A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Bright Eyes - A Run for Life
by Larry Foreman (Aug 2010)


In the days before men drove cattle northward to the railroad, before families crossed the prairies in ships on wheels, before the great explorers criss-crossed the southwestern prairies and deserts of the southwestern U.S., and before the native people rode horses, wildlife was abundant in the prairies of what would later be central Oklahoma. Enormous herds of bison fed their way from north to south and back again. Huge flocks of geese, ducks, and cranes migrated annually from the northern plains to the Gulf of Mexico. But many animals - rodents, rabbits, deer, and wolves - spent their lives on relatively small home ranges from which they found all their life needs.

This is the story of Bright Eyes, a female red wolf. She is one of a species that once roamed the vast prairies and marshes of Oklahoma and Texas and eastward through the southern states and into the northwest. Out-competed and inbred with coyotes which were better adapted to human neighbors, th e red wolf is now found only in zoos and an isolated location in western North Carolina and on a few islands off the Carolina coast where they have been released.

 A Run for Life

             Bright Eyes arose well before dawn as she did every morning. She had hunted well after dark the evening before. She had only slept a couple of hours. As usual, she began the new day with a good stretch followed by a leisurely, stiff-legged stroll out of her night’s thicket. Her bed was sheltered from most of the evening dew, but out in the open, water clung heavily on the deep grass. The wetness was of little note to Bright Eyes because of her dense fur.

            The first few hours of each day were a time for foraging. The small mammals that comprised the greater part of her diet were mostly out at night and in the early morning, foraging for themselves. Later in the in day, a rabbit or hare would make a good meal. For accent, some berries might wet her pallet.

            This morning, she began her search down toward the marshes along the great river of moving water. Here, she often found small voles scurrying beneath the dense mat of vegetation. With patience she might find several to pounce on, hold, and dig out of the thatch. She arrived at the marsh well before sun-up and stopped on the bank above to gaze out for signs of unusual movement; even a wolf must be watchful for the dangers that might be lurking.

She sniffed the still air – nothing but the usual smells of the river and the dank smell of the wet marsh soil. She dropped down off the bank and into the marsh on a trail that she used often. After trotting deep into the marsh along a narrow trail of downtrodden vegetation, she stopped to listen and smell the air. The meadow voles were always about, moving along hidden tunnels in the matted reeds and rushes. Here and there she could hear their movements, rustling against the plants along their tunnels.

She moved off the trail to the deeper vegetation to get near the tiny prey. She stopped for long moments, nose down, studying intently for motion of the leaves that indicated an animal below. Numerous times, she leaped and pounced with both front feet to trap an unsuspecting vole. But no furry, squirming ball was trapped on any attempt.

The sky was becoming slowly brighter as the sun was nearing it’s bloom above the horizon. Bright Eyes was beginning to get hungrier, and this effort was not producing a morsel. She would try other places.

She trotted out of the marsh and up the bank some distance from where she had entered. The woodland thickets nearby might produce a fresh porcupine, armadillo, opossum, or raccoon carcass. Or better yet, a live victim. Of course, a porcupine or  armadillo were difficult to kill with their natural defenses of sharp quills and sturdy armor, and a ‘possum would not go down without a serious and dangerous fight. But the task at hand was to find anything edible.

As she loped  into the woodland, she could hear the birds in their morning calling and singing. None of them were a distraction from her quest – as she had learned as a pup, none could be caught with even the most earnest effort. The only hope was to occasionally find a helpless chick out of the nest. But that season was passing. Furthermore, a tiny chick meal was only an opportunistic find, too small for a predator as large as Bright Eyes to actually invest valuable searching time.

Bright Eyes moved along familiar trails into the woodland. She stopped here and there to listen for the movements of her prey, rooting in the leaves and decaying vegetation. She sniffed the air for even the faintest aroma of recent death. The heightening pangs of hunger were not discriminating.

Bright Eyes moved through the extensive woodland for an hour or more. The morning breeze was rising and beginning to stiffen. But no scent of food, live or dead, awakened her sniffing nostrils. Twice, she caught a glimpse of the fleeing flags of deer-tails.

Loping through a dense thicket of trees, Bright Eyes came upon a large deer she had seen many times. Great-Stag knew her well, too, and did not give ground. He stared intently and even lowered his huge rack slightly so that Bright Eyes could see the sharp tines. He was not intimidated, and she was forced to move away to the side and continue on her way.

Bright Eyes was a lone wolf. All the members of her small pack had died, and she had been afraid of the few others she’d seen. Without the strategies available to her pack, the deer the pack had eaten were too big and fast.

Her pace quickened as she left the woodland, moving further from the river, out into the drier grasslands. Here she might run down a rabbit or two – not a full day’s meal, but they would satiate the pangs.

The grass was tall, but there were trails criss-crossing throughout. She moved along swiftly - covering as much ground as possible was the key to success. Bright Eyes had great stamina and could move at a rapid trot almost endlessly.

As the sun continued to rise, Bright Eyes knew that rabbits would be quietly resting in places hard to find. She continued further from the river into the drier region of shorter grasses where hares could be found. She quickened her pace even more – in this open habitat, surprise would be the key. The hares were difficult prey; they were fast and elusive. Bright Eyes would have to put out some effort to gain a meal here. This was not her favored area.

         The sun was well up in the sky when Bright Eyes paused at a small rise and noticed faint wisps of darkness rising in the distance above the prairie. She raised her head to catch a scent, but none reached her nostrils. then she caught the smell of something familiar and more threatening – Man. She lowered her head and moved at a steady pace in the direction of their scent. Wary of the danger posed by Man, she felt the need to know where they were and what they were doing.

         Soon she heard the rustle of their feet as they moved along the trails through the grassland. Watching intently she saw several walking rapidly in the direction of the river. She stood still to avoid detection. She had not had a confrontation with Man, but she sensed they were to be avoided. She watched as they moved away.

         She began to feel the fatigue of her morning’s fruitless search for food. Prey would not be available during the warmer part of the day, and the wind was becoming quite strong making the movements of prey impossible to identify in the moving vegetation. Still hungry, Bright Eyes reluctantly sought out a familiar shrub that she knew provided sufficient shade and shelter from the wind to accommodate a good sleep. She bedded down here for the remainder of the day, waiting for the dusk and night when the animals would move about again.


         In the late afternoon, Bright Eyes was awakened by a strong odor. She sniffed the air without rising. She had smelled that aroma earlier in the day, but could not identify it.

         Suddenly, a hare ran by her, frantically zigzagging through the short grass. She sensed his panic and arose quickly to see if a threat was nearby. Away in the distance, toward the lowering sun, she could see a darkened sky, unlike any she had seen before. She sensed a menace.

         As she stood facing the wind, she held her nose upward, straining to identify the smell. As she stood motionless, other hares and several rabbits moved swiftly past her, some very near, ignoring her presence. She did not move after them; she too sensed that food was not the issue of the moment.

         Even as she stood there for only a few moments, the darkness in the sky passed over her head and onward toward the river. The sun continued to darken and eventually faded away.

         Then Bright Eyes saw something new to her – a wall of brightness, extending skyward. As she watched, it seemed to be getting closer and higher into the sky.

         A group of deer ran past her, bounding over shrubs and running headlong. Their panic caught hold of her, too, and she began to run at a steady pace toward the river and her nighttime bed. She felt a new strength from fear, but held herself back from an all-out run.

         As she ran, she moved into taller grass, where she needed to following established trails to keep her pace.  Other animals – deer, raccoons, rabbits, hares, skunks, badgers – were also on the trails, fleeing the brightness and thickening smell. Looking back she could see that the brightness was growing higher and nearer.

         The feel of a strange new heat from the brightness began to arouse a panic in her. She increased her pace.

         Looking back again, she saw an animal like herself gaining steadily on her, apparently in pursuit. But the growing heat from behind them was the greater concern.

         Arriving at the woodland and the trails she knew so well, she rushed in among the trees. The thickness of the smell did not diminish, but the shelter from the brightness felt cooler. All around she could see animals running in the same direction. The deer were bounding through at a speed even greater than hers. Some of the animals were climbing into the trees to escape the unknown enemy.

         Bright Eyes could feel her companion with her. He had adjusted his speed to hers and was running just behind her. She was comforted by the companionship of her kind. He followed her path toward the river.

         As Bright Eyes and her partner came out of the woodlands, it burst behind them into a great heat. They felt the pain of the heat, and it spurred them into a full-out run, legs churning in tireless energy.

         Ahead on the trail, Bright Eyes could see Man, running ahead of them. The group of Man was soon overtaken and Bright Eyes took another trail. She had no fear of them now as they and all others were fleeing the intense heat and towering brightness.

         Ahead Bright Eyes could see her marsh and the river. She sped down the bank, companion following, and into the thatchy marsh. She could see the movements of voles beneath the thatch and even on the trails, but her attention was on the river and theirs was, too.

         Somehow Bright Eyes knew that the waters of the river would relieve the pain of the heated brightness. She led her companion to a Sandy beach, and they ran headlong into the water. Their breathing was made difficult from the darkness all around, increasing their fear and panic. Bright Eyes, companion at her side swam steadily toward the opposite shore. They could see no brightness on ahead. Other animals were in the water.  All swam without regard to friend or foe; all sought the safety across the water.

         Once on the opposite shore, deer, otters, skunks, badgers and all the animals moved up onto the beach. Many stood motionless, exhausted, choking on the thick darkness. Some moved slowly into the cover of the nearby woods.

         Bright Eyes and her companion looked back. It seemed that the brightness was getting smaller; it was not crossing behind them. As they watched, the small group of Man emerged from the water. They fell onto all fours and coughed. They ignored Bright Eyes and her companion  standing nearby.

         Eventually Man looked up and saw the pair. They chattered loudly and made strange sounds, but they made no threatening movements. Bright Eyes gazed back intently at them. She did not fear them; they had all been together in flight from a common enemy.

         But she didn’t trust them either. She turned and moved away from the river into the woods. She and her companion found a secluded place to rest and regain their strength. Other animals continued to move openly around them. But Bright Eyes made no attempt to pursue or catch anything. Perhaps, after an evening’s rest, when the pangs of hunger exceeded the feelings of fear, it would be time to hunt again.

         Bright Eyes slept soundly that evening. The events of the day were no longer in the present. She had a new companion that gave her comfort. Tomorrow, they would resume the activities of daily life, together.

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