Search results for: "buffalo peak ranch"

Home/Search: "buffalo peak ranch"

Need a new search?

If you didn't find what you were looking for, try a new search!

Zombies at Buffalo Peak Ranch

Kai Staats - Zombies at Buffalo Ranch

Early training …
When we were kids, we spent summers on the family farm in Iowa. Among our many jobs, from mowing the yard to shingling old barns, to painting the white picket fence, we also had to rid the farm of thistles.

My brother and I rode on the back of the old Ford tractor, on a wooden platform with shallow sides connected by two hydraulic arms and a base swivel. My grandfather would take us from the chicken house along the Raccoon River in search of the tell-tale purple flowers, tall above the grass. Our arsenal of tools was a pair of gloves, a sharp knife, and a highly concentrated bottle of herbicide.

The Ford was even then over fifty years of age. Built in the 1930s, it was small but ran well. It’s engine had ample torque that you could count the number of strokes each piston made as the crank shaft went round and round. Slow, methodical, it could climb the steep bank of the river or take us over small fallen logs in the timber.

We would stop every few hundred feet, lower the hydraulic lift, the wooden platform settling to ground. We’d stand up, grab out tools, and spread out. My brother and I would cut the heads off, placing them in an old metal bucket. My mother would then spray the chemical down the hollow neck using a hand-pumped sprayer. My grandfather said this was the only way to make certain they didn’t come back next year.

As with so many things my grandfather taught me, I didn’t come to fully appreciate what I learned until many years later. If only he had known how those long, hot afternoons in the July sun would give me the knowledge to single handedly stop an invading army of Zombies, here on Buffalo Peak Ranch.

… for the real thing.
Alone now, the ranch hand and owner gone, I set out each day to work an hour or two, to earn my keep. A few days ago I left the back porch of the cabin and noticed a few thistles in the distance, just outside the wooden fence. “I’d better take care of those in the morning,” I thought.

When daylight came again, there were a few more. Some of them already inside the fence line. This took me by surprise. I had never seen thistles move that fast before.

These were not your common, Canadian, or milk thistle. Those don’t make much of a fuss. Just as when we were kids, you lop off the flowing head and they’d rarely came back the following year. But these, these were different. More aggressive, intent on claiming territory. From outside to inside the fence in just one day!

Kai Staats - Zombies at Buffalo Peak Ranch

I went back inside and looked up types of thistles on the Internet. The reports were not many. Mostly unconfirmed rumours of a mutant strain. But then I found a reference to something that made my skin crawl—a fast moving, aggressive thistle with … with a craving for blood. The Zombie Thistle. The only way to stop them was to get them out of the ground, roots fully exposed to sunlight, and then cut off their heads.

I returned to the back porch and scanned the horizon. My god! They’re everywhere! Should I call the Sheriff? No, his cell phone reception was minimal in the back country. Or the Rabi and campers down the road? No, Catholic priests are much better equipped to deal with the undead. Bruce Campbell? No, getting through his agent would take too much time.

It was me, alone, against all of them.

I pulled on my sturdy boots, work pants, my favourite T, and sun glasses. Once again on the back porch, I counted an additional half dozen thistles, growing tall and strong. The purple heads turned in unison, staring back at me. In just ten minutes time they had doubled in number. An army was forming. I had to act fast before they took over the ranch.

I stepped off the porch and ran to the barn. I could hear their roots reaching through the soil, trying to ensnare my shoes and feet. The sound of their long necks straining.

Don’t look back! Just keep moving!

Once inside the barn, I shut the door behind me. I found a pair of leather gloves, shovel, and the keys to the UTV. I unlatched the front, sliding bay doors and started up the engine. I engaged the four wheel drive, threw open the doors and pressed it into high gear.

Kai Staats - Zombies at Buffalo Ranch

The path was yet clear, they had not reached the front of the barn. I drove back to the West, toward the far side of the fenced area, behind the hot tub. They saw me coming, they knew I was prepared.

I stepped from the UTV, walked toward them with the shovel in hand. They hesitated. Some withdrew. That was the moment I needed—I attacked!

I knelt low to the ground. With their vision less keen than their sense of smell, I hoped to remain downwind and catch the first few off guard.

Kai Staats - Zombies at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats - Zombies at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats - Zombies at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats - Zombies at Buffalo Peak Ranch

I raised the shovel high, slammed it into the ground at the base of the first Zombie. The soil was hard and rocky. I missed my target and managed to only partially cut the base of the four foot tall monster. It turned, raised its horrid purple head, and leaned back to attack. It lunged forward and I was too slow. It caught my shirt, tearing at the fabric as I fell back on my hands in the mountain meadow. The shovel fell.

I rolled to one side as another two, then three attacked. But this time, my shovel found home and two heads came free. An acrid odour filled the arena and white blood sputtered from the necks of the decapitated thistles.

I jumped to my feet, knowing I had little time before they regrew. I raised my shovel again and drove it in hard and fast, at the base of all three of those immediately to my front and side. My foot pressed the shovel in further and then I leveraged the handle down to the ground and the roots came free. Their long, soil ladened tendrils an abomination to this otherwise perfect land, moved wildly, gasping in the direct sunlight and air. A few seconds later, they stopped. Dead.

A momentary calm fell over the meadow. I had struck my first blow. The Zombie thistles knew they had a worthy adversary. I did not hesitate and attacked the next half dozen directly in front of me. They were caught off guard and came free easily, their heads delivering a high pitched scream with each root ball that came free.

Just as I was raising my shovel overhead for another strike, one attacked from behind, more than five feet tall. It was the largest I had ever seen, it’s head the size of my fist and stalk strong enough to lift a car. It tore at my clothing, trying to get to my skin. My left sleeve was torn completely, my favourite shirt ruined.

That made me mad. I took a step back, turned, and attacked with a scream. My shovel sliced through the stem just below the head, back again in the middle, and then at the base. With just a few inches left above the ground, I delivered the final blow, the roots wriggling in the hot afternoon sun, the head and neck spread across the lawn. The stench was overwhelming, I could barely breathe. But the battle had just begun.

Over the course of the next two hours I unearthed more than four hundred of these monsters, their bodies piled high. When I finally came back ’round toward the cabin, approaching from the rear, the Zombie thistles knew they would lose this round. They shrunk in size, reduced in number before I could even come in for the kill.

Kai Staats - Zombies at Buffalo Peak Ranch

Exhausted, I drove the blade of my shovel in again and again until every last one was delivered.

I spent the remaining daylight hours cleaning the battlefield, piling the bodies into the back of the UTV. Their legions are amassing near the upper pond in numbers far greater than what I had encountered today.

Tomorrow, it starts all over again.

By |2015-01-23T07:32:11-04:00August 8th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, The Written|0 Comments

Counting raindrops in Cascabel

Rain in the desert is a welcomed affair. A light sprinkle, a massive downpour, or a steady flow for hours. It’s the contrast, the incredible change in temperature, aroma, and “electricity” that makes one want to just stand and watch it come down for hours.

This morning I awoke a little past 5 am to the rumble of the sky above me and the shaking of the construct below, an elevated porch on which I sleep in a tent every night. Pent up, potential electrical charge found repeated orgasmic release in the clouds and surely, to the ground as well, out there, beyond the mesquite that surrounds me.

I was thrilled by the abrupt awakening, the storm a distressed lover who yet unsatisfied by dreams moves into the day with the embrace of thunder. While I lay there for fifteen or twenty minutes, the cool splash of droplets that found their way through the window mesh, the storm was clearly, directly overhead. Sleeping outside, four meters above the ground on a metal deck connected to a metal house, I figure it was the safest place for me to be, or really quite stupid. At that moment my physics brain was unable to discern, so I took the safe bet, gathered my things and hurried inside.

This storm is the first I have experienced here, since purchasing this house and property six months ago. I am reminded of the splendor of the Buffalo Peak Ranch in Colorado where the boundary between the outside and inside of the cabin is thin, just enough to keep the water out, but everything else is welcome in.

Doors wide open on either side of my studio space, a pesky, bold grey striped squirrel who has marauded my garage, compost, tools, and engine compartment of my new car decided to venture in. He stopped about three meters to the right of where I sat, looked to his right, then left, spotted me and darted back out the door. I jumped up and pursued him but he disappeared without a trace. He hasn’t been back … yet.

Time to refill my tea and settle into the tasks at hand. Already, it is half past 1 now, the day gladly spent listening to the rain over Cascabel.

By |2019-10-08T21:15:19-04:00September 24th, 2019|At Home in the Southwest|Comments Off on Counting raindrops in Cascabel

The Elephant, the Lion, and the Skies of the Karoo

Everyone desires a safe space, a home base, a place to return to when everything else in life is unsettled. For some, this is a certain room in the family home. For others, a timeshare overlooking the waterfront in a far-away town tourists have not yet discovered. Some travel to the cities while others escape, seeking something a little less whelming.

I too have my safe places. Buffalo Peak Ranch in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, our family farm in rural Iowa, and Sutherland, South Africa. This past week I was given the opportunity to return to the South African Astronomical Observatory. The drive from Cape Town to the Sutherland site is, no matter how many times you have made the journey, an adventure, a flight through space and time despite the confines of this planet’s gravity.

Those at the point of departure provide assistance in loading your travel bags and wish you well. Upon arrival, the guest house staff greet you by name, no matter how long since your last visit, and provide the keys to your dormitory. With hushed voices and careful motion we unpack and settle in, for the astronomers are yet sleeping. As with African game preserves where human visitors peer out from protective blinds to watch the animal world unfold, astronomers use telescopes to watch the cosmos evolve, to observe both the mundane and the most spectacular stellar shows.

Those areas in the world in which dark night skies yet exist are a kind of sanctuary, a place where we are reminded of what it means to be inspired. From our unique vantage point in this cosmic wilderness blind, we see new-born stars, middle-aged nobles, and ancient giants intermixed with nebulae, supernova, and massive black holes. To witness one rapidly rotating, small but massive neutron star consuming it’s neighbour through a dance that lasts eons is to watch the lion consume the elephant in painfully slow motion, frame by inexorable frame.

What we observe is explained through the application of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. While the interaction between stellar bodies is anticipated, even considered routine, there remains the daunting, bewildering, difficult to explain phenomena which send researchers into overdrive for decades.

It is the data of the routine which confirms our formulae. It is the unexpected which keeps us hungry for more.

Upon arrival to the guest house at the observatory I was filled with emotionally charged memories of my grandparents’ farm in Iowa. The anticipation that builds with the first glimpse of the domes on the horizon is to crest the edge of the Pride of the Valley farm, the final stretch of the curving road, and ultimate descent into the complex of white buildings.

Inside, each piece of furniture has its place and orientation, the sofas, the chairs adorned by cloth covers too easily wrinkled and caught in the spaces between the cushions. Throw pillows are returned each day to their proper position. The pool table is showing its age, the felt torn and the legs less stable. One can complain, or enjoy the added challenge. The library has been stripped nearly bare as the journals are now entirely digital. Yet the aroma from the kitchen, the sound of the kettle boiling, the light wind buffeting the west-facing windows all say, ‘Welcome home!’.

By mid-afternoon intense conversations unfold as the engaged astronomers rise and those of us who retain fairly normal sleeping hours share the dining hall and common space. Steven, Retha, and I, the next day joined by Willie and Lisa covered more topics than I do recall, from the generation of water from humid air to the politics of South Africa, to data reduction and the application of Machine Learning against the wishes of those who are not yet ready to let go of their scripts and proved techniques.

With all telescopes at the SAAO observatory now capable of being remotely controlled, there is debate about the value of sending astronomers to these remote locations. For certain, the mechanical aspects of pointing the instrument to a distant object, capturing photons, and moving onto the next can be done without a being on-site. Yet, it is the draw of the dark night skies, the bliss of isolation, those moments of being only here, right now, that draw us into this place.

It is my experience and my hope that astronomers will continue to come to these places for the same reason we venture to witness the elephant and the lion, not on-screen. The sound of the wind whipping over the top of the open dome, the smell of the machine oil, the sensation that one has stepped into a spacecraft destined for anywhere cannot be reproduced through a remote connection.

Until the next visit to Sutherland, I will recall that for those brief four days, I enjoyed a return to one of my safe spaces, where both the routine and unexpected unfold every night.

By |2018-05-17T00:12:23-04:00September 16th, 2017|2017, Looking up!, Out of Africa|Comments Off on The Elephant, the Lion, and the Skies of the Karoo

The axe and the fire

Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch

When I was in primary and secondary school, our family heated our home in Columbus, Nebraska with a wood burning stove. My grandfather Raymond would deliver logs from the timber on our farm in Iowa. He drove eight hours round trip, two or three times each year. This was his gift to us, fuel prepared by his own hands in order that we could heat our home at a reduced bill.

My job was to check the stove when I returned from school, as I was usually home before my brother Jae or my parents. I removed the ashes if the fire was out, added wood and stoked the flames. We kept a pot of spiced cider made from unfiltered apple cider, one or two slices of an orange, a tea bag, cinnamon and cloves. The aroma filled the house, from the basement where the stove was held, to the entire upper floor.

I learned that when the stove reached 600 degrees Fahrenheit water droplets no longer boiled away, rather, they bounced around the surface of the stove, retaining their full form. They could even be guided by my blowing on them. After a half dozen, eight, or even ten seconds they absorbed too much heat, the invisible layer which kept them isolated no longer a protective barrier. They stalled and vaporised. I was fascinated by this process, adding salt or sugar to learn if I could increase the time they would survive the tremendous heat. But all I accomplished in my experiments was leaving stains on the matte black stove paint.

Each winter weekend my father would head into the backyard to chop wood. As a boy, I recall him being quite strong, with arms the diameter of the logs he was about to take on. Yet in a recent conversation, my father reminded me that the world looks quite a bit bigger when we are small, our admiration exaggerating further still.

I recall his boots breaking the surface of the hard, icy mid-Western snow. The sound of the axe neatly slicing a log in two was such that I knew, even if turned the other way, if the cut was clean. I stood the logs, one by one on the chopping block, a large diameter stump which received the blade when my father cut through.

For wood too wide for an axe, my father used a sledge hammer to drive a steel spike deep into the grain. The sledge hammer raised overhead drove the spike out the other side. The crack of the wood was a telling sign that the placement of the blade or spike was just right, or if it would jam. We’d stack the split wood on the side of the house or in the garage, carrying an arm full each into the basement to place on the brick flooring which supported the stove.

This past week, here at the Buffalo Peak Ranch, a hint of winter arrived. Nights in the low thirties give way to crisp mornings and afternoons whose warmth is waning. Three evenings last week I maintained the wood burning stove into the night, sleeping on the futon just across from the source of heat. Sometimes I wake in the early AM to stoke the flames, adding three or four more logs, then crawl back into bed.

I am now returned to chopping wood as I was three years prior. Again, I am the one driving the blade into the grain, hoping for the CRACK! and two or three pieces to fall to the sides. As with tending to a garden, repairing furniture, and baking bread, splitting wood with an axe is wonderfully gratifying. It is a workout and a meditation combined, for one must choose the end and the approach at the same time. Avoid the knots! Gage the distance. Focus on the blade arriving to the bottom side and bring it through. A slight twist can provide additional kinetic energy to bring the blade home, or send it glancing, shaving only the bark from the outside.

In just one hour I can prepare ample wood to heat the cabin for a few days. An afternoon of work and I am set for a week. What adds to my reward is this is a renewable resource, if managed properly. Nearly every gram of the mass of wood is sunlight captured, photons from a distant nuclear furnace, stored as fuel. The electromagnetic radiation coupled with water, carbon, and nutrients from the soil is given a second chance to provide warmth, on this planet. The ultimately re-use, recycle.

By |2016-11-18T01:22:09-04:00September 19th, 2016|At Home in the Rockies|Comments Off on The axe and the fire

When Wilderness is Nearly Forgotten

Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch, buffalo

Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch, flower Something happened to me in my two years in South Africa, and subsequent past seven months in Phoenix, Arizona—I became accustomed to living in a city. For the first time in my adult life, I was losing a connection to wilderness.

Since I was 16 years of age and went on my first solo backpacking trip in the Superstition wilderness, there has been this place inside of me that remembers what it means to feel at peace, to truly be at home.

That place has for thirty years connected me to wilderness, the last remaining places on this crowded planet which have no power lines overhead, no pipelines underground, no human crafted water ways or walk ways or roads. Places where the otter and beaver, deer and elk, fox and coyote, wolf, bear and mountain lion yet maintain their domain. Places where the birds nest not on man-made structures but in their original, natural habitat.

I often wondered how those who are born and raised in a city, those who venture to national parks as temporary relief but long to return to the concrete do look to the open spaces and natural places that remain. In my time in Cape Town I longed for the time I enjoyed at Sutherland, home of the South African Astronomical Observatory. The land that surrounds the 6,000 foot observatory is open range, criss-crossed by roads and fences, yet vast, mostly untrodden, and incredibly quiet. It was as close to wilderness as I was able to enjoy during my time in South Africa, and a welcomed respite.

Slowly, I gained an appreciation for living in a country where friends were but a phone call away, arriving with a bottle of wine on a moment’s notice. In time, the conditions of the surf determined how I spent my mornings and I grew accustomed to the clockwork of the city, from the train schedule to the hours of the local restaurants and hangouts. There, I built some of the deepest friendships of my life.

Upon my return to Phoenix I longed for those connections, for those walks on the beach and intellectual discussions over home made bread and South African wine. While I grew up investigating the far reaches of the American Southwest, exploring mountain tops and canyons, river ways and caves, the wilderness had, for me, retreated to somewhere, out there, beyond my reach. I no longer believed the wild places existed, for the news, the media, nothing spoke to me of where I could go to be removed from the overwhelming human condition, to be alone with my own challenges and not those of the entire planet.

I was aware of this, and spoke of it to family and friends. I knew I needed to be reminded of what it was to be in a place outside of the human domain. Last week I returned to Buffalo Peak Ranch. For the summer and into the fall, this will be my home once again. It took no more than the hour drive from the nearest town, into the valley where the buffalo do roam, to remember what it means to be free.

No, this is not wilderness, but in a ten minutes drive or thirty minutes run I can be in wilderness again. It’s just over there, on the visible horizon. Once again I am reminded of what it means to be free of the sound of engines, sirens, alarms and talking, talking, talking. Once again, my body is flooded with the embrace of silence and solitude.

Every hour of every day is my own. I wake to the sun on my face. I swim in the cold pond following my workout. I go for long hikes with camera in hand between longer sessions of email and programming. I make time for making food. And sometimes, I just sit and do nothing.

Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch

Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch, flower and bee Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch, coyote

By |2017-04-10T11:17:31-04:00July 1st, 2016|At Home in the Rockies|Comments Off on When Wilderness is Nearly Forgotten

A Daily Unfolding

My time in South Africa has been one of constant adjustment, of intentionally holding doors open in order that they do not prematurely shut; and sometimes being surprised by those which present themselves without even the sound of a key being inserted nor the turning of the knob.

The beach has become my home. It’s daily redesign by wind and water presents a new realm to explore. I no longer find the need to move from place to place, for each day there is something new unfolded before me.

Massive piles of kelp appear overnight while some mornings bring a scattering of snails, blue bottles, or sharp, black shells. What would require a labour force of hundreds of pairs of human hands coupled with powerful engines, scoops, and locomotion is undone in a matter of hours by the liquid fingers of the wave, tumbled foam, and gravity.

Sometimes the ocean brings a baby seal onto shore, separated from its mother, abandoned for reasons unknown, or orphaned by the success of the sharks which reside just past the surfers’ backline. The seal swims onto the beach, is rolled by the next wave, and while curious about the human lookers on, any approach is met by its bark and retreat.

Unfortunately, it is not only the sharks that torment these young, for humans too seem to share a propensity for harming those things which should be left alone. Last month a surfer rescued a baby seal not from the sharks, but from kids who kicked it and threw stones while it moved along the shore. It seems respect for life is gained only after our inherent curiosity about death is explored.

As when I lived at Buffalo Peak Ranch in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, I have again learned to shape my day based upon what happens out of doors. The weather, the motion of the sea, the rise and fall of the tide. Running, surfing, or swimming based upon what is presented, but combined, a daily routine that carries me from week to week, month to month, for nearly a year.

I have learned to find joy in a place that is not always easy for me.

I have learned to find comfort in the waves that once scared me.

I am again learning to accept what I am given for a day, knowing it may be gone the next.

By |2017-08-12T04:53:07-04:00January 13th, 2015|From the Road|Comments Off on A Daily Unfolding

The Bliss of Solitude, a Return

Since my departure from Buffalo Peak Ranch in late November 2013, I have shared the story of my time there with both those familiar to me and those who remain strangers. A few share my passion for solitude, for they have experienced it too. Some nod their heads, knowing, deep inside that time off-line, time alone would bring them insight and joy which cannot be found by any other means. But most are simply horrified, shaken by the very concept of being alone.

To those I ask “Why? What scares you?”

“You mean, without internet?” I nod. “I love my iPhone too much,” laughing, “and could not live without Facebook.”

I wait, as the joke subsides, they continue, “It would be good for me to have that time alone. I know it would be good for me. I just, … I just don’t know if I am ready for that, to be alone … with me.” This final statement is often accompanied by fidgeting, an uneasy glance at empty hands, or reach for the mobile phone again.

I have received this honest response more than a few times now, enough to recognize that it likely sits behind the verbalized and non-verbal fear of being disconnected, of living off-line. To be alone is not the real concern. To be with oneself, that is the real challenge, for in that place, we must face the reality of who we are when no one else is around.

By |2016-07-01T23:21:50-04:00May 31st, 2014|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

The Memory of Silence

Tonight will be my very last night here at Buffalo Peak Ranch. This place has given me six months of peace, solitude, and healing. I have found what feels like who I truly am for the first time in my adult life. Such comfort with being me. Amazing.

There was a time when the entire planet was like this place, free from noise and congestion. Just fifty years ago we did not have the constant buzz of aircraft overhead. One hundred and we heard only the sound of horses and wooden wheels. Two hundred–just six generations prior–and we were not even to the Industrial Revolution.

Now, there are only a few places remaining on this globe which are free of human clutter. Audible, physical, tangible infiltration of every sense during our entire life, from first breath to last gasp.

We even have cliche terms such as “tune out” to pretend this noise is acceptable. I have failed to find the switch inside which disables the long term detriment to my soul. I now know, I have solid evidence that nothing, no amount of meditation or insulated walls or power vacations will ever replace the healing of nearly two hundred days and nights of perfect, natural silence.

I hope only that I am able to maintain this sense of solitude and peace inside, no matter where I travel. No matter the traffic, the rumble, the sirens, the tension in the density of viral human populations on this planet–I hope I will recall what it meant to watch the sun set and hear those sounds which never ever tire–the wind, the fall of rain, the occasional bugle of the elk and nightly call of the coyotes–the perfection of absolutely nothing.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:36-04:00November 25th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

The Bliss of Solitude, Revisited

In this place of solitude, there is no room for blame. There is no one to receive the pointy end of my finger, but me. As my days unfold into weeks, and weeks into the close of four months, two of which I have spent almost entirely alone, I recognize that the challenges of being me do not fully subside.

Instead, my anxieties, my fears, my resentment, contentment, and joy all remain completely present and accounted for. Not a day goes by that I do not experience a mixture of two or more of these.

Yes, alone, they are no longer murky, no longer confused by the complexity of relationship with another human being. I am alone, and in this aloneness, have come to experience all of me in perfect clarity.

I cannot help but consider the old man in the cave, the monk sworn to a monastic life, or the shipwrecked sailor who for years is stranded on what would otherwise be a paradise.

We simultaneously cherish and shutter at the thought of that path, that journey, knowing full well the challenge of working through your own internal, broken stuff is as difficult, perhaps more so, than learning to be with another. Or are they the same?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Only in publishing this did I rediscover an entry of the same title, on a similar subject, written a year prior. Interesting to revisit and compare my experience of solitude, a year later, both times after having lived at Buffalo Peak Ranch alone.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:36-04:00November 22nd, 2013|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

When the Coyote Calls – Part III

This story begins with When the Coyote Calls. The prior chapter is Part II

I loaded my backpack with a block of cheese, the remaining third of the loaf of bread I baked two days prior, three apples, and several liters of water. The sun dominated the clear blue sky leaving no trace of the snowfall the night before. I packed a pair of gloves, warm hat, jacket and shell, as I did not know how long we would be gone.

Coyote said, “You humans are fragile, no?”

“How do you mean?”

“You need so many things to survive, just to go from here to there, de aquí para allá.”

“Compared to you, yes.”

I zipped my backpack shut.

“We were not always so dependent, I suppose. Our ancestors were more hardy, even a few generations ago. We’ve become soft.”

“Es gracioso, no? A species becomes soft but dominates the land.”

His words made me stop. I saw the irony in what he said, “You are right coyote, we as individuals are less able to survive, yet we proliferate.”

“It is like that for us too,” he paused, his voice carried a bitterness in its tone, “because of you.”

I turned to look at him, my hands still busy with the packing of my bag.

“Because of us?”

“Sí. More of our kind now live among your people. We eat your trash. We carry away your cats, your dogs, sometimes your small children.” I shuddered at the thought, but knew it was true. He continued, “For some, it is a natural adjustment. For others, it is something else.”

“You are scavengers. You have always eaten what others leave behind. You fill a niche, between the larger wolf and the smaller fox. How is this any different?”

For the first time, I believe my words caught him off guard, his response not prepared. It was then I realized he was almost always one step ahead of me, cunning even in conversation. “Yes, we are scavengers, but we are hunters too. The fox,” he sneered, “el zorro chases los ratones. The fox could never bring down anything larger than the rabbit,” he replaced disdain with respect and continued, “but the fox, he can catch small things we cannot.”

I wondered how he felt in comparison to the wolf, but thought better of asking.

“You are ready to travel, mi amigo?”

“Sí. Listo.”

“Bueno,” he replied, “¡Vamos!”

I locked the cabin behind me, slipped the keys into my pocket, and followed the coyote. The white bandages were bright against his golden coat. I felt a sense of pride, to follow a creature which was wild and not under my control. No whistle, no command, nothing I could say or do would make him sit, stay, or fetch. There was a certain pleasure and a level of fear in knowing this about my guide.

“Where are we going?”

“Follow me. You will see.”

I tried again, “For how long will we walk?”

“Until we arrive,” he responded, slightly annoyed.

We rose up and out of the basin in which the Buffalo Peak Ranch was nestled, along the path I walked two or three times every week at sunset. The coyote followed the path created by the UTV used by the ranch hand to bring tools, chainsaws, and shovels to the farther corners of the ranch.

When we reached the barbed wire fence, the coyote slipped between the bottom two strands without hesitation. I realized his injuries were not slowing him in any noticeable way. Ron was correct, a missing leg and the coyote could still out pace me, in the short run.

“You ate the rabbit, didn’t you.”

“I was not given any. Our pack leader fed the others, but not me.” He paused, and then without looking back asked, “It bothers you, no?”

I hesitated, “Not really,” I lied, “You have to eat.”

“But you’d prefer we graze like the cows or sheep which we eat.”

“No, that’s not true.”

“Have you ever killed an animal?”

“I used to fish. I shot prairie dogs when I was a kid, at the request of a rancher in South Dakota.”

“Mmmm … prairie dogs are delicious! But that rabbit, it would come when you sat on the porch.”

He had been watching me, for days, I realized. This was the same coyote who had hung back when Trevor and I chased them from the cattle. Again, on the ridge, the one who was just ahead of me. I realized I was following my stalker and felt myself slow a bit.

“Yes, I find the rabbit to be … cute?”

“Lindo. That is something we coyotes feel for our newborn young, playing with the adults. But it doesn’t last long. We do not feel cute for another species. The rabbit is our survival.”

We reached the highest part of the open land, where the Hayman fire had cleared the trees a decade ago. We started down into the deep ravine at the base of Buffalo Peak. I had explored this area two years prior, seeking boulders for climbing.

“You humans see the animal world in a strange way.” The coyote was able to keep a full, steady pace and talk at the same time. I found it difficult to keep up. If he noticed, he did not say anything. “You draw lines between you and them. You believe intelligence separates you, that your soul makes you unique. You believe you are given dominion over us, over everything.”

“This is part of our heritage. It goes back a long, long time in our mythologies, our fairy tales, and our religion.”

He snarled, stopped, turned to look directly into my eyes, “Do you believe you are superior to me?” There was an subtle charge of anger in his voice, “That you have a right to this place in spite of me and my kind?”

It was a bold, direct question. I needed to respond carefully, for the answer was complex. “No,” I hesitated, knowing I had lied again, “That’s not true … yes, I did feel superior, until—if everyone knew you could talk, that you could communicate like this, it would change our minds.”

“Change your minds? Do you believe that is what we want? For you to treat us,” and he emphasized the word as though it were poison on his tongue, “humanely? No! We don’t want to be your pets. We don’t want to be put on a leash or forced to live within a fence. We want our freedom to hunt, to roam, to live and die as we have for millennia.”

The coyote turned and moved at his quick pace again. We were now moving South and East, following the base of the mountain. We remained in the ravine but were climbing higher. I estimated that if we continued in this direction, we would arrive to the edge of the Lost Creek Wilderness in twenty minutes.

“Now. Now we cannot even move for but an hour without crossing a road, walking beneath a power line, or coming across a human home. Your airplanes!” at that he looked up to the passenger jet bound for Denver, its engines changing pitch in their final descent, “How they make my head hurt! ¡El dolor—is enough to make me loco.”

The coyote stopped, looked to his left and right, raised his nose high in the air, but did not answer. He smelled something that I could not. He continued. The bandage on his foot was falling off, but he didn’t seem to notice. I wondered, again, where we were going.

“What is it that we will do, together, today?”

He did not answer.

“You said something about the bear, the one I met two years ago. Will he meet us somewhere?”

“You will see,” he replied.

I was feeling uncomfortable with the lack of information. I stopped to look over my shoulder. I knew my location, and could return to the ranch within an hour, but that did not make me feel any better.

The coyote sat down. He reached back and tore at the bandage with his teeth.

I offered, “I can remove that for you.”

He snarled and continued to tear at the tape until it came free. Beneath, the wound was closed, no longer moist. He spat the tape onto the ground and relied, “No.” And then following a pause, “Gracias.”

Something had changed. He was deep in thought, but about what I did not know.

We reached the highest point of the ravine, where the drainage began. On this saddle, we could turn left and South West toward the Lost Creek trailhead, or right, over the saddle and down the other side. Without hesitation, the coyote turned to the right and lead us into the wilderness.

I removed my pack as we walked, reaching inside to find an apple. I had to stop for I was tripping over roots and stones. The apple in my hand, I looked up again and he was gone. I wanted to call out, but felt it would be a sign of weakness, further evidence my species had gone soft.

I walked for ten minutes without seeing him, but continued on a game trail which I assumed he had followed. I knew I could turn back at any time, if he did not appear again, and return to the cabin. But I wanted to continue. I wanted to know where he was taking me.

On the surface of the moist soil I could see his prints. I knelt down, and noted the claw marks. Further up the trail there was a spot where he had stopped and turned in a circle. I found his scat, very much warm and fresh. It did not smell of anything in particular, and I was reminded how our own smells much stronger.

Then I noticed something in his scat—the wind shifted and I could smell, just for an instance, the sweetness of breath. I looked up to see the coyote staring at me, just a few yards away, his eyes most certainly not those of a domestic dog. He had been watching me.

I rose and said, “You lied to me.”

He did not respond, nor did he waver in his stare.

“There is rabbit fur in your scat.”

If he could smile, he did. “So human, you are an animal after all. You followed my prints. You noted where I stopped. You learned what I ate. Just now, you smelled my breath.”

“Yes. All of those.”

“Then finally we arrive to the beginning of my story, in my domain. This is where you will follow me, without your pack, without those things which give you comfort.”

I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified, for I knew what he was asking me to do. I had wanted this since I was a child, since I dreamed of being the animal man. Without another word from the coyote, I dropped my pack to the ground. I placed my sunglasses on top of the pack, and removed my clothes: jacket, shirt, pants, underwear, shoes and socks.

I stood there, no longer separated from the coyote. I noticed the bandage around his ribs was removed. His ear had heeled quickly, no sign of infection. At that rate, it would be only a matter of days before the fur was growing over the tear in his side, and he would again be hunting without limitation of injury.

“You call us the coyote, the trickster. Do you know what we call you?” he asked.

“No,” I replied.

“‘The ones who run blind’ for you are always moving quickly, but never do you know where you are going.” He paused. Took a deep breath, and then commanded, “Follow me, if you can.” This time, I was certain he was smiling.

He leaped into the air and landed facing one hundred and eighty degrees from his prior position. No sooner did he land than was he already twenty, thirty feet down the game trail. I hesitated, realizing I was leaving all that I had packed behind. But this opportunity, this chance to run with the descendant of the wolf, was not one to pass me by.

I launched after him, instantly aware of the texture of the pine needles and soil beneath my bare feet. I ran not as I would on concrete, but with short, rapid strides, pressing toes against roots, fallen branches, and large stones. Each footfall was a conscious act, each the precise placement of my body’s weight and momentum. There was no room for wondering thought, no concern for anything more than the run.

I was lighter without the pack, without my clothes. I could move completely free. My arms and hands became instruments as important as my feet, countering my balance as I twisted and turned. I was able to change direction in mid-air. Once I bounded over a large, fallen log only to realize the trail took a sharp, hard turn. I reached out to grab at a branch of the nearest pine and corrected my course, landing at the edge of a small cliff, crouched, shaking.

I caught my breath, realizing how close I had come to falling. I looked ahead and the coyote was there, looking over his shoulder back at me; just as he had when I had spotted him on the far side of the boulder many days before. I looked down, caught my breath. My feet were bleeding. I looked up again, oblivious to the tears in my skin, then bounded ahead with intent to catch my challenger.

We ran for what felt like hours, the coyote always just slightly ahead. It may be have been my imagination, but it seemed I was gaining on him. I knew humans were the longest distance running animals on the planet; that we could, over time, outrun the antelope, the gazelle, even the cheetah. But I had not considered that my coyote companion too may tire, after some time. Which one of us would stop first?

I realized I no longer knew where I was. We were in a deep ravine in which the sun did not reach. I had been sweating intensely. I stopped to catch my breath and was quickly chilled in the breeze. My bag was far, far behind me. Where exactly, I had no idea. I was alone, truly alone here, but for the coyote who enticed me into this chase.

I stood tall, recognizing the true pain in my feet for they were not accustomed to this kind of running. The adrenaline of the chase was leaving my blood. I was not certain I could continue. I started to panic, knowing I could not go back, not without the coyote’s assistance.

“You look frightened mi amigo.”

“I- I’m cold. My feet hurt.”

Estás vivo!” He walked down the path toward me, continuing, “In fear, in the face of death even, is when we are most aware of who we really are.” His tone had changed, more serious, more sincere. The game was over.

“You ran well. Another twenty minutes and you would have overtaken me. Perhaps another time, when your feet are stronger, you will show me how the humans can run—before machines ran for you.” His words carried a sense of respect, but the bitterness returned.

I was shivering now, and feeling quite vulnerable. Naked, I sat down on a log. The coyote standing before me.

He seemed unconcerned for my comfort, “Because you make things with your hands you have control over,” he looked around, “over all of this. But if you had paws instead of fingers, no amount of intelligence would give you the power to control.” The resentment in his voice was clear now.

He was pacing, like a caged dog in a shelter or a zoo. I grew concerned.

“You use numbers to calculate our behavior. You predict our populations’ rise and fall. You catch us to study our blood, to learn if we are coyote, or coywolf or coydog.” He stopped, and looked directly at me, “Have you applied numbers to your own kind? Have you placed yourself on a graph to see what you have done and where you are going?”

I realized he was in fact seeking an answer, “Yes. We have. We see the issues of population growth as very, very real.”

“And what will you do about it?”

“We, we,” I already knew my answer would only support his claim, “We improve our techniques for farming and for harvesting animals. We incre–”

He cut me off, “But you do not curb your populations. You only work to make them grow.”

I shook my head, “It’s not so simple. It is against our cultural and social norms to tell each other how many children we should have. In fact, some believe god tells them to have more.”

The coyote laughed, the first full laugh I had heard from him. It was like the barking I heard outside the cabin. He continued, “A god who tells you to overpopulate is a god who desires more to follow—at the cost of her own creation.”

He turned away from me and took a deep breath. When he spoke again, his voice had returned to that when he first spoke the night before, “You helped me heal. I will do the same for you.”

I didn’t know what he meant, but when he walked forward and nudged my feet with his nose I understood. I leaned back and he licked the bottom of my feet clean, the wounds stinging at first, but not for long. The left, then the right. I lowered myself from the log and sat cross legged on the ground, leaning back for support. I had stopped sweating, my skin dry. No longer did I shiver.

“Gracias,” I offered, but he did not respond.

I wanted to continue the conversation, I realized, because I felt ashamed for the actions of my species. The coyote sat next to me now, the warmth of his body helping me to find comfort. I spoke in a quiet voice, the kind used across a campfire at night. I reached down and picked up a small stick, drawing in the dirt between us as I spoke.

“Yes, we see our patterns. Our population growth, the plagues and famines. Even our warfare is something we show in mathematical form. We, like you, like all the animals, behave according to resource allocation, confines of geographic space and time. We are coming to this conclusion, and yet …”

“You change nothing.”

I raised my voice and countered, “If you had unlimited rabbits at your disposal, enough for everyone such that you did not have to hunt—What if each of you could have your own rabbit every night, would not your population also grow?”

He saw the logic in my words, “Sí, es verdad. We have seen this, from time to time, our populations growing then dropping again. But it is never sustained. Not for long.”

“Neither will ours. At some point, we will be confronted with very real limits of this planet.”

“At that point, I hope I am dead. My children too. The coyote will survive, maybe even prosper, but it will not be a world for me,” he said.

“I agree.”

Then we both heard a branch snap, followed by another. The relative silence of the forest was broken by a grunt and heavy breathing. The one ear of the coyote stood up before he rose to his feet. Startled, my heart raced, I also stood, again becoming aware that I was fully naked.

I looked to my front and both sides, then down to the coyote to looked straight ahead. A large, black shape emerged from the trees and came toward us on the trail. It was a bear.

This story continues with Part IV

Copyright © Kai Staats 2013

By |2019-10-05T15:17:59-04:00October 7th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, Dreams|0 Comments