Neewa the wonder dog and.., p.19
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       Neewa the Wonder Dog and the Ghost Hunters, p.19

           John Cerutti
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Jackie, Chester, Dad, and I bring along our fishing poles as we follow the dirt trail through the tall grass down to the marsh.

  As we approach the water all different birds come into view. Ducks are paired off and swim about. They have vibrant iridescent colors that shimmer in the reflected light off the water. Shiny black wings, fluorescent red heads, and glowing green and beige feathers. Every size and color of bird imaginable, bright orange, golden brown, and blue feathers are being dried and preened in every direction.

  You can actually drive your motor home out on these access roads to the ponds. There are only two other families out here right now. One camper is parked on a canal with a solitary fisherman on the bank nearby. As we approach, he becomes excited and runs up to us with wild enthusiasm in his eyes.

  Unable to contain himself he brags, “I already caught two five-pound brown trout.”

  Turning back to his rod and reel, he reenters the trance from which he had taken a momentary break. Totally under the spell of the challenge of catching the creatures that lie beneath the water, his singular transfixed gaze returns to the shimmering hypnotic water.

  There is a second motor home further out on the bank as each of us begins to separate, picking a place to fish.

  I love fishing, and this is the most exciting place there is. We are a hundred miles from any town, with thousands of protected acres of land around us.

  Dad gets a hit, but can’t set the hook.

  “Damn, I missed it!” He grimaces.

  The sun has already dropped below the mountain tops that surround the marshes. The sky darkens as we head for camp. Night comes as we reach the campsite.

  I am worn-out from the long day, beat, and ready to finish my half-eaten sandwich, hang out by the campfire a little, and go to sleep.

  Neewa’s bowls of food and water are empty. I refill them and she lies down by my tent watching me.

  Gradually the moon, once concealed behind the mountains, begins to light the panorama around us.

  Bats begin to fly their night missions, scooping up their meal of choice. There are plenty of delicious mosquitoes, flies, and other insects to go around. Some bats eat as much as a thousand mosquitoes in one night. There are dozens of different types of bats out here, Silver-Haired, Allen’s Big-Eared, Spotted, Western Red, Hoary, and Western Yellow to name a few.

  Tonight the sky is clear and full of billions of stars. They look like candles burning, flickering in the night. I can see the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon. The planets are easy to pick out. They shine like spotlights. And spring and summer constellations extend across the sky like a bracelet around the heavens.

  The stars are brighter because we are in the middle of nowhere. There are no towns, homes, or anything around for miles.

  Chester, Jackie, Neewa, and I sit by the fire. Chester begins to tell a tale his Grandfather told him when he was a boy.

  He looks at us and begins, “The name of the story is, ‘Coyote and the Monster.’ A long, long time ago, people did not yet inhabit the earth. A monster walked upon the land, eating all the animals except Coyote. The coyote was angry that his friends were gone. He climbed the tallest mountain and tied himself to the top. Coyote called upon the monster, challenging it to try to eat him. The monster sucked in all the air, hoping to pull in Coyote with his powerful breath. But the ropes holding Coyote were too strong. The monster tried many other ways to get Coyote off the mountain, but it was no use. Realizing that Coyote was sly and clever, the monster thought of a new plan. It would befriend Coyote and invite him to stay at his home. Before the visit began, Coyote said that he wanted to visit his friends and asked if he could enter the monster's stomach to see them. The monster allowed this. Once inside the monster, Coyote cut out its heart and set fire to its insides. His friends were freed.

  “Then Coyote decided to make a new animal. He flung pieces of the monster in the four directions. Wherever the pieces landed, a new Nation of Indians emerged. He ran out of body parts before he could create a new human animal on the site where the monster had lain. He used the monster's blood, which was still on his hands, to create the Nez Perce, who would be strong and good.”

  Chester smiled, “That’s it.”

  On that note I turn and walk to my tent. “And thanks for the bloody monster story just before I go to bed. Are you trying to creep me out?”

  “Ha-ha, ha-ha,” we all laugh.

  “Yeah thanks, Chester,” Jackie adds.

  We get into our sleeping bags, zip.

  Chapter 35 - Howling

  I peer out of the screen door of the tent into the darkness of the marsh and beyond. A quarter crescent moon begins to pop up over the mountaintop, large and bright. It looks so close it feels like I can reach out and pull it from the sky. That’s when I hear it for the first time.

  “Owwww, Ow, owww.” The howling begins as if on cue, as the moon glistens on the waters of the marshlands. Just like in the beginning of a horror movie.

  That first cry comes from the dark shadows of the mountains across the marsh, where the moonlight did not light up. That howl was not far from the shimmering reflection on the water just in front of us.

  Suddenly another cry, more like a lament, comes from the north end of the marsh, “Owwww, Ow, owwwwww, Owwww, Ow, owwwwww.”

  Neewa sits up and begins sniffing the air, her nose pointing straight up.

  I think this could be the end. She will surely run away and go back to the wilderness. Fear spreads through my body, tightening every muscle.

  “It’s as if they are asking each other questions and then answering,” I whisper to Jackie beside me.

  I yell in the direction of Chester and Marlene’s sleeping bags, “What are they?”

  Moments pass like minutes when Chester comes to the campfire near our tent. “They are coyotes. Don’t worry, they won’t bother us.” Chester hesitates and nods at Neewa laughing, “I wasn’t counting on having one of the coyotes here in camp, ha ha ha.”

  It’s difficult for me to read Chester’s laugh. He’s not afraid, that I know. It seems like he’s always laughing at some irony in the world. Like it’s his destiny in life to look at things around him and see the humor, sadness, or joy in them. It’s as if he thinks he is here in this world temporarily, a kind of a layover.

  The coyote’s conversation continues like a song, echoing in every direction, filling the valley with beautiful lyrics and me with fear.

  My head is up, ears alert, and my eyes are as wide open as a full moon. I feel the adrenaline flowing in my body. I’m ready to run or fight for my life. But out here there isn’t anywhere to run.

  Sarcastically I grumble back at Chester, “Yeah right, I’m in a tent in the middle of nowhere, coyotes are howling all around me. Oh! ‘Not to worry,’ he says. ‘They won’t hurt you,’ he says.” I look at him. “Are you crazy?”

  Chester adds, “They are far away, they only sound nearby. They won’t come any closer. Not as long as we have this fire going.”

  Neewa raises her nose into the air, inhaling their scent.

  “Owww, Owww Owwwwwww!” Neewa let out a coyote howl the likes of which I’ve never heard before.

  Neewa is talking with them using perfect pitch and tone. My eyes begin to blink nervously, uncontrollably, even faster then my hands are shaking from the panic spreading through my body. I will lose her. This is it, surely she will run away to be with her own kind.

  I break down sobbing uncontrollably. Quickly before anyone sees, I gain control and wipe the tears from my eyes and cheeks with the sleeve of my sweatshirt wrapped around the back of my hand.

  Neewa is chained to a nearby tree, stirring, and pacing. She stares into the darkness beyond the moonlight, as if she sees her cousins moving about, securing positions, surrounding us.

  Shimmying over the warm rocks in my sleeping bag, I lift myself out of the tent and walk to her. I check her collar to make sure she cannot slip away. I pull her close to me to break the spell she is in, tea
rs fall to my cheeks.

  “Will she run away?” I ask Chester who is sitting by the fire, after having built it up for the long night ahead.

  “No, she will not run away. Neewa will keep them away from us.” Chester warns walking away, “Don’t let her off that chain.”

  After returning to my sleeping bag, I curl up with the stones, warm from the long day’s sun. The stars shine brightly around the glow of the fire. Jackie and Dad are asleep already. I toss and turn, and then settle down again, trying to sleep.

  “Ah,” I sigh.

  My eyes begin to close, then open, and close. Neewa howls a few more times in the background. A few more howls come from the mountains and across the marsh. But even that doesn’t keep me awake. Except for the frogs and crickets calling in the night, it is quiet again and I fall asleep.


  Before I know it morning arrives and the sun, although not above the mountain peaks, illuminates the valley. I’m waking up on a hill overlooking the vast Ruby Marshes. The mist hangs over the water as the sun begins to unveil the ruby glow of the peaks to the west of the marsh.

  Panicking I look over at Neewa, she is still here. She whines signaling me she is ready to get off the chain and go for her morning run.

  “Neewa stay close, don’t go running off!” I demand.

  I let her go with great apprehension as she disappears into the brush. I walk to the campfire, a deep frown of worry on my forehead. Watching and listening to her every move now, I make sure she stays just a few yards away from me.

  “Dad, how long have you been awake?” Bread and coffee for breakfast, yum, that’s my favorite.

  “Oh just a little while. Here, Tina, try some of this.”

  “Hum, that is good,” I smack my lips.

  “I call it campfire toast and jam. Can you go wake Jackie?” Dad asks.

  “She’s up, on her way back from the outhouse,” I answer.

  Jackie joins us, everyone sips coffee and munches on toast and jam.

  “So, are we going pine nut hunting or fishing?” Jackie asks.

  The fog is burning off the blue-green water.

  Chapter 36 - Pine Nuts

  “So Chester, where do you think we can start gathering the pine nuts?” Dad asks.

  He answers, “On our way into the park I saw a pine forest about two miles from here. That’s where we can start.”

  Piling into the van we drive a couple miles and stop near a hill dotted with dark green pine trees. After we pull the van off the road, we get out.

  I look around, “So this is where we will find the pine nuts?”

  Neewa runs off into the forest, she cannot help herself. She follows her nose to a nearby trickling stream.

  All of us walk the hundred or so yards to the middle of this mountain and plan our strategy. Chester directs Jackie, Dad, and me up the ridge. While he and Marlene go toward the lower end of the mountain.

  Dad, Jackie, and I start up the hill in front of us, headed for higher elevations. I’m in the middle of a deserted forest with no one around me for miles. Of course there are probably wild coyote, deer, lots of prairie dogs, and who knows what else is out here?

  “I think Neewa is looking for her uncles and cousins,” I huff and puff catching my breath as we ascend.

  “What cousins?” Jackie asks.

  “The ones she was talking to last night,” I answer.

  Dad is already ahead of us, leading the way up the ridge.

  The trees are scruffy, short and in small groups of five or six. Pruned by the whipping winds coming off the flatlands, they resemble fifteen-foot high Japanese Bonsai trees. It looks like I’m entering a Japanese forest.

  Walking on sandy dirt, ledge rock, and an occasional patch of moss or lichen, we march on. Between the rock crevasses are clumps of grass and wild flowers. Brittle and dry twigs crackle under my sneakers.

  Seeds are brought here by animals or scattered about by the wind. Some fall on the steep slopes and sprout. While others end up in soil made of decaying pine needles and windblown dirt. Still others are brought here by the infrequent rain runoff.

  The trees here seem to be able to grow precariously anchored to scraps of dirt and rock.

  According to Chester the growing and harvesting of pine nuts is supposed to work like this. Each pinyon pine tree grows hundreds of pine cones with seeds in them called pine nuts. The pine cones mature they fall from the tree and open like petals of a blooming flower. Inside the pine cone scales are pine nuts ready to be eaten.

  Jackie and I reach the first pine trees and run under them glowing with excitement and the anticipation of discovery. Beneath the trees are pine cones, spread about. We move quickly to pick up the cones on the ground and inspect them. But there are no pine nuts. Out of breath from the incline, I run to the next grove of trees gathering up more cones. As I break them apart with my hands, the dry scales yield nothing but dust.

  “Jackie,” I question, “did you find any pine nuts?”

  “No, no pine nuts, there are pine cones but no nuts in them.”

  I pick up a couple of pine cones and squeeze them in my hands. They are brittle and crumple into pieces. The broken flower peddle like scales are about a half-inch long and a quarter-inch wide.

  Looking over at Jackie, “Yuck! There are bugs in these cones.”

  Dusting the bugs and scale flakes from my hands, I run frenzied to the next tree and pick up more cones. Breaking them apart one by one I expect to see beautiful pine nuts falling gently into my hands. But instead I get more bugs and toss them aside. Rubbing my hands till all the junk is gone, I stand still, exasperated, and stare off into the valley.

  The sun is hot and there is little wind. The only relief from the heat is the shade of these trees. The sand and rock in the barren sections of the slopes around us reflect the sun’s rays at us. I feel the sweat dripping from my brow and beading up on my lip.

  “Jackie, maybe we’re doing something wrong? What if we are supposed to pick the pine cones from the tree? Before they hit the ground and the bugs get them.”

  “Maybe the bugs are eating the pine nuts?”

  Dad walks by complaining, “I can’t find any pine nuts, you?”

  “No,” we answer in agreement.

  “Just bugs,” I add.

  He walks away toward a stand of trees just above us on the sloping hillside warning, “Be careful climbing those trees.”

  Lucky thing these are scrub pine trees. We are in a forest full of the shortest full-grown trees on Earth. The trees don’t grow more then fifteen feet high because the whipping winds prune the limbs and branches back.

  With no ladder or anything to stand on, Jackie cups her hands together and gives me a boost up into a tree. This would never work back East where the trees are ten times bigger.

  I pull myself up onto the first branch and sit, then reach down to help Jackie up. Perched on the lower branches, we start plucking pine cones and tossing them down on the ground. After a good amount of them land below us, we jump down from the tree. One by one we methodically bludgeon and pry open the new cones. I twist and squeeze them, anticipating finding what I’m looking for. Struggling, I fight to obtain the bounty of delicious oval white nuts.

  “No pine nuts,” I frown throwing the remnants of the cones onto the ground.

  “No pine nuts,” Jackie adds, disgusted.

  It’s clear to Jackie and I, there are no pine nuts here. Well, we’re pretty sure there aren’t any.

  We give up on the pine nut hunt and sit in the shade, throwing rocks down the slope. They roll and bump over the outcrops of the ledge and fall over the rim, out of sight.

  I’ve not seen or heard Neewa in a while as I get that sinking feeling in my stomach again.

  I stand and cry out, “Neewa, Neewa, come Neewa,” I call out.

  After hesitating and taking a deep breath I shout, “Neewa, Neewa.”

  Jackie whistles, “Whewwwwwwwww, whew.”

  “I wish I cou
ld whistle like you,” I lament looking at her.

  Waving my hands in the air at her, “Listen Jackie, stop whistling, listen. I hear something. It’s her.”

  Her bark grows louder and louder, echoing over the mountainside. I anticipate her running over the ridge and jumping up on me.

  “Come girl, come on girl!” Out of the blue she careens into us, stomping on our feet as she gallops by almost bowling us over. Her paws spread wide as she grips the dirt, sand flies up behind her. Her muscles tighten to control her stop.

  I’m so happy to see her you’d think we were separated for days, not minutes. I cuddle her, patting her head and stroking her soft coat. She positions herself against my knee signaling me to scratch her behind the ears, which I do.

  From the rock face where we stand, we begin walking up the ridge. Neewa quickly takes point, leading us along the rocky terrain. After a few moments she runs off again, nose to the ground, having picked up a scent of something. She is on the hunt, sniffing along the surface of the dirt, stalking her prey.

  We meander along occasionally checking a pine cone or two, not wanting to give up. Continuing on our hike, we are high above the road we left this morning. We decide to escape the heat and hike toward a grove of trees.

  Chapter 37 - Juniper Berries

  “What are those trees up there?” I point looking to Jackie for an answer.

  “Juniper, they are juniper trees, a coniferous evergreen tree native to high mountain desert forests,” the botanist in the family explains.

  We reach the shade of the juniper grove, finally getting out of the sun’s direct rays. Tired from the day’s events, I look for a place to sit and rest.

  I pay no attention to Jackie as she inspects, shakes, and smells something in her hands.

  “Look at these purple berries from these trees and the little beige and brown nuts I found on the ground. What are they?”

  Jackie begins rolling the little round things in her hand. The purple berries from the tree are the size of green peas. She breaks one open and inside the berry is one of the beige and brown nuts that looks like a little acorn. The beige and brown nuts on the ground were once covered in a purple layer. But the coatings dry and fall off, leaving these little beige and brown nuts.

  Jackie displays a handful of the nuts and giggles, “Dad look, I found these under the juniper trees over there, they have holes in one end.”

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