Last night something died in the cornfield.
In the night a dreadful sound woke me and I came fully awake standing barefoot out in the middle of our little home field. The sounds of dogs were everywhere. Two huge herons erupted noisily from the tall tree above me, startling us with irritated calls. They tucked their feet in behind and wooshed their great wings in lazy movements. Leaving me to fend for myself. Gone into the blackness of the night. Then screams of something unimaginable. A horror movie thrashing. Then silence.
The night was listening. The crickets went still. There was a strange pause. The prairie is like the open sea at night. Sounds drift across from far away. We could hear movement coming through the drying corn canes. The smallest of rattles. The rustles. The sigh of the birds wings already far away. I imagined I heard breath. Paws touching the dry soil so softly. Eyes dipped and lifting. Watching. The snap of a tail. Fall of matted fur. Crunch of bone. Maybe even drool slipping to the ground with the tiniest of plops.
Then the howling started again from one side, and then answering barks from the other. It was a cacophony. A fabric of sound. I was standing in a 6 acre boxing ring, walls of corn on every side, waiting for the bell as the invisible fighters warmed up.
It was dark with a little moon. But my eyes were useless, the night was all sound. To the South I knew that I could hear the howling and yipping of coyotes, impossible to know how many because they disguise their pack size with many different calls. But definitely that chilling coyote song. But to the North I realised I was hearing the barking of a pack of wild domestic dogs. Very different sounds. A pack of different sized dogs too by the barks and yaps. I had forgotton my torch. Again. I was barefoot. Again. Wearing a little pink nightie, out in the moonlight, in between two very different but very hungry packs of wild dogs.
I don’t hold a grudge against the coyotes though. They are truly wild and amazingly adaptable. They are so quiet. Stealthful. They walk up on their toes. Generally they eat rabbits, and mice and even fruit and insects. They dig birthing chambers, love their babies and hunt with some intelligence. They eat what they hunt. If they saw a lamb wandering on the river bank of course they would kill it and eat it. It is our job to make sure that our stock is secure. If a coyote gets one of my animals that is my fault. But mostly they are passing through tracking the deer who live in the corn as well. Every time I have had trouble on the farm with ducks or chickens being killed I can trace the crime directly to stray or roaming local dogs. Domestic wild animals are more of a threat to me than truly wild coyotes. This has been my experience anyway. So I was not that worried about the coyotes, it was the dogs that worried me. Dogs chase and maul, coyotes hunt,kill and eat. There is a difference.
Tontons ears had developed two axis and were whirring independently of each other. He kept leaping in circles, his hackles up, his head up, terrified, on guard, as fierce as you can look with your tail tucked between your own back legs, darting to and fro. My only indication as to where these animals were – was coming from the direction of his ears. And the frantic movement of his ears and all the noise told me that there were dogs either side of us. Maybe every side. And they were howling and barking at each other and moving fast.
Then we heard the sounds of determined running. The noise escalated, coming straight for us out of the North corner. Something had got through the fences and was inside. Tonton and I both turned, poised, with no weapons to meet this threat. We were both on our toes, staring intently into the night. Out of that dark, running at full speed came…
Mia… a frightened little sheep. TonTon big hunter killer that he is, yelped from the fright of her sudden panting appearance and dived for cover between my ankles! I screeched a little girlie squeal and leapt sideways. Mia put on her scornful look and the packs went silent again.
Well then I just got annoyed. That was quite enough. TonTon, Mia and I stalked over to the South side and shouted through the fence into the corn at the coyotes who shouted back for about 10 seconds. I used up the foul mouthed NZ fisherman language that lurks in all us NZ beach girls raised by boatbuilders, and just told those coyotes to bugger off in no uncertain terms. It was a long and painful unrepeatable rant. The language was so dreadful that they were shocked into silence. Anyway coyotes hate the human voice. Especially when called mongrels. They hate to be called mongrels. They were silenced.
Then I found a really big stick, left Mia in her field with her startled mother, and went through the gates to the North side. I shouted and banged on the bins and sides of the barn and TonTon and I ran up and down the fence line screeching into that cornfield like a blonde banshee and her crazed spirit guide. Screaming and hissing and barking. An inhuman squall. After a short while the dogs stopped their barking, probably in horror and slunk back deep into the cornfield.
It was quiet at last. For a time I sat on the big rock in the little home paddock, in the moonlight and waited. The nightbird began their hesitant calls again. My dirty feet rested in the dewy grass. My elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands. We enjoyed the cool night air. We waited but there were no more dogs howling or barking that night. I watched the cows and sheep return to their grazing, their backs smoothly highlighted by the lights of the night. The chickens rustled a bit and settled back in their house. The herons glided without a sound back to their tree. A cat appeared with the smallest of miao hullos and sprawled in the grass. Mia stood on one side of me and TonTon lay on the other and we breathed together.
Later, I washed my feet in a bucket of rain water and crawled back into bed. TonTon settled back by the french doors. I thought to myself that next time I was going to get out the fireworks. Sky rockets should do it. And I had to remember my torch. Flash lights are good. And so I went to sleep.