Jessie Veeder, Published November 30 2013
Coming Home: Sometimes the wilderness gets a bit too close to home
A quick glance out the window as the sun was setting sent him flying from his seat muttering and cussing as he ran to the back of the house to retrieve his gun.
I set my fork down and stood up to see what sort of varmint might be after the cat food this time only to discover three scruffy coyotes circling and nipping at my Lab’s heals and chasing my one-eyed pug as he frantically barked and yipped three feet from our basement doors.
It was a theatrical scene, like a live-action National Geographic special, watching those five canines work out the order of things as they circled, ran, barked and snarled their way up the hill in front of our house.
I held my breath and my ears while my husband, in his sweatshirt and slippers, pulled the gun up to his shoulder and worked to put the right animal in his site.
Now, my husband is a seasoned sportsman, but I couldn’t help but put one hand over my eyes as the biggest coyote took a growling leap at my oversized and suddenly very precious lap dog and the other two Wileys were at a very close standoff with my favorite 105-pound teddy bear.
Not since the midnight raccoon incident of 2010, when I found my husband barely awake and barely clothed pointing his rifle into a dark mass of screeching and flying fur, have I prayed so hard for a true shot.
My husband lowered his gun and peered into the pink sunset as I peeled open my eyes to find the pack scattered, my two dogs stunned but standing and two of the three coyotes loping toward the brush along the side of the hill.
It was a dramatic ending to a quiet Sunday dinner.
We live in the middle of a wild place, and this was the fifth day in a row I’ve caught these critters a little too close to the house for my comfort. I mean, I sort of like my cats, you know?
And with calving season just a few short months away, we can’t afford to have this sort of predator in excess on the ranch.
So while I’d like to fancy myself a kind of live-and-let-live person, sometimes, out here, we need to take drastic measures to protect the things for which we’re responsible.
And sometimes that means interrupting dinner to ward off a pack of coyotes.
Seems there’s a reason we don’t get many dinner guests.
When I lived in town, I was sort of protected from these face-offs with the more ruthless sides of nature. We had the sidewalks, highways and manicured lawns to separate us from the wild outside world.
But I never fully settled in to the idea that we were the most witty or important creatures out here just because we figured out how to pour concrete.
If you’ve ever spotted a mouse in your house and spent the next three weeks searching for their entrance point and baiting traps to no avail, you know what I’m saying here.
And when you live out among those mice, coyotes, deer and mountain lions, when your turf is their turf and there are no barriers but the glass windows we look through as they move through the hills, you develop a respect for the creatures who can survive the throes of winter with only the trees and the fur on their backs for protection.
So we don’t take taking a life lightly, whether we’ve waited patiently in the hills watching the horizon for a deer that will fill our freezer with venison or if that kill happens to present itself as a threat to our pets and livestock outside our kitchen window.
Spend a day tracking an elk through the ravines of the Badlands and you’ll quickly come to understand that our ability to make and eat chicken casserole off of a plate doesn’t necessarily make us the smartest, quickest or strongest creatures roaming these hills.
Some days it’s simply about timing.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.