Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Western Legends #7 - Guinea Hen & Coyote

Summers in Indian Valley get hot; right now (12:30 p.m. on Monday) it’s 95 degree Fahrenheit on our porch, & some days in July & August that would feel pretty mild. Right now, it just feels hot. Throw in plenty of dust & smoke & practically no rain & you have a landscape that gets increasingly surreal as the summer progresses.

Or at least it seems that way. Because at a certain point, I think, you just enter another form of consciousness in the Dog Days of summer (which officially begin this Friday). Things seem slow & dreamy, & reality often has a summer haze about it.

This was even more true when we lived in our old farmhouse, in which the only cooling system was a decrepit swamp coole
r—probably some of you haven’t experienced the joys of swamp cooler cooling, so that probably should be a separate post. But here’s a typical scene on a summer’s evening: the house is holding heat like some unworldy presence; Eberle & I are sitting in bed, on top of the covers, in our nightclothes, just having finished watching an old Perry Mason episode on TV. It’s really too hot to do anything, including sleep.

Then we hear a big whomp against the side of the house—now this scene takes place in the early years of the millenium, back when Eberle & I were raising guinea hens; & there were guinea hens sitting on various nest scattered across the property, because no matter how fast we took their eggs away (guinea hen eggs are quite good—just a bit smaller than chicken eggs) there were invariably more, with both hens & roosters sitting on &/or guarding nests—in essence, “sitting ducks” for any predator that might happen by.

So still in our nightclothes, we traipsed out to the front lawn to see what had happened; we knew there was a nest sequestered there, but didn’t know it’s exact location. We were about halfway across the lawn when Eberle yelled, “Hey” or words to that effect & took off sprinting in her nightclothes in the direction of the draw. Just ahead of her was a coyote (pronounced as a two-syllable word locally) carrying off a live guinea hen.

As luck or prudence would hav
e it, we had a flashlight—it was after 10:00 p.m. as I recall, which puts it a little ways into the summer, since there’s a good deal of light in the sky now at 10:00 o’clock. Actually, I had the flashlight, & I took off after Eberle—for her sake really, since the guinea hen was clearly a lost cause. Of course, even back then my lungs kept me from running for any distance, so I used a little common sense & kept to a brisk walk, always keeping Eberle & her prey in my flashlight: thru the vegetable garden, thru the pasture, up the ridge & into the wide open pasture on top, then diagonally across the pasture heading straight for the big hill that leads to US Highway 95. Eberle was still in pursuit; the coyote had actually stopped a couple of times, apparently trying to “shake her,” but she was determined.

The hill didn’t prove much of an obstacle for the coyote (& guinea hen), or for Eberle, either. On the other hand, it slowed me down considerably.

The rest of the story—after crossing the highway, the coyote turned toward
Eberle, apparently thinking that a bit of an aggressive posture might get this pesky human off his trail & let him enjoy his hard-won supper. Eberle, however, walked straight toward the coyote, who it seems had had enough of this, dropped the no-doubt shaken but otherwise intact guinea hen & took off up the slope of Mesa Hill.

I rejoined Eberle & the guinea hen on the far side of Highway 95, & we began the long walk home—in nightclothes & in the lights of the semis barrelling down the south slope of the mesa. The guinea hen went home on her own—I don’t recall if it ran or flew or both—& was bustling around on the front lawn when we got back.

What was the whomp you ask? Our best guess is that the coyote flushed the guinea hen off her nest & she took flight. However, while guinea hens are better at flying than chickens, it certainly isn’t their strong suit, & we believe she didn’t get enough elevation, hit the side of the house, & fell down stunned where she was—as the coyote believed, not figuring on Eberle’s relentlessness—easy pickings.

A summer occurrence. As the great poet César Vallejo said, Es una historia!

The pix are self-explanatory, except for the top pic, which shows two of our guinea hens atop the old swamp cooler!

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  1. Goodness...I think I would have just let the coyote eat the guinea! For fear the coyote would try to eat me... ;)


    It's hot here too. Got over a hundred degrees last week. Pretty rare for only June.

  2. Hi Ginger:

    You have a point! & yes, over 100 is hot--even out here in the dry air, 100 degrees is oppressive. I'm guessing where you are there's a lot of humidity, making it even worse.

  3. Yikes! We've only heard coyote howling once at the manor, in the whole twenty plus years we've lived here. Never actually seen one, though. It's a very mournful and nostalgic sound.

  4. Hi Willow:

    Coyotes aren't the creatures of the wild west as they once were--they've spread pretty much across the country & into urban environments. Our friend Audrey sees them pretty frequently in suburban SoCal. The howl is eerie, but they also have a yip that I find even more so, especially when it's a whole pack of them.

  5. Hey John, great story. kudo's to your wife for the chase. I, by the way, know swamp coolers well, having grown up with swamp coolers on flat tar and gravel roofs in Albuquerque. I actually remember them with some fondness, probably because they afforded so many oppertinities to get up on the roof.
    be well.

  6. loved the story, John! I was surprised she lived. My family's farm loses poultry to hawks; I guess everyone likes chicken!

  7. What a great storyteller you are, John! In my memory of this tale--and I wasn't there, mind you--Eberle threw a shoe or boot at the coyote. Maybe I just put that in later for warrior effect?

    And, yes, in the foothills around LA, we do have coyotes who come down into the neighborhoods in search of small domestic mammals (so sad!). When I see a coyote in the road or in a lawn, I always have the same reaction. First, I think it's a dog. Then something deep in my gut tells me that this is a wild animal. And I'm on its territory!

  8. LOL! I used to walk to work until I a coyote crossed my path entering the Microsoft campus.

    Gosh, it's a comfortable 60 (F) in Ireland. I'm looking out onto Clew Bay while listening to Abdullah Ibrahim. Wish you and E. were here!

  9. Funny - Kevin and I do the same thing: nightclothes, top of the bed, only we are usually watching "Columbo".


  10. Hello all!

    Randy: Yeah, the roof ones do afford that opportunity. You don't see as many on the roof here as you do in the southwest, I assume because of the snowload.

    Chris: Guinea hens & chickens are fair game for everything from weasels to Great horned owls. We found it particularly difficult to keep the guineas safe because they are so determined to roost in trees.

    Hi Audrey! You know, I do remember something about a shoe or boot, too. But there were so many adventures with those guinea hens I honestly can't keep them all straight.

    K: Sounds fantastic-- I really like Abdullah Ibrahim's music, & so does Eberle!

    Kat: We still do the same thing, but now we have A/C! & these days it's Deep Space 9 & Foyle's War, with the odd classic flick for good measure.

  11. Great adventure and story - I can almost hear an Arlo Guthrie-like rendition. Have you thought of that?

    On another note, we're having a cooler than usual summer, today in the low 70s. It's usually mid 80s at least at this time of year.

  12. Hi Karen:

    That's an interesting suggestion. We had a late start to the hot weather, but it's here now.


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