Critters


Today, or more specifically this morning, was a VERY lucky morning for three raccoons. I left my cabin at 435AM in total darkness and started my short drive higher up the mountain to where I hoped to enjoy and photograph sunrise along the shore of Lake Mamie. I'm guessing I was a little over 5 minutes into my drive (guessing because time seems to get stretched out a little in the wee hours of the morning; especially when you're all alone driving in total darkness on a completely empty road in a unfamiliar isolated location - one minute can seem like 10.) Then, all of a sudden two deer (a doe and a yearling) pranced out of the charcoal black forest on my left about 100 feet ahead! Their path was almost perpendicular to mine which put us on a collision course for sure. Thankfully, I was only driving about 20 miles an hour and as the deer became fully illuminated by my low beams I was able to brake moderately while veering slightly to the left and finally coming to a complete stop ten feet from where the deer left the road now on the right side of my vehicle disappearing back into the blackness of the forest. With my heart pounding hard enough to rattle my ribs, my adrenal gland empty and my right foot pressing on the brake pedal much harder than necessary I said out load in a rather exaggerated tone "well, I didn't expect that one! Shit!... That was close." Thankful to have not injured the mother and baby deer I took my foot off the brake and began to slowly roll forward and come back up to speed - now a little more cautious with a more focused stare and tighter grip on the steering wheel I continued my early morning journey.

With that behind me I took a couple of swigs of piping hot coffee, glanced down at my speedometer and smiled when I realized I was only going 15 miles per hour. At this hour I really didn't need to worry too much about inconveniencing anyone else on the road, but I kicked it up a notch to a mind-blowing 20 miles per hour. Hell, if I wanted to (and I didn't - and no one should) I could have probably driven on the wrong side of the road for the next 5 miles without a worry.

Maintaining my snail's pace cruse I continued to wiggle my way up the mountain still enveloped by the darkness of what was now early morning. Exiting a tight left turn, I chocked on my next swig of coffee as my headlights illuminated a lone coyote trotting right down the middle of the road. "Son of a bitch! Can you believe this ." I barked to the darkness. Luckily I was a comfortable distance away and at 20 MPH I only had to take my foot off the gas to slow enough to keep a safe distance while trying to decipher the coyotes next move. It seemed to be playing a friendly game of "Follow The Yellow Dashes" and was obviously in no hurry to get out of my way. Completely awash in my headlights the coyote continued its early morning trot right down the middle of the road. Never looking back, never veering right, never veering left, one yellow dash at a time. After about sixty seconds of being totally ignored by this brave critter I found myself shaking my head from side to side and laughing out loud . Then, I flipped on the high-beams. That seemed to get its attention, because it instantly looked back at me (in disgust), picked up its pace and veered right and trotted off of the road into the forest. Crazy.

By now, the first hints of light were beginning to show and I was all of a sudden getting anxious to get to the lake. Not two minutes later, three raccoons darted out from the forest on the left - making a bee-line for the other side of the road. The problem was I didn't comprehend this for several VERY important seconds. You see, I never noticed this until now and it explains why the majority of all the road kill I encounter are raccoons. 1)Raccoons are predominately nocturnal and usually head home around dawn. 2)Raccoons range in size from a football to a Toy Poodle. 3)Raccoons have short stubby legs and are not the fastest critters (they can run at speeds of up to 15MPH). 4)Raccoons do not have good distance vision. 5)Have you ever noticed that a raccoons color and field markings allow them to perfectly blend into the gray/black asphalt of our roads? Bummer dude!

Back to the three raccoons. So these guys broke from the forest on my left. It looked like papa, mama and baby. One after another - tail to snout - tail to snout. Little stubby legs churning away. My brain saw three football sized gray/black ghosts - camouflaged perfectly - drifting across the road. It was very similar to a heat mirage that you see on the road on a very hot day. Then, instant comprehension - RACCOONS! Faster than bits flow through a circuit my foot went from gas pedal to brake. My tires screeched as I rocked to an abrupt stop. All three raccoons were out of view directly in front of me - I was close - I held my breath - I saw movement to my right. One raccoon, two raccoons, three raccoons! Thank God! "Use the crosswalk next time idiots!" I yelled as all three raccoons disappeared down the embankment on my right. These guys probably don't know how lucky they were that morning. The deer saved the coyote, the coyote saved the raccoons. So who saved the deer you might ask. The question is not who, but what saved the deer. The answer to that question is - all the "Speeding Kills Bears" signs I had seen over the last few days. They conditioned me to drive slower (especially in the wee hours of the morning). The signs worked!

Finally arriving at Lake Mamie after the longest 10 minute drive of my life. I exited my vehicle in the predawn darkness and was greeted by two things I did not notice down lower at the cabin; an obvious breeze and significant cloud coverage. After a few minutes of contemplation I came to the conclusion that I was not in the best place to take advantage of this morning's conditions especially if the existing cloud coverage held and had a positive influence on the pending sunrise. My decision was to head back down the mountain to the Twin Lakes Overview.

Twin Lakes Vista - Sunrise, Mammoth Lakes, CA

Now you know the story that led to the creation of this image.

Be prepared - Be flexible - Be happy!

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