IT HAS BEEN A GOOD YEAR. The magazine was honored. I finally made it to Norway. And in May I realized another personal dream by acquiring a small and humble cabin, perched on a ledge above a lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, one of my favorite places on the planet. Recreation and solitude were not the only reasons I wanted such a place. I also wanted my urban-bred grandsons to experience the friendly warmth of a wood fire on a chilly alpine morning, the absence of spoon-fed electronic entertainment and the knowledge that their surroundings must be shared with creatures that are wild—and sometimes frightening. From their first visit, Jake and Johnny took to the cabin like ducks to water. On our last visit they learned a lesson city life could never offer.
The warm season is short at 9,000 feet, so we squeezed in one last cabin visit over a fall weekend. Our final day there dawned to an approaching storm, but to conserve our winter food cache we decided to drive to the nearby village for breakfast just the same. By the time we gathered our rain gear and settled in the truck cab, the storm had hit. Blue-white lightning flashes and startling thunderclaps brought more drama than actual rainfall.
Just as we turned onto the main road into town my daughter Antje shouted to stop the truck. She had caught a glimpse of something extraordinary in the darkness of the forest a short distance off the road’s edge. We pulled to the left side and backed up on the shoulder to get a better view. Sure enough, there among the lodgepole pines, a life-or-death struggle was unfolding: a mother mule deer was fighting off the attack of two coyotes, determined to kill her fawn.
It was an awful scene to watch, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave, either. One of the boys cried out, “We gotta do something! Let’s get out and scare off the coyotes, or throw rocks at them, or something!” But the likelihood of our appearance separating the doe from her fawn kept us in the truck. Time after time the mother would stand over the fawn, and then leap out to fend off a frontal attack while the second coyote opportunistically closed in from behind. Young as it was, the little fawn fought back, kicking with its heels before scurrying to safety near its mother.
For what seemed an eternity we sat silent and tense and helpless in the truck, our senses heightened by the storm’s Wagnerian overture to the nerve-wracking, surreal spectacle. Suddenly, as if scripted by Walt Disney himself, a flash of lightning revealed a miraculous event: The mother got the best of one of the coyotes, thoroughly trouncing him with her front hooves as the other predator looked on dumbfounded— and then wisely beat a hasty retreat before he suffered a similar fate. The attack was over.
It was a happy but pensive breakfast for all of us. We had witnessed a Hollywood ending, but we were also aware that it might have gone another way and we would have been powerless to do anything at all about it. I was reminded, and I hope my grandsons learned, that we are part of a bigger scheme in which we play an active, but not leading, role.
Man likes to imagine he is in control. Globally and in the home we try to shape our environment to suit our perceived needs, often firm in our belief that technology will triumph over nature. Yet it is all transitory fantasy for, as we learned on that stormy morning, when nature makes a move we are only along for the ride. And, as a battered coyote might agree, it doesn’t always go the way we want it to.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
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