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Gregory Santo Arena

 A Very Silent Animal      




               'The  puma is described as being very crafty...            

.. it is a very silent animal.'

                                                    -- Charles Darwin



                'Dad, have you checked your dick recently?'


               'It's fine thanks.'


               We could talk like this because we were Italian.


               My wife could not quite sort it out.  My father was certain she did not understand.  He would not have wanted to offend her.


                Father always tried to be delicate when ladies were about.


               They would not let me go alone, so in the end I had to take them along.


               It was dusk and if there were any pumas about they should be out soon.


               The park keepers had seen one only  a few days ago in a rare sighting.


               My father and wife were horrified about seeing a mountain lion so they did nothing else but drive me potty.  I had tried to explain to them that the poor pumas did all they could to avoid the tourists who came into the park to see them.  They usually scented  holidaymakers when they were miles away and then hived off in the opposite direction.  But my father and wife were worried about being eaten.


               At that precise moment it was probably too early to sight a puma, but within half an hour's time it might be quite possible.


               At present we were heading towards the end of a small valley where the mountain lion had been seen.  It was a big event actually.  It was nearly impossible to spot one.


               The park was beautiful.  It was that type of arid, stark high-desert landscape one associates with Israel and not glitzy Southern California.


               The park was a bit of a box really.  There were high barren mountain walls to the west whilst to the north and east there were hills with underbrush and scrub oaks.  The park entrance was in the south.


               Walking along the wide track leading up-valley we saw hares and deer.  My wife was ecstatic.  Obviously, Italy has hares and deer, but they do not live in such enormous areas.  Of course that is what is so striking about North America.  Everything is so huge.


               I tried to walk about fifty yards ahead off them so as to heighten any minuscule chance of seeing one of the big cats.  Now 10,000 times more impossible because of my father and wife's continuous chattering.


               They had nagged me all morning about coming:  dangerous, perilous, irresponsible, etc..   But now they were like two schoolboys in a tuck shop.  Looking at this and that, laughing, and working out various linguistic puzzles.  My father kept on using indecipherable slang and idioms and worse still, kept on trying to explain them to my




               I had found the tracks the keepers had told us about.  And if not horribly mistaken quite a few others in the same area together with lynx and opossum tracks.


               My wife and father were still quite a way behind me complaining that it was getting dark and that we should no doubt soon be eaten by a pack of ravenous pumas.


               It was a weekday and the park was pleasantly deserted.  I had only seen a chesty women in a sporty track suit bikini rig-out jog by and say hello.


               I resigned myself.  No puma this time either.  Whenever I came to visit my father I always paid a visit to the park in hopes of seeing one of the beautiful, elusive animals.  Like many animals they were more like spirits always trying to avoid gawpers.  Perhaps that was  why aborigines had always honoured animals in totems.


               It was completely hopeless now.  Just beyond where the puma had been seen was a fence which was the end of the park and the beginning of a bird sanctuary.


               I turned back reluctantly,  still pathetically hopeful , but more than anything else beckoned by my father and wife's mournful supplications.


               I could not see them because of the small hill separating us.  It was getting dark though.


               I turned back wondering if my father had managed to shock my wife by checking or talking about his willy.  Probably not.  Italian women are not easily shocked.


               Anglo-Saxon women tend to scream and go into therapy about such things.  Italian women laugh because they think it stupid.


               Fortunately my father's op had gone well.  The fact he was more and more continent  --  hence his constant willy-checking  --  meant that his prostrate surgery had been successful.


               By this time I was nearly at the top of the small hill, dusk was more intense and night proper was closing in.  Then I heard my wife let out a bloodcurdling scream.


               'Oh oh.'


               I flew up to the top of the hill and then raced down the other side.  Within thirty seconds I was beside my wife and father.


               It was dusk and if there were any pumas about they should be out soon.


               My wife was petrified for fear and pointing towards the west.  My father was on about something that was totally incomprehensible.


               'A puma?!' I demanded.  I was ecstatic.


               Just as  I was about to dash off where my wife was pointing I began slowly to suss out what my dad was saying.


               They had seen a deer.  It had started out of some scrub  and bolted out in front of them.  My wife was still speechless, but slowly regaining the more elastic functions of her arms, legs and facial muscles.  She would probably be able to speak properly in three or four minutes.


               The traumatised deer was probably twenty miles away by now and in need of intense counselling.  If we were lucky we should not get done by any wildlife association.


               My father led the way back to his pick-up truck which was a ten minutes' walk away.  


               My wife had regained her senses and was once again chatting away with my father.


                They were talking about the tarantula we had seen shortly after having left the pick-up truck two hours earlier.


               It was a big black thing and we had found it walking

across the track in pretty nearly the same spot where my father and I had seen one four or five years before during my last but one visit.  It was probably the same one or at least of near kin.


               My father had managed to get it to walk on his stick.  My wife had been strangely unsqueamish.  Then they had wanted a snap.  Fortunately the poor beast  survived the ordeal.


               By the time we were back at the pick-up truck, my wife was not sure if she had seen a deer or a rabbit.


               We all climbed into the crowded cab of the pick-up truck.  My father put on the headlamps and drove off.


               As the track became more navigable and brought us ever-closer to the park entrance, I kept a sharp lookout for cougars.




               It would have to wait until the next time I came out to visit my father.