While I put on my makeup
Over the past week several of our chickens have gone missing, most noticeably Pierre – our fancy rooster. Although every single loss at the farm is sad and difficult, I no longer take the chicken loss as hard. It’s something I’ve learned to accept – I have to – since we decided to free range our flock entirely. Until (or unless) we someday develop an egg mobile or true chicken tractor that’s moved daily, the chickens are nearly impossible to protect. Aerial assaults from hawks are steady throughout the year but the recent spike in chicken loss tells us something very definitive is happening with our local coyote population: breeding season. A miserable time of year for any farm.
So it should have been no surprise this morning when we heard panicked screeching out the front door. Jeremy and I both were sitting at the breakfast bar before the work day started. I slammed down my coffee. He put down his espresso. We scrambled to the front door and onto the front porch in time to see two coyotes just at the pasture fence directly across from the porch. A large male coyote held one of my chickens in his mouth, looked up momentarily as I screamed and waved my arms, before trotting off into the trees with his female mate following closely behind. I saw him pause and toss one more nonchalant glance towards me, over his shoulder, a gesture that felt equivalent to getting flipped the bird. Watching your animal get carried away by a predator is a helpless, terrible feeling. I started to sprint towards the pasture and Jer called after me to stop. “Let me try to get them,” he shouted as he ran up the stairs with a rifle, heading into the attic that offers an excellent, sniper vantage point out onto our back acreage. It was 7:30 a.m. and this morning already delivered the gift of four great pyrenees that were sprayed by a skunk overnight. They lined up at the fence wagging their tails happily during milking time, proud of the skunk attack (that they clearly lost).
I paced the living room momentarily as Jeremy sat up in the attic, but since there was nothing I could do, started getting ready for the office. I opened the windows in the bathroom to let in the cool outside air and stood at our large mirror that reflects out onto the pasture where the coyote attack just occurred. As I leaned in to swipe on some mascara (old habits die hard), I heard one loud bang – a cannon shot, really, that reverberated off the hills, off the metal house, the metal roofs, the sound caught beneath our porch eaves and flung back into the open window so that I slammed my face on the mirror with shock. Through the mirror, I saw a coyote on the ground, not yet dead – then one more loud “BAAAAANNNNGGGGGG!” – and it was still. The three cows trotted to the body, the bucks jogged behind, leaning over and sniffing with curiosity. All of this reflected back in a mirror I never turned from, and looking back at my own face, realized I still held my mascara wand up in the air – mid-swipe – my hand shook slightly. Without thinking, I just kept applying. Within another minute there was a final bang, this one caused me to whirl around in time to see the cows turn and stare in the opposite direction to a trail up above the pond where a second coyote lay dead. I turned back towards the mirror, then down at my shaking hands, back up to my face with makeup freshly applied. The process feels increasingly like costume and has no place out here where coyotes are shot over breakfast, where muck boots sink ankle deep into manure and mud putting out a hay bale, where my pockets are always filled with bits of grain, arrowheads, an old tooth found in the woods.
I brushed my hair and walked into the living room just as Jeremy descended the stairs with a huge grin on his face, rifle in hand. “I have a meeting at 9am,” he said, laughing and shaking his head. “And you need to finish your espresso,” I pointed to the unfinished cup on our counter, the contents of the thing evidence the contradictions of our life. Espresso and rifles before 8am? I kissed him quick, thanked him for protecting my animals, stuffed the computer in the leather bag I so proudly purchased seven years ago in honor of a legislative consulting job I was so thrilled to have gotten, so excited about the office with a window overlooking downtown Austin. Now I straightened my shirt, grabbed my keys, and went outside to pat goat heads before driving into work, feeling a very different kind of thrill – to start a day with skunked pyrenees and dead coyote. The distance between before and now grows wider every day.