I sat quietly on the mountaintop. Looking out across the landscape I realized just how big the world really was. When you are sitting on top of a mountain in the middle of a desert you can’t help but feel small.
Then the rain came. It fell lightly, so lightly it almost felt like you were being kissed by a child. Let’s take a step back for a minute. The mountaintop of which I was speaking could not accurately be called a mountaintop. Its more of a large hill right in between two gargantuan mountains. Looking out east or west, you see the tops of those mountains towering above you with their tops capped with snow. Between my hilltop and those mountaintops was a valley.
A valley peppered with brush and cut in two by a small, dry creek bed. Under the moon and star light you could see nocturnal animals moving about. Getting down to whatever business a nocturnal animal needs to attend to. I found myself watching intently as a pool began to collect on the side of the mountain and the water began to flow down the side of the mountain and move into the dry creek bed. The rain began to fall harder. Raindrops that had not even registered with me were now causing me to flinch and blink as they came cascading down from the heavens. The pool got larger and the water began to flow quicker and deeper down the side of the mountain into the creek.
The hooting began shortly thereafter. Coyotes, an entire pack of them was moving from some unseen den on the mountain to my east. They slowly moved down the mountain, shaking off the slumber as they went.
Off to my west a few deer were walking through the valley toward what had now become a flowing creek. They stopped, ever so gingerly, next to the water. They looked about for any eminent danger and then when they were satisfied there was none they bent their necks and drank from the creek.
It never ceases to amaze me how bright the world is when unencumbered by pollution and man made shrouds keeping the light from the sky at bay. A full moon, coupled with star light allows you to see for miles in any direction.
I breathed deep and drank in the smell of the air around me. It smelled fresh and new. As if the world had just been bathed and the clouds were the washcloths. A newborn child doesn’t smell this good.
I listened as a thousand tiny insects went about their lives. Running this way and that, digging down, coming up, waiting, and crying out. Crying out like they were calling for a love they knew they would never find.
I heard the gentle sound of my breath as it slid in and out of my chest, I looked up as I heard the coyotes begin to howl at the moon. I heard the silence that followed after the deer had heard the howls and began to sense danger.
I watched as the coyotes moved in what seemed a very disorganized pack. But the longer I watched them the more I realized they were on the hunt. Each animal covering the tracks of the one in front as if to make sure that the former didn’t miss anything.
They moved around to the north side of the hilltop that I was on and the first coyote stopped dead in his tracks and began to furiously sniff the ground about his feet. The remainder, almost robotically stopped and began to do the same.
Finally, in unison they all seemed to pick up the same scent and all their heads raised up and began looking around. Then the leader of the pack began to move, slowly at first. Stopping every few feet to sniff the ground once again, and then raising his head to sniff the air and beginning to move again.
Each step, the coyotes drew closer to the deer. The deer sensed there was something wrong and their heads were snapping from left to right so quickly I wondered how they didn’t break their own necks. The fear was palpable in the night air.
After a few more steps the coyote came to a line of brush. From my perch above the fray I could see that as soon as the coyote passed the line, not only would they see the deer but the deer would most certainly see them. For a moment I felt my fingers gripping tight around a rock sitting on the ground. All it would take is for me to throw this rock at the deer and they would take off. Safe, for a while at least.
The first coyote found his way through the line and in an instant saw the deer, let out what sounded like a war cry and the chase was on.
Before the second coyote had even made it through the line, the deer were off. Bounding through the brush like the earth was made of springs. But one deer had froze.
She was off a little ways from the rest of the deer and hadn’t heard what was going on. Quickly the coyote recognized that they wouldn’t have much chance of catching the deer that had already began to run and moved around back toward the creek. The pack broke in two, with the first group moving across the creek and the second group staying behind it and moving around behind the deer who was now running down the creek making her way toward the other mountain.
The coyotes sped toward the mountain, the deer bounded with all her might to get there. She was pulling away. Faster and faster she went, the coyotes were still losing ground but not as quickly as they had before. Then it happened.
I heard the snap from the valley all the way to the top of my hill. There was no doubting what had happened. The deer had lost her footing somehow and broken her leg.
What I heard next is indescribable. The coyotes converged on the deer and you heard the growl that sounds like a dog while you play tug of war. You heard as the smaller coyotes hooted their approval of whatever the larger ones were doing to the deer. You heard the deer cry out in pain. Then the deer went silent.
I picked up my rifle and gently held its night vision scope up to my eye. I looked through it, found the pack of coyotes, found the felled deer and watched. As I watched I placed the little red dot onto each and every coyote and whispered to my thoughts, “Bang”.
But it was not my place to intervene. This was not my fight. The world was as it should be that night. And as I looked out over the Afghan countryside, through the rain and into the vast desert that met the mountains that met the sky, I felt very small…