By Glenda Price: CNJ columnist
The ranch I grew up on was in the northeastern New Mexico mountains. It was two miles to the mailbox, and we had a wind charger — which most of the time didn’t work — to make electricity. In other words, we lived in the boonies.
Besides the usual dogs and cats, my brother and I made pets out of most every animal we managed to catch — birds, squirrels, garter snakes. They all had names, too.
As you would expect, all those animals — especially my mother’s chickens — drew the interest of predators. Skunks and snakes and coons (raccoons for you purists) especially liked chickens and eggs.
One of the first lessons I learned about animal behavior was that chickens are unbelievably stupid. When they see the shadow a chicken hawk casts when flying over them do they hide under something? Nooo. They hunker down right where they are. Easy prey.
We had a black English shepherd cow dog named Oso (means bear in Spanish). Oso was the protector of all those stupid chickens and other animals around the house and barn. We could tell by listening to Oso’s bark whether he had something cornered or treed. Predators do their work mostly at night, so many nights my dad would get the flashlight and a rifle and go help Oso out.
I’ve noticed it’s mostly people who live in a city, surrounded by other people and a great deal of concrete, who think the howl of a coyote or a wolf is “romantic.” They haven’t had to help a cow finish giving birth to a calf whose head and forelegs have been mangled and partially eaten by a coyote or a wolf or a mountain lion.
They haven’t had a child bitten by a rattlesnake in the back yard, or by a scorpion in the tack room.
Sometimes we’d wake up and find Oso’s and Dad’s nighttime predator protection result in the yard. One morning we ran out to see what they had gotten, because we’d heard quite a commotion the night before. There in the yard lay a coon. A front leg was gone, his head was barely attached and a great deal of hair and hide were missing.
We didn’t see Dad for awhile. He never skipped breakfast. Mom didn’t offer much explanation, but she couldn’t hide a sneaky little grin when he struggled into the kitchen. His face and hands looked like he’d gotten hung up on a barbed wire fence. He moved real slow when he picked up his coffee cup and tried to sip a little through cracked, bloody lips.
In bits and pieces the story came out. Oso’s “got something cornered bark” was in the meadow behind the chicken house.
Dad got his flashlight and rifle and, sure enough, Oso had Mr. Coon backed up against a big rock beside the creek. Just as he raised the gun to shoot, the coon decided he’d had quite enough of Oso and took off, looking for a tree to climb. Apparently, Dad looked like a tree.