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Pepe sometimes lived a little too close for comfort. But he was a good friend to keep on hand for those times when famished predators became relentless, which occurred just a little too often during the dead of winter. Bunny had escaped more than a few predicaments with the help of Monsieur Le Pew.

PepeOff she hopped in the powdery snow, her feet joyfully glissading through downhill turns.

As usual, she didn't have to look for her stinky friend. She simply followed her nose.

"So who'd you save this time," she squealed with delight as she pounced atop the black and white hairball who had been so totally engrossed in grooming himself, he instinctively let another one rip.

"Mon, Cherie!" he exclaimed. "You've changed your mind! You've returned for a romp in the woods?" He scooped her into his arms and nuzzled against her yellow and red polka dots, ignoring the paint transfers he long desired.

Bunny held her nose and slipped out of his grasp but stylishly thanked Pepe while making a hasty exit.

"No, afraid not, my fetid friend. I've shamelessly used you again," she flirtatiously pouted. "I got what I needed. Thanks a bunch! You're such a lifesaver!"

"Oh, my sweet! But you have no idea!"

"My imagination serves me well!" she teased with a wink over her shoulder as she skipped away.

It wasn't long before she came across Pepe's previous encounter. Deerdra had broken through the ice on Cottonwood Creek and was not enjoying her splash in the icy water.

"I presume our striped friend tried to have his way with you, too," Bunny commented from high on the riverbank, high enough to avoid Deerdra's voracious shower.

"Actually, he saved the day," Deerdra explained. "I'd gotten my head trapped in one of Wiley's disastrous inventions, and the willow branches ended up looking like antlers. I was scraping them against a rock wall, trying to free myself, and some bright orange boob fired at me!"

"Oh, no! He didn't hit you, did he?"

DeerdraDeerdra raised her head and stared down her nose at the rabbit.

"I'm still here, aren't I?"

"A bit grumpy are we?" Bunny chided.

"And I suppose you would have a cheerful disposition if it had been you instead of me?"

"Well, if truth be told, I did manage to jackalope myself in a similar contraption bright and early this morning while innocently playing in the snow. So I had to make a surprise visit to our rancid comrade. So, yes, been there, done that, good mood, what's your problem?"

"You haven't exactly duplicated my day," Deerdra scowled. "No one shot at you. You didn't almost become Thanksgiving dinner."

"Not on a human table, no, but I was inches from the jaws of death until I rolled into someone's artwork in the snow. You know, the yellow kind?"

Deerdra busted out laughing.

"I'll bet that soured ol' Wiley's tastebuds! That would have been worth letting him get just a tiny nip, don't you think?"

"Just as entertaining as a hunter clipping your tail?"

Deerdra rolled her eyes.


"So, how'd you get away from the orange guy? I presume it was a guy," Bunny asked.

Deerdra"Pepe was nearby, thank heavens. He launched. Didn't even have to ask. Next thing I knew, the hunter was wiping his eyes as if he'd been hit by a can of mace. Dropped his gun and cried like a little baby."

Bunny grinned tall ear to tall ear.

"Oh, how I love a happy ending! It was a happy ending, wasn't it? You didn't have to stomach Pepe's advances after that, did you?"

"He did expect the customary display of gratitude, but as always, I held him at bay with my routine response."

"I wish I could use that 'when-you-grow-up' line," Bunny sighed. "But he's got me by a good pound or two. It's sad the only way I can gain weight is by letting him have his way with me."

"Is that from the voice of experience?" Deerdra joked.

"Is that from the voice of experience?" Bunny mocked in her annoyingly high-pitched voice. "When's the last time you saw any black and white striped bunnies hopping through the forest?"

"I thought you said you were in a good mood today," Deerdra said as she began furiously splashing in the cold water again, unsuccessful in her attempt to drench the rabbit.

"Missed me!" Bunny sang as she hopped off to locate more of her furry friends.

"Hmm, I didn't even have a chance to suggest she try the hot springs," she chuckled to herself as she bounced along in the deep, soft snow. "I guess she'll just have to chill out for another day or so."

Patty in summerLittle did Bunny know the Wise One had been patiently keeping an eye on her from above all morning. Suffering from a bad case of not-well-preserved mouse, Mr. Owl typically paid no heed to feminine chatter. He didn't smell Bunny, and he had no clue she'd wildly enhance his culinary senses if he partook. He swooped down, his talons narrowly missing her when she postholed into a three-foot-deep drift.

Bunny peeped out of the newly created cave just in time to catch a glimpse of the winged shadow moving across the snow.

"Man, am I ever going to have to stop playing around so much!" she winced. "That was a close call!"

"I'd say!" came a gruff voice behind her.

Bunny spun around and found herself nearly nose to nose with Patagonia, the sun-bleached marmot.

"Oh, so sorry to intrude," she apologized.

"No worries, mate," Patty replied. "But, don't you have any pride in your hygiene?"

Red in summer"Of course I do. You know this game. When you're trying to outfox the unfox, sometimes you have to sink to desperate measures."

Patty flashed a knowing grin and turned to waddle back into his cubby.

"Speaking of foxes, you haven't seen Red recently, have you?"

"I think he was trying to learn a new dance step," Bunny answered. "You know how he's always trying to camouflage his tracks so we won't know it's him."

"Last I heard, he'd mastered mountain bike tracks," Patty acknowledged. "Then some foolhardy human thought that meant he could bring his metal machine out here in the snow. Just a quarter mile up the old game trail, you'll see his helmet pumping in and out of a snowbank. He's up to his neck with that thing, and I think he may be a new resident until spring thaw."

Bunny laughed.

"I'll have to go check that out. Hey, you don't happen to know if he's the one who left the yellow marsh over by the willows, do you?"

"No, that was the peak baggers. They were having a contest."

"Figures," Bunny said. "Boy, once they finish those 14ers, they sure find some odd ways to entertain themselves."

"As long as they leave crumbs, who's complaining?"

"Yeah, but you can digest their food," Bunny whined. "When's the last time you saw one hauling up a head of lettuce in winter? And the ones who bring daisy greens and rose hips in summertime, don't they know they can get that stuff up here for free? Why do they waste their money on that nonsense?"

"As if you never ate a dandelion."

"Why eat dandelions when you could be enjoying fresh carrots?"

"So go down to Buena Vista and dig up some carrots, you lazy mammal!" Patty barked. "If you were that hungry, you could even plant some up here. You know where they keep the seeds."

"Why do you always have to be so bossy?" Bunny huffed.

"You'd be grouchy too if some foul-smelling neighbor dropped in on you unexpectedly and then stayed long enough to stink up your hollow. You know I'm going to have to move after this, don't you? Do you know what the real estate around here is going for now? When's the last time you went house-shopping?"

"Okay, okay, okay! I get the hint! Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!" Bunny scampered away, taking a couple of quick glances over her shoulder to make sure the Wise One wasn't in pursuit.

He'd perched in atop a thickly branched lodgepole, of course. He could see her, but she could not see him. The hunt was back on.

MartenBunny raced across a wide meadow and dashed beneath a fallen tree to scope out the marten's domain.

"All right, you little weasel, I know you're in there. Come out with your hands up!" she announced, trying to sound as wicked as her girly voice could sound.

"Shhh!" came the terse reply. "I'm watching 'Survivor,'" and they're about to kick some dummy off the island!"

"And just how, pray tell, are you able to pick that up?" Bunny asked. "Last time I checked, cable didn't run this far up the drainage."

"Shhh!" the marten repeated. "This is the good part!"

Bunny peeped over the shoulder of her sometimes friend, sometimes foe. He wouldn't be too hungry for her type of meat in her current condition, but he also didn't normally allow anyone to hang around smelling like this. It prevented similar bubble-headed prey from advancing into his territory. He had such a sensitive snout.

There on his living room floor was a shiny new Nokia N73, and sure enough, there was Yul, playing mind games with Jonathan and Candice.

"Where on earth did you find that?" Bunny gasped.

"Shhh!" the marten hissed. "Can't you hold your tongue until the commercial?!?"

Bunny rolled her eyes and waited patiently, flicking her tail in annoyance. Suddenly, the cell phone's signal began to fade, and then the screen went dark.

"Noooooooo," the marten wailed, "noooooo, not yet!!!"

"Where did you find that?" Bunny inquired again.

Marten flipped the phone closed and kicked it away in a tizzy.

"Just over the edge on Ellingwood Ridge," he moaned. "You think they'd have dropped the power source, too. But no, they had to cling to that. As if they could use it to navigate The Pinnacles."

"What in the world were you doing all the way over on La Plata?" she asked.

"I was on vacation. Oooh, what's that smell?"

Eagle Eye"Boy, human addictions sure dull your senses. You didn't smell me from a mile away?"

"No, as a matter of fact, I didn't. And if I had, I'd have chased you off long ago. You know what that perfume does to my dinner plans! Be off with you!"

"I'm taking an owl break. Another couple of minutes won't hurt more than I've already inflicted," Bunny said.

"How can you live with yourself?" Marten grimaced as he pinched his nose.

"Better to be smelly and hoppin' than clean and easily digestible," she boasted.

"Good point. But can't you find another place to prance?"

"I just came by to make sure you were still around. Hadn't seen you in a while. Didn't know you'd crossed Independence."

"Venturing out to Holy Cross next week. Of course, I might be leaving a little sooner than planned now, being as you spoiled my abode here for the next few days. Thank you very much!"

"Anytime!" Bunny smiled. "Listen, you still have that raptor smacker in your bag of goodies?"

"Don't tell me old Eagle Eye is hot on your tail again. Woman, I wasn't planning on any hundred yard dashes tonight just to get you out of yet another bind."

the Wise One"The Wise One. He almost got me over by Patty's place. Luckily the snow was a little too deep for my body weight."

"You brought him here?!? What were you thinking, you harebrain!"

"Oh, grow up! I'm not sure he's out there. But you know how diehard he can be. I'll get out of your face if you'll give me a good head start on that monster. Or I can just take over your residence until you return from your vacation..."

"No, thank you!" Marten reached into his stash and pulled out his secret weapon. He slung it over his shoulder, then over Bunny's head, by a hare's breadth missing the tips of her ears.

"Watch it, Buddy!" she growled. "Pull another one of those, and you'll be smelling like yesterday's skunkbate."

"You're the one who dropped by uninvited, Sugar," Marten grumbled. "Why don't you just hop on out of here, and I'll cover you. Only for 500 yards though. After that, you're on your own."

With that, he zinged her in the tail just enough to send her jumping.

He stood outside his flat in a broad snowy field, reeling the yoyo back and forth, leaving feathered wingtips in the snow. Just as expected, the shadow stealthily crawled across the snow, growing frighteningly large very rapidly.

Swoosh went the owl. Bonk went the yoyo. Tailfeathers showered the marten, and the owl looked down over his shoulder, past his now bare butt, down at the cunning varmint. The Wise One never saw what hit him, but the throb on his derriere was just potent enough to keep him in the air, looking elsewhere for the night's dinner.

He'd probably have to settle for vole again tonight. Darn that weasel!

Marten wasted no time darting off undetected for the northern Sawatch. Bunny meanwhile happily scampered away, drolly aware of the lone shutterbug hunched over the weasel's yoyo tracks in the snow, recording for posterity the photo of a lifetime.

"What he doesn't know," she chuckled, "won't hurt anyone!"

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Ken Nolan
Ken Nolan atop No Payne Benchmark in the Lost Creek Wilderness

Thanks, Ken, for the inspiration for this story!

And a very special thank you to Michelle Holihan of Mountain Nomad Photography for allowing me to link to her gorgeous marten photo!

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