People Problems? Or Lion Problems?

by Humberto Fontova

"Welcome!" Shirley greeted them at the door. "Come right in!" But they were frozen in shock, gaping at a scene of revelry and gluttony to shame the worst debaucheries of Ancient Rome. Tables groaned under stacks of wine bottles. Platters overflowed with nature’s savory bounty: Shark-k-Bobs, wild duck gumbo, grilled redfish, Venison Parmesean. An icy keg sputtered it’s foamy contents to the whooping, boogieng multitudes.

The decibel level of KC’s "Shake Your Bootie" made for clumsy introductions. "Shake-Shake-Shake!…ta-ta-TA-ta-ta-ta!" Our new friends turned their gaze towards the coffee table, now an impromptu stage for the brass section of three tooting lunatics. "Nice horn section" she stuttered. They’d never seen duck and goose calls so employed. We find they add an irresistably funky tone to Sunshine Band’s infectious brass riff.

The newcomers’ heads started bobbing instinctively, booties followed. Quite a scene. But we cranked down the volume for the introductions. Then the TV became momentarily audible. "Check it out!" Pelayo pointed at the screen after his salutation to our new friends.

It was the Discovery channel with a show about Animal Attacks — about the rising number of Mountain Lion attacks on people and pet dogs in California. Yes folks, because of "public" clamor the California legislature banned the hunting of the big cuddly puddycats several years ago. Now they’re multiplying, have lost much of their fear of man, and are finding new and easier prey.

Why chase down a deer? The cats are saying. Those suckers are fast…and have horns and hooves. Chained Collies on back porches, and joggers puffing along mountain trails are so much easier.

Mencken didn’t call California "Moronia" in one of his best essays for nothing. Writing of the notorious quack, sister Amiee Mc Pherson: "One eay she decided to try her Fortune in Los Angeles. Instantly she was a roaring success. And why? For the plain reason that that there were more morons collected in Los Angeles than in any other place on earth."

Mencken wrote this in 1926! Shirley Mc Claine wasn’t even born! And no Alec Baldwin! Or Meryl Streep, or Goldie Hawn or Jack Nicholson or Warren Beatty! As usual the sage was decades ahead of his time.

Anyway, that Discovery show on Mountain lions is what provoked the opening "Kill em all!" cry in our den. In the show, several California residents, complaining of lion predations, wanted the cats "relocated." More sensible ones wanted the hunting season on them re-opened. Then the "spokesperson" (complete with wirerimmed glasses and scowl) of California’s "Mountain Lion Foundation" chimed in: " We don’t have a mountain lion problem." he grimaced. "We have a people problem! The lions were here first! We’re encroaching on their habitat" blah…..blah…blah."

That’s it! I thought. He admits it! Animals are more important. That’s the whole issue with these animal rightists they just don’t like people, period. But our Saturday nights aren’t good times for philosophical reflection. So I let it slide and we cranked the music back up.

Our new guests were transferees from the Northeast. But the shock wore off in due time. They got into the spirit of things with gusto.

"Watchit dude!" Artie snaps at Pelayo. "That’s my butt you just grabbed." And Cindy’s face you just stepped on!"

These shaking booties, however, were noticeably broader than in 1976. Once they did the bump on a strobe-light floor, from a foot apart, whispering salacious comments to each other: "Just wait till we get home and kick off our fifteen-inch platform metalflake shoes!"

"Yes my little satsuma, I’ll peel those lime-green, day-glo bellbottoms off and…."

Now they have to stand four feet apart. And when those hips collide the neighbors think it’s an earthquake. Several duck prints fell from the wall at the concussion. My mounted Mallard even crashed. It quickly became a hat. "Hey" Conchita yelled. "Carmen Miranda had a parrott on her head. But this’ll do!"

Yeah, us southerners, "just don’t get it" I guess. We just don’t "get" how a person whose dog was ripped apart or child maimed by a cougar goes whining to the authorities to "relocate" the culprit.

Case in point: a chum just outta town down here had a coyote "problem" recently. They ate his pet cats and dogs, menaced his goats. He "relocated" them alright. Pelayo and I helped. We staked out his pasture at night with 00 buckshot and unplugged shotguns.

A serious "relocation" resulted. Coyote spleen, heads, legs and eyeballs were "relocated" all over his back twenty.

This was out of character for us actually. So happens that like most hunters, we have a soft spot for fellow predators. We admire them. I’m glad they’re around. I don’t want them eradicated. This bow season I encountered one.

I was in my climbing deerstand, 20 feet in a slender sweetgum when I spotted movement…. another bird, I’m thinking or another squirrel — those flicking tails. Whoops, that’s no fluffy tail!…Is it?..That’s an ear — a DEER-ear!

The shakes started. My knees almost rattling me off the stand. Calm down for heavens sake. My bow was at half ready. All I had to do was draw. But the deer wasn’t quite in range. It was in the thick brambles along the branch behind me. I need another ten yards, please — please keep ambling this way. .

Now he stopped — it’s a she actually. Good, better meat. More tender. But now in those thickets I can’t tell if she’s looking AT me or AWAY from me? All I see is the outline of head, neck and ears. Yes definitely — no horns.

Why won’t it move? What’s it looking at? Is it looking at me or away from me? Ah, it flicked it’s ear, again. Good sign. Must not see me.

The metal stand’s almost rattling from my shaking by now. Her head bends down to the honeysuckle and I raise the bow, breathing heavy, gasping actually. Now it’s ambling again…The damn thing’s almost in range now — and broadside!…Time to draw — there..back to the corner of the mouth…!

Remember Jon Voight in Deliverance? He was steady compared to this. …calm down for heavens sake. Calm down….Okay. The sight- pin sways, wobbles and finally settles on the first rib behind the shoulder…OOPS! She saw the movement! She’s Looking up at me! Her tail comes up! It’s now or never — calm down, deep breath,…..back to the corner of the mouth…..RELEASE!!

SMACK! She’s off! Crashing through the thicket!

I’m convulsed with tremors…..Geezum I can’t stop!..Didn’t sound like a hit though. Too loud. Too sharp a crack. A rib-cage hit on a deer has a hollow "thump" or "whomp" to it. This one didn’t sound right…..Hummmm…Is that? Looks like…?

"Lemme get my binoculars." I rummage through my fanny pack and peer…Yep! There’s my arrow, stuck in that tree. Musta been in front of it’s rib cage. Oh well. That’s why they call it hunting.

I finally made it down the tree and trudged over to the arrow. It was devoid of hair or blood. A clean miss. I unscrewed the arrow and left the broadhead as a memento to my marksmanship. There’s always next week…But wait. There’s an hour of light left, I thought. I’ll climb back up and stay till dark.

Half an hour later I spot movement again. I grab the bow but this time it’s a bona-fide squirrel, on a trunk about a foot from the ground, flicking away…I relax — then something streaks from my right and there’s a squeal and a flurry of leaves and something’s tumbling around under my tree…What the?!

Then I see it’s a bobcat! Wow! Cool! He’s tumbling in the leaves. Then the squirrel darts from his grasp, shoots up a tree and ducks in a hole. The cat just sit’s there, momentarily stunned. He looks up and licks his paw. I look down at him. He’s only fifteen yards away and I could nail him easy.

Instead I saluted him. "Don’t sweat it old sport!" I howled and he looked over.

"Yikes!" said his bulging eyes. Then he bolted off like a furry rocket as I called after him: " I blew it too! Better luck tomorrow!" Yes, I have a soft spot for fellow predators.

I humped down, hiked back to the truck and met Artie and Pelayo, equally hapless this evening. We popped our brewskies, sat on the tailgate and started yakking. Those women who complain that "men never talk" should see us. A gabfest to shame anything on Oprah.

What would that scowling sanctimonious head of the "Mountain Lion Foundation" say about this?About our bonhomie? About our parties? They’d turn up their snoot no doubt. They said it themselves: it’s a people problem. They don’t like people. To them we’re the problem. That sums it up. With that in mind the rest of their creed makes perfect sense.

Humberto Fontova [send him mail] is author of the highly recommended The Helldiver’s Rodeo.

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