- The Blood Old and Strong
When they lost the first calf it was April, and Waldreve knew even then what it would all come to and that it wasn’t just any coyote they were after but a big male this time. Its track was larger than any Waldreve had seen before, printed in the muddy creek bank where they found the first calf stripped to cage bones and hide, and the dog that made it was not alone. It kept a pack of at least a dozen others. All that summer, Waldreve spent his nights on the porch and listened to them howl the moon down as they tore calves right from their mother’s teat, the alpha dog’s voice bolder and louder than the others. He knew then that he would kill the coyote and all of his offspring.
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By mid-June, he and his sons had trapped all of the pack but the big male. As it was too warm to skin them out, they kept the coyotes alive in a hutch fashioned from high-gauge wire and covered with a crude roof of thatched cedar boughs; they meant to keep them there until the weather turned cool.
Now the change was happening. The maples burned red on the hillsides above the farm, and the wind had turned dry and crisp. It was the end of September, and the frosts were coming. Soon Waldreve and his sons would kill the coyotes and skin them and take the green fleeces to the fur auction in Ceralvo. All that remained was the big male, who was older and smarter than the others and who couldn’t be caught.
Until it all finally came to this: Waldreve’s two grown sons walking up from the east pasture with the morning sun at their backs and their shadows jerking before them as they brought the coyote into the yard, the eldest, Vance, yanking it along at the end of his catchpole while his brother, Philip, followed behind bearing their father’s British Enfield rifle.
Waldreve had traded a scrap corn harvester to a farmhand named Feight for the gun forty years ago. Now he sat in the swing under the yard trees—Bradford pears and red-leaf plums his wife, Corella, had wanted—not watching the boys or even so much the coyote but keeping his eyes on the rifle, and he smiled to recall the deal with old Feight so long ago.
“You took that poor bastard for a ride,” his friends at the feedmill had chided. They knew the harvester was near worthless compared to the antique firearm. But Waldreve, his tall black Stetson fixed on his head like a weathervane, crowed righteous laughter.
“Didn’t nobody make him trade,” he said. “Folks got to make their own luck.”
He felt this true of all creation, including the large coyote his sons now dragged into the yard. Waldreve had used one of the bitches to trap him. When she came into heat, Waldreve led her up a rocky draw at the far end of the property and then slit her throat and placed her carcass just behind the pit where he’d laid a long spring trap, and now the coyote was being brought before him as proof that fate favored nothing save what couldn’t be swayed by the throb of blood and passion.
“Here it is, Pop,” said Philip. “Last of the wild cattle thieves.”
Waldreve stood, rising slowly. He was quite tall. Though old now, his face brown and beaten like chewed dirt, he still retained something [End Page 12] of the vitality of his youth, of the way-back times before Corella and the boys, those far-off years when he roared at life, his shadow thrown long and dark enough to blot out the moon. Those times glowed within him yet, though he rarely thought of them. It was something more than thinking or recollection that kept their pulse alive, something even beyond and older than the instinct of blood. Those wild days unfettered by...