I had met Penny, Oprah’s California neighbor, a few times before, but on this day we were each walking through a protected swath of oak-studded wood surrounding her neighborhood.
“Who saw the Mountain Lion?” I asked her excitedly. I was referring to signs that had been recently posted along the path that read, “Mountain Lion Sighted. This is a real sighting from someone in this neighborhood.”
This area is where I had spotted a bobcat a couple of weeks before, but it has been years since I’ve heard of anything larger than a coyote coming through here.
“My gardener saw it,” Penny said. “Do you want to see the prints?”
We retraced the now dried mud tracks of the lions route from Penny’s garden down the street to the neighbors house where Francisco Almanza, the gardener, watched the lion drink from a water fountain. Later I spoke to Francisco and learned this was his second mountain lion sighting in different areas in the past two months. This man has good cat juju. I’ve been living and hiking this area for twenty-four years and have yet to encounter the large predators. Francisco has also been bitten by a rattlesnake but that’s another story.
“I love that we have lions in the neighborhood…. that it’s wild enough for them. I hope the fountain doesn’t have bleach or other chemicals in it,” I said to Penny.
“I feel sorry for it,” Penny said.
My heart sank, thinking maybe the lion suffered the same fate of the bobcat I wrote about – death from secondary poisoning. But Penny explained the lion had gone to her pond first, where Fancisco had first spotted the cat. “It was looking for water and had run away when it saw the gardener.” This cat may have been thirsty but it’s fast escape didn’t sound like an animal who has been poisoned. The mountain lion’s desire seemed to be a consequence of Santa Barbara’s severe drought.
It was the first time in years Penny’s pond had dried up completely. We speculated that the lion must have used her pond in previous years, and maybe even this year before the water had evaporated.
A REMARKABLE STORY
Apparently this cat was not the only wild being who has been affected by Penny’s now waterless natural pond.
Penny’s friend Lynn, who lives a little more than a mile ‘as the crow flies’ (in this case it’s more accurate to say ‘as the duck flies’) also has a pond. Lynn’s pond is smaller than Penny’s, lined and kept filled with water despite the drought. A mallard and seven ducklings had taken up residence in Lynn’s pond.
One day a garbage truck scared the mom duck and babies and Lynn called Penny to say how sad she was because the water birds had vanished.
The next day, Penny noticed a mom Mallard with seven ducklings in her own (full) pond. Penny was used to having mating pairs of ducks nesting in the duck house she bought just for that purpose, but this mom and her ducklings had not been raised here. They had shown up suddenly from somewhere else.
Then Penny figured it out. This must be the same mommy and babies that her friend Lynn a mile away had been mourning the loss of. “That mom, and her ducklings who were too young to fly, walked all the way here from Lynn’s house,” Penny said, still amazed by the feat and pointing off in the distance across from the street where we had been looking at the lion’s prints.
We both stared silently at the trees and houses that blocked the way from here to Lynn’s house. We were trying to imagine the ducks wattling under bushes and fences, across roads, and through peoples gardens to get here to Penny’s pond. I was awestruck.
“Mommy must have used my pond in the past or flown over it at some point and remembered where it was when she needed to move house,” Penny explained.
THE AMAZING DUCK MOTHER’S STORY DIDN’T END THERE
For the next several weeks Lynn came to visit Penny when she wanted to see ‘her’ ducks.
Then the drought began draining Penny’s pond to the point that it was almost gone.
And guess what mommy duck did?
She took her babies, who were still too young to fly, back to Lynn’s house and permanent pond. Presumbably re-tracing her steps in the opposite direction. Lynn came home one day to find the mother mallard and her babies (still all seven of them) patiently waiting for someone to open the gate to Lynn’s garden and pond.
The mother duck, bob cat, and mountain lion highlight that we are in this drought together, albeit the wild animals are having a harder time.
I live several blocks from this wooded area, but since Penny lives on the edge of it, I presented an idea.
“Obviously the lion is needing water and I bet other wildlife around here are also thirsty,“ I said. It would be great if there were a large vessel of water placed in the woods for the animals until the creeks and your natural pond fill up again,” I continued.
Yesterday I walked again on the path, along the edge of Oprah’s backyard, to the section near Penny’s house where the mountain lion had looked for water last month, and guess what I found?
Two metal containers full of water. It was so heart warming to know that with all we take away from the wild animals habitats, and what nature puts them through on top of that, there are people like Penny who do what they can to try to help out.
All it requires from us is to watch and listen to what the wildlife need.
Thank you Penny and all of you animal lovers for all you do for the wild ones. Stay connected to other like-hearted souls by adding your name in the subscribe box.