July 30th, 2011

The Incredible Journey

A mountain lion traveled from South Dakota to New Haven, a distance of 2000 miles:

Biologists estimate the size of the mountain lion population at about 100,000 in North America, mostly living in western regions and seldom traveling more than 100 miles. It was the first confirmed wild mountain lion in Connecticut in more than 100 years…The lean, 140-pound male was killed June 11 when it was hit by a sport utility vehicle at night on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in the New Haven suburb of Milford.

Why the journey? Nobody knows. But maybe it wanted to see the coast.

And speaking of coasts and mountain lions, there this haunting ballad from my youth:

After I posted that, I was curious about the origins of the song (and especially how the girl got to be the jackpot in the card game), and I found that it’s based on this poem set in old Big Sur. Here’s how it went down, in the poem, which is more forthcoming than the song on the subject:

I sat in a card game at Jolon;
I played with a man there named Juan.
And after I’d won all his money
He said, “Your homestead ‘gainst my daughter, Dawn.”

I turned up the ace, I had won her!
My heart which was down at my feet
Jumped up to my throat in a hurry;
Like a young summer field she was sweet.

He opened the door to the kitchen;
He called the girl with a curse;
“Take her, God damn her, you won her!
She’s yours now for better or worse.”

A bit more research led me to Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who’s rather well-known for a somewhat more gruff rendition “South Coast.” I was stunned to learn something of his background on Wiki; it’s quite a story in itself (and no, this is not the Onion):

Elliot Charles Adnopoz [who became Ramblin' Jack Elliott] was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish parents in 1931. Elliott grew up inspired by the rodeos at Madison Square Garden, and wanted to be a cowboy. Though encouraged to follow his father’s example and become a surgeon, Elliott rebelled, running away from home at the age of 15 to join Col. Jim Eskew’s Rodeo, the only rodeo east of the Mississippi. They traveled throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and New England. He was only with them for three months before his parents tracked him down and had him sent home, but Elliott was exposed to his first singing cowboy, Brahmer Rogers, a rodeo clown who played guitar and five-string banjo, sang songs, and recited poetry. Back home, Elliott taught himself guitar and started busking for a living. Eventually he got together with Woody Guthrie and stayed with him as an admirer and student.

Ramblin’, indeed.

12 Responses to “The Incredible Journey”

  1. jon baker Says:

    When I was a kid living in north western Louisiana my friend and I found large cat tracks in the woods by our house. My parents dismissed the idea till one night they heard what was maybe a territorial dispute between two of the cats running back and forth in the woods. They said the sound was like that of the big cat in the old Lincoln(?) car advertisements on tv. Whether they were bobcats or mountain lions I am not sure- but I lean towards mountain lions. Now here in east Texas, My dad and I have both seen in daylight a bobcat near the chicken house but have never heard a sound like that. What we have heard multiple times in the neighbors thick brush is a huffing hissing sound, like maybe one of the bob cats was trying to intimidate us when we were working in the garden.
    One year when my dad had a medical situation and i was working, mom was picking the squash for the farmers market in the morning (thats when its best to pick squash in hot weather) she heard that hissing huffing sound in the peach orchard-which is between the house and the field where the squash were that year. She didnt know what it was till later then we told her—- she was scared of picking after that– haha! I think she started driving one of the vehicles down to the field and hitting the horn before picking after that.

  2. Jamie Irons Says:

    On the mountain where I live (Neo, you’ve been there!) mountain lions are usually present. I see their scat from time to time on the trail that goes up the ridge at the top of my property, but I’ve only seen an actual living, breathing mountain lion once (and I’m rather glad of that).

    Our large North American predators (black and grizzly bears, mountain lions, timber wolves) are generally rather shy and retiring. When they cease to be that way they are on the way to becoming a problem.

    As to R.J.E., when I first heard a recording of his music about eight years ago, I was struck by how much he sounded like Bob Dylan. Then I did a little reading, and learned that someone had noted that to him in Dylan’s very early days, to which he retorted, “I’ve been sounding like him for about twenty years!” (or words to that effect).

    Jamie Irons

  3. Scott Says:

    When I moved back to Missouri in 2007, I was surprised to hear stories from people claiming to have seen bobcats in the mid-Missouri area where my mother lives and where I grew up. While I was growing up, I hunted just about every animal indigenous to the area that was legal to hunt, and I never saw a bobcat, bobcat tracks or bobcat droppings. And nobody else had either. But that was over 30 years ago. While we knew bobcats were common in the southern part of the state, around the Ozarks, nobody had ever seen one where we lived north of the Missouri River.

    So I suspected somebody saw something, mistook it for a bobcat, told his friends he’d seen a bobcat, and then the bobcat sightings took on a life of their own – with people possibly telling “tall tales” about seeing one while slamming down beers with buddies or something.

    Then I read a story that the bobcat population in Nebraska (Missouri and Nebraska share a tiny common border) has exploded to such an extent that the conservation service there has increased the number of bobcats that can be taken in legal hunts from only 100 per year 20 years ago to 1500 per year now. I don’t know if this surge in the bobcat population is a national phenomenon or if it is only happening in the Midwest/Great Plains. But if the bobcat population has been surging in Nebraska the past two decades, then it makes the stories about bobcat sightings in mid-Missouri more credible. I hope to see one sometime.

    They also mentioned in that article that the mountain lion population is returning to Nebraska as well. There’s been many confirmed sightings of live and dead mountain lions in Nebraska since 1990. Until the first confirmed mountain lion sighting in 1990, it was believed they had not lived in Nebraska since the 1800s.

    Mother nature seems to be up to something. It makes me think about the hubris required to believe we can control the climate with no adverse, unintended consequences?

  4. Wm Lawrence Says:

    As a South Dakota expat myself I can sympathize with the cat. The main export of the state for many years has been people. (and now mountain lions?) Personally I would have advised drifting south or west, or both as I did.

    Wow! the Kingston Trio? You can’t be that old… And as for the rangy old coot singing, I’ll pass. I’m one of those myself and not all that amused by the fact. For my taste it has to be a little more melodious or at least humorous. For an example I once saw a couple old cowboys singing in the True Grit Cafe in Ridgeway, CO and the lyrics I remember were:

    Don’t call me a dirty old man
    Just because I admired your tan
    Don’t turn up your nose
    You’re the one with no clothes
    So don’t call me a dirty old man

    Maybe if you could get him to croak that…

  5. david foster Says:

    Tom Russell does a very good version of this song…lots of other western-themed songs on the same album, Song of the West

  6. bon homme richard Says:

    We had a mountain lion up in Angeles National Forest a couple of years ago who was eating mountain bikers. (I have no idea why — I’ve always found them somewhat stringy, myself.)

  7. Sgt. Mom Says:

    Sometime in the very late 1960s, when we were still living in a house above the southern edge of the Big Tujunga Wash in distant suburban LA, a neighbor kid who had been hiking down in the Was came to us with a single animal footprint set into hardened mud. He had seen the tracks of two animals, one large, and one small, by the edge of the water – the Wash is an outwash plain coming down from the Angeles National Forest into the San Fernando Valley. The single footprint was as big as the plastic lid for a big coffee can that he had carried it on. Dad (who was a research biologist/zoologist) said it was a mountain lion, an adult with a cub. We were intrigued no end to know this — as they were very sparse at that time.

  8. Michael F Says:

    I expect the travelling cougar was looking for a proper combination of territory, game and mate. I’ve actually seen two individual wolves in that cross-country mode.
    Let me add my scary story. Around age thirteen, I went with my younger brother on a week-long camping trip in the second-growth brush of pine/poplar/willow in the foothills well west of the family farm. Usual family trips were for berries or jack pine fencing material. We camped near the junction of a creek, the dirt logging road, and an abandoned sawmill. There was lots to explore, and nobody to bother us. Scolding squirrels and mendicant Canada jays.
    The previous narrow road crossed back and forth along the creek; all the old log bridges were collapsed or washed out by floods. Beautiful morning of sun above and cool, damp earth below – perfect for a hike. On the way back to our campsite in the afternoon, we saw plainly printed on the damp road earth the fresh paw prints of an adult cougar. Obviously, it had follow our tracks for miles, and then turned off, yet we failed to see it. Scary indeed.
    I’ve since thought that if there had been only one of us, instead of two chattering kids, that one would not be writing this story.
    Compare reports by single hikers of being followed into and around Banff town site, for instance, and of one such aggressive starving juvenile having to be killed by wardens recently.
    As a former hiker and Park worker, I think that we in the woods may rarely see more than the scat of larger wild animals, but they scent, hear or see us, and then out of curiosity or worst do follow us.

  9. Michal Says:

    okay. here’s my take. Someone’s ‘pet’ got loose. Not the kind of Fido you report missing to the police or sheriff.

  10. Gringo Says:

    Sgt. Mom, you might be interested in this website of automatic camera shots of wildlife, mostly in northern California. The blogger is retired from the Smithsonian.


  11. Daniel Says:

    If you live in the northeast suburbs and exurbs, you know what these mountain lions are after – plentiful food. Bereft of natural predators for decades, and with hunting severely restricted and/or just no longer pursued as a sport up here, our critter population has exploded beyond reason. A mountain lion will take down a fawn, and we have far too many of those, but it will also feed on the plentiful rodents and small mammals that inundate this area.

  12. Jim Miller Says:

    Neo – Mountain lion fathers tend to tolerate their daughters in or near their own territories, but kick out their sons, after they get older than a year or so.

    Every few years, a mountain lion will show up in the Seattle suburbs, or even in Seattle, and it is almost always a young male. (They are captured, and given a treatment to convince them that people are bad neighbors, and then released.)

    It’s not unusual for young males to go hundreds of miles, but this is the longest journey I’ve heard of.

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