Friday, January 7, 2011
Was it 3am? I woke suddenly to what sounded to me like death screams, or at least very badly wounded screams. "Robert! What's going on out there?"
Our house is at the bottom of a wild hill, the terminus of a long ridge that leads directly into the wilderness. We are in the curve of a mountain stream. Thus, our hill is the trail down to water: deer, elk, bears, coyotes, mountain lions, raccoons, all kinds of wildlife (birds fly in of course) traipse through.
And SOMETHING was having trouble in its traipse. I was up and out of bed and at the window in a flash -- seeing nothing of course. It was nighttime, after all.
"Probably a raccoon," he said sleepily, and rolled over.
He was right, but I had to see it for myself -- visions of a grievously injured creature needing help? What did I think I would be able to do for it, anyway? (Here I insert the welded-in memory of childhood, when I arose in my nightie and raced outside to comb our neighborhood, seeking my cat whose cries had awakened me... do we ever change?)
This time, it being full-on winter, I pulled on my long undies, sweater, fleece pants, right over my silk pajamas, then tugged on my snowboots, coat, hat, mittens -- grabbed a headlamp AND a large-beam flashlight and headed out.
The cries were so distressing, so regular, so high-pitched. I slipped and fell on all fours repeatedly as I clambered up the steep hillside in deep snow. The cries were very close by.
Just there, on the other side of a patch of weed trees! A humongously huge furry thing -- and yes! the tell-tale-banded-tail of a raccoon -- was hunched over something furry. The screams continued.
A short time later, the furry thing underneath was flipped over onto its back, revealing -- yes! the tell-tale-banded-tail of a raccoon! A much smaller one. And the screams continued... despite two bright beams of light focused directly on them. Their backs were facing me, if that made any difference.
I watched in fascination -- until the screaming stopped a moment and the humongous aggressor seemed as if it just might be turning to check me out. I did NOT scream, but I was slip-sliding back down the slope as fast as I could....what HAD I been thinking to venture out so vulnerably? My mind was racing with visions of razor-sharp teeth in my calf from one humongous furry thing....
But that did not happen.
Once I was safely back inside, the screams began anew -- but from farther away, up the hill somewhere.... Robert, who grew up right here, and has been attuned to the natural world all his life, mumbled something about it being a dominance fight. The big guy, all fluffed out for winter warmth (and not ALL as big as he looked), was just letting the intruder know who owns this turf. As an afterthought, he mumbled, "That coon wouldn't chase you. He wasn't cornered." Then he was snoring again.
Robert can do that. He can respond to any interruption in his sleep in perfectly coherent, and correct comments, and be back asleep in seconds. I lay awake for some long time... taking it all in.
The next morning (THIS morning), I showed Robert the site of the fight. No blood, just ruffled snow. He marveled at how close to the fight I had been standing. "Well," he said with a laugh, "you had a front-row seat -- to something that was hair-raising." And off he went to shave and begin the morning.