A week ago my wife and I attended the Urban Wildlife Week kickoff at King Gillette Ranch in Malibu Canyon featuring a screening of ‘The Cat that changed America’. Yesterday, Urban Wildlife Week culminated at Griffith Park with the second annual P-22 Day Festival. For those of you unfamiliar what P22 stands for, P22 (Puma 22) is the designation for the mountain lion who currently resides in Griffith Park. The aforementioned film is P22’s story, though it also covers issues critical to other city-dwelling non-domesticated animals.
So much of P22’s story is truly amazing, not the least of which is the fact there is a wild mountain lion living in one of the largest urban parks in North America, a park which is just minutes from downtown Los Angeles, the second largest metropolitan area in the country! How many other major population centers can (or would) lay claim to having their own free roaming catamount?
Now some of you may be thinking: “that’s nice, but what’s the big deal?” “What does this have to do with adventure?” “Sounds like a gathering of crazy cat people.”
Pertaining to the last item, there were indeed in attendance some individuals whose fondness of felines may seem a tad excessive; my wife being one of them. That being said, if you want a motivated group of inspired and enthusiastic folks to push forward a wildlife-friendly agenda in your community, you could do a lot worse than an exuberant band of dedicated animal lovers.
The first two questions though are more important because they deal with what may seem like an oxymoron: Urban Wildness. Notice I did not say “wilderness”. Wilderness, in the context of this country, is a legal term codified in the 1964 Wilderness Act. Parks, monuments, wilderness areas, etc., are man-made designations, often involving political calculations and agendas. Wildness, on the other hand, is a state of being, raw, wild, and untrammeled; Wildness does not necessarily require wilderness as defined above.
Can there truly be wildness in the Anthropocene, when the impact of humans extends to every corner of the planet? P22 provides us with an unequivocal ‘yes’. Though he has been tagged and tracked and harmed by man-made rodenticides, the latter requiring treatment, this proud puma continues to maintain a wild, albeit impacted, existence surrounded by a concrete jungle.
“In Wildness is the Preservation of the World”, Thoreau’s quote is as profound now as it was when he wrote it over 150 years ago. As a species we are capable of great hubris, so much so that it may ultimately lead to our downfall, and though we claim to want to be the center of the universe, the very pinnacle of creation, the paradox is we lose a part of ourselves when we no longer have apex predators roaming among us. Sharing space with the cougar, the wolf, and the bear is humbling; some may even find it frightening, a thing to be shunned. What is beyond argument is the difference a person experiences when adventuring in a place where they are not at the top of the food chain; there is a heighten sense of awareness which reaches deep into the core of our being when we dwell in a locale where we could become prey, a glimpse back to a time when wildness was the rule, not the exception.
P22 serves as a reminder that real wildness is close at hand, wherever we might live. This solitary ghost cat, although wild of spirit, is still hemmed in by man-made constructs. The rest of us have no such constraints, whether by foot, bike, car, or other modes of transportation, we are free to escape the confines of the city. Here in Southern California, the mountains and desert and ocean are just a handful of minutes away. If P22 can lead an untamed existence in the heart of LA, just imagine the seemingly endless possibilities for life-affirming adventure awaiting us, provided we can overcome our own lackadaisicalness and summon the courage to venture forth into the wild.