The other day I visited White Oak, one of the world’s premier wildlife conservation facilities, which is 30 miles north of Jacksonville, Florida. I was able to visit such an incredible facility that spans 10,000 acres because of my sister (I hate to write the word “in-law” [really diminishes the idea of family, no?]) and future brother (insert same frustrations here) work there. They took us around White Oak, telling us about how rhinoceros are unfairly poached for their horns and the difficulty of breeding birds in captivity. What’s most enthralling is how much space each animal has to roam, and I was able to take some photos of these cute animals on a conservation. See my eight photos below.
Before I tell you about the coyote, I want to share some good news on the publishing end. This week, I have the cover story at the OC Weekly. The piece is called “Notes From the Underground Economy,” and it’s a story I’ve been working on for months. Really, since about September. I’m proud to share this piece, and it was an amazing learning experience. Working with Gustavo Arellano — editor of the OC Weekly and voice of Ask a Mexican — was a great honor. Also, last week, I had a piece come out at the LA Weekly that seemed to be received well. It’s about losing and rediscovering the California Dream while driving on Route 1 and features Joe Clifford. It was awesome to write, and I was so pumped the LA Weekly ran it. It’s one of my favorite pieces I have written in the last few months, because it felt true — to me at least. Check it out: Route 1.
So now to the coyote story…
One of my favorite spots to go hiking in Southern California is El Moro Canyon in Laguna Beach. First, the drive to get there is extraordinary. When I want to head to El Moro from Long Beach, I take the PCH, passing through Seal, Sunset, Huntington, and Newport Beach. I love driving along the ocean and listening to music. Well, this time I decided to use the ride to listen to an audiobook. And for some reason, I felt like listening to “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu.
Well, I found this “read” fascinating, as I’m sure most people do, because of the ideas of “stratagem” — winning a battle and conquering a kingdom while appearing as if you did nothing. Never appearing weak — and if you appear weak, let it be a simulation to disguise your prowess. It was fascinating. I loved the idea that if you’re a general that receives praise or criticism, then you’re doing something wrong. You should accomplish your goals perfectly, and you should win the battle in a way that allows you to win from afar — to allow the enemy to defeat itself (though it was really you).
So I got out of my car at El Moro, and the wind was just whipping cold air. Sun Tzu was running through my mind, and I figured I would meditate a bit on the lessons of Sun Tzu and how I could apply them to my life. I started walking up the trails, and I could see the white-capped ocean off to the West. I was running the ideas through my mind, and I started to think about how to give the impression of quiet confidence. I remember hearing a line about appearing like a hawk: calm until the moment of attack. Once the attack comes, then you must act decisively.
Clearly, I’m trying to think about these ideas in abstract ways. How would I react to a threat? That’s when I realized how alone I was in the middle of a canyon. There was no one around me, and I remembered seeing a video of a mountain lion attacking a man. Of course, mountains lions don’t really want to bother with humans, but the fear gave rise to the image in my mind. And I recognized this fear as weakness.
I kept walking in the trails, and I watched the birds fly in and out of the trails. A couple passed me, and they said hello. It was peaceful. I was watching jack rabbits hop out of the brush. Then I came up to the difficult part of the hike. A steep and long incline to the top of the mountain. It was too cold to sweat.
Finally, I got to the top — a long even stretch that overlooks Laguna Beach and the Pacific Ocean. I yelled out to the quiet expanse of the hills. In a few steps, I noticed a guy walking from the other side of the mountain. He stopped and told me: “I just saw coyote about 50 yards away. He was just looking over the hill. Thought you would like to know. He’s a big one.”
Well, he left, and I have to admit this: I debated whether to keep walking. I was a little bit intimidated by this giant coyote. In my mind, the coyote took on gigantic proportions, foaming at the mouth, waiting behind a cactus to tear me a part. I started to think about how I was going to defend myself. What about all that shit from “The Art of War.” Fuck that, I thought, what can I do against a giant coyote?
I was scanning the brush and the trail, and then something jumped out at me…a jack rabbit. Man, I was losing my composure. Then I saw an old woman, maybe about 75, approaching from the opposite direction with two walking sticks. I stopped and tried to extend to her the same courtesy as the man I passed earlier.
“There’s a man back there who just told me about a giant coyote coming this way,” I said
The old woman looked at me and smiled. “Coyotes in the daytime?”
“That’s just what some guy said.”
“I’ve seen them at night,” the old woman said, “but I’m not scared of them.”
Then she just kept on walking, maybe even at a faster pace than me.
I walked back to my car the rest of the way amazed that some old woman was less scared of a coyote than me. It’s amazing how fear can manifest in our minds, control our reactions, and if there is anything I still have to learn is to not let fear control my emotional state. I feel like this is an important lesson for a writer…somehow. Maybe just for a man.
The Coheed and Cambria show was great, and I wrote a review, with some narrative elements, which you can find here: Coheed and Cambria Concert Review. There were a couple of moments I didn’t put in the piece. For instance, when Heron and I were sitting up on the loft, waiting for the show to begin, Coheed and Cambria were waiting in the room next to us. They were banging on a tambourine, rapping, and repeating “Waka Flocka.” At least, that’s what it sounded like. They were just having a good time, and it’s cool to know that a band who has been around forever are still enjoying their lives.
But so onto the sad story. Here’s your last chance to walk away. I’m warning you.
My friend, Denise Lanier, who writes at Wonky Woman on a Bent Bike about her adventures with a recumbent bike, stopped by with her dog Luke. So we went down to Rosie’s Dog Beach, and we were throwing the ball into the ocean, and Luke was lunging out into the waves, as if nothing was going to stop him. Hendrix, my dog, is still a bit nervous of the waves, so he just kind of watched.
So we played for a few hours, and as the sun set over the Port of Long Beach, the Queen Mary became nothing but a shadow. We walked towards our car with two soaking wet dogs.
That’s when we heard the crash. It sounded like two cars colliding into each other. (This is really your last chance…)
I imagined the bursting of plastic and aluminum. So I looked at Heron, and she gave me the nod, and I ran across the parking lot to the wall overlooking the street, and I expected to see two cars smashed up and two frustrated drivers scratching their heads and exchanging insurance information.
But over the wall, I saw a black great Dane laying on the ground. A group of people were standing around the dog, and a woman was stepping out of a beige Mini Cooper. Her bumper was on the ground in front of the car.
“Heron,” I yelled back towards the car. “It’s a dog.”
So Heron put Hendrix in the car, and she ran over. We booked it down the stairs and ran into the road. The group of people were just standing around the dog — even the owner — staring as if the dog was a television playing some horrendously mind numbing show.
Heron, having medical experience, ran up to the dog and asked what happened.
“He was hit from the side,” a woman said.
“What do we do?” I asked.
Heron sat down and started to compress the dog’s chest on the side of his ribs.
“Should we give mouth-to-mouth?” a woman asked.
Heron nodded as she compressed the dog’s chest.
“He’s going to be okay,” I said. “Let’s do something.”
The dog’s owner, a quiet and surprisingly calm man, opened up the dog’s mouth. His gums were blue, and his tongue was limp.
“He’s going to make it,” I said.
“I can feel a pulse,” Heron said.
I took over for Heron, and I started to compress the chest, refusing to give up. The owner was cupping his hands over the dog’s nose and blowing into his mouth. A woman stopped in her car and asked us if we needed her to call an ambulance.
Instinctively, I told her somebody had already called. I asked one of the members of the group when they called the ambulance, and no one had even called yet. I yelled at them to make the call. Then Denise, from the parking lot, said she was on the phone, too.
I couldn’t believe no one from the group had even called an ambulance. I wouldn’t give up on that dog; I thought for sure he was going to make it. I thought for sure he was going to wake up.
That’s when the dog’s owner opened his mouth again. The lips were still blue, the tongue limp, the eyes glazed. The owner wanted to give up.
“He’s going to make,” I said.
I continued to compress. Heron switched to take the dog’s pulse, and she realized he was dead.
“Are you sure?” I said. “We can’t give up.”
The dog’s owner had already quit. In fact, he looked like he had given up as soon as I had arrived. I just couldn’t understand that. If that dog on the road was Hendrix, the paramedics would have had to drag me off of my dog. But I guess it’s important to keep in my mind that everyone reacts differently to death. I just can’t imagine giving in without a tremendous fight. If I’m ever dying and you’re around, don’t quit on me. Go until you can’t go no more.
So we walked away and headed back towards our car in the parking lot. Heron kind of pushed me along, because it was getting obvious, even to me, that the owner was just ready to move on. Ready to accept the reality of the situation.
I watched the paramedics arrive, and they were in no hurry to help. I thought maybe they would help, but they seemed to know the dog was dead, too. I watched the owner pick up his dog. A blanket covering his body, and the dog was limp.
I walked back to the car, where Denise, Luke, and Hendrix were waiting, and I just kept staring off into the horizon. The Port of Long Beach, the cranes, the waves, the pier. Time passing.