Scat!

 

Sue kicked the pile of bear scat with the toe of her boot, then leaned over and peered at it.  “At least two days old,” she murmured.

I didn’t know whether to be relieved or stay worried.  Did two days old mean the bear was two days away in some other huckleberry patch or was it two days hungry and due back to this one any time now?

Late July is huckleberry season in the low mountains of northern Idaho.  Huckleberries look and taste a lot like blueberries.  One difference is that huckleberries are smaller. Another is that they are a favorite summer snack of Northwestern bears.

As we walked, it occurred to me that I’d never had to look over my shoulder or discuss in a very loud voice the virtues of sharing the woods while picking blueberries. In fact, I’d never really considered the possibility of actually sharing the woods with creatures which might take exception to my eating their lunch, or that might realistically consider me an acceptable substitute.  I was beginning to feel a lot like Goldilocks and wondered if before devouring me, the bear would drizzle me with huckleberries the way I had my pancakes that morning.

“You don’t think we’ll actually run into a bear?”  I ventured, pointedly ignoring the scatological evidence to the contrary at my feet.  I was not comforted by her reply.

“Mmmm, yeah, we could. They sure like huckleberries.”

“How do we know if they are around?”  My voice went up several decibels and at least one octave.

She looked at me, then at the pile of scat at our feet, and then back at me.

“No, I mean NOW. Around now.”

“Well, usually you hear them.  They are really noisy. They just crash through where they want to go. Not like elk or deer which you only hear by accident.  But then, sometimes you just happen on them.”

“Oh, swell.  Then what?

“Move very slowly.  Back out the way you came.  Don’t try to run.  No matter how clumsy and slow they look, bears are very fast and agile.”

I eyed the distance from me to the safety of the truck.  If spurred by the adrenaline rush brought on by immanent consumption, I figured I could make it.  “You mean I couldn’t beat a bear to the truck?”

Sue looked at me.  Eyed my overweight, out of shape middle aged state, grinned and shook her head from side to side.  “No way.  I told you.  Bears are fast.”

I was not convinced. However, as we continued on our way through the undergrowth, noting the vegetation for her habitat survey, stuffing ourselves with huckleberries, I joined in making a great deal of racket, singing camp songs, talking and laughing with abandon.

We encountered no bears that day.  I haven’t had occasion to eat huckleberries since.

I’m really glad I didn’t have to find out if I could outrun a bear, because deep down inside. I’m pretty sure Sue was right. But don’t tell her that.

 

 

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The Trickster

Saturday morning the temperature dropped to 32 degrees, colder than it had been for a few weeks.  Sadie and I had waited until the sun was over the ridge of the Sandias before we headed out on our walk in the open space near our house.

It was good we waited as the air was warming and the birds were singing now.  Sadie spooked a rabbit and tore after it.  Ridgebacks can run fast, but rabbits, having more to lose, can run faster.  She rejoined me and trotted along a few paces in front, as I walked along sheding layers of clothes thinking about how nice it was to have the warm weather birds back.  Earlier I heard a western wood pewee and a spotted towhee.  Further along, I spied a canyon towhee on a pile of rock.  It also started singing, as did a curved billed thrasher from its perch on a cholla.  Ahhhh spring, I thought as I strolled along imagining that the concert was for me, rather than for some female of their species.

cholla cactus in bloom
cholla cactus in bloom

Just as I was threading my way through some boulders near the top of a hill, we heard the characteristic, shrill bark of a coyote very close.  Sadie, who has no use for coyotes was off like a shot.  I yelled at her to come back.  As I came around the rocks at the crest of the hill, she came trotting up.  Another bark sounded and I looked up. There was a coyote about 20 yards away barking taunts at Sadie.  The coyote showed no fear of me.

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I grabbed onto Sadie’s breakaway leash to make sure she stayed with me.  After a  hard stare at the coyote she came along willingly. I headed back toward home.  As we walked down the hill a chorus of three other coyotes started in calling and taunting trying to lure Sadie into chasing them.

Many of the Southwestern Native People refer to the coyote as a trickster.  I had just observed one of the reasons why.  Sending one member of the pack out to lure dogs to come play or chase is a common tactic.  The lure then leads the dog to an ambush by the rest of the pack.  I think Sadie may have fallen for this trick once.  Her speed and endurance may have saved her.  She knows this trick now and was content to escort me back home.

 

 

 

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, KU

I know it’s March because the wind is blowing hard and will be doing so all week; and because I have an empty NCAA Tournament bracket awaiting me.  Not much I can do about the wind, but I will get my bracket filled out by the tipoff of the first play in game. Then, I will watch, wait and cross out my mistakes.  Soon, my pristine bracket will be covered with the red ink of faulty prognosis.

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As you may have guessed by the title of this post, I am an alumna of the University of Kansas.  Being glued to the television much of March is my legacy. I wasn’t always such a devoted fan.  Maybe I was just a clueless one.  I attended KU in the late 60’s and early 70s.  I don’t remember basketball being such a huge deal.  It must have been important on campus, because KU was very good then.  KU has been very good most of the time since then.  I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I remember attending only a few games while a student.  I certainly don’t remember it being one of the overarching experiences of many students’ lives.

Perhaps reality lies somewhere between my fading memory and the craziness that takes place on college campuses today.  I can’t imagine camping out to get tickets, donning face paint, white outs, black outs, Dick Vitale, ESPN Game Day broadcasts and Final Four tickets averaging a $1000 or more.  Sports were a big deal, but they weren’t big business, yet.

I really hope KU does win the tournament.  They’ve been playing well lately.  Seems like they have a good chance this year, except for a couple of things.  These are young men playing.  They have young men’s emotions and inconsistencies.  This is true for every team.  The other factor every team has to deal with is parity.  Teams are extremely evenly matched this year.  Adam Kilgore writing in the Washington Post says that the “Best Team in Basketball is Nobody”.

I guess that means that we fans will fill out our brackets and wait and watch. I will hope to hear “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk KU” chanted on the last night of the tournament.

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My aged but  trusty “Beak ‘Em Hawks shirt.

Forty years later…

Once again our bedroom is very close to our neighbor’s yard.  Once again, we have clueless neighbors with dogs that bark.

The dogs in question are of the small yappy variety this time.  Small, yappy ones that bark at every noise and movement in all the surrounding yards.  Despite knowing it’s not the dogs’ fault, all the neighbors hate them.

Some time ago, the dog’s owners bought the two small, fluffy dogs for their kids.  No one in the family had ever had a dog before.  They didn’t seem to realize that dogs don’t house break themselves.  That dogs that get bored can be destructive and end up chewing on things that they shouldn’t. They had no idea that dogs need to be trained. They need exercise and attention. They thought that when the dogs did something bad, they should just be put outside.  Once outside, the dogs amused and expressed themselves by barking.  At everything.  All the time. Yap.  Yap. Yap.  The owners didn’t seem to hear them.

One warm September night my directionally challenged ­­­spouse and I were in bed, trying to sleep.  The yappy dogs were out in their yard yapping every once and a while.  The later it got, the more the dogs yapped.  My spouse grumbled and cursed.  Finally, after what seemed like hours of yap, yap, yapping and cursing.  Gail got up. She said she would be up a while.  I managed to get to sleep, but awoke when she came back to bed.  She said that she had gone over to the owners and rang and rang their doorbell, but no one answered. There were lights on. She knew someone was probably home.  They just wouldn’t come to the door. That should have been a clue.

The next morning the dogs were still barking.  Their house was closed up and dark, so I went over to take a look.  I knocked on the door, loudly.  No one answered. I rang the bell.  No one came.

I decided to check with the people who lived on one side.  The woman who came to the door said she had no idea where the owners were.  She was sick of the barking too.  When I turned to leave, she said, “I had just gotten to sleep last night when someone starting ringing my doorbell. I couldn’t imagine who it was, so I didn’t answer.  That wasn’t you was it?”

“No,” I answered, “but I know who it was.”

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This is a view out the slider in our bedroom.  The house on the right is the house with the dogs.  The house on the left is the doorbell house.

 

Night Stalker

One of life’s mysteries is why people who have dogs that habitually bark, whine or howl don’t ever hear them, or if they do hear them, why they don’t do anything about it?

Years ago and right out of college, I was sharing a house with one of my male cousins, Mikey.  We had very small house next door to a family that had a black lab named Duke.  Like most Labs, Duke was a big, friendly guy who just wanted to be with people.  He really didn’t like being outside all night chained to his dog house.

It was fall in Kansas.  The hot prairie summer was gone. It was perfect weather for sleeping with the windows open.  The windows in both of our bedrooms were very close to Duke’s dog house, so that when he began telling the neighborhood how lonely he was, and all he wanted was to sleep inside with his family, we both had front row seats. Front row seats like at a concert because Duke didn’t bark or whine, he sang.  His plaintive howl would go up and down a scale: woo, woo, woo, woo, woo, woo, woo. Over and over.

After about half an hour of listening to Duke, Mike started the ever effective tactic of yelling at him to shut up.  Duke would shut up for a few minutes and when no one came to rescue him, he’d start in again, then Mike would yell, etc.  This cycle went on for another half hour.  Finally, I heard Mike jump out of bed and storm out of the house.  He stalked over to fence where Duke greeted him, tail wagging.  I watch out my window as Mike picked the dog up by the scruff of the neck, got in his face and through gritted teeth asked him to be quiet.

That seemed to work.  Duke settled down and so did we.  We were all just drifting off to sleep, when I heard a police radio and saw a flashlight beam sweep across my window. Mike heard it too and recognized the voice as belonging to the chief of police who lived just down the street.  Mike yelled at me that he’d go out to see what was going on.

What was going on is that our neighbors who couldn’t hear Duke singing or Mike yelling at him, had heard someone outside in their yard. Suspecting a prowler, they called to police.   My cousin, the abashed new, rookie cop, had to confess to the police chief that he was the night stalker.

And then there was the time….tune in for the next installment….