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Dry season’s final days: As progress topples nature, bits of mountain wilderness come down to visit us in the night

(This is a rerun of a column first published June 10, 1989.)

The swan song of nature’s once-awesome predominance in our lives seems to grow fainter each day. Life drains from Lake Chapala before our eyes as condominiums push up the slopes above our heads, stripping all that’s living from the mountainsides.

Still, hidden among the most inaccessible stiff-sided ridges surrounding the Chapala basin, bits of wilderness obstinately exist, fighting the wave of sentimental indulgences, inventive deal-making and resourceful over-reach that goes under the name of progress. One of these bits of wilderness visited our house in the last days of May, rank, fierce and mysterious.

At around three o’clock in the morning — one estimates by the dryness of the blood at 6:30 a.m. — an animal looking for water stalked into the mountainside garden of our house at the western end of Lake Chapala. The velador, who is also a fisherman, was already up and off to repair an oar. Four dogs, one of which just had pups, greeted the intruder.

“It came down to drink,” Generao (Naro) Salazar, the velador, told me, “and when the pups came out, probably went after them.”

Dos, the blue Great Dane and a vigilant, sometimes snappish mother, had evidently protected her pups well. “Pues, see here where they fought in the malbas” he pointed to a wrecked flower bed. “They fell down this wall here,” he gestured to crushed rose plants. “Here is where I found the huella (paw print) and see the blood on that sabila (aloe plant).” The paw print of any fair sized wild animal, stimulating wariness and wonder, is always awesome, a signature of that other condition of life that few of us now will ever know well. This one was the size of a beer mug, the print of the three digits as long as the fingers of Naro’s hand. “See how long they are,” he said, putting his brown fingers beside the print. “I thought at first it was a chango (monkey).”

Then he pointed to splotches on the lawn. “They fought there, and there was much blood over there and there behind the house by the casita de perros and the lavadero.”

Much of the blood came from the Great Dane, whose muzzle was slashed open by three deep, thin slashes, and who had other, smaller wounds about her face neck and shoulders. The German shepherd was limping badly from a bite clear through her back-left foot. She’s thick-furred so there were no small wounds around her neck or shoulders, though she was missing some hair and was decidedly subdued.

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