I stumble through the soft snow as fast as I can, making for the alarmed cackling and fluttering at the chicken coop. My legs keep slipping sideways off the packed path. I’m lurching around like a drunk, forcibly intoxicated by melting snow. At long last, I gain the garden. The raised beds look like wintry burial mounds waiting for the moment of reincarnation. Just a few more metres to the coop where everything is ominously silent now.
It was probably just an outbreak of spring fever, all that commotion. As I reach into my gumboots and scoop out handfuls of snow, the dented wire of the chicken run catches my eye. When did that happen? One panel of chicken wire is deeply caved in, a few strands are broken. Light-coloured hairs stick to the wire. One of our dogs in a moment of recklessness?
I heave open the door to the coop. Musty feather smells and the mixed aroma of hay and manure waft out on an undercurrent of flustered cackling. The hens don’t rush at me in their usual maniac mob mentality, every visit a potential feeding to them. Instead, they flutter up to their perches or huddle into the far corner. Something spooked them, but at least they’re all accounted for.
Of course they are, there is no blood out in the run and no hole in the wire large enough to squeeze a chicken through. I lock their door to the outside and check out the soft snow. Big hollows where something jumped at the fence and bounced off again. Roundish holes where something walked, not a dog. I spin around, the feeling of somebody’s eyes drilling into the back of my head suddenly overwhelming. Where?
He crouches in the snow, pointy ears sticking up, pale lantern eyes fixed on mine. A lynx, would-be chicken thief, even though a robust snowshoe hare population thrives all over the garden. Anyway, easy enough to scare off. I give an impressive roar (I think) and whip my arms into the air, take great bouncy strides at the intruder. The lynx rises to his oversized paws slowly and turns, reluctantly almost, his head following the direction of his body last. He jogs through the snow for a few metres, ducks under a deadfall and doesn’t emerge on the other side.
Aha, he wants to hide and lie in wait. I stagger after him, collecting bootfuls of snow with each step, yelling and making a general spectacle of myself. Just before I reach the tree trunk that’s hiding the cat, he slips out from underneath and walks off into a different direction, again disappearing under a fallen tree. If at least he’d have the decency to run! But he seems completely unimpressed with my pursuit. I can’t shake the feeling that the minute I walk back to the cabin, he’ll saunter right up to the chicken run, bed down in the snow and wait for his next chance.
Ammunition. I need to throw things at him, in the time-honoured way of aggressive monkeys and apes. The snow is wet and cold in my hands, solidifying into a heavy ball. I change tactics and wander up to the tree the lynx is under slowly, then give a bloodcurdling yell (I think) and as my foe emerges, I hurl the snowball at him. And miss. Hate to say it, but I do throw like the proverbial girl.
And on it goes, the unbalanced pursuit of a nonchalant cat by an increasingly wet-footed human. Eventually, having been led on an interesting zigzag course of our garden’s hinterland, I give up. The lynx is still lying in hiding somewhere, but I won’t play anymore. There’s frostbite and toe-amputation to consider, after all.
I reach the chicken run and decide that a few days of coop arrest, combined with a double reinforcement of the chicken wire around the run will be the wisest course of action. The lynx should get bored and, hopefully find the thriving rabbit population an easier target, plus find any more efforts at chicken hunting repealed by the beefed-up wire. Sounds like a plan.
Forget those old wives’ tales of wilderness living, all the supposed problems with bears and wolves. Mice, mosquitoes and blackflies are what you’ll want to watch out for. And maybe the odd lynx.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.