Dances With Coyotes

By K.C. Nye

The morning breeze was crisp and cold as I looked across the snow-covered prairie. The snow wasn’t deep, maybe about five inches, but it certainly gave the normal carpet of sage brush a new and refreshing look. I had just let “Mr. Starbuck” out of my old blue ’79 Ford F-150 pick up truck, and sure enough, he was off and racing along with his nose to the ground, “seeing” what was out there. Starbuck, as I called him, was, at the time, a five year old German Short Haired Pointer from the Von Der Weg Kennels. His coat coloration was considered to be “liver and ticked” which, in the world of German Short Hair Pointer breeders means mostly a liver colored brown, with white flecks here and there like a dappled gray horse. But Starbuck was mostly all liver color, causing some less informed folks to mistake him for a skinny Chocolate Lab. I picked him from the litter with his mostly liver color in mind, for, I have always liked solid colors. Naturally, I considered his temperament as well.

The reason I called him Mr. Starbuck had nothing to do with the coffee company known as “Starbucks”, although many a yuppy had assumed that his name had something to do with that. The real reason I named him that is because I have been a U.S. Merchant Marine from my youth at sixteen, and had read the classic novel Moby Dick. I knew that the honorable First Mate of Captain Ahab’s cursed ship Pequod was named “Mr. Starbuck”.  And thus, my beautiful pup was named. It’s a mariner thing.

And there it was, a beautiful morning with me looking across the snow covered prairie of the Anchor D Ranch in the Oklahoma Panhandle as Starbuck was getting his morning run under way. As usual, he was wasting no time sniffing up mice, jack rabbits, and various other scents, his incredibly sensitive bird dog nose captivating him like a slave to his master. And, as he nosed along, all seemed normal and usual, until he stopped dead on point. Like the true champion he was, he was pointing rock solid at something about fifty feet in front of him that was gray, and had the unmistakable shape of another dog. A dog, that looked like a skinny wolf, and was unquestionably a coyote.  “Oh geez”, I thought, “what’s going to come of this?” I had always thought that Starbuck had come in contact with coyotes from time to time out there on the prairie, but I had not seen any as of yet, at least not while I was letting Starbuck get his exercise. I had seen a few along the highway, and I had certainly heard the maniacal sound of coyotes howling at the moon from time to time, but never had I seen Starbuck mixing with any coyotes. It was the snow that helped me to see that coyote so clearly. And there it was. He was on point; immovable with his right front leg hiked up and looking at this coyote with a serious intensity. I stared through my binoculars in fearful fascination. I had heard of how coyotes, as a pack, would lure domestic dogs by having a pack member seduce a dog into following it into an ambush, only to be attacked and consumed by his ravenous coyotee brethren. I was really tense as I watched the panting coyote look at my Best Friend with a sly look in his eyes, while Starbuck pointed intensely at this wild dog. Starbuck’s class as a highly bred, finely tuned hunting dog stood out against the coyote’s unruly appearance. But then again, the magnificence of the wild dog and his primordial ability as a hunter was also extremely impressive to me, a long time admirer of the animal world.  To Starbuck, this was nothing more than a “macho stand off”, but I feared that to the coyote it was only a game, with the prize being “food”. I knew a bit about the American Coyote, and I have known for a long time that even though the wolf is a very formidable creature, the coyote is the one who has survived the onslaught of American civilization, where the Wolf did not fare quite so well..

I was mesmerized and transfixed, wondering what was to happen next out there during this unfolding drama on the Anchor D Ranch. Starbuck was pointing, the coyote was grinning, and I was worrying behind those binoculars. And all of the sudden, the coyote bolted in the opposite direction, running towards a mesa a short distance away. Starbuck, on it in an instant, sprung like lightning and was in hot pursuit of this, his ancient relative: El Coyote. And the race was on, with Starbuck gaining with his superior speed. The coyote dashed straight toward the mesa, and with great agility and surprising power, began his sprint toward the top of it with Starbuck in hot pursuit at his heals. And me, at the other end of the drama, was cussing and asking God at the same time to let him live and not lose his life in what appeared to be a very cleverly laid trap. A trap that would end the life of my Best Friend, Mr. Starbuck Von Der Weg. They sprinted to the top of the mesa with a speed and energy that makes we humans wonder; “How do they do that?” The coyote was first over the rim, and after about ten feet into the flat top of the mesa, out of no where, at least fifteen gray, dog shaped forms emerged, and converged on Starbuck. This was the end, I thought as I watched, still mesmerized. But shaking it off, I yelled the Hollywood version of; “Noooooo!” But to no avail. It didn’t echo off the hills like in the movies. He couldn’t hear me at that distance of a thousand yards or more, and even if he could, it wouldn’t have phased him, for he had business to attend to.  He was surrounded by a pack of very intense coyotes, and I was too far away with my 9 mm pistola to help him out. Oh, I could have fired some elevated rounds to help him out, but, it would have done him no good, for he was too far away, and in my mind, he was already a goner. But then again, I did ask God to save my Best Friend…

And then, the most amazing thing happened! Instead of the entire pack converging on him and eating him like a bunch of Texans on a pork chop, miraculously, they all started jumping up and down in the air like pop corn! It was weird almost. They were sniffing each other’s butts and doing what I call the “dog dance” with raised hackles on their backs, but there were no hostilities at all! And as they continued, the hackles came down, and they were wagging their tails like they were the best of friends! And this went on for at least five minutes, without a single demonstration of aggression. I was mystified but smiling as I stared through my binoculars. And when they popped up and down, they seemed to be having the very best of times as dogs, meeting an old “lost friend”. But then, just like that, poof! They were gone! They melted back into the sage brush as if they’d never even been there, leaving Starbuck looking around as if he were thinking; “Now, where’d those guys go?”

And so I whistled, and the wind must have carried my call to him, and he immediately began to sprint in my direction, bounding over the tops of the sage bushes and leaping like a deer. And when he got to me, he was all happy and tail waggin’ as if to say; “Didja see that boss? Didja see alla those wild dogs I was hangin out with? Cool huh?” And I hugged him and patted him, and told him that; “Ya know bud, I think I’m gonna hafta give you a new name. An Indian name. I think I’m gonna hafta call you “Dances With Coyotes”. And I said a prayer to my Heavenly Father and thanked Him for saving my wonderful pal Starbuck from those damned coyotes. It was beautiful man, beautiful.

And so, good old Starbuck died back in 2000, and I wept like a baby. He was fourteen. Just before I went to work on a merchant ship for my “two weeks on”. For some reason I just knew that I’d never see him again. And so, I grilled up two big old chuck steaks, and fed his to him piece by piece as I ate mine with him, and he loved it. And by the time my ship left Alaskan waters and docked in Bellingham, Washington, Starbuck had done took and went and Gone Under. My wife told me over the pay phone in the ferry terminal that he was gone. Died of natural causes. I held my emotions until later however. And when we finally departed from Bellingham, northbound to Alaska, when I was doing my “rounds” in the engineroom, I kind of hid behind the starboard main engine (with the sound of 14,000 horsepower screaming yet buffered by my earplugs and ear muffs on), and cried my eyes out like a little baby. I sobbed. My good old buddy, “Dances With Coyotes” was gone. Seems like when you lose a dog like that, not only is the dog gone, but so passes an entire era of your Life. Starbuck had been there when my two oldest kids were little. He protected them, loved them, tolerated them, and was just part of the Fam-damily. And so he passed, and I’ll always remember him as “Dances With Coyotes…”

Kevin from AK