correct. Yeah, I went to CA with skis that used wax. I was all proud of my incredible skills in that area, but what a pain in the butt that was on THAT snow (which was really pretty great and a lot of fun). I ended up using the first skis I bought; fish-scale Karhus from LL Bean.

      I now have waxless metal-edged Rossis that I love. They do everything I will need at this point. Anything they can’t do will be because of my limitations, not theirs.

    • Me too. Here’s a poem I wrote a long time ago on that subject.

      God Makes the First Cat
      Martha Kennedy

      God made the world in just one week,
      And every creature he made unique
      He made the rabbit, horse and frog,
      He made the loyal loving dog.

      He made the fish, he made the spider,
      A hippo to make the rivers wider.
      He worked on butterflies and hens,
      Then he sat down to think again.

      “In all of my menagerie
      There’s something missing. Let me see.
      A world needs horses to pull plows,
      A world needs chickens, dogs and cows.”

      “But when the daily work is done,
      A world must find some time for fun.
      Some time to frolic and to play
      Some time to sit in the sun all day.”

      “Time to relax when work allows
      I must make something to show them how!
      Someone fluffy, someone funny,
      But more intelligent than a bunny.”

      God decided to make up cats,
      To give them work, he made some rats.
      When he was done, he picked one out
      And started to throw the cat about!

      The cat was cute, the cat was fluffy
      But he didn’t like to be treated roughly.
      The cat scratched God on the back of the hand,
      And God said, “If you scratch a man,

      “Like you scratched me,
      You won’t be forgiven so easily.”
      God watched the cat for signs of remorse,
      But the cat felt no remorse, of course.

      The cat just cleaned his ears and hair
      And ignored God as if He weren’t there.
      “This will not do,” said God to the cat.
      “You won’t succeed if you act like that!”

      “You must learn to apologize
      Or you won’t be fed and that won’t be nice!”
      “Now, please, a penitent meow
      and you can have a bowl of cat chow.”

      The cat stood up and stretched one leg,
      He absolutely refused to beg.
      Well, God respects integrity,
      In small animals you and me.

      “You’re right,” sighed God, “I was too rough,
      Don’t you think we’ve argued enough?”
      God reached down and stroked the cat,
      Behind his ears, and down his back.

      He was rubbing his hand on the cat’s soft fur
      When the cat began to purr.
      “What a soft and soothing sound,”
      Said tired old God as he sat down.

      The cat curled up in God’s lap and stayed
      And so God rested that seventh day.

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