Coyote Morning

A defiant coyote tested me one morning. Just like that coyote I remember from the cartoons my father used to read us when I was a kid. The cartoonist portrayed his coyote as the dumb one forever missing his prey. That invented coyote lived in the desert and he was very persistent. He was relentless in his pursuit of a hard-won meal. But he chased a very smart cartoon roadrunner.

What I learned from the cartoon coyote was to never give up. No matter how hard the goal, no matter how many obstacles, never give up hope. So on this one morning I was also persistent.

I trust my dog Allie explicitly. She is very selective about voicing her opinion. Once when she would not stop barking, it was because a rattlesnake was curled up in her doghouse. We had to call the animal control people to capture and remove the huge snake. So when Allie alerts me to something amiss, I pay attention.

She had given me some advance warning. The night before, she pawed at the door to be let out, whining and impatient. As I opened the sliding glass, she darted out and immediately began to bark at the darkness beyond the fence enclosing my backyard. She leaped up anxiously to the flowerbeds and stared through the wire as she continued her menacing noise.

Allie has never had much of an accent, just pure dog, a joyful blend of Yellow Lab and Boxer. Her sound is not quite as deep as her stepsister Birdie, a mix of Border Collie and Airedale Terrier, whose voice will put the fear into any creature — canine, feline or homo sapiens. Allie appeared fretful that night. She wanted to conquer whatever was lurking beyond my view. I called her back inside and the rest of the evening was quiet.

The next morning, I went downstairs to let the dogs out for their usual morning stroll around the yard, sniffing at bushes and relieving themselves. I prepared their breakfast.

At 15 years old, Birdie gets three pain pills daily to manage her advancing arthritis. She has figured out that the tasty pill pockets I bought are designed to hide the sour tasting medicine, so I have resorted to peanut butter as a mask for getting her to swallow the painkillers. She licks the spoon eagerly and the nasty pills along with the gooey peanut butter. Once all medicines have been administered, the dogs follow closely to my heels as I carry bowls filled with rations of kibbles. Their mouths salivate and barely allow me enough time to place their breakfast on the deck before they devour the food.

After feeding the dogs, I returned indoors and went upstairs to get ready for work. Then the barking started again. Annoyed at the interruption, I walked into the guest bedroom so I could get a better view of the backyard and the reason for the barking. An out-of-focus creature was standing in the field just beyond the back fence. I had my suspicions, but I wasn’t wearing my contacts. I raced back to my bedroom, grabbed my glasses, and returned to the guest-room window. There he was, now clear as could be. The coyote.

Allie and Birdie were both barking in unison at this point, hugging the fence as closely as they could get to their wild canine brethren. Still in my nightgown, I ran downstairs to see how I could affect the outcome of this early morning encounter.

The visitor was nonchalant. His brown coat nearly blended in with the summer grasses that cover our California hillsides. We are in a drought and animals seek water wherever they can find it. I am usually happy to share whatever I have with the wildlife that live around my house, but a coyote could kill one of my cats. They are to be feared.

I puffed myself up like a cat protecting its territory, trying to be as ferocious as possible.

“Shoo!” I said to the coyote, raising my arms in an attempt to frighten him.

He lifted his head from whatever he had been licking on the ground and stared at me intently. For a moment, our eyes were locked. He returned to his feast.

“Shoo! Shoo!” I tried a second time.

Ever feel like you are in a cartoon? That moment, I could have drawn a wonderful picture of coyote versus human and dogs. Coyote (1) and Human/Dogs (0).

The coyote clearly had the upper hand. He somehow knew that a tall fence separated him from the barking dogs and me. He was in his safe territory and we were in ours. So what was the big deal?

I searched around the yard for a rock or something else I could throw at him, but without success. Allie’s tennis ball was nowhere to be found. I would have easily sacrificed that. My next idea was water.

I set the hose to jet mode and aimed it over the fence in the direction of the coyote. I knew the water would not reach him, but it would be close enough and perhaps convince him to safely depart the neighborhood. The water flowed like rain into the dry grass, a mist of comfort, no doubt, to an animal seeking sustenance. He stood in the mist for a moment, relishing the rain. And then he turned and ran, but only a few feet before he stopped to look at me again.

We stared at one another. Two wild animals, loners from the pack, each of us just trying to survive.

My dogs continued their incessant barking, uneasy with this foreigner in their midst. The coyote was brave. He was defiant. He took risks.

Eventually the animal trotted off across the meadow and into the safety of the woods. I hope he returns some day.


Lake Del Valle

Breath is cold as I stare at my boots
Preparing for the inevitable
The mystic journey of my life
I am not ready for the once easy trek
Travels that took me far and wide
Without complication or trauma
Hills to cross and crosses to bear
Remains to be discovered of deer
That hunger for their young
Violet horns and golden hair sweep
Through the tunnels of destination
Wherever that will be for me
The road not clear as it once was
Feet not so sturdy or confident
Yet none of that really matters
Water is plentiful with fish of all kinds
Gathering to feed and renew their young
As I now also come to feed my soul
Lake of the Valley glistens
The moon crests upon its breast
Heaves and weeps to light the way
Wings dip into its shore and search
For answers and sustenance
To carry life to its end or more
Each toe in the sand kicks rocks
By accident discovering mouths
That need food, promises to fill
My hike exhausts at best
Exhilarates at worst and
Cleanses my soul eternally
Wind captures the Lake of the Valley
Trees mourn their loss as gusts force
Roaming grasses to bend and flow
I bend and flow, too, as I see life
Pass before me and beyond me
Yet I am here on this trail forever
The trail guides me to where I should be
Air, water, and earth sound their trumpets
I listen and my boots move forward

— Victoria Emmons, 2014 







Celebrate Mothers

Today we celebrate mothers. We celebrate all those fine women who have loved, given their all, planned, saved, and sacrificed so that children can have a happy life, no matter how long that life is. Some of us today will hug our children tightly. Some will text them or talk on FaceTime. Some will remember their children … remember the gift they were to us.

So for all the mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers and other people who served as mothers, as so many are often called upon to do, we celebrate you. It is through your kindness, love, caring and concern that children get a good start in life. And with a good start, with love and guidance, children become good mothers and fathers, too.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Rhythms of the House

Jack never lost his sense of humor. As he lay dying in our spacious bedroom, the room we had shared for 11 years, he would joke to me about any number of things. He’d kid me about not keeping the tables dusted. Or he’d muse about me feeding too much water to the potted tomato vines on the deck. And he would assign me to-do lists.

He pointed out that in January, the moths would arrive for three weeks at our front door and then disappear just as quickly. He said that I needed to be patient with them as they continued their life cycle. He knew I didn’t like it when they accidentally flew into the house and fluttered all around.

He reminded me that tiny birds would be building another nest as they did every spring at the apex of our front roof. They would leave a mess right underneath their nest and that I could clean it up with some good old soap and water. I remember how much he liked to listen to their song in the last few weeks of his life when his hearing became especially acute.

Jack told me to look in the garden tool bin to find the leaf blower so that I could keep the driveway clear of leaves. He said I would need to fill the gas can as the blower ran on gas. I was never good at filling gas cans.

He wanted to be sure I knew about how to care for the hydrangeas. Our hydrangea bushes were beautiful and full, filled with incredible flowers in white, pink and purple. They were Jack’s doing. He had the green thumb in the family. He told me where to find the blue coloring for the soil and which plant food to use.

He added to my checklist the need for getting a new license tag for the X5, getting the Z3 cleaned, and making sure I got the oil changed in the Infiniti. And he reminded me to keep the cars clean and smelling nice in the interior. He always kept his cars very clean.

Fawns will come around in the late spring and early summer, he proclaimed, although I already knew that. He wanted to be sure I put the potted hydrangeas in the fenced backyard since the ones on the deck risk having their flowers devoured by the deer.

Leave the crooked pine tree in the backyard. I like that tree, he said. I know you want to remove it, but leave it alone. It is struggling, but it is okay where it is.

September can get rather hot, he said. Jack wanted me to understand how the automatic sprinkler system works so that the plants would receive the optimal amount of water. The system is a little antiquated, but still works except for a few sprinkler heads that need changing. How do I do that?

In October, he said, the Great Horned Owls will come back. They will perch in the big oak tree just behind our fence and hoot enough to make Birdie bark like crazy. Our dog hates the owls. And the enormous birds simply hoot away, oblivious to the anxiety of the dog.

Wild turkeys are plentiful, but especially so in November, oddly enough. Jack reminded me that the turkeys will leave a mess on the driveway almost daily and that it would require the high-powered sprayer to keep it clean. Look for it in the tool bin.

The Christmas tree is in its usual box in the garage, he said. Get someone to help you put it up. The colors on each limb have to match up with the ones on the central trunk of the tree. You have to check for burned out bulbs on the string of lights, too, or they won’t turn on. Then you can hang all your ornaments on it as you like to do every year. Remember that the tree has to go up the day after Thanksgiving.

Leaves are piled up on the driveway. Sometimes the neighbor comes over and blows them away for me. The holly tree died in this year’s drought. The pine tree had to be taken down, dying from the top as it did. The bushes are way overgrown in the back yard. Neither the hydrangeas nor the roses got pruned properly last winter.

The moths still arrive each January, as do the owls in October. And the tiny birds have laid eggs in their nest under the eaves.

The Christmas tree has not been decorated in two years since the holiday was celebrated with family in another state.

Before he died that summer, Jack shared with me what he called the rhythms of the house.  I will never be able to finish the to-do list he gave me.