Of Mars and the Moon

I dreamed I was part of a mission to Mars.

Long, flowing landscapes of golden orange, grey, and tiny slivers of silver and blue.

I wanted to walk for days, for months, turning over stones, peeking beneath every ledge, peering into the deep valleys. I was as intersted in the shadows as I was the sunlit scapes and dunes.

I was the crew photographer, but reprimanded for not taking quality photos.

Too soon, we had to leave.

We stopped at the Moon on the return to Earth. Cold, barren, drab in contrast to Mars.

We stayed only for an afternoon.

I brought my lenses, but left the camera behind.

The adventure of a lifetime, come and gone.

By |2015-10-05T09:54:37-04:00August 21st, 2014|Dreams|0 Comments

When the Coyote Calls, The Gathering

This story concludes When the Coyote Calls. The prior chapter is Part V

“I don’t believe this is a good idea Lion,” stated Bear.

“It is the only way,” she responded.

“He may not understand. He may not understand the reason, our intent.”

“Then you must help him to understand, when it is done.”

“How?” asked Bear?

“Talk to him. He trusts you. You know him.”

“But he will feel betrayed.”

“Yes. At first. But he will come to understand,” said Lion.

“I don’t know,” shaking his wide head, “I just don’t know.”

Coyote shuffled his paws, pulling at the back of the right front to remove something from the fur with his teeth. He did not look up, apparently uninterested in the conversation.

Bear said, “Coyote?”

Coyote paused, hesitated, and then looked up, “No amigos, es not for me to say. I will bring him to you. Si, es what I will do. No mas.”

Bear shook his head again, frustrated with Coyote’s response.

None of the three said anything for some time. A small but heavy cloud momentarily blocked the sun and the temperature fell. A breeze shook the cottonwood leaves, a coordinated ensemble sustained for just a few moments. The smell of looming rainfall touched each of them.

Bear was the first to speak again, “Ok. It is the only way. And when it is done, I will be there.” He stopped, looked to Coyote and Lion, to the cloud overhead which would soon give way to the heat of the sun, and concluded, “I just wish there was another way.”

Coyote was alert again, looking up from the back of his paw, “Muy bien amigos. I go now?”

Lion responded, “Always eager for the chase, aren’t you?”

Coyote did not respond, but stood, stretched, and without a word, trotted down the trail, in the direction of the meadow and cabin.

“Now, we wait,” said Bear.

By |2019-10-05T15:18:09-04:00July 15th, 2014|At Home in the Rockies, Dreams|0 Comments

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

The Story of Achim

One morning in early September I awoke from a most powerful dream, the kind that I want to dive back into but can never quite get there again. I dreamed of a woman from Israeli whose name was Achim. I have never remembered the name of a fictional person in a dream, and yet, it was very clear to me when I awoke. Achim. Our connection was strong, even when we first met. Together, we could see into the future in an attempt to cure humanity of a horrible plague.

The emotions of the dream stayed with me, allowing me to hold the story until I found inspiration to write. Just a few days ago in Squamish, B.C., I met an Israeli woman at the farmers market. We talked for more than an hour beneath an awning to avoid the intermittent rains. Before we parted I asked, “Does ‘ahg-hem’ mean anything in Hebrew?” She responded, “Yes, it means ‘brothers’.” This was significant to the dream, as you will read …

The Diner

“I am your eyes to the future,” she said, “Take my hand and you will see.”

I entered the 5-n-diner as I had dozens of times before, its interior scarcely changed since the middle of the twentieth century when the silver shell café had been moved to its current location from some other place long ago forgotten, maybe just down the street, or maybe across town.

The wait staff had changed often in recent months, as the quantity of patrons had continually reduced. The plague unchecked had taken more lives than anyone could have imagined, nearly five billion all told.

Some left town, heading to smaller, less populated areas believing they may be safer there despite the statistics which demonstrated no variation of infection rates between population centers or the country side. Some returned home to spend time with family before they were taken too. Others simply didn’t come to work, unable to call in or to ask for time off. Too many passed alone, the onset of the final hours quick to take what it owned–the hope of every person the plague touched. Even those who were carriers without signs did not know for how long they would yet live.

The riots had long ago subsided in those early years when fear drove the masses to react. Now, only small pockets of outbreak occurred in reaction to the media when yet another cure was announced which ultimately failed. In some respects, life carried on, day after day as routine the best cure for the unknown.

The seats were each patched in several places, the stiff vinyl edges caught the pant legs of unwary patrons. The old Formica table tops glistened only from those corners which seldom received contact by a coffee cup or cleaning rag.

I would have sat at my usual spot, my own sense of routine necessary to me, a sense of safety in an unsafe world. But that day another patron was already occupying my space. My space. The words echoed in my mind as I realized how odd they sounded. Ownership no longer carried the same value. If your future is no longer governed by things in your control, then ownership of land, a house, a particular booth at a local café means less. Just the same, I found myself staring at the man wanting to ask him to move. He became uncomfortable, looked repeatedly over his shoulder and then back to me, concerned perhaps that he had done something wrong.

I broke my stare, apologized with a half smile, and moved to a booth on the other side of the isle. I lifted the menu into my hands, determined to try something new instead of the same cup of soup and salty crackers every day.

The waitress walked to the edge of my booth, but I took notice only of her shoes in the periphery of my vision. She stood for a moment, waiting. I remained focused on the menu. When she spoke, my chest heaved, her voice deeply familiar like a song my father had sung to me while I was in my mother’s womb. I nearly dropped the menu and looked up.

I knew her, not in this form, but as a woman who had visited me in my dreams a few times since my work to find a cure for the plague had begun. Take my hand and you will see. Her skin was dark, golden brown, her hair black and long. She smiled but said nothing, she didn’t even take my order. She just turned and walked away, returning in a few minutes with my cup of soup and a small ceramic plate which held a dozen salty crackers, most of them broken.

She extended her hand and said, “I am Achim.”

I don’t know why but I did not respond. I wanted to reach to hold her hand but was afraid I would never let go. She reached into her apron to hand me a soup spoon. Our hands touched and I instantly became dizzy, the spoon clattered to the floor.

Embarrassed, I responded, “Ack- Ackhem?”

She retrieved the first spoon from the floor and placed another on the table next to the soup bowl. She laughed in a world in which the sound of laughter had nearly been lost. Half the patrons in the café turned to look, some annoyed by her unusual outbreak, not unlike clapping in church. She didn’t notice and continued to smile.

“Not quite,” leaning closer until the mysterious space between her breasts hovered in front of my eyes, “Ahh-gh-heem” the back of her throat lightly engaged to give grace to pronunciation which I could not duplicate. She was playing with me, I could tell, holding her position there, smiling.

I smiled back but did not try again. Instead, I asked “What does it mean?”

“Brothers.” And then she stood up and leaned instead on the opposite side of the booth.

“That’s, … that’s odd. I mean,” feeling foolish for my approach, “… well, you were named ‘Brothers’. Why?”

She smiled again, “Our family is very close. When our mother died,” she momentarily lost her smile, “my brothers and father were spared. My father is yet grieving and has not spoken for many years. I took the name to let my brothers know I am here, for them …” her smile returned, “until the end.”

I did not leave the café that day. I did not return to the lab. I remained in the booth, reviewing notes from my research, drinking and eating what Achim brought to me. When she had time, she sat with me and asked about my work. But it didn’t feel as though we were meeting for the first time, rather just catching up.

That night we walked back to my apartment on the upper side of downtown, avoiding the elevated trains and the underground. I reached for her hand a few times but she withdrew. She held my elbow and wrapped her arms around my waist, but she never let her hands come into contact with mine.

The Apartment
Two days later she moved in. She didn’t ask and I did not protest when she showed up at my door, her belongings carried to my front porch by the taxi cab driver. We didn’t talk about it. It just worked. Our lives merged easily, as though we had never lived apart. The plague had taken the joy of conversation away from all but children who talk to themselves in their make believe world. For us, conversation was not needed to convey most of what we shared, cooking, long walks, and making love.

But after a few weeks of our living together, I found the courage to ask why she would not allow my hand to come into contact with hers. We were several blocks from home, her arm woven through mine as I had come to accept as the norm.

She stopped walking, turning me to face her. Her eyes held mine. I was paralyzed by an intensity she had not yet conveyed, “Are you certain you are ready?”

“For what?”

“To see the future.” She held out her left hand, pulled back her sleeve, and waited.

“I don’t understand.”

“You will. Take my hand.”

Suddenly, I was afraid as I no longer recognized the woman in front of me. She had gained a strength of conviction I did not understand. What had she been hiding from me?

I removed my right hand from my jacket pocket, hesitated, and then placed it in hers.



She closed her eyes and bowed her head.

At first I felt dizzy and had to step my right foot to the side to stabilize myself. Then my head was flooded with images of people I knew, my co-workers, Achim, friends I had not seen for many years. I saw people falling to the street, collapsing under their own weight. I saw others embracing, smiling for the first time in years. I saw a ceremony in which I was granted an award for the work I conducted in the lab.

I quickly pulled my hand back from hers, shaking, and looked up, “What just happened? What was that?”

“A potential future.”

“Whose future?”

“Yours. Mine. Ours. Everyone,” She paused, “the human race.”

“I don’t understand. What? How?”

“It’s just something I was born with, a gift I discovered when I was young.”

“You can see the future?”

“No, not really. I can only experience its emotion. I believe I am a conduit to those who can see. But there are very few. I have met a few others, ” she raised her head again, “and you, who can see what I feel.”

“You mean, I just saw, … saw the future?”

“Yes. It is rare, the connection we share. I have been searching for you for many years.”

Tears filled my eyes, my chest heaved again for I was very scared.

“You lied to me! You, … do you even love me? Or, or am I just part of some experiment?” I was nearly yelling, fear and pain taking over me.

Achim countered, defensive at first, “Yes.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them again, whispering, “I love you dearly. That is very real for me. B- … but, we have something we need to do together, something even greater than the love we share.”

I took a few steps back, feeling as though my world was suddenly spinning too fast. I could neither remaining standing in one place nor run away. Achim took my elbow again, turned me about to face the direction from where we had come, and we walked toward home. We talked nearly the entire way, saying more than we had for the whole time we had lived together. When the implication of what we discussed became clear, I realized that she needed me to see what she felt, and I needed her to learn which path I should take in my research at the genetics lab.

That night we sat on the floor, wrapped in blankets as the first of what would be many winter storms settled in. We stayed up all night, holding hands, learning to explore together. I verbalized what I saw in my head as she directed the emotion of the future into me. We were exhausted and fell to sleep as the sun rose behind the thickness of low clouds burdened with snow. I called in sick to the lab the next morning in order to stay at home with Achim.

We learned, over time, that we were not seeing a predetermined future, but a potential of what could unfold given all the avenues. Minuscule changes each step of the way gave birth to myriad futures, some of which ended with the extermination of the human race in a matter of months, others in years. The difference between the two extremes grew from subtle nuances in what we did now and in the next few weeks.

I grew afraid to return to the lab, to push in any direction at all. I felt paralyzed by the overwhelming weight of each direction I could take. Too many options to remember, too many to manage in our heads. To compensate, we incorporated my laptop to record the sessions, using interactive diagrams to capture the complex array of future trees. When the calls came in from the lab, concern for my extended absence, I stated I was working from home. I was making progress but needed more time. Achim was fired from the café.

When seldom left our neighborhood, food delivered two or three times a day. We went for walks in the fresh snow, watched movies, took hot baths, and made love when we realized we were not making progress. Yet, there was a sense of limited time that grew in our hearts and heads. The future was approaching the present too quickly.

Sometimes Achim grew frustrated with me as my lack of focus would cause her emotions to spiral out of control. She would curl into the pillows and weep until the strength of what she experienced had passed. Gradually we learned, together, to pause and jump between fragments of her emotions by way of the images in my head. Together, we formed a vehicle which traveled through time, a union more powerful than any I had ever imagined.

Finally, after nearly three weeks, we envisioned a future in which the human race survived. We then went back to the present, fine-tuning the variables of my experiments and the deployment strategy in order to bring the survival rate to a maximum. However, no matter what paths we took, what choices we made, the cure saved most, but not all, for it killed many of those who were carriers that did not show signs.

It was a conundrum that we could not find a way through. We tried, day after day, night after night, to find a solution in which everyone yet alive survived. It seemed impossible.

Toward the end of a late night session both of us seated on the floor. I had just pressed record on the laptop, closed my eyes, and held Achim’s hands. A few seconds later, when the images began to flow, Achim threw back my hands and screamed, “No! Not them! Please, not them!”

“What happened Achim?”

“I, I could see them, my brothers, ” she looked at the floor, “They will die.”

“I thought you only felt emotion? What do you mean you could see them? Are you certain?”

She was standing then, pacing the room, tears falling from her eyes, “My father, he can’t take more loss. Oh no, he will die also. Why? It’s not fair!”

“How do you know it was them? I didn’t see this? Maybe you were mistaken!”

She raised her voice at me for the first time since we had met, “BECAUSE I KNOW!”

She ran to the living room, to the hallway and then outside into the snow without a jacket or proper shoes. I saw her run down the sidewalk from my second story bay window, her footprints receiving fresh white flakes. I quickly put on my boots, coat, and hat and ran after her, my feel sliding with each footfall. I nearly lost my balance a few times but managed to catch her at the end of the block.

“Please, Achim, come back. It’s too cold out here.” I gave her my coat and held her, wrapping my arms around her torso and head. Achim wept, her body shaking. She lost the strength in her legs and I kept her from falling.

“Please, let’s go home.” And we did.

The Lab
I returned to the lab the next day but was reluctant to go without Achim, fearful of her being alone. I asked if she would come with me, and she did. For the next month we were inseparable, our combined work giving way to incredible progress in my research. I was able to make breakthrough discoveries, learning how the virus disrupted cellular respiration; how it caused the sudden collapse of several major organs at once.

My co-workers were concerned by Achim’s presence at first, but when the speed at which the lab made progress was realized, no one said a word. The world was like that then, we just accepted things for how they were. Achim sat by my side, holding my hand so that I could see if newly developed strains of antigens were the ones that would take us down the best path, each as clear to me as though it were presented on my computer screen. The lab hired two new technicians to keep up with the volume of virtual models I produced, giving them form in the wet lab where they were tested against artificially grown human organs.

Achim was still affected by the vision of her brothers’ deaths, but she never talked about it and I never asked. Inside, I held hope that we would find another way, a different path. It had been four months since Achim first moved in with me. We had worked together in the lab for more than three. She was as much a part of me as I was of her and our work together. The lab had come to accept her as one of them. No one asked what part she played, they only knew that with her at my side, were getting closer to a cure each day.

The lead lab technician came into the lab one late February evening. “We’ve got it,” he said with tears in his eyes, “We’ve got a solid candidate for the cure. It blocks the pathogen’s primary disruptive function and …”

I didn’t hear the rest as Achim stood and ran from the room.

I looked at him and then after her, jumped up and followed her out of my office and down the hall. I caught up with her and grabbed her arm, spinning her around more aggressively than I had intended.

“What?! What’s wrong?”

“My brothers. Now they will die.”

“No, it doesn’t have to be that way,” I tried to pull her close but she pushed me away, “We can keep looking to the future. We can find a path that leads to different end. We have learned so much together.”

“No, it cannot be that way. You know this to be true. If this is the cure, the real cure, the one that saves the humans that remain, then you must deploy it immediately. You cannot risk thousands more dying every day to try to find a potential future in which my brothers and others in the minority live,” she paused to look at her hands which she took from mine and pushed them into her pockets, “I will not allow you.”

The government regulatory agency was quick to process the solution we devised. It would be only a matter of weeks before the anti-viral agent would be deployed world-wide, to every human yet alive. We could not risk the potential of a carrier playing host to a dormant or resistant strain which might mutate after delivery, forcing us back to the lab for another few months, even years.

The End
Achim invited her twin brothers and father to come live with us for what time they had remaining. Those were wonderful, long days filled with laughter, joy, and play. Achim never let on to what she knew about them, that they would die from the same vaccine which would save the majority of the human race. It was not their fault they carried a genetic trait which would we would only later isolate–they would die from the same cure which saved the rest of humanity.

The vaccine was deployed and worked as intended, the pathogen which had reduced the population of our species by nearly eighty percent in less than ten years had been brought to its end. Achim’s brothers were dead. Her father died shortly thereafter, the strain of so much loss too much for him to bear. Achim was alone, all family but me gone.

I left the lab for the public’s attention to my work was international and polarized in a way I had never conceived for I was heralded both as a hero and a murderer. Achim and I moved to a small, seaside town in which we shared no prior memories, starting again in a life which was new. For the longest time, for what must have been more than a year, we did not hold hands. I didn’t ask and she did not offer, the fear of what she might feel and I might see too much for either of us to bear.

When later that year she gave birth to our two boys, she reached out and for the first time since we had developed the cure, held my hand, saying, “It’s ok now, the future is no longer mine. We are free.”

Achim’s story then became the story of our twins.

© Kai Staats 2011

By |2017-04-10T11:17:42-04:00October 8th, 2011|Dreams|1 Comment

The Voice of a Bear

Last night I was too tired, too overwhelmed by the journey of the day to make it out to the hot tub. I watched a re-run of the original Star Trek series and then Mission Impossible, falling to sleep a few times on the couch, here at Buffalo Peak Ranch. I awoke this morning on the bed which lies adjacent to a large, east facing window, my face warmed with the rising sun. It’s an incredible way to wake each morning, naturally, without alarm. Just the increasing heat saying, “It’s time.”

There is a voice in my head which often declares, “I need to work. I don’t deserve to relax,” and the thought of sitting in the hot tub in the morning was today, initially pushed aside. But then it became clear to me that this was an old voice, perhaps that of a prior generation. I work each day. But there are no rules as to when, no right or wrong hour in which to engage. And so I walked to the platform on which the large tub sits, lifted one half of the heavy, water logged cover, and climbed in.

The steam rose from the surface of the water and molded edge of the tub. I settled in for no more than a minute when I heard the snap of a branch behind me, up the hill maybe a hundred yards or so. I spun ’round, attempting to locate the cause. I could not see far enough to recognize what was happening for the land drops into a gully of aspen and ground cover too thick to traverse without a struggle. It opens again on the far side, into a mixture of standing and fallen pine trees.

It happened again. Louder. Something very large was moving through the trees, but out of site. My heart pounded, but I logically assumed it was the three horses pressing against a fallen tree for a morning scratch, or a deer rubbing its antler.

I turned back to face the cabin, settling deeper into the water, only my head exposed.

Another crack, silence, and then what sounded like a tree falling, the echo of its crash resounding for a few seconds before I could hear only the humming birds again.

The top of a tree shaking, on the far side of the aspen grove. I stood up, sweating not from the warm water but from the simultaneous rush of fear and curiosity. I looked to my towel on the rack, over my shoulder to the cabin, and back again to the West, over the rail fence. What if it was a bear?

I waited, holding my breath. Nothing. Not a sound. I sat back onto the edge of the folded hot tub cover. I waited longer still. Horses. It must be the horses.

Then I heard the unmistakable bark of a bear, for I had hear them a few times when sea kayaking at Glacier Bay, Alaska six years prior. The top of a tree nearer to me moved while the others stood still. Then another closer. Still, I could not see what was moving through the thicket. Another bark. Another broken branch under heavy foot.

It came into the clearing between the fence and the trees, just thirty yards from me. It was massive. Not a cub, but a full grown black bear. Both beautiful and awesome, more than four foot tall at the shoulders. I had never seen one this large before.

It did not see me, at first. I slowly sunk back down into the tub. It noticed the motion and stood on its hind legs to assess the situation. My heart pounded. I didn’t know what to do. It sounds crazy, but I wished for a pot and pan to bang together, anything to make a noise it would not expect.

The bear dropped to all fours, grunted, and then lunged forward. It was coming directly toward me.

I did what I had learned in the books I had read on bear attacks many years prior, before ten days solo backpacking in Denali, Alaska. I stood up again and waved my arms as only humans can do. We are not a part of their natural diet, I reminded myself again and again.

“Hey bear! Hey bear!” continuing to wave my arms. I tried to stay calm, relaxed. Don’t show any fear. They can smell fear.

I looked back over my shoulder and contemplated running into the house, but bears move fast and love to give chase. The only barrier was the wooden fence, three horizontal logs with an X brace every fifteen feet. The bear stopped at the fence and peered at me between the top two rungs. I hoped it was satisfied, and would turn to go a different direction.

Instead, it rose onto his hind legs again, paused, and with almost no effort dropped onto the top and then middle rung, crushing them both with ease. I could not break a twig with any less effort, and at that moment it was less than twenty feet from me.

I spun, reached back across the tub’s cover and pulled on the edge, trying to flip it over me. It was too heavy, the angle completely wrong. I nearly cried as air rushed from my lungs. I pulled again and again. I looked back to the bear. It seemed momentarily startled by my motion, considering what to do next.

I had no choice. I jumped over the edge of the tub, ran around the platform to the far side and lifted the lid. It rose up, tall and wide. While holding it vertical, I jumped back in. The lid came down with me, weighing heavy on my head and shoulders. I slipped and fell into the water. I wished immediately that I had turned on the light, for I was immersed fully in the darkness. My face was forced under water by the weight of the cover against the back of my head. I swallowed water and choked, but forced the panic to retreat. I turned side to side, trying to get my mouth above the water line, but could not. I threw my hands over my head, trying to find my bearing in the darkness but my feet kept slipping and I was running out of air.

I held what remained of my breath and remembered there was six inches between the bottom of the lid and the surface of the water. I would only be able to breathe if I flipped over onto my back with my hands and legs spread beneath me for support of some kind.

I slipped a few times, choking on more water inhaled, but found a position which allowed me to breathe. I opened my eyes and tried not to panic. It was dark and hot. I could barely see. My mind raced, How long could I remain here? How long should I wait?

Fortunately, I had placed the tub’s automated circulation on stand-by. Everything was quiet. I could hear only my heart beat in my ears. Pounding.

My eyes adjusted. I could see the edges of the tub inside, the surface of the water just beneath my neck. I turned my head left and then right, one ear and then the other dipping into the water as I looked for the source of the light. It was on the south side of the tub, the side that faces the barn that there was an opening, a break in the cover where it hinged.

I felt a little more calm, for that also meant there was fresh air too. As long as the water remained warm, I could stay here for a while. And I did, for what felt like an hour.

I listened intently, holding my breath from time to time. Was the bear still outside? I could hear only the sound of my body half sitting, half floating in the water, my nose pressed to the underside of the cover. I was stretching my back and legs, trying to relax when I heard the deck moan and felt a subtle movement of the entire platform.

I looked to the gap, but it was dark. There was no light.

Oh shit! It’s right next to the tub! Shit! shit! shit!

Then the light returned, something moved outside from left to right. I could hear it breathe. It pawed the surface of the deck and the entire platform shook, sending ripples through the water which I felt in my chest. I hoped only that the weight of the cover would be enough to keep me safe. There was nothing I could do. I wanted to cry, or scream, but knew either would only make my situation worse.

I held my breath again. Waited. The bear circled the entire tub. I could hear his pads and claws. He was slow, almost contemplative. I imagined he was trying to learn how to get inside.

I began to shake, as though the temperature had dropped fifty degrees, I couldn’t stop. I thought of being in Kenya, malaria overwhelming my body in just a matter of minutes. I felt out of control. I couldn’t stay here. I panicked, held my breath, rolled over onto my stomach, and moved to stand up.

The cover lifted, just a bit. I peered out into the light, looking again at the direction from which the bear had come. The fence was shattered, reminding me of the strength he deployed.

With my hands and arms overhead, the majority of the weight on my neck and upper back, I looked to the left, to the right again, and then directly ahead.

It was right there, in front of me, it’s massive nose over the lip of the tub. I could smell its breath and it looked directly into my eyes.

I slipped and fell back into the tub, the full weight of the lid crashing down onto the bear’s nose, which it immediately withdrew. I was submerged for a moment and inhaled more water. I tried to stand up, but my head hit hard against the underside of the cover. I remembered that I needed to roll on to my back, and forced myself to breathe, slowly, pressing my lips together when I exhaled. My heart was in my eyes, in my hands and head. I waited. I heard nothing.

What came next was confusing, for I thought I heard someone crying. Subtle at first, and then much more bold. Yes, someone was outside, crying. I must have hit my head harder than I realized, or perhaps I was dead. Was someone else out there? The hot tub repair man was not slated to arrive or another two hours. It didn’t make sense.

I looked to the opening and the slit of light.

The crying stopped. But was soon replaced with sobbing. A deep pain expressed by a deep, dynamic voice, “Oh! My nose! My nose is broken!”

What the –?! That’s impossible.

I held my breath, rolled back to my stomach, face in the water, found my balance and stood up. Just part way at first, and then fully, the lid of the tub now balanced in the up right position.

The bear was off the deck, sitting in the grass, upright, his paws covering his nose. Tears streamed from his eyes when he looked up at me, “Why d-d-did you do that?”

Startled, “Do what?”

“My nose. You, you broke my nose!” he growled, the back of his paw stroking the side of his great face.

“I’m, I’m sorry. I slipped … here, inside,” pointing to the tub in which I obviously stood. I felt horrible. “Just a moment. Please.”

I thought, What am I doing? but moved ahead. I sat on the edge of the tub, holding the lid so it would not crash down again. I stopped, turned to the bear and asked, “Are you … are you going to eat me?”

“What? Are you kidding? Look at my nose! I coul–I couldn’t eat a mouse if it jumped into my mouth, let alone eat you!” It paused, the tears fewer than before. It shook its giant head and again I was scared. One bite, one swipe of his massive claws and I would be dead.

Talking more to myself than to the bear, “Ok. I am. Um, I am going to just get out of this … the hot tub … now. Ok?”

The bear looked at me, and then again to the ground.

I stepped slowly to the deck, lowering the lid until it came to a close. Drops of water fell from my body to the deck, each releasing a small puff of vapor against the morning light.

I could not believe this was happening.

I looked to my right and saw the door of the cabin. I could probably make it inside, if I ran. But I knew that a bear this massive could crush the door, no matter how I locked it. I accepted that If he had wanted to eat me, I would already be his meal.

I looked back to my left. The bear remained where he was.

I walked closer, one step at a time. He sat upright and dropped his paws from his nose, asking, “Does it look bad?”

I smiled, hesitantly, “No, it doesn’t look bad at all. It’s not bleeding. Do you mind if I take a, um, closer look?”

He shook his head, lowering himself a bit. I stepped from the deck, noticing that his hind feet were larger than mine, his front pads and claws much larger than my hands. I reached out to his nose, but withdrew. He looked up and into my eyes to say it would be ok.

“This may hurt a bit … I want to see what kind of break you may have. Ok?”

“Ok,” he responded.

I reached out again, touching the bridge of his nose, lightly at first and then with more pressure. He flinched, pulled back and bared his teeth. I involuntarily took a few steps back, tripped and landed onto the platform which held the tub. I automatically retracted my feet and arms, rolling into a defensive ball.

He almost seemed amused, apologized, and promised to hold still.

I gathered myself and rose awkwardly back to my feet. I walked forward and touched his nose again, pressing on the top and sides. It was a massive, beautiful nose, and it did not feel broken, just deeply bruised. There was a soft, swollen spot on top but no sharp edges or fragments that moved.

I explained as much to the bear, and he seemed to be relieved.

“Good. That’s good,” he said.

I sat down again on the wooden platform, my elbows on my knees. I just stared, not knowing what to say. He too seemed short on words, sometimes looking at me, sometimes over my shoulder to the bird feeder outside the front door of the cabin.

After a few minutes, he offered, “I like humming birds. I wish I could move they way they do. I feel awkward, sometimes.”

Surprised, I didn’t know quite how to respond, “Oh?”

“Why are you out here alone?” He was kind, careful with his words despite his size and power.

“I lost someone a few days ago, someone I love very much. This place is healing for me.”

He looked puzzled, “Where did you last see him? Maybe I can help you find him. I have a good–rather, I had a good nose, you know.”

I sensed humor in his words and laughed, “Not like that. She is not missing, rather, simply no longer a part of my life.”

“Oh. I see.” He rose from his seated position onto all fours again. I was instantly reminded of his incredible build. Eight hundred, maybe a thousand pounds or more. The buffalo in the pasture across the road were almost small in comparison, despite their broad heads.

He continued, “What did you do?”

“Everything I could.”

“Maybe that was too much.”

“Yes” I looked to the ground, “maybe that is true.”

He paused, and looked over his shoulder to the ridge to the south and west, “I lost someone too.”

I was taken back, just getting used to the presence of a talking bear when I was again caught off guard by the depth with which he did communicate. For a fleeting moment the scientist in me realized how much we had incorrectly assumed about the animal world. Would this bear be willing to conduct an interview?


“Yes. A wonderful she-bear. Beautiful to me in so many, many ways. My best friend too.”

“I can only imagine,” I nodded my head and then looked to the ground, “What happened?”

“We were unable to confront our fears.”

“Scared? A bear?”

“Yes, even bears get scared. We put on a good show, crashing through the brush, knocking down trees, scaring campers (which is great fun, by the way). But ultimately, we are very soft in the heart, and we have a lot to say.”

“I am surprised, and very pleased to learn this.”

He moved closer to me but I was no longer afraid. I reached out to stroke the top of his broad head, and rub his ears. He seemed to like this a lot, and to the best of his ability, smiled. He licked the palm of my hand until the salt was gone. We didn’t say much more than this, for the day was young. I went back inside, changed clothes, put on my hiking boots, and requested that the bear show me his domain.

We hiked for countless miles, learning about the terrain I had only begun to understand. The bear was a great teacher, and I felt, a healer of some kind. He had many questions about humans too, mostly why we encroached year after year on their land. He seemed embarrassed to admit he had rummaged through human garbage, in tough times. I apologized as best I could, on behalf of our selfish kind. He said it didn’t matter, in the long run, for all things worked out in the end.

The sun set upon the bear and me, sitting on a giant, fallen pine. We watched as the shadows grew long, the warm rays cooling until there were none. He thanked me for the day, and apologized for the broken fence, explaining that he was rather clumsy, for a bear. He wanted only to talk, all along. His nose was feeling better already, and my heart was lifted too. We promised to meet again some day, in this friendship that was new.

There were encounters with other local residents too, as described in When the Coyote Calls

© Kai Staats 2011

By |2019-10-05T15:06:12-04:00August 18th, 2011|At Home in the Rockies, Dreams|0 Comments

Echoes of Laughter

I dream of my grandfather often since his passing three years ago. Sometimes I awake in tears, other times with a smile for the simple knowledge of how much he gave to me, to everyone in his life. But last night I was gifted a dream which was both bizarre and humorous too, as I will share with you now.

Waiting to Remember
My father, my grandmother (on my mother’s side) and I were in a barn on a farm I do not now recognize, but in my dream we were welcomed there. The air was moist in the late afternoon. Heavy clouds hung low as an ominous front threatened rain and wind in that way that occurs only in the Midwest, a thickness to things that causes the crickets to stop chirping.

The barn was poorly lit in the dark afternoon, only one of a few interior, bare bulbs which hung from the overhead beams was illuminated. The floor was covered in sawdust which I assumed to have been produced from the many wood working tools and machines that abounded there.

I noted a table saw, band saw, planer, shaper, and drill press among many other tools for fine wood working. All top quality and apparently in good, working condition. A long, wood work bench showed many years of use, its modeled surface covered in loose shavings and pieces of what appeared to be the legs of a rocking chair.

My father and I had come to use a few tools to repair something for the family farm (which in my dream I assume was near by). While we inspected the many machines, waiting perhaps for the owners of this farm to greet us, I noticed my grandmother was staring out the open barn door, perhaps reminiscing about the years she spent with my grandfather who died three years prior. She was seldom present in the moment since his passing, seemingly thinking of something in the past or waiting for something to come.

All at once, every light came on and every power tool came to life at the same moment. The noise was overwhelming and sudden activity startling. I looked at my father who was obviously stunned. My grandmother turned to look back into the barn, but did not seem the least bit startled nor even perplexed.

She walked to the nearest of the tools, the table saw, and reached beneath to switch it off. She shook her head, her lips moving but the words we could not hear for the noise of the remaining machines.

I moved quickly to the power switches of those machines closest to me and switched them off as well, eventually making my way around the barn to them all. My father remained motionless.

Once the room was quiet again, the dust of finely shaven wood suspended between the three of us, I turned to my father who appeared more angry than surprised, as he said, “Kai! Why did you do that?!”

“Do what?”

“Turn on the tools. Why did –”

“What? Are you serious? How could I — They all came on at the same time. You saw it happen. It wasn’t me!”

My father started to respond, but at that moment we both heard my grandmother saying, nearly under her breath, “Raymond! Stop it!”

She was just then turning to again face out of the barn, but as she did my father and I both noticed her smile in a way that our elders do when they recall a joke or situation which will stay with them forever. She just shook her head and resumed her patient waiting.

My fear left me then, and I heard my grandfather laugh.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:43-04:00October 20th, 2010|Dreams|0 Comments