Pictures of coyotes trailed through Dodger’s mind as he shrank into the deepening shadows of the forest at dusk. Ahead of the whooshing breeze sped a scent.
Dank. Dark. Dreaded.
He’d been hunkered out of sight on the outskirts of a Cottontail rabbit trail, waiting to snatch supper as it hopped by, like it did every early summer’s eve. Tonight, his meal preparations were interrupted.
The competition was closing in.
Silent stealth charged the air raising his fur like before lightning struck. Countless paws thundered the hard packed ground reverberating through Dodger’s sensitive nerves, rattling his bones.
He flattened himself, his blackening melting into the dappled charcoal edges of nighttime.
A full moon crested the eastern horizon. Hot blood shot through the veins of all predators when the moon cast its unearthly blue-white glow.
Almost before it started, Dodger heard it, his ears twitching in anticipation.
The sound cracked through the night like a bullwhip snapping at air.
The ground moved, alive with terror as stricken rabbits leaped for cover, coyotes in pursuit.
Dodger didn’t breath . . . pictures of coyotes ran through his head.
He’d carefully chosen his hideout downwind from the carnage grounds, located just inside his kingdom’s boundary. A place where he could see, but not be seen; a place the coyotes dare not go, not since he’d established himself as king of the realm.
The barbwire fortress and blackberry hedgerow were built to discourage trespassers, but it didn’t keep the coyotes out. A clever move on his part, Dodger had initiated negotiations, which led to a peaceful accord. The coyotes were granted passage only through an old field under reforestation at the far southern edge of the kingdom.
Since its inception over a decade ago, the coyotes respected the terms of the agreement, but the last three years the local coyote population had exploded, putting more pressure on food resources outside Dodger’s kingdom.
As a result of the change in canine status, refugees poured into the kingdom. New settlements arose. Five known rabbit warrens, four known mole colonies, and more mice and lizards made their homes here than ever before.
Myriads of birds nested in every available tree with older residents constructing new nests higher up, not to mention all the new feathered species moving into the kingdom.
Competition for tree real estate was at an all-time high.
The ancient Douglas’ Squirrel Clan that ran the Northeast Corner neighborhood expanded its holdings last year to include the whole north side.
In response to the takeover, the smaller Eastern Gray Squirrel Clan residing in the Flowering Plum neighborhood located mid-kingdom, took over the whole east side.
Their cousins, the Black Eastern Gray Squirrel Clan that ran the smaller Pond Island neighborhood, stepped up their vigilance, aggressively asserting their tree rights . . . no bird nesting allowed in their trees! No new raccoons, either! They even restricted visits from other squirrel clans.
Dense wildlife tree populations led to loud squabbles between species. Of particular concern to Dodger were the vigilante acts against the kingdom’s feathered residents, evidenced by prolific increase in pilfered robins’ eggs. Even more disturbing were the growing number of fallen nests still filled with fledgling young.
After last year’s (2015) terrible drought, the kingdom’s water management plan was revised to meet the growing needs of plant and wildlife. Phase one, two, three and four of the new plan were complete; drip irrigation in flower beds, a new bird bath and ground irrigation were installed, and pond restoration was underway. Fundraising for phase five was initiated. Everything would be in place before the dry season hit, just weeks away.
The unusual daylight sightings of coyote packs skulking along the base of the kingdom’s fortress were of grave concern. So far, the coyotes held to the treaty, but their recent behavior suggested something far more sinister was brewing.
The deer must know something, but Dodger couldn’t consult them, because they had left the area when the coyotes closed in . . .
. . . Suddenly, a terrible ruckus ensued. Growling, snarling and a shriek, like that of a banshee, pierced the quiet.
Dodger steeled himself against the shudder that threatened to weaken his resolve as fear tried to creep in.
The coyotes killed their prey. Tonight it was fat juicy rabbit.
"Yip! Yip! Yip-a-yooooooooo!” The coyotes howled their triumph and invited their nearby compadres to the feast.
A distant, “Yip! Yip-hooo!” acknowledged their invite. Shortly, a hoard of the smelly beasts honed in on the gathering and joined in gorging themselves on fresh meat.
The sheer number of coyotes was staggering. Far more than Dodger had first conceived, confirming his suspicions a large pack had moved into the neighboring abandoned Christmas tree farm, thus the recent daylight sightings.
Dodger's thoughts raced
Coyotes were tricksters, not to be trusted. Those coyote patrols of his kingdom’s boundaries were intentional shows of aggression. Someday soon, they would violate the terms of the treaty.
Dodger wasn’t getting any younger and it was becoming more difficult to keep his subjects in line.
In fact, the last eighteen months had been difficult health-wise. He’d not been the same since he’d tangled with a feral cat that had invaded his realm. Though he’d prevailed and left the devil cat much worse off than he, Dodger had sustained a wound to his throat, which festered quickly.
He remembered climbing into a hedgerow that hot night late in summer to hide while he recovered from his injury, only to pass out and awaken with the whole side of his face so swollen his eye shut and his ear stuck out funny.
He was feverish and sinking fast.
He knew it would be a short time before his beautiful “Meowma” (Mama) came looking for him, as she always did when he went missing for too long.
Dodger jolted awake when Meowma called him. Lifting his head, he tried to meow, but fire poured through his throat where his voice should have been.
Helpless, he watched her pass by, her eyes anxiously searching for him, but not finding him. His blackness blended into the surroundings too well. His meager efforts to attract her attention exhausted him to the point of passing out again.
For two days, the search ensued. Dodger drifted in and out of consciousness. Hunger and thirst wasted him.
Hopeless, he allowed the sweet relief of troubled sleep to take him, knowing he would never awaken again. He drifted into the welcome state of nothingness, all senses deadened, until he felt no more.
The dream world he entered was like none he had ever experienced before. Meowma had come for him. She comforted his form in her arms and carried him through a misty shroud filled with unending movement and strange sounds. Her voice swaddled him while he passed through a gray gloom.
Then, there were psychedelic moments, a kaleidoscope of swirling colors, like stained glass windows caught in a vortex. Dodger lost himself in the twirling rainbow until it collapsed into itself when shot through with a bright beam of white light.
He blinked against the brilliance, sure he would go blind. Like a tractor beam from outer space he was transported into the light. The experience was bizarre, unearthly.
Dodger examined himself to find he had no emotion and could feel nothing. He felt neither afraid nor curious. He was not cold or hot. Nor was he experiencing any kind of discomfort, but he was not comfortable, either. It was “nothing”, except existing in light.
Suddenly, the bright place exploded, shattering his senses with sharp glassy shards! Heaviness pressed in, weighing him down so he couldn’t flee the excruciating pain. His mind screamed when he was pierced through, and then he floated on a quilted cloud of loveliness, pain-free and listless, without a care despite the nightmarish hell.
When Dodger awakened, he was ensconced in the cushioned cat carrier he hated, but he was home and his beautiful “Meowma” was there, whispering sweet love in his good ear and gently stroking his chinchilla fur.
He’d never been the same since. It was as if youth had fled. He was suddenly old and never did fully recover his previous vigor. Everything was harder. So much so, he was steadily losing weight, because he couldn’t hunt like he used to.
Never in his life would he have thought he would one day become a fair weather kitty, but last November, even before winter set in, the cool nights made his bones ache.
By December he only ventured outdoors to avoid using the kitty litter box. In January, he gave in and used the litter box only at night, venturing outside to do his dirty business during daylight.
It took several weeks to grow comfortable with his new indoor routine and to learn Abby’s rules; after all, she was queen of the castle. Once he settled in, he didn’t budge until spring time temperatures were consistently mild day and night.
Much to his surprise, Dodger found his tenants had managed the kingdom well without him. Assured of their continued allegiance and diligence, he abandoned his patrols and scaled back his vigilance, choosing to bask in the warm sun as he continued to convalesce.
He enjoyed napping in the outdoors, watching the wildlife and their romantic frollicks, and partaking of the fragrant herbs of the field. The sweet melody of bird song lulled his senses, that is, when he wasn’t on the hunt to fill his growling tummy.
Pictures of Coyotes and Dodger--Our game cam captured one of many coyotes passing through Dodger's kingdom at the south end of the field, as per the treaty!
Dodger jerked from his reverie, his nose wrinkling at the smell of fresh blood and death. His eyes narrowed and his resolve hardened.
So long as there was breath in his body, the coyotes would know they had no choice but to heed the terms of their mutual agreement.
For a while longer he stood watch at his kingdom’s boundary. Avoiding coyotes wasn’t difficult. Dodger had long ago mastered the art of silently vanishing into the shadows of his realm, undetected.
Whoever coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” was wrong, Dodger thought to himself. It’s survival of the the stealthiest and the most intelligent that keeps kitties like me from falling prey to packs of smart aleck coyotes!
Pictures of coyotes danced in his head.
Don Edwards immortalizes a bygone era dear to our hearts. His cowboy songs grace movies of the old west; he played "Smokey" in, The Horse Whisperer, and he has performed around the world to audiences who love his music.
We were very fortunate to receive a private invitation to attend one of his impromptu concerts when he was passing through our mountains some time ago. It was a thrilling experience we will never forget. Our favorite cowboy song is, of course, “Coyotes”!
On hot summer nights, it is not unusual to find Dodger kicking back on the cabin’s front porch, gently lashing his tail to the tune of “Coyotes” as our son practices his repertoire on his beautiful sunburst guitar.