Years ago while visiting Albuquerque or Santa Fe, I acquired a Zuni puma fetish. It is the only fetish I own. I bought it because it is a puma, the Directional Guardian and prey god of the North, representing independence, personal power, intensity, and loyalty, carried by travelers to protect their journey. It resides on a dresser in my bedroom, watching over me, protecting my life journey.
As I mentioned in a previous post, my puma obsession extends to researching them and writing poems about them. The following poem was originally published in my book, “On the Rim of Wonder”.
Some people possess obsessions. For me only one really exists–pumas. I kept hoping I might see one when I lived at the edge of a canyon in the Panhandle of Texas even though I knew where I lived was probably too populated. Now, living in LA Country, I realize pumas can be anywhere. Have not seen one yet, but I keep hoping. I’ve considered driving 1/2 hour up into the Los Angeles National Forest to hike and hope. Since one of my walking partners refused to go any farther when the sign said “Watch for Bears”, I would have to take the hike alone. The bear sign did not deter me, but she could not go home since I drove so I went back to the car with her. People see bears in town all the time, but rarely pumas or if they are around, they hide. My puma obsession includes dreaming about them and writing poetry where they star. Here is one of the puma poems I wrote while I still lived in Texas.
I watch for eyes, blue changing to amber and back.
I put my palm, fingers stretched to measure, into the footprint.
Too small, bobcat
My thin body squeezes between the rocks,
climbing quietly down the cliff.
Watching, listening, searching.
Pale amber rushes across my vision line.
My hearth quakes.
I watch; I wait.
It is Isabella, a golden whir chasing rabbits.
At sunrise, I walk the rim,
At sunset, I walk the rim,
At night, I walk the rim,
No puma; not yet.
I’ve had this photo, taken by a famous wildlife photographer, for at least a decade. She, yes, it is a she, watches over me daily. In my bedroom is a puma Zuni fetish and a painting. I have a couple of others here and there in addition to books about pumas. Someday before I die, hopefully.
I’ve become fascinated by cougars. Maybe because they are elusive, secretive, more akin to a ghost than an animal of flesh and blood. Which of course, begs the question: How do you get people to care about and protect an animal that they never see, nor probably will never see in their lifetime?
Mom and six month old kitten
Visitors to Yellowstone National Park can be almost guaranteed, if they are persistent and patient, to view wolves and bears, elk, bison, and bighorn sheep. But only the rare individual will have the opportunity to see a cougar in the Park. They’ve been spotted at Calcite Springs, hanging on the basalt walls and occasionally through a scope from the Hellroaring overlook. Usually the Park sightings are called in by wolf watchers. Once radioed around, tourists hear about it through the airwaves, then flock to those locations. Sometimes the cat might be hanging…
Yes, Part Two of Day Four is missing–it will show up later. After floating down Rio Tenorio (the missing photos) and eating lunch by another river just off the Pan American Highway, we went a short distance off the Pan American highway to Las Pumas, a wildlife rescue center. This photo was taken on the way–a very common sight in this area, grazing cattle.
The center rescues various animals but mostly wild cats, including puma, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi–a long bodied, grey cat with short legs and a tiny head, margay, and tigrillo which is the size of a house cat. Their goal is to eventually release the animals back into the wild. However, the only place open to visitors is an area where none of the animals can be released back into the wild.
I mostly photographed the pumas–one of my obsessions.
See if you can find the puma.
Now you can. He kept moving.
Most of their stories went like this: mom was killed or caught by a rancher for stealing livestock; baby was found and rescued and had become too familiar with people to release. Another common story dealt with injuries where the animal had been caught in a trap and suffered too much of an injury to ever be self sufficient in the wild. The smaller cats knew how to either hide themselves or hunker down where it was too dark for a good photo. In the largest enclosure a jaguar lay right next to the fence. Once he had been returned to the wild without success. He did not seem particularly pleased with all us humans so close. He arose, suddenly turned his butt toward the fence, and sprayed. One unfortunate (or fortunate if she wanted a good story) girl was the recipient. She took it well. How often does one get sprayed by a jaguar!
Eventually, after twisting and turning on various unpaved roads through the dry tropical forest (a totally different type of forest than one usually thinks of when hearing the word tropical), we arrived at Rio Perdido early enough for some relaxation, a bit of exploring, and swimming.