Roy and I just took a ski junket to Jackson, New Hampshire – a short hop away from Canada, and a shorter hop away from Maine. Jackson is a classically charming New England village in the White Mountains, within spitting distance from Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. The inns are fabulous, the downhill skiing is terrific – in that New England way – and the scenery is incomparable.
Now, I’m no stranger to wildlife. In Texas, where I come from, just about everything you see in Nature will attack you, if it’s not already doing so. We have giant flying cockroaches that will dive-bomb you. We have every kind of venomous snake on the planet. We get scorpions in the plumbing on the outskirts of the city. In the country, everyone has shotguns to deal with snakes that go after the mice that infest barns, and the odd coyote that will carry off the small pets of the house. Even the plants are dangerous, with long sharp spines that are hard enough to puncture the sole of your Tevas. The time I’ve spent in the Smoky Mountains gave me an appreciation of black bear, and why it’s important to make a racket when you hike in the woods even if you’d rather be silently appreciating the grandeur of Nature. We get black bear in the town where I live, which has a good quantity of conservation area mixed in with the residential zones – every spring the paper runs articles on the Evils of Bird Feeders and the Need To Secure Trash Cans, and covers the inevitable story of how some bear cub got caught in a garage/on a mud porch/stuck in the back of a pickup or how someone saw a bear on the bike trail, with reminders about the city’s Leash Laws.
But these encounters are still fairly…innocuous. After all, Massachusetts, despite the conservation land, is still a pretty densely populated state.
I forget how densely populated, until I visit a place like Jackson. I still think of this as dense, with ski condos, inns, restaurants, and bars, but the truth is that these are islands of civilization surrounded by quite a lot of wilderness.
Roy woke me at 1am, as I slept in a soft bed under a thick pillowy comforter.
“PSSSST.” he said.
“huh?” I said.
“WAKE UP” he hissed.
Then I came awake with all the reflexes of the childless person who is wholly unaccustomed to unexpected sleep disturbances.
“Shhh,” he said. “Listen.”
And in the distance, but not far enough off in the distance, I could hear it clearly. It sounded like belling hounds, or barking zebras. Coyotes. A whole pack of them. And they were hunting.
They weren’t stalking, they weren’t concerned with silence. They were concerned only with communicating to each other over distance in what sounded like a high-speed chase. This wasn’t a house cat meeting its doom, it was something big, fast, and scared, likely a deer. The hunting cries echoed through the woods and off the mountains, until suddenly they fell silent.
My first thought was “wow, that was cool.”
But then I thought how different it was to experience this from a comfortable bed in a room with a fireplace than it would have been to experience it from, say, a tent. Or a cabin without a lock on the door. And then, some tiny ancient and very primitive piece of my brain started to fire, and I understood, suddenly, how terrifying the experience of the early settlers must have been. I understood better why Huey spooks as he does.
It was cool, yes, but it was also creepy as hell.
There’s blood on the snow this morning, and I’m just grateful it isn’t mine.