Everything Came to a Grinding Halt

A simple game of tug-o-war set off my latest adventure…putting my shoulder back together again.

In August, after playing a raucous round of tug-o-war with my dog Lola for the umpteenth time, I was getting a bit bored. With my left hand still firmly grasping Lola’s tug toy, I picked up my phone with my right hand and started to text. In an effort to show me that I should be playing, not texting, Lola suddenly jumped backward and shook her head side to side. The motion pulled my arm out of its socket, detaching cartilage and tendons in the process. After months powering through the pain, I gave in and had surgery in early November.

tugowarloserDuring my forced downtime, my creative juices have percolated and I’m looking to start of 2017 with a strong brew of adventures to share.

Happy New Year!  Where is 2017 going to take you?

 

Fear-mongering

The first roar happens over dinner.

“Hear that? ” our guide asks.  “Lions.”

I strain my ears to listen as the lions are at the far boundary of our mobile safari camp.

As dinner comes to a close and the siren song of sleep rings loud, the roars increase in decibels.  The lions are coming closer.  Our guide, Lovemore, loads his rife to walk us back to our tent.  As we walk, he tells us of the two males making the sounds and the pride that they govern.

“You must sleep with your tent flaps down, please.  Lionesses came to my tent, five of them.  I had slept with my tent flaps up and woke to them breathing against my tent screens.

I made noises to let them know that I was there.  I couldn’t move, not a bit.  It would only trigger their predatory instinct.

They left but then came back a bit later with three more lionesses.  The tent was now surrounded by eight of them.  I knew I had to call my wife immediately.  Very slowly, I picked up my cell phone.  When she answered, I told her that I was surrounded, I loved her, and that I didn’t know what would happen next.

Costa then heard me talking and shouted ‘Lovemore, is everything okay’?

No man!  Everything is not okay!  I’m surrounded by lions.

Costa grabbed a rifle and started the safari vehicle, driving fast to my tent and chasing the lions out of camp.

So, please, it’s not safe.  You must sleep with your flaps down.”

Excited about the story, I ask “How long ago did that happen, Lovemore?”

“Five days ago”, he replies.

My husband and I exchange looks of restrained terror.

By the time we finish our short walk to the tent, their presence is clear.  As I prepare for nighttime, the roaring begins to rattle me to the core.

“I can’t do this.  Should we be doing this?  I don’t know if I can do this,” I nervously announce to my husband.

The calls reach their peak as the lions move in even closer.   A cacophony of grunts, roars, and growls fill the blank space of night.  

(Listen to a similar recording of lions here:)

My muscles tighten as my “fight or flight”  triggers instinctually take over, although there is no fight, only flight.  I have no misconceptions about my true place in this food chain.

“What was I thinking?  These are wild African lions.  I can’t do this?  Why am I doing this?”  I continue, my fear all-consuming.

The lions sound as if they have us surrounded.  With roars seemingly coming from all directions,  we continue our bedtime routine.  Toothbrush in hand, I unzip the back of the tent and step out into our fenced-in restroom under the stars.  As the water starts to flow from the outdoor bucket shower, I assess the two foot gap between the canvas fence and the ground.  I think of my Siamese cat back home.   He sees any small gap as an opportunity to stick his paws through to see what he can find.  I imagine a lion, crouched on his stomach on the other side of the fence, waiting for the perfect moment to put his own paw under to swipe my ankle.  Could a lion pull me under the fence and into the night?  I curse my imagination for presenting each possible scenario in vivid, rapid-fire imagery.

By the time the shampoo is in my hair, I am petrified and non-sensical.  As I repeat “I can’t” and “I’m so scared” in every single sentence, my husband does the only thing he can think of.  Pulling me close and running his fingers through my wet hair, he holds me like a father would hold a scared child.  “I’m scared too,” he says.  “But I know it’s going to be all right.”  Despite being in nerve-racking situations together in the past, David has always maintained his cool, hiding his own fears to comfort mine.  This shocking revelation of his fear somehow settles down my own.

As he smooths his hands over my back, the lions wander off, looking for better things to do.  Tracking the lions the next morning, I’m surprised to find that they had remained a half mile away from our tents.  They had sounded so close.

We never do see the brothers, only hear them roaring nearby.  By our last night, I know that they are ghosts in the darkness.  There is no need to sleep with the tent flaps down.  With abundant game nearby, I’m confident that they have better prey to pursue.  I open up every flap in the tent, looking forward to catching a cool breeze on a sweltering night.

The following morning, as we gather for our final breakfast with our guide, my father speaks up.

“I heard the lions last night.  They walked right between our tents.”

Our guide’s eyes widen as he lets out a small chuckle.  “You heard that?” he asks of my father.

“Yes,” my father confirms.

“So did I.”

 

Here Kitty Kitty

I’m awoken in the middle of the night by a high-pitched cry.

“Did you hear that?” I ask my husband.

We’re camping in our secret spot in the high Uinta mountains.  There is no campsite, no toilet, no picnic table, just a clearing by a small lake covered in lily pads.

It’s a place to go and be alone, far beyond the limits of other campers.  It’s where our time with nature will not interrupted by drunken campers, by loud music at midnight, or by the sounds of generators firing up to power televisions in motorhomes purchased to “get away from it all.”

Our dogs, including a 12-week-old puppy, are sound asleep next to me.  We had led them on a ten-mile hike earlier in the day and for every foot we covered, they covered two and exemplify dog tired.

In our sleeping bags, we lie stick still, ears trained to the sounds of the night.  Another wail cuts through the silence, closer than before.

“It sounds like a baby crying.”

Neither of us feel the need to state the obvious…that there are no babies up here.   The sound is that of a cougar.  Over the ridge from our campsite is a rocky outcrop that dens this lion of the mountain.

Cougars are solitary animals, powerful ambush predators that hunt under the cover of night.  We have no reason to be concerned, however. While cougars occasionally attack humans, their main prey is deer of which these mountains have in abundance.

A wail rings out again, this time followed by several smaller cries.  The cougar is accompanied by two young.  This mother is teaching her kittens the lessons they need to survive, to hunt their own food when it is time to part from her side.  We listen to them cry out, their sounds echoing off the granite hills.

Just as we’re falling back asleep, everything changes.  The cries are now on our side of the mountain.  While it takes us about an hour to hike to the top of the ridge, we know that the cougars can clear it in minutes.

“The puppy makes an easy target” my husband points out.

The cries continue to cut through the night, closer than ever before.  Our dogs wake up with a jolt and let out low growls, their hackles rising from the tips of their tails to the tops of their heads.  They are nervous, sensing that a predator is close by.

We debate not our own safety, but the safety of the puppy.  Nothing but a thin nylon wall separates him from a predator looking to feed her young.  Another cry rings out, this time sounding from near the base of the mountain, almost in the small valley where our tent stands.

David decides not to risk it.  He grabs the car keys and the flashlight and darts out of the tent to our SUV parked 25 yards away.  He comes and goes several times, working quickly to get sleeping bags and pillows, water and dog bowls, and everything else needed to make us somewhat comfortable spending the night in the car.

As soon as the seats are down and the beds are set up, he comes back for the dogs.  The older two don’t need prompting, darting from the tent and leaping into the back of the car.  Closing them in, he returns for me and the puppy.  Once inside the car, we shut the tailgate behind us and put our nerves to ease.

Thirty minutes later, a bell rings out in the night.

*Ding ding ding ding*

Then another.  *Ding ding ding ding ding*

We shine our flashlights out of the car window but can’t see the tent through the trees.  We don’t need the light to know what is making the noise.  Lined up along the inside edge of the tent are three bear bells.  We had taken them off of our dog’s collars just before bed, not wanting our sleep disrupted by ringing every time one of the dogs readjusts themselves.

The ringing of the bells let us know that the cougars are at our tent.   They’re poking and prodding the tent walls, causing the bells to roll and ring out.  I think of a house cat batting around a ball.  Amused, we listen to this noise until our tired bodies lure us to sleep.

The sun rises and the car heats up.  We are anxious to get out and stretch our cramped legs.

David is the first one out.  “Oh wow,” he says.  “Come check this out.”

Three sets of cougar tracks circle the car.  We follow the tracks back to the tent.  In our rush to get to safety, we had left the outer screen of our two room tent open.  The tracks not only go around the tent but into that second room.  Sleeping in the car was a wise decision.

Feeling secure in the morning light, I start a campfire and brew coffee.  Breakfast is consumed while sitting on rocks at the water’s edge and discussing the events of last night.  Our trip is just getting started and we had planned to stay for  several more nights.  As the sun rises high above the ridge separating us from the cougar den, I make a decision.

“Let’s go home.”

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