|The ranch house. Warm. Comfortable. A little too welcoming.|
It was night.
And my dog, Cheetah, was barking.
Something she did a lot. At night.
We had tried to train her out of it, but had never quite succeeded.
It was annoying.
Finally, I got up to see what could be bothering her.
Coyotes howling in the foothills nearby.
A cow bawling.
Water running in the canal.
I should explain, here, that the Stringam ranch house had a large carport.
It had two walls, one on the west, formed by a wall of the house and one on the north. The south and east sides were open.
The carport joined the overhang over the front door in a narrow strip right next to the house.
It was possible to walk from a vehicle into the house without seeing the sky, but it was tricky and involved negotiating car hoods and garden paraphernalia (good word).
Now, normally, when one exited the house, one would walk straight to the front gate and avoid the carport entirely.
Something I usually did.
Tonight I . . . didn't.
I don't know why.
I glanced out the door into the inky blackness.
There is nothing quite so dark as as a night on the prairies, with no moon.
And the mercury vapour light in the yard not quite reaching the house.
My dog was over in that yard, at the business end of the carport.
I sighed and pushed the screen door open.
Then did something I had never done before.
I turned and made my way, carefully, to the carport, avoiding shovels and other garden tools.
Then I walked between the cars towards my frantic dog.
I paused at the edge of the carport.
Cheetah was just feet away and her barking, if it could be believed, had increased.
I started forward again, but just as I lifted my foot, a sound shattered the darkness.
And I do mean shattered.
It was the scream of a cougar.
Now, I'm sure I don't have to tell you what the sound of a cougar does to one when you hear it ringing across the prairie.
It's . . . scary.
This scream was five feet away.
At the very edge of the carport roof.
I froze instantly.
Then started to back up, one step at a time.
Finally, I turned and sprinted towards the front door, careful to keep roof between me and our unwanted visitor and heedless of whatever might be in my path.
I called my dog and she came running.
The two of us ducked inside, and I banged the heavy outer door shut and locked it.
Now, I should point out that the main door of the ranch house was never closed, let alone locked.
Except when I was out on my first date with my husby and my Dad didn't want me back.
But that is another story.
Moving on . . .
Mom's voice, “What's the matter, dear?”
I was staring out the window.
Cheetah was now standing behind me.
She continued to bark.
“We have a visitor, Mom!” I said over the noise.
“Oh?” Mom appeared in the kitchen doorway.
“Yeah. A cougar is sitting on the carport roof.”
“Are you sure?”
I turned to look at her, thinking about the horrendous (Ooo, great word!) sound. “Fairly sure.”
“Oh, dear!” she disappeared.
I stayed by the window, but could see nothing in the blackness.
My dad appeared. Calm as always.
“Well it was on the carport a few minutes ago.”
I stared at him.
“You're not going to go out after it?”
“Not while it's on the roof.”
Dad got a flashlight and pointed it out the window towards the carport roof.
I cautiously opened the door.
Cheetah shot through the opening and into the night.
Her barking moved slowly away from the ranch buildings and towards the foothills.
Our visitor was obviously headed home.
The first and only time I can remember a living creature receiving a less-than-exemplary welcome at the ranch.
Or being offered a warm meal.
I guess that's a good thing.