When I woke up my shoulder was wet. I gathered my head and sat up. The morning air was heavy with dew. The dew had penetrated the thin fabric that was protecting me from the outside elements. My cold, stiff fingers found the zipper in the bright orange light that was starting to crawl into the crevices through the valley. When I pulled the zipper in a half circle I opened a portal into the eerie, orange mist. I looked around and saw the sun and water vapor in a battle to decide who would stay and who would go. This battle is always won by the sun for it stabs the dew like a dagger, creating puncture wounds. As more rays of light shoot through the already penetrated spots it cuts at the sides of the every growing holes. I watched until the sun had risen above the rim of the crater. This crater that I was was staying in had been supplying wildlife with food, water, and shelter for thousands of years. Even though it supplied animals with what they needed to live, the crater did not guarantee they would live for long. Living depended on every animals health, mental sharpness, and the want to live.
I waited until the sun had risen enough to see around me so I wouldn't be jumped by a cougar. A couple years back my friend and I were camping a couple miles down in the crater and we went out a little to early. We walked over to our wood pile and we heard a weird rustling in the leaves. Paul, my friend, and I thought it might be a deer or elk so we went back to our tent to grab our rifles. As we approached the spot we heard a shrill, bloody-murder call. Paul was a little closer to the spot than I was. The sun had come up a little further now and I could faintly see an object poised, ready to lunge. I yelled to Paul, but it was to late. The cougar had jumped onto him and had his mouth enclosing half of Paul's arm. There was a snap and the cougar broke his arm. By now I had good light and could clearly see this bloody scene in front of me. The cougar had the advantage with his giant paws that sheathed killer claws and a mouth that had canines with tremendous power behind them. Even though Paul was at tremendous odds he fought on. He grabbed the mountain lions ear and jerked it as hard as he possible could. What I saw next almost made me faint. In Paul's hand was the ear of the mountain lion! This enraged the cat even more. All of the sudden the cat's eyes changed and they turned toward me. I watched with owl eyes as the cat approached me. The cougar stood up on its hind paws, fire in his eyes, and came down on me. As I hit the ground I heard a loud crack and wondered if I was making the journey to Heaven. I turned over and half expected to see Jesus towering over me, but instead I saw a cat, the cat, that almost took my life running away with one ear. I stood up and felt a surging pain pulsing through my head, but all I was worried about was Paul. I half ran half stumbled over to where he lay, and saw his eyes blinking and staring into the bluebird colored sky. I bent down expecting him to take one last big breath of air and his soul be carried away on the light breeze. My assumptions were wrong, thank goodness. Instead he sat up with his own strength and said, "Holy cow!"
I smiled and helped him up. His arm was clearly broken, but he was alive.
"I shot at him", Paul said in a shaky voice, "But I only grazed him."
"I heard a loud crack and thought it was my head," I told him. After that we ate breakfast and hiked out.
This time Paul had been on a trip to Spain for the summer. He had been taking an advanced Spanish class at school that year and at the end of it if you had a good enough score you could go to Spain with the Spanish teacher. I was sad when he gave me the news about not being able to come because we had been traveling out to Colorado every year together for the last four years to camp. This time I decided to go with just my two dogs for one week. It had been a long senior year full of chaos, I was ready for a break. As my old Chevrolet pickup that held me, my dogs, and all our gear rolled over the hills of northern Kansas I moved restlessly in my seat. I shouldn't have done this because my dogs think that when I move they need to be on me and get attention. They crawled over onto me from the passenger seat. Buddy, my male dog, is about forty pounds and my female dog, Sadie, is about seventy pounds. I battled with them trying to get them off of me for what seemed like an hour. When I finally got them off of me I had reached the stretch of pavement that was the interstate that had taken me away to my spot three other times before.
I walked to the woodpile I made the night before, gun in hand, dogs by my side. This is perfect, I thought as I walked along. I loved the loud silence. The silence of people, and the loudness of the wildlife. Birds singing their glorious song, happy to live another day. The squirrels, not being morning creatures, chattering their annoyance of the ruckus at dawn. Far down in the crater I saw a family of grey foxes wrestling and climbing up and down the trees. When I got to the wood pile I loaded up all the wood that would fit in my arms. I walked back quickly because my arms were already starting to burn from the weight of the oak wood. When I got back to my camping area I neatly made a tepee in my fire pit with the wood I had gathered. I went into my tent and grabbed the clear plastic bag which held the lint that would start my fire. I pulled the two sides of the bag apart and it made a ripping sound as the zipper separated. I reached in and lightly grabbed the wad with my fingers. As I pulled it out I heard the barking of Buddy a few hundred feet off. I dropped the lint, grabbed my gun, and was up and running in one swift movement. At first I was afraid they might have a lion treed, but when the two yellow figures came into sight between the bushes I could see they were at a hollowed out log. I slowed my pace to a walk and went back to enjoying the morning sounds that swirled around me on the morning breeze. I pushed through the dense green bushes and came to the hollow log. My dogs had already started ripping the old rotten wood out in big chunks. I hurriedly sat my gun against a small cedar tree and grabbed my dog's collars. I didn't want them to stick their noses into something like a skunk or an opossum. Luckily I had some rope in my pocket so I dug it out and tied my dogs together on one end and tied the other end around the base of an aspen. After securing my dogs I made my way back to the old, rotten log. I slowly and wearily got down on my hands and knees to look into the log and see what had taken shelter in it. What I found was what I had expected, a rabbit. I turned to the small tree which held my gun up from the ground. I crawled over to it on all fours and grabbed it. There a a faint scratching in the log and I knew I had to work fast or the rabbit would bolt. The barrel of my gun went into the log and my finger squeezed the trigger. With a loud explosion my .22 caliber rifle shot it's loaded round into the rabbit and gave me rabbit with beans for lunch.
My sixth morning started the same as the other five. Wake up to a battle between the sun and dew, take in the morning sounds, and gather wood for my fire. If my dogs had a say in staying or leaving in two days I would have put my money on them saying we stay. They were having a blast running through the new wilderness, they even made friends with the family of grey foxes that had a little den in a large mound of dirt a couple bushes away. I hated the thought of going back to civilization, but I had to. What was about to happen next would keep me from thinking of going back home, for there was a battle waiting on the right time and place. This battle would not be between the dew and the sun.
When day seven came over the horizon my dogs and I had a small breakfast then headed out down into the crater to hunt and explore. A quarter mile down in the crater there was an opened field that tall grasses and wild flowers covered. In the center was a crystal clear pond that we gave the name "The Jewel". It was deep enough for fish to survive through the winter. Frogs swarmed to it for it was the only pond in miles. As we made our way down to the field I started seeing vultures circle over head. Something had either been killed or was dying in the open field. We took caution because I still had the scene from last year in the back of my head. When we came to the edge of the field we took cover in the shade of the trees. I wanted to make sure everything was clear before we marched right in their just to get killed by a predator. I could see a half eaten carcass unguarded in a bare spot out in the field. What drove me to walk out in the open towards the carcass I don't know, but when I got there with my dogs I saw I had made a terrible mistake. The thing that I saw sent chills spiking down my back and adrenaline pulsing through my body. I knew it was to late to back away, so I stood my ground. My dogs, not knowing the danger lurking in the shadows of the trees continued to sniff around for new smells. I stared and it stared back at me with hatred in its eyes. At this moment I knew this wasn't a cat, it was the cat. The cat that had tried to take my life once before. At this moment I knew there was a slim chance I would see my family again for it was me or him that would go. This time one of us wouldn't run away, but one of us would be lying dead in the opened field. My dogs, now knowing of the presence of the cat, started to growl. At this the cat came forward, not towards them, but towards me. I lifted my rifle and everything slowed. I saw the red, hating eyes through the open sights on my gun. Instead of dropping when I fired a round into the cat's head, it just continued to walk at the pace it had been the whole way. I hadn't noticed till now that my dogs started circling the lion, but the lion didn't care. He wanted me to much. He wanted me more than a bullet, but how about a whole clip? I raised my gun and fired and jacked a new one in each time. He stumbled then charged! In one motion I had my knife out and was preparing for impact, but I my dogs knocked him of course and went for his throat. I dove into the wresting match and when I stood, there was one less life in the crater. My dogs were fine, I was fine. Instead of feeling relief, I felt sadness. A one eared cougar lay in front of me lifeless. I buried the one eared cat that day. I took him to the edge of the Jewel and buried him. I stuck my gun in the mound, barrel first, and turned and walked away. I plan to go back again some day, where I can be away in the crater once again.