Monday, March 18, 2013

Prompt: Some bonds are never broken

* As an avid nature and animal lover, I must preface this by saying one should Never. Ever. Ever. approach a wild predator, even (especially) injured, even dying. Your desire to help could result in either or both of you in even worse shape! Call 911 for help, then if you wish and it seems safe enough, stay close and speak calmly to the animal until help arrives. Never. Ever.

Joanne was supposed to walk with me that day, but her sister was flying into Flagstaff from Minneapolis. I thought about planting myself on the couch with a good book, but my legs felt restless and twitchy, and after a week cooped up indoors, I needed fresh air. So I drove out to the Uplands and felt my week fade away with the last signs of civilization.

I knew Joanne would be miffed if I hiked a new trail without her, so I decided on one we’d covered a month ago—a relatively easy 8-mile loop with a great rocky overlook about halfway around. The first half of the loop was more challenging, as I recalled, which made the second half feel that much easier. I was headed toward the shaded overhang Joanne and I had used for a picnic stop the last time when I smelled the musk. I froze, as if I hadn’t been stomping along and tapping my walking stick for miles already. I took a deep breath. Yep, mountain lion. That pungent odor they use to mark territory. I’d smelled it plenty of times, but never up here. I knew mountain lion had been seen in this area, just not in several years. I thought about turning back right then. To this day, I couldn’t tell you if I wish I had.

I looked around and listened carefully. I saw a hawk flying, and a buzzard circling up above it. I hadn’t seen much wildlife so far, but we usually didn’t at midday—they were resting in shady hiding places and leaving the trails to foolish humans. I reasoned that the trail was easier if I continued on around, so I moved forward. My senses were on alert, and I tried to move more quietly than I had been. I felt a chill across my shoulders, despite the sun’s heat.

As soon as I came around the side of the sheltered overhang, I saw her. I froze again, but she lifted her head when she heard me. Or she tried to. She caught my gaze for a moment, and then her head slumped back to the ground. She didn’t even have the strength to watch my cautious approach. I was no expert, but even I could see that she was dying.

I knew better than to approach a damn lion. I swear I did. I pulled out my phone, but of course there was no signal. I texted Joanne, because sometimes those have gone through when a call wouldn’t.

Picnic Rock. Mtn Lion. Bad Shape. Call 911.

Shit. That sounded like I was in bad shape.

She’s in bad shape. I’m ok.

I took a step closer, and she shifted her head and snarled, barely. I froze again and tried to think what to do. I saw three different problems. It would take me a couple of hours to hike back out, although I’d probably get signal somewhere on the way. I couldn’t remember Joanne or me ever pulling out our phones on the trail. Worse case scenario, it was about 30 minutes to the closest building I could recall, if there was anyone there to make a call for help. So that was a long time for her to be lying here. Meanwhile, if anyone else came up here, they might hurt her, or she might hurt them. I figured I should stay for a little bit, see if I could do anything, and hope someone else came along who could go call for help. Yep, that was my brilliant plan.

I stepped sideways to keep a distance between us. “I want to get a better look at you. I want to help you, if I can. What’s wrong, beautiful?”

She shifted her head to watch me, but she didn’t snarl again. I took that as some kind of acceptance. I took another step to the side, then crouched down. She was lying near the back of the overhang, in a sandy depression. Her body was so gaunt, I could see her spine and ribs. Her teats stretched down and hung against her belly. Shit. Kits?

“Do you have babies?” I looked around but didn’t see any sign of a nesting area, no kill remains, and no little mountain lions for her to be protecting. If she had kits, they weren’t here.

I stood and slowly walked around to the other side of the overhang, looking around for any other hikers. I turned back to her, and she was watching me with wide yellow eyes. She shifted her top hind leg, and when I saw the other one, my heart broke for her. It was shredded, bloody and mangled. First I thought it must have been in a fight, but she didn’t have other wounds that I had seen. I looked closer and saw the puncture wounds up on her thigh. It was a trap. I felt rage rush through me, and she drew her head back, sensing it. I hushed her and shook my head to clear it. Some bastard had set a trap up here, and she’d been caught in it. Somehow she had escaped, but it had torn her leg apart in the process, and now she was lying up here dying. I shook my head again, feeling the rage again. I couldn’t understand such cruelty.

“Okay, beautiful, it’s going to be okay.” I had no business making that promise. “I’m going to help you.” Maybe that one. “I’m sure going to try.”

I moved slowly back into the open to look again for any sign of other hikers. I tried my phone again, turning it off and back on, hoping that would pull some signal. No dice.

“Okay, make a plan. What can you do, Casey?” I forced myself to think it through. What could I do to help her? I pulled out my water bottle and took a swig, and she panted. I looked at her, and her gaze was locked on the bottle.

“Water? Of course, you’re thirsty. Um, how can I do this?” I looked around, then pulled my hat off my head and poured a little in. It sat there without soaking through or draining out.

“Okay, now if I bring this close enough for you to drink, are you going to let me keep my hand?” I asked her. I moved very slowly forward, and with my hat and water bottle held out in front for her to see. She watched and panted softly. Step by step, I came close enough to drop the hat near her head. I pushed it with my walking stick as far as I could reach, then I stood on tiptoe and stretched out to pour the water into the hat from above, so she wouldn’t swipe at my arm. She just lay there, watching. I dribbled the last of the bottle over to her mouth, and she lolled out her tongue to catch it. She struggled to lift her head to reach the cap, but she couldn’t. After  a moment, she dropped her head back to the ground and closed her eyes.

“Don’t give up, beautiful!” I called to her, tears in my eyes. I pulled the cap back with my walking stick, but most of the water was sloshing out. I shook my head. In for a penny, in for a pound. She had made no move toward me so far. I started talking to her as I knelt near her head, close enough for her to swipe at me if she was going to. Her only motion was her eyes following me. I picked up the cap and tilted it to pour as much water back into the bottle as I could. I had one more bottle in my pack, but I already knew I needed to save it. I leaned even closer and tilted the bottle over her moth, letting the water drip over her tongue. I couldn’t tell how much she was getting, but she was trying. I poured about half the remaining bottle for her, then drew back slowly.

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Bacon, Brindle

Aurele Nicolet, Christiane Jaccottet, Mari Fujiwara: Bach: Complete Sonatas For Flute

Time writing:
Hmm, a Word crash took out the 1st four graphs, most of which I cut anyway. And a dog interruption, so I lost track, but I think about ~1 hour of writing time. Obviously a longer piece than I intended, since I didn’t even get to the prompt part yet!

March word count:

1 comment:

  1. Prompt: Some bonds are never broken

    The wharf was busy. Hugh knew it had been so back in his day, too, but it just seemed more frantic now. Or maybe it was because he was slower. He leaned on his cane, gathering up the energy for another burst forward. A small dog ran between his legs, followed closely by a laughing boy in a red cap.

    Hugh remembered himself at that age. He'd had a puppy, too--Grizzle. He'd never forget that name. Grizzle: like the pup's favourite scraps of dinner; like the pup's rough chin hairs that grew into a wiry mess on the adult dog; like the half-whine the dog would let loose whenever Hugh left him behind on the ship.

    Hugh shook himself out of his reverie and moved on. The ship docked at berth three was smaller than he remembered, but such was the fate of many of his childhood haunts. Unless they had built a new vessel with the old name--but no, his grandson would have told him if so.

    He made his way out to the nearest bollard and leaned against it. He closed his eyes, the squeak-squelch of wood against wood a familiar refrain. He associated it with impatience, for as a lad he always wanted to be at sea, not waiting in dock.