COYOTE HUNTING

 “If I can catch a plane available, I think I’ll go out for a while today,” I said as we drove to the airport a few days later.  I was eager to start working toward a commercial license and with all the students trying to catch up from the cold spell, I hadn’t been getting in much time.

“The Cessna is free for the next hour; why don’t you go out first thing,” Carl said.  “In the meantime, I’ll make some calls and see if I can get more students out during the day.

Jim arrived about the same time we did.  The Cessna was stored up front so as soon as we rolled it out, I got in.

The sun was just creeping over the horizon and the air was bright, fresh and calm.  I took off on the runway to the north and, as the plane gathered speed, I suddenly jerked the wheel back to avoid what appeared to be four large dogs loping across the runway.  As I flew over, I saw that they were not dogs, but coyotes; apparently a mother and three pups.

As I flew the flight pattern, I watched them disappear into the brush.

Carl was sending a solo student on his way in the Ace when I landed an hour later.

“Jack Barrett said he’s seen them skirting his pasture, heading this way, two or three times a week,” he said when I told him about the coyotes. “Said they’ve been around three or four years.  It’s only recently that they’ve gotten so brave as to venture onto the runway.  We’ll have to keep an eye out.  It would wreck a plane to strike one and we sure as hell don’t want anyone getting hurt.  Post a bulletin for students to be on the look-out for them.”

Later, Carl took a rifle and walked to the north end of the runway.  He saw tracks but found no coyotes.

“We’re going to have to do something about those coyotes before they cause an accident,” he said a few days later after a dual flight with a student.  “There were two on the north end of the runway when we came in to land; I had to take over and give the plane the throttle to keep from hitting them.”

They began to appear on the runway ever more frequently, and a large, grey male coyote was often seen sitting at the top of the hill.

It became a game between Carl and the coyotes.  Anytime one was seen, he would grab the rifle and take off in that direction.  But they always succeeded in avoiding him, disappearing into the cornfield or along the brush-lined fence.

At night, during ground school classes, the howl of the coyotes could be heard and on a moonlight night we could see them on the rise of the hill outlined by the light of the moon.

“One of these days—!” he threatened.

I had learned a lot about hunting since I met Carl Ungerer and was getting pretty good at shooting a handgun, a rifle and a shotgun.  By now, I had bagged quite a few ducks, pheasants, rabbits and squirrels—but I hadn’t been introduced to hunting coyotes.  Until—

We arrived at the airport one morning following a light snow-fall during the night.  It hadn’t snowed enough to prevent flying, but the two students, scheduled to fly, called and cancelled.

We started the planes, warmed them up and tied them down on the flight line, ready for anyone who happened to show.  Then we waited.

Thirty minutes later, no one had shown.  Or called.

We were standing around the stove in the office, warming our hands in front of the fire, when Jim said: “I think I’ll head home for a while.  Call me if you need me.”

“Let’s take a ride,” Carl said after he left.  Might as well show these fledglings that a little snow can’t keep us on the ground.”

As we headed for the flight line, he said:  “Let’s take the L-2.  You fly.”

I got into the front seat and he spun the prop.

“This is the first time we’ve been up together, just for fun, for a long time,” I said as we taxied out for take-off.

I leveled off at five hundred feet, circled over town, then cruised over the country-side, wiggling the wings at some of our farmer friends, out doing morning chores.

Carl tapped my shoulder and I turned to see him pointing at something just off the left wing.

At first glance, they appeared to be dogs but, after a closer look, I saw they were coyotes. They stood out clearly against the snow.

       I felt Carl shake the stick—the signal to turn the controls over to him.  He made a sharp turn to the left and dived straight at the coyotes who took off at a mad dash, looking back over their shoulders at the huge flying contraption diving at their tails.

As we drew closer, I counted five coyotes fanned out against the white, snow-covered field.  Carl pulled up and headed back toward the airport, two or three miles away.  When we landed, he spun the plane around and taxied rapidly to the ramp, “Wait here!” he shouted.  Leaving the plane running, he jumped out and ran into the office.

Seconds later, he returned carrying the twelve gauge shotgun.

“Take off!” he shouted, buckling his seatbelt.

By the time we were in the air, he had the gun loaded.  He took back the controls and headed the plane toward where we had last seen the coyotes.

When we arrived, they were no where in sight.

“Damn it!” he exclaimed.  “I was afraid of that!”

He circled the area a couple of times, then we spotted them, trotting in a single file down a narrow, grassy ravine.  Carl pointed the nose of the plane toward the ground, heading straight toward their retreating tails, zigzagging the plane to keep them running straight away rather than scattering in different directions.  He was skimming just over the ground when they broke from the ravine.

“Take the controls!” he shouted once they were out in the open field.

I did as he said and somewhat nervously tried to maneuver the plane as he had done.  I had never before been asked to chase coyotes in a plane but, since I am a dutiful wife, I flew the plane.

Trying to keep five coyotes together, running in a straight line, was challenging.

“Lower!” Carl shouted.  “Lower!”

We were already skimming the ground.

Three of the coyotes broke away, but we still had two in our sights when Carl opened his window and pointed the gun toward the two remaining coyotes.

“Keep them just to the left of the nose,” he shouted.  “As soon as I fire, pull up!”

I nodded, one hand firmly on the stick, the other on the throttle.

There was a loud explosion in my ear; I pushed the throttle forward and pulled up.  Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed one of the coyotes somersaulting end over end.  It came to rest in a twisted heap between a pile of cactus and a prairie dog town.

Carl took the controls and began circling the area again.  I was shaking but had no idea whether from fright, cold, or excitement.

He turned back to where we’d first spotted them and circled until we spotted a lone coyote skulking alongside a brush-line creek bed.  As we headed toward him, he looked warily up and over his shoulder, made two or three laps in a circle, then stretched out into a dead run, heading for a clump of hedge.

I took the controls again and Carl shot just in time for me to pull up and over the trees.

Beginning to get the hang of it; I climbed to a couple hundred feet, as Carl had done, and circled the area.  However, the other coyotes had evidently headed for hiding places in bushes, ravines, holes—wherever coyotes hide.  Although we spent several minutes circling a wide area, we didn’t see another coyote.

Carl took the controls, landed, and taxied back to where the first coyote lay.  Why leave them for the buzzards, he said, when the bounty would cover the cost of our gas.

Cutting the motor, we crossed the ravine to where the coyote lay, and dragged it back to the plane.  After we’d retrieved the other, Carl tied one to each wing strut with a length of baling wire he found wound around a fence post.  We flew back to the airport, our trophies swinging beneath the wings.


A TRIBUTE TO A MAN FOLKS DIDN’T LIKE VERY MUCH

 Ralph Johnson, the force behind the revival of the retirement/recreational industry in Arkansas,

 

            The development of recreational properties first began in Arkansas in the early 1900s. With the onset of The Great Depression, however, these promotional activities all but disappeared, not only in Arkansas, but nationwide as well.  The industry slowly revived when, in the early 1950s, a few large land development corporations, principally in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California, began mass-marketing lots for retirement/recreational purposes in those states.

In 1953, Ralph Johnson, a real estate promoter and developer, living in Hollywood Hills, California, decided to visit his brother, Jimmy Johnson, who owned a car dealership in West Memphis, Arkansas.  As he, and his wife, Mary, drove east through northern Arkansas, he was enthused by the exciting possibilities he saw in the beautiful, peaceful Ozark hills.

Ralph Johnson had a vision.

While in West Memphis, Lady Luck played her card; he was introduced to John Cooper, a Memphis business man who owned property on the Spring River, near Hardy, Arkansas.  He and his family used it for a summer retreat.

When he told Cooper of his idea, Cooper was skeptical at first.  However, Johnson was an excellent salesman and he soon convinced Cooper that he could make a pile of money by developing this property into a retirement community.  The picture Johnson painted of a luxurious retirement village, and the millions that could be made, convinced Cooper who, like most business men, was always interested in turning a buck.  He agreed to Johnson’s proposition: He would provide the land and Johnson would develop and promote “Cherokee Village” (Johnson got the name from the Cherokee Indian Trail of Tears which runs through the area).

            Once terms and agreements were decided upon and contracts signed, Johnson returned to California to put his affairs in order.  In the spring of 1954, he returned to Arkansas and got busy.  Once he went to work, things moved rapidly.  Before you could say “Jack Robinson,” the development of Cherokee Village was underway.

            When he and I met, Ralph Johnson was watching a bulldozer make the first excavations for Cherokee Lake, (the first of a proposed five),.  I had parked my car on the road above and walked down to the site hoping to sell him an ad for “Cherokee Village, Sharp County’s new retirement community”, on my radio show “Spotlighting Hardy,” (broadcast out of KALM, Thayer, Missouri).

He didn’t buy an ad but, after learning I had other skills, retained my services to perform publicity and promotional assignments such as designing a brochure, write the news letters (the first Cherokee Villager), and representing Cherokee Village at Sport, Boat, and Travel Shows (Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis).

Johnson was a big man with a protruding belly and a perpetual cigar jutting out of the corner of his mouth.  To say he was an outgoing personality is putting it mildly.  Pompous, loud-mouthed, he rubbed a lot of the gentle, easy-going Ozarkians the wrong way.

The folks in Hardy sort of smirked behind his back as he talked of building lakes—5 of them for heaven’s sake!  Not to mention a golf course, an airport, a hospital, and who knew what else?

To the natives in these quiet, peaceful Ozark hills, Johnson was considered nothing but a “blow-hard.”  Cherokee Village would bring thousands of people to Hardy from all over the world, he said.  It would bring prosperity to everyone!

        Yeah, they thought.  Like that’s gonna happen.

            Not that people disliked Johnson; it was just that he was like a big blustery bug that disrupts the tranquility of a peaceful summer afternoon.  One that you want to stomp on—to make it go away.

The fact that he hailed from Hollywood, California may have added to the skepticism as it branded him as a “big city” promoter.

Actually, having been born in Maynard, Arkansas, he was a native Arkansawyer himself.






PRAIRIE REFLECTIONS  (A Chapbook)

 

THE PRAIRIE

 

The prairie is said to be

a land of struggle

A land of ongoing mortal rivalry

between man and nature.

 

But only man struggles.

 

Once he passes on

the prairie quietly, steadfastly,

rights itself and heals its scars.

 

Implacable, ever-changing,

the prairie, like the sea, endures,

taking sustenance from the refuse of its past,

layering its skeletons to be pondered over

by future generations.

 

 

A STORM SOMETIMES

 

A storm sometimes

Rages over the prairie.


Roiling dust

Funnel clouds

Howling winds

Driving rains

Snow blizzards

 

Though havoc and mayhem

Rage about me.

I know that God is in his universe

And my soul is calm

Watching

A storm sometimes.