I live in the largest housing project west of the Mississippi, a plot of row-houses and high-rises between West Hollywood and the Miracle Mile. Park LaBrea is a model of a path not taken in urban development the houses, winding streets and green acres surrounded but some of the densest development in the city, the calm and privacy of the suburbs divorced from the idiocy of rural life. Here in the heart of LA, I drive my car once or twice a week, at most.
All those sprawling lawns and old trees provide opportunities to species that dont pay rent murders of crows, the odd seagull, songbirds, squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, coyotes, bees, wasps, snails, a variety of species that you wont find in the fragmented habitats of the grid.
A few nights ago I heard a cat yowling in the yard. At first I thought it was the mating game, boys and girls clawing and shrieking from hormones. As the yowling went on, I realized it was something else. The tone of the cries was much steadier than the modulations of cat fight/love/hate/territorial dispute which moves from soft groaning to high shrieks. This was a high, frantic howl, sustained over minutes.
I went outside and watched a small-medium sized furry mammal lope away from me across the lawn. At first I thought it was a coyote but it was rather too short for a coyote, and too broad across the rump. It might have been a raccoon although it would have been a big raccoon and it moved awfully fast for one. A fox? The fur seemed dark and silver although it was hard to tell in the moonlight. I wondered if a local cat had been attacked by a larger predator. I got my headlamp from the kitchen cabinet and went outside, hoping I wouldn’t find a seriously injured cat. After a few minutes poking around my patio, green eyes iridized in my beam. It was the local stray, a scrawny mostly white cat with a checkboard pattern on its muzzle and tail. The cat didn’t run but wouldn’t come any closer. It seemed to be walking easily and I didn’t notice any wounds but it never allowed me to approach more closely than three feet. I wonder why it didn’t flee at once – I took it as a need for safety (only realizing later that it might have wanted to get back to the kill). Finally it disappeared.
The next day, I walked onto my patio to find three flowerpots overturned, including one that must weigh thirty pounds. Gravel, earth and leaves in heaps (it wasn’t until the following day that I noticed the clumps of white hair, almost certainly from the cat). As my daughter and I passed the next house, we came upon the skinless corpse of a rodent – rat or small squirrel (although no bushy tail) – or a small possum. My view of the previous night changed. Had the cat made a kill – a big one for a cat, who expertly kill birds and small rodents (their bite perfectly fits the spaces between mouse vertebrae) – and been chased off by a larger predator?
This morning Circe and I were walking again at the far end of the yard and she stumbled on two sad baby squirrel corpses fetal in the grass. They were fairly large although lacking much fur. I hurried Circe past them. My story shifted again. Had their mother been killed by the cat or the bigger animal, leaving the pups to starve? Maybe they’d grown so hungry that they’d wriggled out of their nest and fallen to the ground. The bodies were unmarked.