28 May 2018

Bambi Quick the Thicket

Under the rules of Bambi, the meadow is bad because of Man, but the thicket is the groovy space for the forest creatures, bunnies, skunks, and flowers. The meadow has a soundtrack, you hear menacing violin strings that inspired the duun-nuh duun-nuh Jaws is coming music, Bambi’s mom looks up with that shit’s about to hit the fan face, and next thing you know, the race is on into the thicket.

Thicket safe, meadow bad.

She doesn’t make it, you know. Childhood blows it’s wad then and there, the saddest day in the forest happens, both meadow and thicket. “Your mother can’t be with you anymore,” from the dad deer, forest prince with his giant rack. Nobody comes back from the dead. They can’t be with you anymore.

Choke back your tears, and move on.

The forest isn’t a fairy tale. Darkness goes down in there. Do you remember the shrewd wolf that ate the six baby goats? Number seven hid in the clock case, when the goat mother returns and goes and hunts that big bad wolf down, she slits his stomach, frees the goat babies and sews heavy stones into the wolf’s stomach cavity, causing subsequential painful post surgical death.

Circle of death, the ways of the world, the forest is where it all goes down.

We usually stay clear of the meadow due to the coyotes. They watch us, they’re cunning and fast and travel in groups, hunt in pairs. When you see one, usually there’s more. They're stealth agents, if they don’t want you to see them you won’t. You can feel it when they’re near. They like it where it’s clear. Meadow bad, if you want to steer clear of them, usually hug the woods along the ridge, they’ll keep to themselves and steer clear of us.

The big cats are usually more on my mind, they’re way bigger and an interaction with them seems certain death. A coyote? Throw some rocks, make some noise, they vanish back into the brush, and we move on. We share the forest with them, they have to share with us. You dig, coyote? Deer and rabbits, pumas and coyotes, bikers and hikers and skunks. We’re all out in there together. Maybe belongs to some of us more than others, we may be daily visitors but it’s not my livliehood, skulking around in there. I can stop at Companion on the way home for a gluten free blueberry buckwheat scone and a pricey cup of coffee. Everybody gots to eat.

When my dogs alerted to the coyote just off the trail to our right, I was surprised. More surprised than scared. He was close, he was big, and he was in a spot I’ve never seen a coyote. He was hunkered down in a dead log, both eyes locked on our little group, and too close and too still. He or she, I don't know. Gooey and Banksy growled, they weren’t happy, they were scared, maybe more scared than surprised.

We haven’t even seen a coyote in a while. We rotate where we walk, when it seems like the coyotes are more plentiful, we rotate to a different zone. When one comes near, the plan is everybody stick together, little dogs get leashed and to my arms if possible, Banksy comes in and we move as a clump. I scream my special anti coyote kung fu scream and throw rocks and generally that does the trick. The human lady looks crazy, and crazy may be best avoided, nobody wants to be near crazy. When that doesn’t work, like with the giant coyotes that loom unwavering, tall like wolves, we retreat quietly but efficiently, and I always keep my voice up, with the hopes that it’s irritating enough to back them down and return to their previously quiet forest retreat.

Here’s where this scenario went wrong. The dogs alerted, we all looked each other dead in the eye. In the blink of that eye, when I called the dogs along to move up the path and away from big guy staring at me from the edge of the wood, they moved forward of me, so I sent them on ahead.


This seemed fine. Go ahead they did. I missed the opportunity to grab Gooey, who weighs in at something like 12lbs as he and Banksy ran on ahead, up away from the coyote. We’d climb up to the top of the path, edge the thicket, and move up to the fire road and on where the trail meanders across a ridge sitting up above the valley, a place I like to walk because of how the sun beams thread through the redwoods every Sunday morning. It’s like church for us, crunching along the path, climbing with the sun.

This should all have been fine. Everything always works out fine, right? We're part of the forest, we are forest creatures. It’s the one place we blend, the one place we feel right, and we’re careful and experienced. Maybe even we're magic. I don't know. Maybe all these years, I've had it all wrong. Because this time, something went wrong. The dogs sent ahead of me around a blind curve, a place where the path rounds a group of redwoods, a place where we’ve walked, maybe one thousand times? How would I count that, how many foot prints we’ve put on that section of path over decades of this is where we walk?

In this one instant, I saw a second coyote appear up ahead on my right, and move as a blur towards where the dogs were heading. And the big one from my lower right shot straight towards me on the path. Ran just behind my ass, where I had Otterpop tottering along on a long line. Another blur, a heat seeking missile, programmed by some unseen force to run to the convergence of two coyotes and my two dogs. A perfect storm, and perfect target, a perfect bulls eye of prey.

It happened too fast but in super slow motion at the same time. You feel this when you’re falling off a horse at high speed, you may very well be moving at 25 or so mph, as the horse lowers it’s head and prepares for it’s hindquarters to fire up into the air. You know the moment when the launch begins, that you’ve tipped a bit too forward to stay put, time slows down while you’re propelled through the air, and the clock only starts running again the moment you hit the ground.

I think I screamed the dog names, I think I started running. I think the only sounds I heard were all the ones coming from me, in that moment that happened in the slowest second ever recorded. The trees hid from me the view of what happened at the junction of dog and coyote, but as I ran into the fray, Banksy ran back to me, Gustavo wasn’t with Banksy, and I saw two coyotes take off like rockets into the thicket. The only place Gustavo could have been, in that one second in time, was in one of their mouths.

Let me explain the thicket. Tall stands of manzanita, with curling witch fingers for branches, old dead logs, redwood and pine and greaseweed and bay and poison oak and low prickly berry vines, and I don’t know what else, all arranged over a thick floor of dead, dried out fallings. Thick and pokey, plants that scratch and damage, carved with low tunnels for the movement of low animals, not passable by humans over the height of eighteen inches high. Thickets of brush are everywhere in the mountains, it fills the spaces between redwood and pine groves where nothing’s burned for many years. It’s a good place to hide out if you’re an animal, for a human, perhaps to cut your way to a clearing and set up a secret camp where entering and exiting are limited to commando crawling over the forest floor. The looming manzanitas have always creeped me out there, in the winter time the light sucks deep into them and if the evil sorceress from Snow White neede a spot to crash in our woods, the manzanita thickets are where she’d build her poison shack for a dry hot summer night.

I can see why Bambi would go there, it’s a good cover to pause and hide from someone like me. He probably didn’t know about witches, just hunters with guns, and a hunter with a gun is no how, no way going to be able to get into the thicket. This fact didn’t stop me. Without hesitation I started and screaming and thrashing and pummeling my way in, with Otterpop swept up into my arms and Banksy following close behind. We were off and running, screaming for Gustavo.

The clock had started again, now running way too fast. For every scream from me, I got one back from a coyote. A chilling, yipping, screaming set of screeches until I screamed back.

“G!” from the top of my lungs.

“Screech yip screech scream yip hip yip screech!” from one of the coyotes.


And only the screeching would answer back.

We went back and forth like this for quite a while. I scream, you scream, I scream, you scream. Never once had I heard a peep from Gustavo. He had vanished into thin air, without a trace. I had two traumatized dogs being drug over and under everything in my path as I tried to get to the screaming ground zero, a redwood I marked in the thickest and densest area that I was having trouble reaching. I was lost and unlost, stuck and unstuck. Never once did I stop screaming, never once did that coyote clam up.

The longer we screamed at each other, the deeper the dread started to seep in. Why was only one coyote screaming? Which one had Gustavo? Why hadn’t he screamed, not even once? And the deeper I fought our way into the thicket, the deeper I crawled with Otterpop stuffed down my coat and terrified Banksy stuck to me like glue, was the screaming drawing us in, calling in more prey? Was my screaming for Gustavo hysteria or a strategy?

My clothes were torn up, I was covered in wounds, the poor dogs getting drug along traumatized beyond belief and possibly in more danger the thicker I was getting us in there. There were places we were completely trapped until I clawed through branches, and had a coyote decided to meet up with us knowing we were at a disadvantage, potentially exponentially, worse. I decided to retreat and run Banksy and Otterpop back down to my car, run back up the hill back up and search again without dogs, maybe now only looking for a body.

This continued on as the day grew brighter. Gary came up to help, we expanded the search area out of the thicket and to nearby trails that we frequented, moving back to the acres of thicket each time. Crawling back through, looking under rotten logs and in crevices and ditches and dirt mounds. At some point, my screaming deteriorated into sad little calls for Gooey. When I finally battered my way to deep into the marker tree, densest, darkest, hardest to get to spot in there of all, I found a small animal boneyard scattered around the clearing at the base of the redwood. Little skeletons of maybe raccoons and bobcats and possum, little skulls and femurs and tibias and rib cages, all laid carefully to rest round the tree. Almost festive, like a birthday party at the animal graveyard. Festive in a Radiohead song way. Never have I felt such a heavyweight feeling of dread, crawling myself into the place where so many little animals were brought to die.

It’s boring to look for a dog you think is dead. It’s an unrelenting sadness, it’s a stinging wall of shock, and a terror and pain you can’t numb of what did that poor dog feel, especially a dog such as Gustavo, perfect and sweet and kind like a baby, being taken and carried off. Usually I like to think of words, but I can’t even think of the words for this one. The words that mean the worst, really and truly the worst. So you’re feeling the worst, while you're looking for clues, paw prints, soft black fur on a bit of bloody skin, you’re seeing happy people on a hike with their kids, as you slink the woods uttering a single syllable, clothes now torn to rags and your face looks like one of the walkers from the zombie show, dead but for needing to find just this one thing, the only thing that matters.

This went on for quite a while. He’s dead for sure, might as well give up the hunt. Sit down on a log and sob, and then realize, perhaps he’s not dead! To search some more. To search and hunt, realize he’s dead for sure, sit down on a log and sob, then repeat the cycle again. Gary went out in the dark on his bike, while I stayed home, curled up on the couch in a ball.

The next morning I knew for sure, he was dead. I did go back up and search, but it was half hearted by then. I was searching for a ghost, so more wandering the woods, no dogs with me, just me and later Gary, walking through the forest, talking to our dead dog.

To be continued in Part Two.

Part Two: The kind of person who gets poison oak.


Anonymous said...

I have never heard a more moving story. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

thank you for telling us the story. and thanks especially for waiting until we know he's now out taking in the world from the safety of his dog stroller! what a horrible thing for you all to have to go thru tho. but it does prove that even coyotes can be convinced to abandon their prey when pursued by a banshee lady!! a valuable lesson for us all!!

Blondiegirl said...

I was gasping through the whole thing. My heart was beating like a drum the whole time and I could feel your pain looking for Gooey

Unknown said...

A tale to take heed of. Not sure how but important to know. Thank you for sharing it.

Amy Carlson said...

Crying, again..........

Mary said...

If I didn’t know the happy ending I’d find this unbearable to read. I’m sitting here curled in a foetal ball sniffling and wiping away tears as I read this.

It’s unfair, for the record, that you’re so talented as both an artist and a writer. You could have left the rest of us ONE skill. Overachiever. 🙄

Anonymous said...

I only know you through your blog and facebook posts but have come to love Gustavo and all of Team Small Dog from afar. I was heartbroken at your first post, amazed by the miracle and so frightened by this one, even knowing the outcome. Cried throughout and am so, so happy for you all.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry that you and the dogs have had to go through this, and so glad Gustavo is ok. Here in the Toronto (Canada) area, the coyotes/coy-wolves are *very* bold, and periodically take dogs being walked on-leash in city green spaces, also dogs in fenced backyards. Coyotes are beautiful but very good at what they do.