"Zapata's Howl" (c 2010 DBI)
Back in the mid 90s, on various occasions a friend and I spent several wonderful days on a ranch 25 miles up a dirt road in Baja California, Mexico located at about 2,000' altitude on the side of "Diablo de Picacho" (or something like that) the largest mountain in Baja California. The ranch was an interesting place. It had been in the hands of the Meling family since the late 1800s. Culturally they were American cowboys, but having been born and raised there for over 100 years, they were 100% Mexican citizens and completely bilingual. Conversation over meals was fascinating.
We spent the day riding horses (in that wonderfully unconcerned-about-lawsuits way so common in Mexico). Zapata, the Akita in our logo, was in his glory chasing the huge jack rabbits.
The area is quite remote and the air completely clean. Due to the extremely low population density and there being very little electricity, light pollution is non-existant. There was a stream with some small trout and some frogs and at night the three of us sat listening to the frogs, the hoots of an owl, and the cries of the coyotes and looking at some of the brightest clearest views we had ever seen of the night sky.
I commented on this at breakfast one morning and was informed that due to three factors- the clean air, the non-existant light pollution, and the fact that the mountain was over 10,000' tall-- the world's third largest telescope was located there on the peak of the mountain. So, after breakfast digested we drove up a very ragged dirt road to the observatory there.
What a magnificent view! The Sea of Cortez to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and no sight or sound of civilization-- just a bright sun, and the rustling of the wind over an unmarked expanse not unlike some of that in the "Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" though at 10,000' there were more pine trees than cactus.
Such a moment in such a place is like a tuning fork for the soul-- something that allows us to put ourselves back in tune the inner vibrations of our Creator and his works.
The three of us sat a while and breathed. As Zapata lay sphinx-like next to me, his vibrations were part of the larger tuning fork of it all for me.
On the way down, at about 7,000 feet altitude, there was a primitive little wooden sign saying "Meling Ranch". At lunch I asked about it. Andy Meling told me they had a property there of about 9 hectarias, including a year round spring, that they would sell me for $25,000. Intrigued, the next morning the three of us went back up to investigate. Andy, pointed out the lay of the land, which included a "fifth wheel" type RV camper which was to serve as our tent-cabin while we stayed there, feeling out the land.
The camper was pretty ratty, and obviously field mice were present. "Well, if you buy the land, just get yourself an old cat or two, and they will take care of the problem" Andy advised.
Why, I wondered, should the cats be old?
"Because the owls will get the young ones" he explained "You want old ones that have already survived a close scrape."
As some of you may know, not only is clear title to land ownership in Mexico sometimes fraught with problems but also from the Constitution on down Mexico has some very specific language concerning foreigners owning land.
With some of these issues in mind Zapata and I set out on patrol to survey as best we could the boundaries of the land and to see what the neighboring lands looked like. Of particular interest in this regard was the spring. As we hiked up the mountain side well above the Meling's land in search the spring's source the terrain became both steeper and more rugged. The boulders, juniper brush, and occasional cactus became ever more challenging. Yellow jacket nests were not rare, and the possibility of rattlesnakes ever present. Eventually we got to a spot where Zapata simply could not continue with me and I worried for his safety should I allow him to continue to try.
So I told him to go back to the camper-cabin, which was then about 3/4 of a mile away through rugged terrain. I'm not really sure how he could understand my intention, but he did. So he turned around and headed back down the mountain side as I continued upwards in search of the spring's source.
About twenty minutes later, a tremendous wolf howl came. Zapata was letting me know that he had arrived.
This howl was the only time in his life he ever did so-- but in this moment I saw that the wolf, and its howl, was always there within him.
I have many Zapata stories, (the coyote pack at the Bay of Whales-- again in Baja California wilderness-- the fight with the Rotttweiler with a fight collar unleashed by a neighborhood punk, humping the steroid bodybuilder, and many others) but this one is perhaps my favorite.
When he was riddled with cancer the day came when it was time to go for his last walk and go to the vet. We walked on the path along the boardwalk along the ocean in Hermosa Beach, the wind in our faces. He was weak and his fur no longer glistened but still he walked in his gloriously arrogant way, but much slower than before. It was a beautiful day and we drank it in, though only I knew it was to be his last.
Some clueless idiot with a young intact male Great Dane came up quickly on us from behind undetected by Zapata due to the wind's direction. As the Dane drew alongside Zapata (at the angle that a dog seeking dominance goes for) Zapata became aware of him and without hesitation went for him and drove him back-- truly a warrior for all his days.
The Dane's owner and I were able to quickly separate the two and we all went on our respective ways, which for Zapata and me was the vet.
We were led into a back room. Zapata was tired, and as we sat together on the floor he lay his head on my lap. Of course he could feel my emotions. I held him as the vet administered the shot.
His urn sits in plain sight on my desk now, and when I need it he sends me a howl.