Grinning, I watched the wonder in Lulu’s bright brown eyes as we wound through the sand and mesquite. Lizards, birds, snakes…all the movements and smells had her muscles tensed, head moving quickly from side to side. The joy and excitement I always felt for the life around me was reflected in Lu’s reactions and energy. I was drawn into her experience and laughed softly as we quickly climbed the steep hills of rock and sand.
The little dog kept close, even though I had her on a twelve foot leash. Was it the fear of the unknown, or just pack instinct that kept her near? It was nice not to have her fight her restraints as we moved up the trail, but I was sure this would only last as long as it took the first small animal to flee before our steps.
We hiked all day, and into the early evening. The cool, overcast skies began to clear. We had only stopped for lunch and dinner, and as twilight began to settle, I slowed at a clear spot near a large, still lake.
The tent went up quickly, and I set up everything inside, while Lulu stood watch, tied to a small gnarled tree about 10 feet away. She never relaxed, facing away from our camp, looking behind us towards the horizon. I paused to watch her search the early night. Her head was tilted back slightly, nostrils flaring slowly, shadows gathering around her in the twilight. Our sentry for the evening, she had easily settled into this role in her strange new world.
Once under my quilt in the tent, Lulu curled up against me, falling asleep instantly. I was amazed at the amount of body heat her small, hard body generated. I had always associated her chiseled form with non-heat generating surfaces, but the small furnace insider her burned with such intensity I was soon folding back the quilt.
Deep into the night we slept, until I felt a soft vibration against my stomach, followed by a low rumble. I looked over to see Lulu had raised her head, and was staring out the netting at the front of the tent. She slowly began to rise, and I reached out my hand to calm her. Before my sleep muddled mind could react, she lunged forward, ripping through the net door on the front of the tent. “Crap!” I said as I thrashed around in my quilt.
Frantically, I plunged my feet into my shoes, grabbed her leash, and crawled through the mangled netting. She was gone! I would never see her again! My totally reactive, borderline feral dog and I only had the very beginning of a bond. Not enough to make me her choice over her instincts. I was sure I had lost her to some pack of wild canine visitors. She was lost forever.
I stood and listened intently, pulling my head lamp from it’s pocket, and turning it on as I placed it around my head. I could see no tracks in the deep sand that had collapsed back in on any indentations. The night was pitch black – the sky only illuminated by a blanket of distant stars. I had no idea which way she had run.
Suddenly, I heard her song, usually reserved for other dogs. I pushed through the thick mesquite, slashing my legs, but running desperately. I was sure I would loose her, as her song faded into the night.
Stumbling out into a small clearing, I heard guttural snarls, and stopped quickly in the deep sand. Lulu was standing in my light, immediately in front of me, but my eyes were immediately drawn past her to where light and night mingled. Small greenish yellow orbs hung before dark forms just outside the edge of the light cast by my lamp. Lulu’s song began to escalate as I turned my head from left to right capturing more sets of eyes in the dark. Before me was what appeared to be a semi-circle of 4-6 large coyotes, heads lowered and silent.
Lulu alternated between song and snarl as our visitors watched us, making absolutely no sound. I slowly bent, not wanting to startle Lu into flight, and snapped on her leash. She was crouched low and trembling hard, but it appeared to be with rage and not fear. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement to my left as two of the coyotes angled around through the brush. Lulu lunged snarling fiercely, as I gathered the excess leash in my hands and began slowly backing away, turning to the side so I could watch ahead and behind us.
I did not fear the coyotes, but they were still an unknown at night. I had encountered them many times on my hikes, and they were typically much more wary of me than I was of them. This group seemed to have gained confidence with the dark though, and I stayed alert as I moved through the brush, making sure I made no quick movements.
Reaching the tent, I crawled through the torn netting, pulling Lu in behind me, and zipping the outer fabric door. The netting was destroyed so I just crumpled it at the bottom of the tent. As my adrenaline faded, I realized I was freezing in my shorts and t-shirt, trembling violently as I quickly curled up under my quilt with the leash wrapped around my hand. Calling, coaxing and pleading had no effect on Lu. She stood tensed and ready at the door. No devils of the night would enter her home.
Lu never slept. She stood and stared at the door, rumbling like a small engine. In turn, I slept fitfully, continuously trying to calm her. The small engine would lull me into a doze, only to change pitch and wake me again. Occasionally, I would hear yelps and yips outside, as the pack of coyotes circled our camp for about an hour. Finally they left, and stopped to sing a parting song from the top of the ridge. Furiously, Lulu returned their song with one of her own, ending in a long low, plaintive howl. There was a sad wistful note as her howl ended, and it seemed a very small part of her was reaching out to the pack that might still be found somewhere in her past.
Toward day break she finally settled into a sphinx like position beside me, struggling to keep her eyes open and head upright. Finally, I gave up on sleep and made her breakfast, packed, and began hiking. Lulu stayed close all day, watching for that evil that had come for us in the night.