|The ranch house. Warm. Comfortable. A little too welcoming.|
It was evening. Just before bedtime.
And my dog, Cheetah, was barking.
Something she did a lot.
Especially at night.
We had tried to train her out of it, but had never quite succeeded.
It was . . . annoying.
Finally, I set my book down and got up to see what could be bothering her.
Coyotes howling in the foothills nearby?
A cow bawling?
Water running in the canal?
Wind in the trees?
I should explain, here, that the Stringam ranch house had a large carport with 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).
|See? Carport. Without the cars...|
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.
Still barking her fool head off.
I sighed and pushed the screen door open.
And did something I had never done before. I turned and made my way, carefully, to the carport, avoiding shovels and other neatly-placed garden tools.
Then I walked between the cars toward 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 could see her clearly now, even in the dim light. Hackles raised. Whole body stiff with intent.
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.
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 roof 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 flash-light and pointed it out the window.
The roof was snared in a noose of light.
I cautiously opened the door.
Cheetah shot through and into the night. Her barking moved slowly away from the ranch buildings and toward the foothills.
Our visitor was obviously headed home.
Everyone present heaved a sigh of relief. With some visitors, that's just the way it is.
Less is more.
Moving on . . .
I will add that this was the first and only time I can remember a living creature receiving a less-than-exemplary welcome at the ranch.
And not being offered a warm meal.
Oh . . . wait.
I guess that's a good thing.