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MIDNIGHT ENCOUNTER

My apologies, I am a day late with my post. Seems I’ve been knocked down by the crud that has caught up to a lot of folks in my area. But, unwilling to totally concede to the nasty bug, I offer this story, an incident taken from years living in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by.

MIDNIGHT ENCOUNTER

The alarm sounded––a familiar series of snorts that resembled sneezes. The warning gained momentum to become a round of distressed barking.

I surfaced through a dreamy fog. “Bailey, shut up.”

My command merely challenged our pet to begin higher-decibel yapping.

“Bailey, it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong. Now quit woofing and come to bed.”

The “boo-woo-woos” continued. My authoritative voice had made little impression. Our coy-dog was definitely upset about something. With ears like radar, and a Rottweiler’s zeal packed into her thirty-five pound frame, she took her sentry job seriously. Until I got up and made an appearance, she was not going to stop.

My wife emerged from her own sleepy haze. “What’s got her all riled up?”

“I dunno. ‘Killer’ probably heard a mouse bump against the front porch steps or something. I’ll go check it out.”

“Well hurry up, it’s almost midnight.”

Eyes wide-open now, I soft-footed toward the living room. A full moon hovered in the cobalt sky. Its silvery glow beamed into the hallway and illuminated my path. Our furry guardian observed my approach and tiptoed past me in the opposite direction. She’d performed her role, now it was my turn.

“Way to go ‘Killer.’ Thanks for the back-up. Guess I’m on my own.”

Thick-pile carpeting muffled my steps as I proceeded to the front door and peered through the rectangular, glass ports. Diamonds of frost glistened from every surface outdoors. Shadows danced on the ground as a northwest wind nudged branches in the Ponderosa pine that loomed in front of our dwelling. A wispy cloud slid before the lunar brilliance and created a spectral image that drifted across our front lawn. I scanned to the east, and then west. Except for Ol’ Man Winter whispering promise of an early arrival through the pine needles, there were no signs of activity, merely a portrait of chilly solitude.

I shook my head. “Goofy mutt.”

To cover all the bases, I shuffled into the kitchen, to an unobstructed view of the back yard. To the west, nothing was adrift but the wispy clouds and the waltzing pine trees. Individual elements of the landscape had changed, but the nocturnal serenity remained. Except for the frigid temperature, it would have been another perfect night to sit on the deck with a mug of hot coffee to witness nature’s peace and gaze at the constellations.

I scanned to the east––Damn!

A silhouette moved at the rear entrance to the garage. A thief was trying to break into our home.  Kettle drums pounded in my ears. A shudder surged through my body. I had to do something, but what? Wearing only my Fruit of the Looms, I was ill-prepared for chasing burglars. Holy crap! Should I call 911? Wait a minute.

The intruder’s body shifted again. I’d watched enough cop shows on TV to know that recognizing the low-life’s every detail was vital. As I squinted into the shadows and hunkered down behind the window sill, my bare chest touched the cold, Formica countertop. “Geez!” My body jerked. Uh-oh. Had the thief noticed me?

My heartbeat raced. Panic entered my brain as the would-be robber slowly turned. I strained to get a good view. It was…it was only a cow elk.

A wave of relief washed over me from head to toe. I chuckled (okay, sighed) and resumed breathing.

Unaware of my presence behind the glass, the herbivore gnawed at the plump grasses that bordered the bottom rails of our low-rise wooden deck.  The uninvited guest continued to two-step her way around the platform and gorged on the tender shoots that sought shelter from the freeze. About to nip a clump of grass down to a stub, the cow paused and she raised her head. I remained motionless while the elk’s jaw undulated in a circular motion as she ground the succulent tidbits. Her ears twitched forward then back––a brief reconnaissance to assure all was safe before she swallowed and moved on to the next delicacy.

With my blood pressure back to normal, I grabbed a kitchen towel, leaned on the counter top, and maintained my vigil. The cow finished trimming the deck’s perimeter, then turned her attention toward the fence, and more treats located at the bottom of each slat.

Visions of the last elk that had entered our yard played in my brain. Neither heightened senses nor graceful motion was part of that critter’s make-up. I had to replace several fence boards. After reviewing that incident, I hoped that once it was time to leave, this elk remembered the section of fence she’d hurdled earlier.

The elevating pitch of a mature bull elk searching for love interrupted my thoughts. His guttural squeal pierced the night air. Both the cow and I turned our heads in the direction of the mating call. A new sense of excitement overwhelmed me.

“Damn he’s close.”

As if tuned into my declaration, the female elk nodded agreement and stared toward the bull’s announcement.

Seconds later, the big male trotted around the corner of the house. With his nose pointed into the air, he homed-in on the object of his affection. Moonlight reflected the glint in his eye and the polished tips on his magnificent, battle-worn antlers.

“Oh geez, this oughta be good,” I whispered.

The imposing beast paced back and forth outside the backyard enclosure. Intent upon his goal, the six-by-six paused beside the fence. His widened eyes displayed a sort of wild frustration. His tongue lapped at his intended’s scent. Then the big bull settled back on his haunches, ready to spring, but hesitated. He began pacing once more.

The entire drama was taking place no more than fifteen feet from where I stood. If the Wapiti bull leaped over the wooden barrier, I feared the possibilities. Our small yard was barely large enough for one adult elk. Two of them performing what he had on his mind could become a disaster, especially with the impending conflict between his massive rack with the clotheslines strung across the space.

“Oh Lordy.”

Unable to help or hinder, I watched, waited, and hoped some more.

Although her suitor was a splendid fellow, fortunately the cow’s agenda did not include lust. She stared at the bull, then lowered her head, and returned to her original task. Apparently, a quickie with the local stud was far less appealing than filling her belly and surviving the cold.

The cow’s snub, along with the protection offered by the wooden stockade proved more than the big guy wanted to deal with. Like a nerd rejected by the prom queen, he snorted, then retreated––the crazed glint still in his eyes. His departing bugling sounded more urgent––almost threatening––as if to warn the lass he’d left behind that he’d be back when that damned fence wasn’t in the way.

Oblivious to his vocal abuse, the female elk continued munching.

From my perch, I issued another sigh, thankful I didn’t have to call the Department of Wildlife––or rebuild the fence. I glanced at the clock––seven-minutes past midnight. So far, the show had been far more than anticipated. But there was one last issue to resolve.

Ten minutes passed before the cow elk seemed content that she’d inspected and nibbled on every available bit of greenery. Time to depart and allow her meal to digest, which also meant it was her turn to parade along the fence line. With a wide-eyed, almost frantic expression, the cow cautiously stepped forward as she sniffed the tops of the dog-eared planks. As I learned the next day, she was searching for the odor of her own hair clinging to the fence boards. When she found it, her eyes relaxed. Like an Olympic high-jumper, she lined up her approach, arched her body over the four-foot obstacle, and then disappeared into the shadows.

I stared at the empty yard and its surroundings. The landscape still glistened. The breeze still spoke through the pines. The night was still serene. But the unexpected entertainment had ended.

Thankful to have witnessed the event, I returned to the bedroom. Bailey was curled up on her comforter. My wife’s breathing was slow and steady––well past the REM stage. Filled with a sense of ease, I crawled under the covers and smiled. Although frequently unpredictable, once again Mother Nature had proved that she provided the best shows on earth. In the morning, I’d relate the tale of my midnight encounter.

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