My beach town has a state-run conference center in it, with rustic buildings designed by the architect, Julia Morgan. It’s what got me here back in the late 80’s and 90’s, attending a writer’s conference next to the ocean.
Over the years. I’ve seen brown state-issued signs posted for mountain lion sightings. I’ve never seen a live mountain lion in all my years coming here. But today I saw evidence of one.
I was walking the eighteen-pound dog at 2:00 in the afternoon along the old railroad right of way, which is now a recreational trail. It was a foggy, gloomy summer day, so typical when the inland temperatures reach the nineties, and the heat sucks the fog over the coastline. We had just turned up the trail and the dog was smiling, pulling me along, when I noticed a deer off to the side of the trail with all four legs up in the air. It was dead and on its back, its belly was ripped open and red.
My heart skipped a beat when I realized what I was seeing. The properties along the trail are one-acre sized, so there was no one around except me, my dog, and woman about 100 feet ahead walking the same direction I was. My OCD tendencies kicked in as I thought, “Maybe the mountain lion is here and we startled it, and now it’s going to get one of us. Maybe it will get her first!”
I kept walking as fast as I could, looking over my shoulder from time to time, wondering if a big cat was watching me.
Then I pulled out my phone and called the local police.
“Dispatch,” a man’s voice said.
“Hey, I am walking my dog along the railroad right of way trail between Crocker and Grove Acre, and there’s a dead deer with its belly ripped open on the side of the trail.”
It took the officer a few minutes and a bunch of questions to fully comprehend what I was saying.
“What street are you on?” he asked.
“I’m on the rec trail that used to be the railroad right of way,” I said. “I didn’t know who to call, but I would think someone should pick up the deer before whatever is eating it comes back.”
More questions. Finally, the man’s voice said,” We’ll get Public Works right out there.”
“Thanks,” I said.
The officer took my name and phone number, and we hung up.
I got back to my yard, unleashed the small dog, leashed up the big dog, threw the small dog a treat so that I could get out the gate, and started walk # 2. I didn’t want to do the rec trail again. I was too spooked.
As I walked the long blocks of houses, I realized that the town had left many wildlife corridors for the animals. They are also short-cuts to the beach, but now I was spooked about running into a mountain lion. I sucked it up and headed down the corridor to my street and was startled again, this time by a large deer in a wooded lot staring at me and the dog. I pulled out my camera and snapped a photo. Pepper either didn’t care or didn’t see the deer. I hurried along, knowing a cornered deer is a dangerous deer. I didn’t want it to kick me or the dog.
What do the wildlife experts say? Mountain lions follow the deer. There are deer all over this part of town. Nature is a wonderful thing, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. How many times have I walked that railroad right of way and not seen a deer with its belly ripped open? Dozens of times.
The last time was a month ago with both dogs and a nine year old girl.
I wish I could see what the local paper’s police log will say about this next week. I won’t be here to get the paper or read it. But I’ll bet a few people will know what I know.
A mountain lion also walks the rec trail. At least it did today.