Not every evening but most during the last month the Canada geese have flown over. They seem to be heading for the big lake and open water. That’s what I think anyway.
Sometimes they drift over in easy flight and large flocks so high their calls sound distant. During fog, though, they fly low and barely reach 100 feet. Sometimes they come in ragged, leaderless, motley troops that seem undisciplined, their movements rushed. Their calls are cacophonous, raucous, and complaining. Other times, there are only single birds or perhaps triplets whose cries, maybe I imagine, sound plaintive. I consider that they’ve been separated from their friends or are searching for lost relatives.
When they came by during the snow storm, I thought they need to get on with it; it’s a long way to Tennessee or where ever they’re going. And the open water, marshes, and corn fields where they beef up and stage for the long flights are vanishing quickly.
Do you ever dream of flying? There is a documentary by German filmmaker Werner Herzog called (in English) The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner. The film covers ski-flying world championship events in the early 1970s and focuses on the competitor Walter Steiner who is a woodcarver. In ski flying, one tries to maximize aerodynamic lift by body and ski position to remain aloft to cover the greatest possible distance. From the film, you understand that Steiner is in a class alone. The competitors are all elite athletes who have trained their entire lives for these events. But no one can touch Steiner. In (then) Yugoslavia in 1974, even after shortening his takeoff run to reduce his speed, Steiner breaks the world ski-jumping record with a distance of 179 meters (587 feet). On camera, he complains bitterly that the judges are pressuring him to do more jumps to see how much farther he can go but that really they want to see him go splat. If a jumper flies beyond the slope of the hill to the flat run out area, that’s what would happen.
To capture Steiner in flight, often at low light levels, the video is shot with very high-speed film; the images are grainy and sometimes almost pixilated. In the slow-motion sequences of Steiner flying, he looks like nothing if not a Canada goose in flight.
That same evening that the geese flew over in the snow, standing still as a stump and drinking a small glass of whiskey in the grove of hemlocks next to the house while the snow and night fell around me, I saw a coyote. Even in the dim light, he was unmistakable, trotting deliberately along looking this way and that. I thought he was probably making his way to the wooded ravine behind me, where I’d seen them and their tracks before. Up the hill he came, and only when he was within 50 feet did he pause for a moment sensing that something was different or wrong. Then he changed course and in the same business-like way traversed along the side of the hill and around my woods and disappeared from sight.
My wife was raised on the rim of the LA basin where at night coyotes came down from the wild hills to see what they could see. One night they took her kitten, and she’s never forgiven them for that. I didn’t tell her about this one.
But later that night or maybe early the next morning somewhere between sleep and wakefulness I saw him again. This time he was not alone. What was in his mouth wasn’t clear, but I knew it was a cat. Freshly killed I thought, judging from the way it swung limply as he came up the hill toward me. The scene changed, and now it was the cat that was full of life and grown far bigger than it had been in the coyote’s mouth. The coyote was shrunken and looked like some Native American headdress or a crumpled incompletely shed insect exoskeleton. The cat, now wearing the coyote and looking like some shape shifting skin-walker, stopped and stared up at me.
I woke. Wrong cat to mess with, I thought. I thought also that I wouldn’t tell my wife about the dream either.