black panther at sunsetThe backcountry of San Diego County is a fascinating place to live. Although the Los Angeles metropolis is only a two-hour drive and we reach the outskirts of San Diego in an hour, the backcountry is surprisingly wild with over 600,000 acres of National Park lands.
The climate in North County, classified as Mediterranean, has thousands of acres of wine grapes lining the domesticated hillsides. One of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, the area has palms in the desert and redwoods on the mountain tops. The shores of the Pacific Ocean as well as many rivers, lakes and streams satisfy the need for water and healing hot springs bubble up from the fault lines that trace their way along the coast.
I live in a live-oak valley with granite boulders, chaparral and sage covering the foothills between two mountains that are home to huge oaks, pines and redwoods.
The wildness of our land came to my attention yesterday morning. In the early morning hours, my neighbor heard her dog barking and went outside to investigate. She rounded the corner of her house to see a black mountain lion standing beside her barn. It saw her and ran with her eight-pound terrier, Shadow, in ridiculous pursuit. She described the mountain lion as ‘long, lean and sleek black with a very long tail.” It bounded away, easily outdistanced her pup within seconds…a “black panther…wow!
I googled information about the big cats in southern California. Throughout it’s history the mountain lion has been known by many names: cougar, puma, panther and catamount. Indeed prolific, their color ranges from light tan to black, although black mountain lions are extremely rare. Considered ambush predators, they hunt live game, pouncing on their prey in ambush style and killing with a bite to the neck. In Shamanic tradition, wisdom is taken from signs of nature.  Mountain Lion represents power, leadership, strength, courage, foresight and decisiveness.
My builders are locals who have lived here all their lives and when they arrived this morning I told them Kay’s story. Randy told me he has had three mountain lion sightings in his life and one was black. He saw the cougar crossing the road about five miles east of my house three years ago as he was driving up the grade through Anza Borrego State Park from Borrego Springs.
Was the black panther that Kay saw the same animal? Considering their rarity, it is very likely. They range 50 to 100 square miles and life expectancy is typically 8-13 years. It is more than possible that Randy and Kay saw the same black mountain lion.
About two months ago, a feral cat showed up in our yard and we started feeding it. It is a large male cat, perhaps weighing fifteen to twenty pounds. It is sleek and all black with piercing yellow eyes. It comes to our deck twice a day to eat and although learning to trust, still does not allow us too close.
The first day I saw it slinking through the trees at the border of our property I was struck by its appearance and named it “Panther.”
If we lived in the Twilight Zone, I would know that the cat Kay and Randy saw is “Panther”, in his shape-shifted body he takes on to prowl the woods at night…

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