I grew up on a island with no large native animals except wild pigs, which aren't truly native either, and which I never once saw until I was an adult. As a kid I collected frogs, lizards, fish, and bugs. I once raised a mynah bird back to health. I had a pet cane toad. When we moved from Hawai'i to California, which I was overjoyed to do, one of my main desires was to see big, wild creatures. I have never, to this day, overcome a sense of wonder at seeing a common mule deer. A few years later I was out at what was then Twentieth Century Fox Ranch with my father, a cameraman. The ranch comprised forty thousand acres of natural California hills and valleys, purchased just after World War I, pristine except for old, rotting film sets. While the film crew worked, I was to make myself scarce. Standing near a scrub oak, away from the group, I saw a flash of tawny yellow in the shadows of the woods. It was a mountain lion, which then appeared in full view, walking as casually as ever just beyond the bustle of the production. It was thrilling to be in the presence of something that could eat you. Being out in the wilderness is like that. It's strangely calming and exhilarating to be entirely vulnerable, yet integrally connected to something eternal and invulnerable. There may or may not be a mountain lion, just as there may or may not be a snow leopard, but there will always be a force uncaring, beyond our control, that can eat us.

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