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When the Coyote Calls – Part V

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

I awoke to the ground beneath me, covered in a thick blanket of pine needles and leaves. On top of me, wrapped around me was a large, massive body. Incredibly heavy. I could not take a deep breath, but was warm despite my lack of clothing.

A long, slow inhale drew cool air across the back of my neck. Following a pause, an equally long but warm exhale told me my captor was not human, for the scent of animal filled my nostrils. When I attempted to turn onto my side, the weight of the body on mine was too much, and I was held fast.

I opened my eyes to see a beam of sunlight across the forest floor, just a few feet in front of me. I also recognized the massive, black paw of a bear.

“Bear?” I said.

I did not receive an answer, but heard snoring.

“Bear? Is that you?”

No response.

“Bear! Wake up!” I yelled as loud as I could, given the limited capacity of my lungs under such a mass.

“What? Oh! Oh my! Is that– are you, are you beneath me?” I heard from behind my head.

“Yes, it’s me. You are on top of me Bear. Please, get off.”

“I am so sorry. I meant only to keep you warm, for a few hours. But it seems I fell to sleep.”

He rolled off of me and the warmth of his body on mine was replaced by the warmth of the sun. I rolled onto my back and opened my eyes. I was facing the sky overhead, blue and unencumbered by clouds of any kind. Bear was to my side, stretching, yawning, his massive teeth white at the tips but stained toward the base. I thought he should brush his teeth more often, laughed inside at the thought, and then my situation came back to me.

Bear was blinking his eyes, slowly waking, head resting on paws extended. My backpack was at his side.

I called to him again, “Bear?”

He opened his eyes fully and stared at me, “Yes.”

I rolled slowly onto my side, the pain in my head and neck still present. Seated, with my legs bent before me, I reached up to feel the dried blood on my neck, a scab already formed over the punctures and scrapes. Fear and anger surged with the memory of the previous night, outrage at the betrayal by those I thought were my friends. I had taken the Coyote in. Two years prior I had befriended the Bear. Yet, in the end, he did nothing when the mountain lion attacked.

“You are angry with me, I know,” Bear said, his eyes fixed on mine at first, then he looked down to the ground. He must have read the emotion in my face.

“Did you know, all along, what would happen to me?”

“Yes. I knew,” he said calmly. Any sense of humor in my otherwise, usually quite clever friend was lost.

“You knew? And you did not stop the lion? You did nothing!?”

“I did nothing … or I did all I could, depending upon your point of view.”

“My point of view? Are you kidding me?!” I was angry now, leaning forward despite the pain. I continued, “I was naked. I still am! I had been running barefoot, chasing the coyote for, for I have no idea how many miles. Without clothing, food, or—only to have a mountain lion bite my throat until I bled and passed out. I— I thought I was dead!”

“Lion promised me he would not let it come to that,” Bear said in a calm, matter-of-fact tone.

I started to sob, for the full experience rushed through me again. Exhaustion. Hunger. Fear. Letting go. Calm. All mixed into a single, instant memory. I jumped to my feet, wanting to run, but as soon as I was standing the trees above me spun wildly, the sky suddenly to my left and then my right and—I fell again. My knees and palms pressed into the earth, my back arched, tears and spittle falling onto the dry needles beneath me. My stomach heaved, but without food or water, nothing was produced.

The sound of my own pain was replaced with that of the stream. I looked up from my position. The tiny waves formed and collapsed again, just a few feet in front of me. I crawled forward on hands and knees until my fingers and palms were cooled by the water on the shallow shore. I leaned forward and drank, nearly falling into the water for the rush of cold caused my vision to go dark.

I sat back onto the bank. The bear snorted and walked toward me. In his mouth he carried my backpack.

“Coyote. He brought this for you, while we slept.”

“Coyote,” I repeated, shaking my head.

He took one step closer and carefully set the pack at my feet, then turned and walked away. I reached down, without making eye contact, and slowly pulled onto my body my underwear, pants, shirt, socks and shoes. My feet remained incredibly sore, such that I considered that barefoot might be less painful than shoes. The jacket was comforting for its warmth and sense of security. Yet, I felt oddly disconnected from these things, as though they belonged in a museum for who I once was.

I removed the food from my backpack, tearing bread and cheese with my hands and teeth. I was shaking, nearly in tears again, more from lack of nutrition than the emotions this time. The apple was cool and refreshing.

I tossed one apple to where Bear was seated. I heard it hit the ground and roll, but I did not look up. The sound of the bear eating the apple was quickly replaced by the sound of footfall. He was standing again, by my side.

My trust had been broken. I no longer felt safe in his presence. I shied away, leaning to one side.

He said, “We should go.”

“Why should I go anywhere with you?”

Bear simply looked back.

I waited.

“I did this for you.”

“For me?!”

“Yes, for you.”

I rose to both feet, the sugars in the apple and fat in the cheese granting me some strength and focus, the ability to stand again. The bottom of my feet yet burned, even against the relatively soft weave of the thick socks.

“You, you asked the mountain lion to attack me—for me?”

“In a way, yes.”

I raised my hand to my neck again, some of the dried blood flaking and falling onto my fingers. Shaking my head I said, “I— I don’t understand.”

“When we first met, I showed you my world, from ridge top to valley bottom. That world is growing smaller and more confined, with the increased number of your kind. In that place I am afraid for my future, the future of what we call home—”

I interrupted him, “You wanted for me to feel your fear?”

“No. I wanted for you to feel your own fear … and then let it go. You have to let it go, as I have, to be free.”

I took a deep breath, held it for a moment and looked over his shoulder, to the blue of the horizon between the pines, the sun overhead, and back to his massive paws pressed into the forest floor. I forced my eyes to rise to meet his. In that moment, I realized that what he had shared with me was real, what Coyote and Lion had taken and given back to me again was now a part of who I had become.

“Then I should thank you, it seems, for what you have done for me,” I said, partly in sarcasm, partly in truth.

He did not respond, but lowered his face and walked forward until his breath warmed the back of my hand.

Yet feeling resentment, I retrieved my backpack from the forest floor, and turned to walk side-by-side with the bear. We followed the trail back, toward where this adventure had begun. I recognized sections where I had run behind Coyote. I recalled the freedom of that run, the lightness I felt. I recall no longer concerned with what lay behind, rather only what lay ahead.

I regained my comfort with bear, but truly, I regained confidence in me. At my suggestion, Bear and I explored side valleys and walked along high ridges. We talked little, for there was not much to be said. As we moved, two or three times I heard a branch break or a stone kick loose not far away. Coyote I assumed, following, listening, yet the trickster even in the shadows.

Bear asked, “Did you ever find the woman, the one you had lost?”

I laughed, remembering our first conversation long ago, “Yes, I have.” I paused to enjoy the comfort I felt in those words, “We have built a new friendship.”

“Ah! Very good! I hope I can meet her, soon.”

We walked a bit further, when he said, “I would like to introduce you to someone important to me.”

I heard branches break underfoot again, and from the shadow of a fir emerged a massive bear. I could not help but step back, pressing against Bear without awareness of my action. Nudging me forward, Bear laughed, “It’s ok. This is my companion, my mate I told you about when we first met.”

I took two hesitant steps forward. She was massive, much taller than my friend such that I felt I was looking nearly straight ahead. She also approached me, and pressed her snout into my hand. But then she rose up, without her paws leaving the ground, and our noses touched, hers moist and cool. Her wide face and head, much larger than my own, pulled back and she exhaled. I could smell her breath, neither sweet nor foul, but alive.

Bear walked around me and stood at her side. They greeted each other with noses and paws, and what sounded to me like grunts and moans. Coyote emerged from the same shadow. She-Bear nodded in his direction. He turned toward me, his jowl pulled back in an attempted human smile, “Adiós mi amigo. Espero verlos pronto.” Then he was gone, quickly, without a sound.

Bear said, “This is where we again part ways, for now.”

“So soon?”

“I have need to start a family. It is time, for me.”

“I understand.”

I turned to his companion, “It was good to meet you. Perhaps we will cross paths again.”

“I would like that very much,” she said, “Until then.”

“Until then.”

Bear nudged my hand once again. I rubbed his head and ears and he buried his muzzle in my stomach.

He and his companion then turned, without a second glance, and walked back from where we had come.

I watched them until their earthen color blended with the forest floor, tree trunks and underbrush such that only their gradual motion enabled me to detect them from their surroundings. I tightened the straps of my pack, turned, and continued along the ridge and down a rocky out-cropping.

A few hours later, just as the sun was meeting the horizon and the blue sky was tinted with purple, I could see the cabin in the distance. The temperature dropped quickly and a light breeze picked up. I arrived to the back door just as the last natural light faded. No longer could I see distinct color in the path before me.

I opened the door, stepped in, and was home.

This story concludes with The Gathering

By |2019-10-05T15:18:06-04:00November 6th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, Dreams|0 Comments

When the Coyote Calls – Part IV

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

The coyote called out, “You’re late, amigo!”

The bear looked up and saw me, ignoring the coyote’s implication, “Ah. It is good to see you again.” Looking at me from head to toe he added, “All of you.” I remembered the bear had a good sense of humor.

I wanted to run to him, to wrap my arms around him, but remembered this was not a petting zoo, and C.S. Lewis did not pen this story. The bear walked directly to me, his eyes at the height of my chest. His breath was warm on my skin. He looked down to the coyote and said, “I see you have been to your tricks again, bringing this human here without his clothing.”

The coyote looked down, and for the first time since I had met him, he was without words to respond.

I didn’t know what he meant by ‘tricks’ but responded to the bear, “It is good to see you again, also.”

“It has been two full turns of the seasons, and then some,” he responded.

“Yes. It has,” I responded. I was disappointed, hoping for a stronger reunion. We had shared much when we first met, and yet now, he seemed as though he had forgotten, or no longer cared.

“Much has changed. Much is the same.”

Coyote looked over his shoulder, to the bear, and then to the forest which surrounded us.

Bear said, “You appear nervous Coyote.”

Coyote did not respond, at first, but took a step back and turned, looking down the trail. He glanced over this shoulder at us and said, with some concern, “Tenemos que ir ahora.”

“Where are we going now?” I asked?

Coyote responded, “You’ll see. Soon, you’ll see.”

I looked to the bear for more information, assurance, but received none.

Coyote trotted away at a fairly brisk pace. For this, I was thankful for the chill of the late afternoon was affecting me. I warmed again, with the movement, but without food knew I would soon be chilled again. We followed a game trail, Coyote in front and Bear behind me. The fairy tale nature of this venture occurred to me from time to time. I found myself hoping we would stumble upon other humans, hiking or sitting along side a campfire. I pictured myself jogging by, my animal companions on either side of me. But we encountered no one. Surely, the keen senses of either of them would detect another animal long before any encounter.

We continued for another hour in the ravine alongside the stream. I stopped to drink, my body reacting to the exertion of the day. I was dehydrated, my mouth dry, my head a little too warm. I lowered myself and took the chance of contracting an illness, as no stream in the lower forty eight States was without parasites in the past fifty years. But it would be several days before I would show signs. By then, I would be back to the comfort of the cabin.

My energy returned to me. My feet were submerged in the cold, shallow water of the bank. I recalled those times when as children my brother and I would dare each other to submerge our hands in cold water, to see who could tolerate it the longest. I looked up from the stream and noticed a beam of sunshine just in front of me, wide enough to warm my bare skin.

I stood and moved a few feet upstream. Over my shoulder I could see Coyote and Bear waiting for me on the trail. Coyote was sitting. Bear remained standing. They were not conversing, or at least, not in a manner I could see or hear. Once I had warmed myself, I moved toward them saying, “I am excited to have you as my companions today. This adventure is, is beyond my imagination. But it is getting late. I need to head back to my bag, my clothes, if not the cabin before too long.” I felt uneasy, not wanting to undermine the efforts of my hosts, for they were intent upon showing me something important to them. They just stared at me. I continued, “I, I don’t mean to be rude. I really want to continue. But I am naked,” I laughed uneasily, “I won’t be able to spend the night out here, not like this,” pointing to my body. “Do you think maybe we could–”

Both the Coyote and Bear lowered their heads just as I heard the faint crack of a branch breaking behind me and without pause, another. I spun ’round to see what was approaching when I was knocked to the ground, the weight of something tremendous fully upon me. My face hit the ground without my hands breaking the fall. I felt pine needles and small stones embed themselves in the skin of my right cheek, forehead, and shoulder. Whatever was on top of me was incredibly strong, it’s body covered in fur which now pressed against my skin.

I tried to roll out from beneath its weight, struggling to regain my feet but I could barely move. I called out, “Bear! Please–” and then the hot breath of a powerful jaw engulfed my neck, both front and back. The teeth pierced my skin and I felt the warmth of my own blood. The teeth were perfectly placed to crush my airway, to suffocate me. I could not call out. I could no longer breathe.

My eyes filled with tears. Not for the pain, but for the fear that I felt inside. Fear of what would happen next. Fear of my life ending so unexpectedly. Fear of the unknown.

Then I felt anger. I felt cheated by Coyote whom I had helped—or had he needed help at all? The trickster. My friend the bear, he knew too. He knew this was where I was being led. What did I do to deserve this? Why?! I opened and closed my eyes rapidly to beat away the tears. I saw Bear and Coyote as they were before, heads bowed, watching. The did not come to my side. They had not even moved.

My right arm was pinned beneath me. My left arm outstretch, fingers opening and closing autonomously. I wondered why they did that for they no longer felt a part of me. Then I saw the paw, shifted to just inches from my nose. The claws were extended. The mountain lion relaxed and the weight on my back increased. The last bit of air in my lungs was forced out. I noticed the claws no longer dug at the dirt with the same intensity.

Many years ago, before I headed into the back country of Denali National Park, Alaska I had read a book about bear attacks. I would be alone there for two weeks, several days at a time without seeing another human. I wanted to better understand the behavior of bears. I learned as much about how humans behave when confronted with something so powerful as their own death. Those who could walked away, ran, or fought back. Some screamed for help until it came or they were overcome. Some survived. Some did not, the story told by those who found the remains.

One woman remained still while the bear scratched at her skull, the sound of its teeth echoing in her head over and over again. She lived. I never understood why she didn’t fight back … until this day. I thought of all the ways to respond. I recalled with rapid clarity all the things I was suppose to do. But my entire body was immobilized as much by the presence of this creature as by the power of his teeth, jaw, and claws. I gave in.

As when I was a child, I lost all sense of time. One moment was an hour. That hour was an entire day. And that day was without comparison to any other I had lived before. I had run with a Coyote. I had been reunited with my companion the Bear. I had played my part in the game, and I played it well.

I could see neither Bear nor Coyote nor the paw in front of me for my vision was gone. I heard Coyote bark and then howl. Bear shuffled his feet and snorted. The breath of Lion above me remained warm, even soothing.

Slowly, the voices in my head became silent. The chatter was gone. No concern for deadlines. No worry for finances. No confusion over relationships with friends and family. I was free of language, my thoughts replaced with emotion. While I had in what seemed like hours before grieved for the loss of all that I considered—I no longer heard any sounds. Even the warmth of Lion’s breath was gone. I was taken by a sense of calm like none I had ever experienced. I felt honored to be given the life I had lived, to experience something so incredible.

I smiled. Then I was done.

This story continues with Part V

By |2019-10-05T15:18:02-04:00November 4th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, Dreams|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

When the Coyote Calls – Part II

This story begins with When the Coyote Calls


“Kaister meister! What’s happening?”

I have always loved the way Ron greets me, nearly the same since I was a kid in Springfield, South Dakota. He made me recite supercalifragilisticexpialidocious before I was offered one of the cookies his mother had baked. He was a college student then, living in a dormitory my parents managed.

“I’m doing well. A crazy night and unusual morning, but I am ok.”

“Bets and I just got back from a five mile hike, up to the top of Table Mountain, down the backside, and home again. I did the whole thing with fifty pounds in my pack. Not bad for an old man, huh?”

“Nope. You push sixty back a dozen years.”

“Well, we’ll just see how long I can keep this up. My doctor says I’m in a good shape and I can still carry a hundred pound pack in the Brooks Range, so I guess I’m do’n ok.”

In the background I heard Betsy’s voice, “Hi Kai!”

Raising my voice a bit so it would carry across the room from the speaker phone, “Hi Betsy!”

Ron picked up the phone, disconnecting the speaker, “So, what’s up?”

“Well, how close have you come to a coyote?”

“Oh, I don’t know Kai. A few times, when the wind was blowing the right direction, I surprised one or two,” he paused then his voice raised excitedly, “But there was this one time when I was up in the Wind Rivers and came over a ridge, just me and a buddy from back in the Dakotas. Right there, in front of us there was a whole mess of ’em. Maybe seven or ten. More than we had ever seen at one time, playing, frolicking in the meadow. But boy, you should ‘ve seen them jump up and run when they saw us com’n. That was pretty cool.” I could hear the smile in Ron’s voice, his incredible passion for all things wild impossible to contain. As a hunter, writer, photographer and conservationist he felt more deeply about preserving what remains of the natural world than anyone I had ever known.

“Do they, do the coyotes ever attack humans?”

“Historically, no, not really. Not before we industrialized this continent and fenced it all in to run our cattle. But what’s happened now is that the coyote, Canis latrans, is actually spreading, increasing its range as the human population encroaches on its territories. There are more reports of coyotes eating domestic dogs and cats and even,” Ron paused in the way a storyteller sets up the climax, “even going after humans, mostly toddlers, from time to time. East Coast and Southern California. It’s happening with mountain lions too, getting cyclists or joggers. But yeah, there is more confrontation now. It’s just gonna to get worse in urban areas, I’m afraid.”

“Sad,” I tried not to show the fear in my voice. I looked from the kitchen to the living room were the coyote yet lay, curled in front of the stove despite the lack of fire inside.

“Now this is where it gets really interesting. Genetic tests have shown that coyotes and wolves are interbreeding more now than ever before. And in Oklahoma and Texas, it’s really crazy. Coyotes and domestic dogs are interbreeding too. That really changes things as coyotes become fertile only once per year, but domestic dogs can breed all year round. Their offspring are less afraid of humans, more aggressive and the populations are growing.”

“Amazing. All because of humans?”

“Yeah. We really screw things up, over and over again. But we never realize it until it’s too late. But those coyotes, you don’t have worry about them going extinct. They adapt quickly. Did ya know ‘Coyote’ means ‘the trickster’ in Spanish? They used to be diurnal predators, but due to the human pressure, they changed to be mostly nocturnal?”

“No, I thought they were always nocturnal!”

“Nah, that’s relatively recent. Amazing, isn’t it!?”

I didn’t respond, but noticed the coyote was now stretched out. Was he listening?

“So, what’s got you so interested in coyotes?”

I hesitated, not certain what to share, “Well, I–, um, you know, nearly every night I hear the coyotes calling not far from the cabin. Sometimes up in the pastures.”

“Yeah, that’s really neat. I never tire of hearing them either.” Again, Ron’s passion for the living, non-human world came through in the excitement of his every word.

“Well, last night, I swear they were right off the porch. I mean, right there in front of me. I could hear everything, even the growling and chewing. It was amazing.”

“Oh man! I’ve heard that too, usually from within a tent but sometimes on the back porch here in Boise. So, did you get a good look at ’em? What’d they catch?”

“No, it was too dark, the sky clouded over and the moon in its new phase. But,” I hesitated again, “but one of the coyotes, he was injured. It looks like he was attacked.”

“What? What happened?”

“Well, he came up on the porch after the rest left. He’s missing an ear, has a big hole in his side, and one of his paws is pretty messed up.”

“He’s on your porch! Oh man!,” now Ron was really excited, “That’s really strange. Usually, they’d just run off, no matter how bad the injury. They sure don’t like being touched by humans.”

“So, you’ll think he’ll recover?”

“Well, I am just surprised he didn’t run off. That scares me more than anything. Might be diseased or something. It’s just not normal for a coyote to hang out with humans. Hell, I’ve seen a coyote with a leg blown off run for miles, heal and come back the next year. One of the fattest, well-furred coyotes I ever saw was flop’n a hind leg halfway up the thigh while hunting prairie dogs in Wind Cave National Park,” he paused for emphases, “at thirty degrees! He was still mov’n so fast, I couldn’t have caught him on a gravel road with my mountain bike.”


“But, if he doesn’t recover, and don’t run off, you gotta put him down Kai. Nothing else to do.”

“I had a feeling you’d say that.”

“Kaister. Either he’s gonna get up and run, starve, or get eaten by something bigger. You can shoot ‘im, make it clean and quick, and then take the carcass a few miles away and let him be food for another scavenger.”

“I know. I know. That’s how it works. You know I am not opposed to that, even though I am a vegetarian,” I paused, smiling even though Ron could not see me, “But this time, I just can’t.”

“Well, you can’t keep him. He was not brought up by humans. Even then they turn mean, eventually. Like lion and bear cubs too. It’s just too dangerous.”

“I know. It takes generations, but this one,” I leaned around the corner again and the coyote was gone, “Oh shit! He’s gone! I gotta go. Sorry. I’ll call you later.”

“Wha-?” I hung up and rounded the corner. He was no where to be seen. I ran to the door and pressed it open, stepping quickly onto the porch again.

“You gonna shoot me now? Put me out of my misery?”

He was there, where I had found him last night, sitting up, the bandaged leg protruding from beneath his torso. He was beautiful, even in his injured state. Stunning to look at in the sun.

“No. No. Of course not. I just wanted– I wanted to know more. Ron is a lifelong conservationist, an expert in his field. He, more than anyone I know, gets what’s going on out there,” I waved my outstretched arm, gesturing to the pasture, the forest, and mountains.

“Out there?” the coyote asked, no intent to hide his sarcasm, “You mean over there, between those trees,” he pointed with his snout and nose, “Or there, in that valley. Or the next ridge over?”

I looked to each of the places he had noted.

“What about here, aquí, between you and me, on this porch, inside su casa. And your farms, your cities, your landfills? Does he get what’s happening there?”

“Yes, he does. He understands, more than anyone I know.”

“You’ve known him for a long time, have you?”

“Since I was just three years old. He is like a second father to me.”

“Bueno. We need more like him. But don’t worry about me any more. You did good last night,” looking down at his paw and to his side, at the bandage holding the gauze in place over the hole in his side, “Lo hiciste bien.”

“I need to change those bandages.”

“Su amigo Ron, he’s right, you know, I will starve, eventually, if I don’t heal. The pack, it’s not like you humans, we can’t care for those who can’t pull their own. It’s not that we wouldn’t, we just can’t. It’s not what we do. Nunca tenemos. Nunca lo hará.”

“Did they do this to you?” pointing to his injuries.

“Yes, the pack leader. He did this, the others formed a circle so I could not escape.”

I was shaken, images in my mind too terrible to hold on to “But why?”

“Because of what I believe I must do.”

I waited, saying nothing.

“Because I came to you. Because of where we are going, together.”

“Are they angry you are speaking to me?”

“It’s not about speaking. For thousands of years we spoke to humans, until the new people arrived,” he paused, considering what to say next, “It’s about the befriending your people. Your species has taken nearly everything we are, all that we were and forced us to change.” He looked up at me, “No one likes to change.”

I nodded, adding, “Like Ron said, you are mating with domestic dogs, spreading into urban areas and eating our pets.”

“Pets!” he laughed, “The concept has always made me laugh.” And then with a very serious tone, “Don’t get any ideas human, I am not your pet. You will not be feeding me food from your table!?” His voice trailed into a snarl and I sensed his pride. “No, you will kill me, in the end, and carry my body to a higher place for the bear and the birds and the worms to consume.”

I started to respond, but he bared his teeth and snarled again.

I went back inside to gather the medical kit, tape, and gauze. The coyote was patient and showed no pain when I reopened, cleaned again, and repacked the area where his rib had been exposed. It was healing already, the blood coagulating, a light brown and pink crust forming with a little fluid in the center. But the fluid was clear, not white, and the pink was not spreading. No infection, from what I could tell.

What was left of his ear was also drying, strands of fur helping to form a scab more quickly than if it were clean. Very little liquid yet oozed from the wound.

The coyote stood, shook his coat free of the pine needles which had stuck to his fur, and thanked me. Then he continued, “There is a divide among our kind, a kind of decision being made. We are not all in agreement, some of us willing to risk our lives to take a risk.”

“You risked your life by coming to me?”

“No. That is the easy part. What lies ahead, that is the risk we will both take, together.”

This story continues with Part III

Copyright © Kai Staats 2013

By |2019-10-05T15:17:57-04:00October 5th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, Dreams|0 Comments

When the Coyote Calls

I pushed away from my computer and rose from my chair to open the cast iron doors to the wood burning stove. The sun had set an hour prior and outside, the snow continued to fall in small, light flakes that melted upon contact with the ground. It was the first time the temperature would drop below thirty this season, the needles of the pines at higher elevation lightly dusted in white.

The coals glowed, yet hot enough to quickly ignite the next split log I placed on them. The stove, while small and somewhat of a poor design for cleaning, did enable adequate airflow from beneath the fire to burn thoroughly and at a moderate temperature.

I had at sunset closed the wooden door to the front porch, for even with the snow falling, I enjoyed the natural light more than a perfectly warmed room, the radiant heat more than compensating for the draft of the ill sealed screen door.

Then I heard it, the coyotes calling. I had not heard them for three, maybe four nights. They were close, very close, as though they were just outside the door.

I moved quickly to release my camera from the tripod, my fingers automatically switching the camera from still photos to video as I moved to the door.

They were right there! Maybe even inside the fence. I had never heard them so loud, so clearly before. My heart was racing, for at this proximity, they no longer sound like small dogs that banter playfully with the setting of the sun or rise of the moon—these were powerful, healthy canines which were likely fighting for a freshly killed rabbit, mouse, or squirrel.

I pressed on the release to the screen door, my camera on and at my side. I realized I was not wearing shoes, just wool socks. No matter, the porch was not wet, just damp as the intermittent sun had dried some of the moisture between light snows all afternoon.

Slowly, I took three more steps to the edge of the porch and in the darkness found by touch the corner post and railing onto which I placed my camera, already recording. (listen)

The film maker in me wished I had an infrared camera to capture the coyotes visually. The darkness was well formed, my vision limited to just a few feet beyond the cone of light from the window to my back and left.

I could hear yelping, as I had countless nights before. But this time, I also heard snarling, biting, and one of the dogs very clearly dominating the others, but not in play.

Part of me wanted to turn around and quickly return inside, but more of me wished I had shoes, to push out further into the yard with hope of catching a glimpse, no matter how brief, of these animals.

I had seen coyotes this summer and fall. Trevor, the ranch hand, and I had heard them scrapping in the middle of the day, not long after one of the cows had given birth to a calf. We were worried the coyotes had gotten to her, and were feasting on her flesh. But we also knew it was unlikely, for these cattle were very large, and would circle ’round the young until they could fend for themselves.

We hurried to the furthest pasture and found the cattle alert but not on the defense. Up the hill, however, near the fence line of the Buffalo Peak Ranch property, Trevor spotted one, then three coyotes beyond the thick brush and a fallen tree.

Two of them were moving to our right, through a gully and then up the hill. The third held back, seemingly less concerned for our presence, even curious. It was only when we were within a few hundred feet that it too departed, moving to catch the others to the South.

Just last week I was hiking on the North East corner of the property toward dusk. I followed the same fence line, but on the opposite, Western end, back down toward Stony Pass Road. The wind had slowed to where I could hear clearly again, and smell the moisture held in the fallen needles.

I was watching my feet as I walked, careful to not trip and fall over the exposed roots onto a shin dagger, a succulent with sharp needles which if engaged would easily embed themselves in your leg.

A flash of gold caught my eye, not more than fifty feet to my front and just past the fence to my left. A deer? No, it was too small. It was a coyote, alone, just beyond a boulder.

I increase my pace, but then slowed again, knowing it would only spook and run too far. I stopped, held my breath, hoping to see it again. Nothing. Not even a sound. So quickly, so easily they escape.

I pressed the lower of the middle two strands of barbed wire down, nearly to the ground, lowered my torso until it was nearly parallel with the ground and ducked through the fence. I had been doing this since I was a kid on my grandparent’s farm in Iowa. I could not recall the last time I actually snagged my clothing. Or was it just this summer when Trevor and I were building the concrete dam?

Once on the East side of the fence, I walked ’round the boulder where the coyote had been. No scat, no strands of fur, not even a paw print that I could recognize.

There! On the horizon, the coyote was far ahead of me and completely out of reach. I knew I had lost this game of chase. With no hope of catching him I ran up the hill, every footfall breaking sticks and overturning small stones. The sound of my laboring gate was surely audible to the coyotes, elk, and bear for more than a mile around.

The game was fun, just the same. As the old stories do tell, the coyote was laughing back at me.

I left the camera on the railing, recording what it could capture in audio. I slowly walked backward, my memory of one too many horror films telling me that from the darkness one would emerge with eyes glowing, teeth bared. But no, I reminded myself, coyotes do not attack humans as I knew from several nights in the desert north of Phoenix where I slept a top a rock pillar, watching a pack eat its prey by moon light. If they caught my scent, they always turned and ran.

Once inside the cabin again, I ran on the balls of my feet yet trying to be quiet to grab my headlamp from the kitchen counter. Returned to the screen door, I pressed slowly on the lever, opened the door to the cool night air again, and found my camera yet running. The coyotes had ceased their banter. I turned on the light and shown it into the night, hoping to see the reflection of the broad beam in their eyes.

Nothing. Not a one.

Then I heard the scattering of paws and legs and breath beyond the fence line. I reached for my camera. My fingers and thumb found the familiar grip, I automatically turned it off without looking, as I had countless thousands of times before.

My socks stuck to the freezing, moist wood. I pulled them loose and walked back inside. Turning, I reached for the door handle, the flicker of orange and yellow fire light reflecting on the glass to my front. And a pair of eyes.

I spun so fast the camera nearly flew from my hand. Instantly, I was crouched in a fighting position, ready to do battle with whatever it was that was behind me. I could already smell the sweat under my arms and felt a light trickle of moisture run down the outside of my right thigh.

It’s funny what we think of at times like this, with that potentially thin line between life and death wavering, when I caught myself wondering why I did not feel sweat run down both legs—why only one?

I looked at the steps to the porch. Nothing there. Then a little further out, left and right and center. Nothing. And again, a little further, maybe thirty feet now beyond the cone of light. Nothi—for an instant, yes, two eyes opened to the light, and then shut again.

Frozen, I waited, not daring to breath. I kept telling myself, it’s just a coyote. They are small, frightened dogs that always run. Unless this was not a coyote. Maybe they had run away not from me, but from … this.

Three, five, ten heart beats. I let my breath out slowly and then in again. My breathing was intermixed with a sudden gust of wind that reminded me winter had come.

The eyes returned, the same distance, the very same spot as before. It had not moved. Then I remembered I had my head lamp in my left hand, but hanging from the strap. I could not bring it up to my finger tips to turn it on without setting down the camera. Damn it.

Slowly, without looking away, I placed the camera on the deck of the porch, then transfered the headlamp from left to right hand and turned it on.

The beam caught fresh snow falling nearly vertical, and the same distance as is the wood pile but directly in front of the cabin, a coyote. Golden, even in the dim light of these four LEDs.

It blinked, the reflection of its eyes disappearing and then reappearing again. It was lying on its side, head raised only for a few moments before lowing again to the ground.

Was it injured? Or rabid? Surely, it did not intend to just sleep there, in the middle of the yard while its pack had abandoned it so completely. Or did it?

I was reminded of a story told to me by a friend long ago. In the desert north of McDowell Mountain, then the boundary of the North Eastern edge of the sprawl of Phoenix, he had been hiking when he came across a coyote. maimed in its right front leg. It hobbled just a few yards to his front, following the same trail. He had never been this close to a coyote and followed carefully.

Coyote stopped every now and again to look over its shoulder. Bob stopped too, careful to keep his distance. The coyote moved off the trail and up a small box canyon, just under six feet below grade at its termination.

Bob, so enthralled with this casual intermingling of the species did not realize what he had walked into until at the end of the box canyon the coyote suddenly walked quite normally, its apparent injury completely healed.

Once it regained the company of its companions, now six or seven in the pack, it turned to face Bob and he realized it was a trap. He backed a few paces, turned, and then moved back along the shallower portion of the creek bed until he returned to the trail, and only then did he look over his shoulder. No sign of the coyote nor his companions, but surely, Bob knew, they were laughing at him.

If I stepped off the porch to inspect this canine, would it be a trap? Were the others waiting, just out of reach of my vision, or perhaps on either side of the porch in shadow?

I stepped to the side to grab my camera, keeping the light on the dog which remained lying on his side. When my back pressed again the door, the knob catching my spine, I don’t know why I said it but it just came out, “I’ll— I’ll be right back.”

The coyote lifted its head and then set it down again, its tongue moving across its mouth and teeth before retracting again. It’s breathing was labored, I could tell even from this distance. If it was acting, it should win an award, I thought.

In the kitchen I put on my shoes then walked back through the living room and my office and to the front door. I was less concerned about noise this time, in fact, hoping a little noise my scare aware my potential predator.

Indeed, when I stood again on the porch and flashed my light to the spot, he was gone. I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed, for part of me wanted to continue this encounter. The coyote. Always the prankster, always laughing.

I took a deep breath of the cold night air, surely below thirty now, and dropping. I turned to my left to return to the cabin and there, just a few feet to the side of the door was the coyote, lying again on its side.

I nearly jumped over the railing for it was, it was much larger than I expected, and clearly not acting at all for it was covered in blood. I turned on my head lamp again to gain a better view. It closed its eyes and I realized I had blinded it. Again, without thinking, I said, “Oh. Sorry!”

It lowered its head, panting despite the sub freezing temperature.

I lowered myself and saw that it was truly hurt, one ear almost entirely gone, torn from its base with only a tattered fragment of the tissue remaining. A deep would exposed a rib, and its rear left paw was badly cut.

This was no actor. This was no joke. This was an animal needing help.

I quickly ran back inside to grab a bath towel, the largest I could find.

As I ran back to the porch door I flipped on the light. It flickered at first, as all compact florescent bulbs do, but warmed quickly to show me that no other coyotes remained in the yard. But there, in the distance, beyond the wood fence were a five pairs of eyes, blinking, waiting.

I rolled one half of the towel as I had learned in my Wilderness First Responder training, placing the roll against the coyotes body in order that when I lifted him, I could unroll the remaining half and immediately, without excess movement, he would be in the middle.

His body was warm to the touch, the fur software than anticipated. I wanted to stroke his legs and head, but knew that would not help the situation. He was tense, and when I reached beneath his rear legs to lift them over the bulge of the rolled towel, his head snapped back at me quickly, teeth exposed and snarling, I fell off my feet and landed on my side at the edge of the porch.

If it were not for the railing, I would have tumbled into the wet, cold grass at the base of the small aspen tree.

As though he realized his mistake, he quickly returned his head to the wooden deck and waited, not moving. I carefully returned to my feet and started talking to him, “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to help. That’s why you’re here, right? You got injured. You need help.”

He licked his lips again, and then returned to what I recognized as the breathing of pain not over heating.

I lifted his front mid-section, reaching beneath his exposed rib. His weight was quite a bit more than expected, perhaps as much as fifty or sixty pounds, my best guess.

Then his head and front shoulders. This brought me very close to his face.

I reached down, hesitated, and withdrew, recalling how quickly he had snapped and come close to my fingers just moments before.

He closed his eyes, as though in response to my fear. I waited. They remained closed. His breathing lessened. I moved in, talking again, “I just need to get you on this towel so I can bring you inside where I can better tend to your wounds.”

I lifted his head, shoulders, and reached beneath to unroll the last of the towel. Centered in the fold of cloth, I gathered the four corners and lifted him from the porch deck.

I was instantly reminded of the effort required to lift my family’s Great Dane just last month, just before she died. Four adults to move a one hundred and forty pound animal, truly no smaller than many humans.

At the door I realized I could not possibly open it and keep the coyote off the ground with one hand. I set him down again, opened the door, and reached to the top to slide the stopper to the open position.

Outside, the coyote had opened his eyes but quickly shut them when he saw me look down at him. Curious, I thought, as though he knew I remained frightened.

I knew I had brought him inside for me, not for him. His fur, his metabolism, everything about him was designed for comfort in the winter, outdoors. But if I was to help him heal, I had to be comfortable for me, risking his overheating or worse, his deciding to turn on me despite my assistance.

I set him down, gently, in front of the wood burning stove, on top of the cow hide which served as a rug. For a moment, again, a funny thought came to my mind—does a coyote feel discomfort lying on the hide of another mammal? I have heard they will roll in the flesh of a kill, to cover their own scent for a while.

As though on cue, he stopped panting for a few moments and sniffed the cow hide beneath and just beyond the edge of the towel. He looked up at me, worried it seemed, but then set his head back down again.

I was anthropomorphizing again, I knew it, but we humans see ourselves in the action of animals, especially mammals and canines even more.

Just then, he lifted his head and his one remaining ear stood straight up. I grew frightened for a moment, thinking his friends had returned to enter the cabin of their own accord. But then I heard what he had heard before me, the elk bugling on the ridge. High, piercing calls, a long shrill followed by several chirps that never quite seem appropriate for an animal so large, like a mountain lion with the voice of a household cat.

We looked at each other for a few moments, both, it seemed, enjoying that sound. I smiled and just for a moment, I believed he raised the edges of his jowls.

“Did you just smile?” I asked while running my hands along his front legs, torso, and high legs too.

No response to my question, but I could tell the pain was yet intense for him.

Nowhere that I pressed caused him to flinch, outside of those obvious places, the torn ear, exposed rib, and injured foot. No broken bones, I had to assume, applying what I knew of wilderness medicine to this non-human animal.

“I am going to get some things, to clean the wounds,” his eyes watched me as I walked away, “I’ll be right back.”

I found the hydrogen peroxide but wanted alcohol, knowing it was a far better cleaning agent and antiseptic. I made a note to review the First Aid kit at the Ranch, for it was in dismal shape.

I poured the peroxide onto the center of the clean rag, allowing it to soak a bit before attempting to clean what remained of his ear.

Speaking to calm myself, “This is going to hurt a bit, ok?”

“Ok,” the coyote responded.

I fell backward and landed against the hot metal side of the wood burning stove. I could instantly smell my synthetic sweater melting. I pulled myself away and leaned against the wall instead. I didn’t feel any pain and assumed I did not touch skin to the metal, but was too frightened to make the time to check.

“Di- did you just say ‘ok’?”

He paused, licked his lips, and then responded, “Yes. I did. But I am sorry to frighten you.”

“I- I don’t understand. Coyotes don’t talk. I mean they, you do but not in our language, in huma- I mean, English.”

“Hablo español también!” he said with an amazing Mexican accent.

“You have got to be kidding!” I shrieked, “You speak Spanish too?”

“Es mi primera lengua,” he responded, again smiling to the best of his ability despite the pain. Even in this position, unable to stand, he was finding reason to laugh.

Then I remembered. This was not the first time I had enjoyed an unexpected conversation. Two years ago, here, on the Ranch, I had experienced a brief, but powerful friendship with a bear.

Completely forgetting about the wounds, the bleeding, his labored breathing I exclaimed, “Wait! Wait! Do you, do you by chance know a, um,” I suddenly felt really stupid for asking, “a talking–”

He cut me off, a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “A talking bear?”

“Yes! Exactly!”

“Sí, I know more than one.”

“You do? More than one?”

“Of course!,” he responded, the hint of his Mexican accent present now even as he spoke English with me.

“There is one, this one I met–”

He did not interrupt me this time, but his deep sigh cut me off, “What? What is it?”

“That is why I am here. The bear, he sent me to you.”

“Oh! It’s been two years. I had begun to believe it was just a dream. He’s real? He, he’s ok?”

“No my friend, he is not a dream. And no, lo siento, he is not ok.”

At this he shut his eyes again and for a few moments did not breathe at all.

With his eyes remaining shut, he said, “He may be dying. We have very little time.”

I reached out to touch his head, and he opened his eyes to meet mine.

“Look amigo, I am a bit of a mess. Do you think you could help me with some of this?” looking to his paws and the blood soaked into the towel, “Then, then I will tell you the story amigo. And tomorrow, we go to find him.”

“Of course. I am so sorry. I, I was just caught off guard. I mean, I–”

“Entiendo. Está bien.”

I wanted to know what had happened to him, why he was injured this way. But he had shut his eyes again and they remained shut as I cleaned his wounds, applied a dressing to the exposed rib, and bandaged his paw, wrapping it with athletic tape in order that he could again stand, perhaps, in the morning.

By the time I had finished it was well after midnight. He was sleeping, apparently quite comfortable in my presence and safe from whatever inflicted these injuries.

I could not help but reach out and stroke his body, soft, warm, and golden down to his skin. He did not stir, breathing more subtle and relaxed now. I stoked the stove for the night, aware again it was for me, not him.

In the morning, if this was not a dream, he would tell me the story of my friend the bear and what had happened since I first met him two years ago. I want to understand how my new friend had come to me with these wounds. I want to know who had done this to him, and why.

This story continues with Part II

Copyright © Kai Staats 2013

By |2019-10-05T15:17:56-04:00October 5th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, Dreams|0 Comments

Equilibrium in Isolation

Isolation. We often equate this word with the dreaded mark of a highly communicable disease, a quarantine to protect those unaffected. Isolation is too often taken to be a kind of a social dysfunction, a shriveling of the virtual connective tissue which allows one person to reach out to the other.

I have lived since the 4th of June in relative isolation, on a remote ranch, some forty five minutes from the nearest town in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The cabin was shared between the ranch hand, the owner, and myself off and on again through July. Since August, it has been mostly just me, alone.

In this space and time I am rediscovering isolation as a celebration of something far greater than how I interact with others, far more joyful than how I do or do not tell a joke at the right time, listen with full intent, or lead a conversation.

With nothing more than my thoughts and my surroundings, I have found simplicity, equality, and importance in all that I do such that waking with the sun rise, reading a chapter in a book, baking bread, chasing a coyote along an elk trail in the woods, and writing are of equal importance. No one task trumps the other. I move effortlessly from one to the next, without anxiety or concern for what is right or wrong, better or worse.

In isolation I have let go of any sense of good. In isolation I have found appreciation for every thing I do. Nothing is without reason. Nor is any one thing terribly important. Every hour of every day, each step I take simply unfolds.

In this state of equilibrium there is a kind of flow that carries me from morning ’till night, the isolation itself turning inside out when I realize I never was, nor am I now truly alone for all I need and desire is right here, inside me, all along.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:36-04:00September 24th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, The Written|0 Comments

The Sustainable Solutions Paradigm

Beauty in Balance
Sustainable living begins with self-awareness and takes form in the resulting actions.

The awareness starts, for me, by reintegrating the natural and human worlds. Since ancient times humans have worked to isolate themselves from the animal world, from the “natural” world. In an effort to control our surroundings, to rise as the dominant species, we have justified our manipulation of the world in so many forms. Sometimes this is overt and deliberate, but mostly it is subtle, underpinnings in our shared vocabulary and cultural norms developed over time.

In the U.S., we need to undo a great deal of what the Industrial Revolution set in motion, then amplified by the technological revolution following WWII.

We have a misconception of living outside the natural world. I hear it often said “I want to get back to nature” or “we need to spend more time in the natural world” or even “out in nature” as though it is over there somewhere, on the other side of that ridge or that line of trees—but not here, where we stand, breathe, and live.

Even worse are the phrases “Save the environment!” or “Save the planet!” as both perpetuate the mistaken belief that “the environment” is an isolated thing, something we are not a part of but need at some level. We have relegated the rebalancing of our place in our ecosystem to that of saving a certain species of dolphin from extinction.

This planet will get along just fine with or without any given species. It will find a new balance in time. The issue is truly about whether or not we desire to live in relative balance or constant struggle with the resources available to us, and whether we find beauty in a world untouched by human hands, or one entirely under our domain. As so few of these untouched places yet exist, our domain is for a growing population, all they will know in their lifetime.

Spaceship Earth
Contrary to the beliefs of Buckminster Fuller and many of his contemporaries of the 1950s who had survived two world wars and saw this planet as plentiful, the Moon within reach, our resources are in fact quite limited and mining the Moon remains the work of science fiction. The more people we support, the less resources we have available for each of us.

Sustainability is truly about resource allocation and bioregeneration, in the end.

We are in all that we do, with every breath of our bodies and every acceleration of our automobiles, with every release of toxins at both a cellular level and from our industrial plants, involved in a constant interaction with our shared environment.

Before this begins to sound too mystical, I am speaking at a very real macro and micro level. I am speaking of the movement of molecules from one medium to another, and how our actions affect the many ecosystems we do embrace as our home.

The key is this—there is no right or wrong in our actions. There is only sustainable and unsustainable, meaning, to continue as we are, now, or to transition to a new paradigm of decreased, per capita resource consumption.

Unlike any other species on the planet, our opposable thumbs have enabled us to manage every level of our functional interaction with the world from which we take and to which we give.

I just want my milk
Let’s look at one product, one which we have harvested for more than ten thousand years–milk.

In small scale production, the cow consumes the grass which grows in the immediate field. The farmer walks from the farm house to the barn which houses the cow. The cow is manually milked. The milk is returned to the farm house, consumed, or perhaps processed into various milk products by way of heating, spinning, and filtering. The resources consumed are minimal, mostly local (outside of what is required to heat the farm house, which is a common denominator in this equation), and sustainable given the immediate rainfall, sunlight for the hay to grow.

When we purchase a carton of milk via industrial farming, we take advantage of a complex chain of events which includes the use of non-renewable resources: we pump oil from deep underground reserves, process the petroleum distillates to not only power the tractor which harvests the hay, corn, and soy which feed the cattle, but also the manufacturing of the tractor itself, the construction of the building in which the dairy cows are contained, and transportation of the milk to the plant which separates, sterilizes, and packages that which we eventually drink.

Each ounce of milk is made available to us by way of pesticides, herbicides, and hormones which enable a higher yield of milk product per acre than was possible just one human generation ago. All of this is possible due to the release of carbon based energy which will not in the lifespan of our species again be replenished.

Each plastic jug is made from the same petro-chemicals as are the herbicides, pesticides, and fuel used to harvest, store, and transport the grain. The alternative cardboard container is made from trees whose wood pulp is processed using massive amounts of water, digestive and bleaching agents, hydraulic presses, and glue to hold it altogether again. The ink is either petro-chemical based, or in food grade products, likely made from a soy product which is again a product harvested by the same means as that which feeds the cattle.

This is a light treatment of the subject, for truly, a single gallon of milk is the result of tens of thousand of individuals who made each component of the process possible. It is only with the economies of scale that such an endeavor can result in milk delivered to your grocer for less than $3.00. The real cost is almost incalculable, on a global scale.

Do I suggest elimination of technology and mass production in favour of manual labour and small, independent farms? No, but at least recognizing the total cycle and the real consumption of resources brings us back to the question of sustainability.

How long can we persist at this rate? How much of an impact does this multi-faceted, mass production system have on our fully integrated world where there are no barriers between our species, our actions and the environment?

If we accept that there is no bubble, no glass dome, no boundaries of any form which keep us from that which we think of as being over there, then sustainability is not just about recycling your glass bottles, choosing biodegradable containers, or mulching yard clippings, but yes, it can start there.

Sustainability is in some respects a waking, walking, breathing awareness in which we do not take anything for granted. With each product we buy, we make the conscious choice to examine the ingredients, to examine the packaging, and to choose the contender which was delivered to us with the least overhead—quite literally, the path of least resistance.

In the case of milk, we may choose home delivery of fresh, local milk in a glass container. Not only do we cut the real cost of packaging to a minimum by reusing (which is always better than recycling), but we once again build a relationship with the product and the humans who provide it.

This is but one story, but one example for which I could provide thousands for each product we purchase, use, and then discard. The overwhelming nature of this is clear demonstration just how far removed we have become in two, maybe three generations. Many people choose to hold their hands over their ears, shake their heads, and exclaim “It is too much to think about. I don’t want to know how it all works! I just want my milk!”

Therein lies the source of the problem. When we were hunter-gatherers every person shared the knowledge and experience to survive, as an individual or in a collective, shared tribe. As we transitioned to agrarian we became masters of resource allocation, specialization, and our populations expanded. Only in the past fifty years did we again transition to a technological foundation and in so doing, became fully removed, as individuals, from most of what we consume. There is such an elaborate, complex story behind nearly every product we buy that we cannot possibly understand nor appreciate what makes delivery of that product possible.

How many people in the U.S. have ever pulled a fresh carrot from the ground? Sewn their own clothing, or chopped the head off a chicken, pulled its feathers, and prepared it for a meal or storage?

Everynowandagain we are surprised to learn that twelve year old girls in China are assembling our cell phones, or that our fast food is comprised of more synthetic compounds than real flesh and bone. It is these harsh reality checks that help to rebalance the equation, to remind us that economies of scale do not always lend themselves to sustainability for they are not in isolation.

This is precisely how we can point somewhere over there and say, “That is nature” when in fact we are standing in nature at all times. To be sustainable, we must make individual choices which reduce our total consumption. This will in effect, over time, modify our collective consumption and our cultural norms.

If we do not proactively make these choices, “nature” will take us down that path without our consent, not as punishment but as part of the inevitable feedback loop in which we do exist.

My own choices, my own actions
I have been traveling across North America and overseas for the past two years. I seldom eat at restaurants. Whenever possible I purchase from someone as close to the source as possible. I am vegetarian for more than twenty five years and while I am by no means against eating meat, there are simply too many people on the planet to make meat centerpiece to each meal. I carry with me my own fork, knife, spoon, and cup and refuse, whenever possible, to eat from disposable dishes. I never accept bottled water. Even in Kenya, I purchased a water filter for my adopted children in order that they might reduce their impact (and it will save nearly $100 USD in the first year).

I know this invokes the image of dreadlocks and baggy, unwashed clothes, but I am a working, well groomed professional. I am, quite literally living as my grandparents did just two generations before me. They carried their own dishes to picnics and family reunions, and at the end of the day, brought them home again. We have become complacent, a throw-away society disconnected from our own actions.

Sustainability can be as simple as asking yourself, “How would my grandparents have done it?” The answer is usually a sustainable one.

On a personal level, sustainable action just feels right. To not live at least attempting sustainability is to perpetuate the false belief that we are, as individuals and as a species, somehow insulated from the total world. I don’t want to live like that. It is not healthy for me, for those with whom I interact, nor those whom I will never meet.

My advice, if it is received, is to not draw lines of black and white. Find instead shades of gray. Make small decisions, incremental steps toward living with improved awareness. Practice, but do not preach. Share what you have learned when someone asks, but do not push it on them. Be an example, and people will want to follow. And that is how the total system can change, one person, one consumer at a time.

A world not small enough

Today I received emails from two dozen locations in the U.S., Germany, and South Africa too. I sent a story to my adopted children in Kenya, a business update to colleagues in Wisconsin and Tanzania, and communications of various forms to a colleague in Canada, my professor in South Africa, and friends in Hawaii, Chile, and Palestine. This afternoon I spoke with my grandmother in Iowa and my brother in Phoenix; this evening a good friend in Peru. Tonight, I was surprised to discover a voice recording of a song from a friend in Estonia, waiting for me on Skype messaging.

This is my world. These are my friends, my family and colleagues. This is normal for me. And as such, I sometimes take it all for granted, the world is right here, at my finger tips, on this computer.

Yet, I remain alone, for this small, small world is not truly small enough, after all.

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

Back to the Basics

Kai Staats - Building a Dam, Buffalo Peak Ranch In working at the Buffalo Peak Ranch this summer, I am again reminded of the value of my skills in carpentry, given to me by my father and a lifetime of home remodeling; drafting learned in my first year of Junior High; and mechanical engineering—a way of thinking learned through experience far more than any classroom activity.

Kai Staats - Building a Dam, Buffalo Peak Ranch

With carpentry and wood working, I can rough-in a form for a concrete pour, frame a house, and repair or create a fine piece of furniture. With drafting I can quickly, effectively communicate in two dimensions an idea for a 3D construction. With an understanding of the application of force, applied to static and dynamic interactions, and the basics of volume, pressure, and time I can design basic mechanical or structural systems which perform work or provide foundation for shelter.

Without these basics, the world would for me be comprised of buildings that stand for no apparent reason, combustion engines which move us forward and back with magical motivation, and transmissions whose means of transferring the energy of rotation to linear movement—a complete mystery.

In a culture of specialization, fewer people are given these fundamentals, not enough time in the nationalized education programs or time with parents at home to teach the basics. The result is unfolding generations who can use a smart phone, drive a car, or turn on the tap to produce a steady stream of warm water, yet, they have no idea why these amenities function, taking for granted what is made available to them.

There is a joy in understanding, a pleasure in knowing how things work. There is a confidence in knowing I am able to build from the ground-up, remodel, or repair a toy, a piece of furniture, or a permanent structure.

Will an increasingly complex future of gadgets and gizmos disable an increasing number of people from these basic pleasures, from rudimentary confidence in their hands and tools?