2003-12-17 Wild and Wooly

Carnivores Creeping

Whenever I return from walking the wolf, I picture myself looking all adorably windblown and rosy cheeked and much like a fresh faced Little Red Riding Hood. However, The reality that greets me in the bathroom mirror is something else entirely.

My nose looks honking and red, tears are streaming from my wind-reddened eyes, my skin looks not rosy and glowing, but chapped and blotchy. My hair, rather than being delicately tousled, is matted and sticking up in weird spots and accented by my sadly askew ponytail. sigh.

But however disillusioning my apres-walk appearance might be, the walk itself is rarely disappointing. Every day, it has a different flavour, a different mood.

Today, the flavour was mysterious and forboding. After the snow this weekend, we were treated (I use the term loosely) to a day of driving rain which has melted all the snow, leaving puddles and icy patches. I thought about taking the wonderfully piney trail down to the creek today, but opted against it as it is often muddy and treacherous after a hard rain. So instead we headed out into the wild tangle of field and scruffy brush edging the long road that winds this way and that through the park.

The wild grasses are parched and weather beaten, in various shades ranging from dusty mustard yellow to rust, to bone-white to parchment. A flurry kicked up while we were out, send large flakes skimming in fierce eddies across the field. I was in the process of breaking off a branch from a fallen, skeletal tree when I noticed Finny frozen in an uncharacteristically stiff posture, tail held high and still, nose lifted to the air sniffing feverishly. Following her unwavering stare further afield, I caught a flash of bushy brown tail and a set of large scruffy haunches dashing soundlessly into the weeds.

A coyote, and a huge one at that. Larger than Finn, for sure, and a good thirty pounds heavier. I gasped out loud when I saw it. In the nearly two years I've been out walking in that park, I've only seen one other coyote, early last November. And it was small and dark and grey and timid.

Had it been stalking us? Is its den nearby? Were there more, perfectly camoflauged, watching us intently?

The rest of the walk took on a decidely mysterious air from there. I kept glancing nervously over my shoulder, expecting to see that large shape looming in the scrub. I was at once intensely curious and frightened. It's silly to be scared. Although I know they will occassionally attack dogs, i've never heard of a lone coyote attacking one of Finn's size ( about seventy pounds). Only smaller dogs and even then, only in packs. And I've never heard of a human being attacked.

But my mind kept flashing nevertheless to the rash of cougar attacks that kept occuring with startling regularity and lethal results in the Banff and Canmore areas and various grizzly bear attacks in Jasper before we left Calgary. (Just so you know, i don't think there are many cougars here in Ontario, if any at all, and certainly no grizzly bears.)

It's a delicious kind of chill that steals over you when you imagine yourself imperiled by nature, I think. Something alert and primitive stirs in your belly and you suddenly start trying to recall all the spotty survival tips you've absorbed and almost entirely forgotten through a lifetime of wildlife documentaries and camping trips and haphazard childhood involvement with the Brownies and Girl Guides. (Although I'm hard pressed to think of anything I learned in Guides that might be helpful whilst under wild animal attack... how to fold a napkin? S'more squishing? Dinky little tunes intended to foster that frontier feeling and be sung in rounds?)

Ah... wonderfully invigorating spotting the hungry haunches of a predatory animal!

Now, I'm off to brave the wild things at the mall in hopes of hunting down the rest of my Christmas presents. Finding a decent parking space alone will require all my cunning and animal instinct. Yee Haw.


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