Like many Angelenos, I was consumed last week by the fate of P-22, the mountain lion discovered a decade ago making his home in Griffith Park. On Monday, the big cat was sedated and captured in a Los Feliz backyard after apparently being hit by a car the night before. Aging and in poor health, he suffered a fractured skull, among other injuries.
I was thrilled when it looked like he was going to survive and be relocated to a wildlife sanctuary. But on Saturday morning, to deep and widespread regret, he was euthanized.
We understand – don’t we? — that we share our environment with wild animals. We see what the poet Robinson Jeffers once called “transhuman awesomeness.”
But P-22 meant something more, something personal to Los Angeles. It said something about how the city works, what sets it apart.
On the one hand there is the question of fame. Certainly, the 12-year-old cat met the criteria — sought after by residents eager for a sighting to be featured in publications like National Geographic. Just think of the iconic photos: P-22 cruising under the Hollywood sign or perched on a ridge overlooking the basin with its expansive night lights.
Perhaps most revealing: This newspaper prepared a ready-made one “Obituary.”
And yet fame is fickle and fleeting. It’s a way too flat gloss on P-22. What made this mountain lion so important to us wasn’t that he was famous, but that he endured.
To get to Griffith Park, P-22 had to migrate from the Santa Monica Mountains and may have crossed both the 405 and 101 freeways. Once at the park, he beat the odds and stayed there for 10 years, making the “urban wilderness” of Los Angeles his home.
Isn’t that the case with all of us to a certain extent? Whether we came from elsewhere or were born here, we have made our lives in this city, not least by reckoning with its wildness. Los Angeles is often caricatured as the mindless Edenic, “the city of dreadful joy,” in Aldous Huxley’s pointed expression. But we know that’s just a cliché, a convenient mythology of the place.
Instead of Huxley’s mindless joy, let’s substitute wildness: a city where nature vigorously asserts itself. This starts with the instability of the landscape – the fires, floods, earthquakes and droughts. One of my favorite civic symbols is the La Brea Tar Pits, which stand in the center of the metropolis like a harbinger of the past and future, reminding us of where the city came from and where it will return to.
And then there’s the wildlife that’s everywhere, from the scorpions and wolf spiders in the canyons to the possums I occasionally see in my driveway and the black widows in my garage.
During lockdown, I encountered a family of coyotes in my Mid-City neighborhood. They had come to the apartments to eat, I imagined: I gave them a wide berth as I walked. But who am I to see them as invaders? If we hadn’t invaded their territory, they wouldn’t have to invade ours.
The same could be said of P-22, who, with his arrival in Griffith Park, staged another never-ending story of Los Angeles: leaving home with all its limitations (the Santa Monica Mountains puma population is small and, to a large extent, endangered). reasons, including the genetic effects of inbreeding), are breaking new ground.
That instinct, that determination is just one of the reasons P-22 was so popular and iconic. He was one of us. His Los Angeles, like ours, could be a difficult city. Griffith Park was too small a hunting ground for a cougar. He isolated himself as he braved the freeways. He would find no mate.
Still, he managed – or more than that. I would like to say that P-22 was successful. As he did so, he reiterated what I have long considered to be the most important lesson from Los Angeles: The world is unpredictable and we must adapt. Customize or else. That’s Los Angeles defined.
All creatures come to an end; we know it. But that doesn’t make the ending easy.
When I found out P-22 was gone, I cried. This wasn’t a question of misplaced emotion; I didn’t project. I mourned the loss of a local hero, beautiful, who made his own way and persevered.
Whatever else it is, Los Angeles is a place of aspiration. P-22 was part of that line, a saint of the city in the most basic sense.
David L. Ulin is a contributing author to Opinion.
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-12-19/p-22-mountain-lion-puma-los-angeles Op-Ed: Elegy for a big, beautiful L.A. cat