Monday, September 16, 2019

When Out on the Hills There Arose Such a Clatter

     At four o'clock in the morning, Joe and I both sat bolt upright in our bed. He scrambled for slippers, taking time to also pull on pants and a shirt, while I, in only my flimsy nightgown, bounded down the steps, stepped into my boots and ran outside.
     When I stepped out with my oversize flashlight, the cacophony of snarling and howling stopped. Coyotes.
     This is the second time in two weeks we've been awakened this way, but this time was worse. We had heard both of our dogs hunting rabbits near the house when we first jumped up. Now, there was nothing but silence.
    Just last week, our neighbor, Mike, lost a beloved old dog to a pack of coyotes. He told me that he, too, awakened to clamor and went outside. Unlike us, he spotted the three coyotes circling one of his dogs. Mike called the dog to the house and then went inside for a gun. When he returned, the coyotes had vanished. The next morning he found his beloved older dog dead right where the coyotes had been. He'd forgotten she was outside.
     The eerie silence following such intense pack-noise put my hackles up as I thought about Mike's dog. Luke, one of my beagles, came running, but the other was absent and silent. We searched for forty-five minutes, our flashlights stabbing deep into the shadowed woods but no dog answered our call.
     The story has a happy ending. Rex, the other dog, was curled up in the flowerbed next to the house when we returned.
     But, three nights ago, a lamb didn't have such a happy ending. When I hear eagles crying and see vultures circle, it usually means that there's been an animal death somewhere on the farm, so when we heard eagles that afternoon, we jumped in the truck and went for a look-see.
     There were four or five vultures riding the currents above the hill across the road and when we crested it and then pulled partially down the other side, the whoosh and flap of eagles rising up through the trees drew us to the site.
    One of our lambs lay, ribs exposed, in a ditch next to a culvert. The flies were making a meal, but I have a fairly good tolerance for stink, so I walked over and prodded the carcass with a stick. When the lambs eyeless head rolled back, I spotted the tell-tale toothmarks. She'd been bitten and strangled by a coyote.
     This is not the first time I've written about coyotes.( The Coyote Tree) While I am such a big fan of nature and all things outside, coyotes are not on my favorites list.  I've told this story in graphic detail because that's the way it happened and it explains why I'm frustrated by those who have lobbied to no longer allow us to set poisonous traps for the coyotes because someone's dog found one and died when he bit into it.
     We lose an average of 15 to 25 lambs a year to coyotes and as I said in my previous post, the lambs are not eaten, just slaughtered and nibbled on. Senseless waste.
     We've noticed that the coyotes around here are getting bolder. Neighbor Dennis shot at some in his front yard the other night. He thought maybe they had come looking for his cats. I told my husband that when I moved to the mountains I never envisioned the bear and coyotes being such cozy neighbors. I am frightened to go out at night without a dog and a flashlight.
     It seems to me that more and more people have become "Bambi-ized." All furry critters are cute and the humans trying to make a living in spite of them are the enemy. Tell that to my farmer friends who've lost acres of corn to raccoons and bears that they can't get permits to shoot. 
     When a predator, in the wild kills another animal, it's considered an act of nature. When a human kills an animal it's considered a crime. My daughter-in-law has a student who is serving jail time for killing a dog he knows was killing his sheep. After asking neighbors to please keep the dog away, the student took matters into his own hands the next time he saw the dog on his property. Now, he's in jail for a considerable amount of time.
     A child's life was worth less than the dog's.
     You, who've read other essays on my blog, know that I walk a line between absolute adoration of all things wild and a growing awareness that the world is not as pretty as I thought it was when my closest neighbors were all human.
     Right or wrong, I've changed. Last night proved it to me, again.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hanging On by a Thread

     Although I'm not always happy to see a spider, especially if I find her wandering around the kitchen, I am enraptured by the magic silk thread they spin.  Last spring, as I was perched on the hill above my house, I noticed glints and glimmers of light floating through the gold haze that signals afternoon is drawing to an end.
     I watched intently as more and more of these shimmers wafted across the field in front of me. They were the tiny silk parachutes of spiderlings, who drifted, legs outstretched, dangling and swinging in the softest breeze. If you have read Charlotte's Web then you know that each baby spider journeys away from home on the slenderest balloon the air can move.
     There were hundreds of them floating and landing, and two or three even ended up dangling from my hat brim before scurrying up and re-launching themselves. Now, if you hate spiders, you need to know that these creatures were no bigger than the head of a pin. Not very threatening at all.
     Spider webs are the most amazing material. My research revealed that they are built from sequences of proteins, are stored as a liquid concentrate in the spider's abdomen, are stronger, when compared by weight, than Kevlar, and the common garden spider can produce up to seven different kinds. Silk that is resistant to bacteria, silk that is sticky, silk that is smooth, silk that is less brittle and so on.
     But, it's the beauty of webs that captures my heart. I'll never forget the morning, twenty years ago, that I was walking up the side of a mountain. The fog hadn't burned off, and the sun was just brightening the world: a luminescence that briefly lit hundreds of spiral cobwebs spun in an old snag silhouetted against the lemon yellow fog. The webs, spangled with dew, looked like silver beaded necklaces and ornaments strung from twig to twig. I didn't have my camera, but I've spent the last twenty years prowling about with my camera on foggy mornings trying to find and capture that picture.
     The following series of pictures were caught on just such a morning. The fog didn't hang around, but the webs did, and until the sun peeked over the rim of the hill, they sparkled with droplets captured from the mist. I didn't find that elusive shot of a silk decorated snag, but the webs are still much to marvel at and remind me of the exquisite care God took as he created this world.


For the next picture, I waded through a field of tall grass to be positioned correctly for the rising sun.

I couldn't see them until I stood still, but when I did, I counted 15 within arm's reach.

The architects of my favorite spiral webs, hard at work repairing damage done through the night of trapping and eating their supper.

     Intent on being in position to photograph this web just as it was lit by the sun, I had missed seeing what I was wading through. A little disconcerted, I was wearing shorts after all, I picked my way carefully back through the grass and managed not to disturb any webs or pick up any eight-legged hitchikers. The spiders were probably more relieved than I was when I made it back un-silked and un-spidered.
     Although I didn't ultimately find the snaggy, silky picture I still dream about, I re-kindled my appreciation for how much of the world we don't see until we take time to stand still and notice.