1 Flu Over the Cuckoo

Harry Drabik

It’s eerily strange awakening at two AM to the sound of wolves or coyotes. The brash yip-yip and accompanying howls send spine chills stronger than a snowball down your back. Growing up in a Range town and then living near the U in Dinkytown any pre-dawn commotion I heard came from wildlife at night having nothing to do with wild animals. That wasn’t so after moving to the North Shore. I was warm and safe in the second floor bedroom of my hewn log cabin in Hovland, but the reality of wolves outside the door was a wake up that couldn’t be ignored. Safe as I was left shaking every time,  

After years I grew accustomed to midnight winter serenades carrying a deep chill on the north wind. The fear being outside, I could curl up and talk myself “It’s OK, only wolves” back to sleep. But no matter how at ease I could be tucked in my own bed, the howl of wolves heard outdoors winter camping was an entirely different thing. Back in a distant era known as my thirties I developed a passion for winter camping incomprehensible other than as a need to be challenged and uncomfortable while being so. Actually, I did enjoy it, but I also enjoyed cooking my brains out afterward in the sauna. Come to think, quite a lot of drinking had something to do with sauna enjoyment, but best not muddy the waters with that now.  

There’s nothing muddled about feelings hitting like foot-long icicles when you’re in a tent hearing wolves somewhere “off there.” Didn’t matter if you been earlier thrilled by a bright meteor or stood awed by colored Northern Lights before turning in. Wolves howling in the night anywhere outside your tent might just as well be in there with you when it comes to fearful chills and crawly goosebumps. I could tell myself as much as I liked that I was safe and had no cause for alarm. It never worked. Imagination can convincingly build a belief that distant wolves will be drawn to a Eureka tent for a feast of scrawny English teacher huddled in his Black’s Icelandic. Your mind tells you it’s not real, but it sure-shooting feels real.  

Believe me, while half of me was quite rational and calm the other part was seeing itself a good chomp for a wolf pack. I’d puzzle over how long it would take a hungry pack to reduce me to a jaw bone, the usual part (along with hooves) found days following a kill. It was oddly comforting to think my cavity prone teeth could help identify the otherwise nothing-left-of-me. I was, I must say, experienced imagining my remains. Staying with family friends outside Brookfield Zoo in Chicago the horrifying howls of hyenas and deep growls of lions and tigers were carried on the summer night. In an attic room I could close the window and sweat to death or leave it open so my scent could lure my killers to me. In the morning torn pajamas and a few buttons would be all that remained. I met death every night I slept there.  

You may think this funny or exaggeration, but it’s not. Such fears were in fact well supported by incontrovertible lore. Everyone knew of the unfortunate elderly woman who let her dog out (a Pekinese it was said) only to have it become Wolf Chow. In half a yip one Pekinese and three chomps equals zero Pekinese. ½ + 1 + 3 = 0 is math not taught in schools but some part of us knows and understands with chilling clarity. (Departments of math and politic require an orderly state of myth. They rely on that and on us to go along ignoring our experience with the real math of ½ + 1 + 3 = 0.)  

I’m trying to keep a calm and reassuring tone, but there’s a reason behind why I started out with talk about wolves and coyotes sending chills into the night. Under normal conditions, as said, when surrounded by the four walls and roof of a house this is bad enough. When you’re on the ground in a tent the factor of fear jumps well up the needle of fright. In a screamer movie you’re at the point where the audience is yelling “Don’t open that door!” But, we all know they will. The door will be opened and all Hades will rush forth to zombie or hack one and all to miserable demise.  

But now dear and gentle reader, I must tell of a more dreadful noise in the night than a coyote yip-yip-howl. I heard it the other night and experienced a worse chill than ever before. The bit of light snow that softened the fright freighted sound was not enough to remove the terror held in the pre-dawn of a coyote’s yip-yip-yip-huff-huff-yip-yip-huff of deep congestion. Hear that sound and you know it’s out there. The coyotes have it. They prowl in the wee hours looking for advantage, seeking to feed. They’re out there on the edge of sight along the hedge line hiding in the shadows. The Corona Coyote is here, it’s among us.  

I don’t wish to alarm, but just the other day when it was sunny and almost spring like (as we’re all waiting) I was heartened by a bird chirping on a branch. “Ah,” I thought, “how lovely calling to a mate.” My heart expanded with happiness hearing “Tweet-tweet-tweet.” But then came what I now know to fear most. Then came the most doleful sound in all the bird world “Tweet-tweet-huff-huff,” the awful call of the Corona Sparrow. Yes, overhead, flying all around unstoppable and not enough cats in creation to feast on them all the Coronal Sparrows do their worst while in the sidelines and the roof peaks the driving forces of the Plague Pigeons rise in masses chanting “Coo-coo-cough-cough.” Whatever they mean their singing isn’t meant to bring us joy or teach us how to play chess. The Plague Pigeon desires power and to rule. Beware its seductive coo.