Sixteen months of faithfully ranging, casing this place, and yet leaving hungry every time, the little lean coyote last night finally struck. And because we humans had pulled a city-slicker trick a couple hours earlier (forgot to close one internal gate before going in for the night), we have three fewer chickens to care for this morning.
Tiny (the one who laid her eggs on the sofa), Blondie (the one we’ve been handfeeding liquids to for over a month because she has had trouble swallowing), and Slim (the most elegant Rhode Island Red I’ve ever laid eyes on, I’ve thought many a day—including yesterday, in bitter fact—and yet inexplicably, it turns out, never once thought to photograph her solo): these three are gone on ahead into the cycle of death that feeds the living.
One day soon they’ll regenerate the cells on that thin coyote’s feet and make her fleeter of foot for her desert patrols. She’ll be back here, for sure. Her hunting fueled now by these souls we did not protect well and thoroughly enough, she will come through at dusk just as she did yesterday as we sat and sipped hot tea and visited quietly around our small fire a few yards away from the little coop of sleepy chickens with the chilly starstruck evening be-ringing us all with coyote yips telling each other the plan for their next hours—same as ever—oh yes, she’ll come again. As sure as the sun rose on today, she’ll come again, hungry and yearning, more capable now that she has dined on our avian kin. More determined, too.
I feel for this lone coyote’s struggle, gaunt and restless on these stern arid lands, but Tiny? Blondie? Slim? We simply must find a better way to remember to double-check the gates. How could we have forgotten such an ordinary thing? Are we daft?! Or just irretrievably human?! (There was a ballgame somewhere with a final score to check. Yes, the distraction that set up their deaths was precisely that bone-numbingly knuckleheaded. And me? I care not one whit about a game or a ball or a score. Yet I fumbled my way across that smidgen of eternity as if it were all I needed to attend to just then. Irretrievably human, that, and functioning at the less admirable end of our species’ traits to boot.)
There are signs of a mighty struggle near the coop—a slew of black and white feathers. Tiny put up a fight. Not a single blond one, though, so Blondie went without resisting. She barely had strength to swallow yesterday. Maybe this is a blessing. We were going to have to bury her soon, and we knew it. Dreaded it. She took the droplets of liquid nutrition we were trying to get down her gullet every day, even came to remind us it was time for them, but she was in pain and we could not fix that, we two liberal arts graduates with eight college degrees between us and not a single usable one amongst the lot. (Every day anymore I rue the day I did not at least try for a DVM. This is what avian kin can do—help you to reckon with all your bad choices and missteps even as you’re making new ones.)
There are no red feathers here either, though. Maybe Slim got up somewhere and is hiding? She did that once before when the coyotes charged through at midday, and I was sure they’d gotten her then, only to have her show back up hours later. Maybe she’ll bring her red elegant self back amongst us soon? Chuckling at me softly for being such a nitwit as to pace about on a workday morn, peering into every nook and cranny, hoping to find one slim red bird tucked inside. That’s all I can think this morning, these muddled and befuddled thoughts rolling past and present and tomorrow into questions that will never meet good answers. That, and I miss these birds who became family on day one and have lived amongst us as dear as any human ever. And more so than many with whom I personally have crossed paths.
And from deep within the missing, I see that Tiggs (who’s had next to no use for humans all along) now seems to be interested in connecting with people. She used to view Tiny’s overtures to us and the indoors as those of a slightly funny-turned relative and would have none of it for herself. But this morning she’s followed us both around and stood still to be stroked down her back, teaching us the new habits by which we will abide. While we figure out one more time how to adjust to these emptier acres we’re only borrowing for a spell. And moving steadily, achingly into all the leavings that succor existence.