A Eulogy for P-22, a Directionally Challenged Puma by
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As with most mountain lions in our region, P-22 was born in the Santa Monica mountains, probably in 2010. As of 2016, the National Park Service had caught, collared, and released 12 pumas, male and female. They roam in the relatively wild areas of the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area. There, protected by law, P-22’s puma colleagues male and female, live their lives as wild creatures in a natural habitat bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the south and the overdeveloped flats of the San Fernando Valley to the north. Life is good for pumas in this area, But not for P-22!

No, P-22 was different. As a young lion, still almost a cub, he left his birthplace and headed east. Was he directionally challenged? Driven by curiosity or banished by a bigger male? Simply lost?  Whatever drove him, the young puma crossed both major north-south Angeleno freeways, the 405 and the 101. He continued eastward along Mulholland ridge to Beverly Hills and the Hollywood hills where he reached a small circle of wilderness known as Griffith Park.

Along its ridges and arroyos, the park is home to deer, bobcats, rabbits, and coyotes, all good eating for a hungry young puma. But Griffith Park has many inroads that have crept up the hills from Hollywood. A busy horse stable sits at the top of Beachwood Canyon, nestled under the HOLLYWOOD sign. The Greek Theater, an outdoor amphitheater rocks with concerts, fans, and cars from May to October. The Griffith Park Observatory and Planetarium sit on a ridge top in the middle of P-22’s range, looking out over LA’s ceaseless whoosh of traffic and the endless day of a well-lit metropolitan sprawl.

Perhaps most telling, P-22’s home range is an island, small and isolated. So P-22 has roamed his home alone, living on wildlife and interacting with civilization’s hillside communities that have been built up the canyons since the 1920s. With a range so small, it’s remarkable that P-22 never turned to domesticated animals for food. When he was periodically tranquilized and brought into the Fish and Wildlife clinic for checkups, veterinarians could easily surmise that P-22 had cadged no pugs, no dachshunds, no cats. Wild he was, and wildlife was his sustenance.

P-22 settled in. His range was small, but he grew strong. As always, most wild animals are gone before you know they’re there. But P-22 was often sighted by hikers and horse riders in the hills. Security cams on garages and front yards picked him up during his nocturnal wanderings. He sauntered across pool patios as easily as he ranged the brush of the Park’s arroyos.

People in the area lived in a state of wonder. He brought wildness and nobility to the overbuilt terrain. He was a beautiful animal. Any P-22 appearance went viral on YouTube and electronic neighborhood gazettes.  P-22 sightings became café talk. He brought us together with his effortless celebrity. He was big, beautiful, and wild and he excited us all with his solitary appearances.*

Lately, his loving fans began to notice he was lingering longer, closer to human habitats. He tried to capture a few loosely tended dogs. He had already survived a poison attack, had dodged cars on the narrow hillside roads. He had been rescued when he became stuck in a hillside crawlspace. And days later, after 10 years of gracing Griffith Park and its compromised ecosystem, P-22 took a hit from a car twisting around a hillside bend.

California Fish and Game brought P-22 in for a thorough medical checkup. He’d lost 35 pounds, had skin parasites, a hernia, arthritis, and the vehicle impact had fractured his skull. Sadly, after much consideration, the Fish and Game authorities decided to put P-22 down.

We will all miss his wild presence, his casual travels along back garden walls, down concrete driveways, and even along Sunset Boulevard. Every night, he roamed unseen across the precious but lonely palisades of Griffith Park. He crossed the sites of that once hosted the pre-Columbian dwellings of Maaw’nga, a village of the Tongva Chumash tribe.

During P-22’s 10-year tenure, we all lived here together, struggling to find our humanity and our wilderness in the concrete and asphalt jungles of Los Angeles. Although his domain was small, P-22 made the best of his world, a wild and princely creature who brought us all together, flora and fauna enduring the summer sun and heat, cooling beneath Hollywood’s unseen stars.

P-22 may have been directionally challenged, but he followed his wild will to become our neighbor, our companion, our hero. He bestowed upon us an assurance that nature still held sway in this over torqued world. companion. We will miss him terribly.

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*The etymological derivation of wild comes from Old Saxon wildi, Old Norse villr, meaning ‘willed.’ How perfect.

 

 

 

 

Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

Visit Author's Website



Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Beautiful description of a noble creature, even though he somehow ended up in a strange habitat.

    • Thanks, Laurie. I look up into the hills now and realize he’s not there. Response to P-22’s death is rich and varied but he was never “our pet,” as one community member wrote. He was wild and he brought his wildness — and his wilderness — to our domesticity. Happy chanukah and happy winter soltice, the rising of the light, to us all.

  2. Dave Ventre says:

    A lovely tribute to a noble animal!

  3. Suzy says:

    Great featured image, he shows so much personality! Very sad that he was hit by a car, after managing to avoid them for so long. When he was “periodically tranquilized and brought in … for checkups,” I wonder why they never thought to take him back to the Santa Monica mountains to be with the other pumas – he must have been lonely! A lovely eulogy!

    • Thanks for your response, Suzy. He was a very live and attractive presence. The wildlife people here are extremely knowledgeable and sensitive to the “fringe” nature of the interactions between human and creature. P-22 would not have fared well back with the other pumas. Each animal develops a territory and P-22 would have to make his way against others (especially males) with established domains. Happy Hanukah, happy winter solstice!

  4. Thanx Charlie for your wonderful puma story.

    Sad that stately P- 22 strayed from the pack but he found a life in our world and taught us something about humanity.

    • A beautiful response, Dana. Perhaps, as suggested by my friend, Robert Brothers, a spiritual steward of the Shasta wilderness, that P-22’s ramblings were not such a mistake. Perhaps he was put here to make contact with us humans. Accident or not, he raised awareness of the wild aspect of our surroundings here in tinseltown.

  5. I had seen a headline about his passing, but not being of the region, I decided to pass on the article. I’m so glad I got to read your version of his life and death.

    • A Harvard classmate and friend who lives on Mount Shasta and whom I consider to be a spiritual steward of nature made this comment regarding P-22’s displacement: “directionally challenged”? or on an assignment to reach out to humans, like some Osprey we know. And perhaps this whale and her child in 2011. If a whale wanted to make contact with lots of humans, there’s no better place along the Pacific Coast than the bridge of Hwy 101 across the wide Klamath River, near the mouth.
      http://www.earthdevotion.org/Page.asp?PID=48

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    I saw your lovely eulogy on FB before I was able to log into Retrospect (who knew my iPad wouldn’t allow entry from Paris)? Now that I am in London and speaking English again, I can read in depth about your lost wildlife. Your puma certainly was directionally challenged, and I understand how you can miss such a wild being who never bothered anyone. Thank you for bringing him to our attention.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    I had read about P-22 before his demise, and now have the whole story, beautifully told. It brought tears to my eyes. While he was a beloved inspiration, it reminded me of how much we have lost, how threatened habitat is, and how much we have to learn from the rest of the natural world we are part of. Maybe he did bring some of that awareness to some humans, and maybe some will listen.

    • It almost seems that p-22 took on an assignment to raise interspecies awareness. And no, I don’t think the dude was Jesus Christ. Tough gig and he dispatched it — in his good days and bad — with sauntering strength and peerless p-22 dignity. And a whole lotta people are paying attention.

  8. Risa Nye says:

    There was an article about P-22 in my local paper. I was familiar with his existence and the mystery of how he came to roam the area. This was a touching and informative tribute to the life of the lone wanderer of the Hollywood Hills.

  9. John Shutkin says:

    I second the compliments voiced by others, Charles, on a lovely story. And, as is often the case, I marvel at your creative — in the best sense of the word — interpretations of the prompts. Who else would have written a story about a directionally challenged non-human? And yet, why not? Brilliant!

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