Keep your eye on the dragon

I think if there is one simple thing we can all take away from a family reunion it’s that you should make sure the dragon is not alive.

Now, before you assume I have completely lost my marbles, I assure you there is a point to this.

I attended my family reunion recently, and for those of you who have not attended one in a while, it is an excellent time to be reminded of how tall you were when you were 12.

Our reunion is held every year at Camp McDowell in northern Alabama, a lovely and scenic camp where you should never go if you are in dire need of cell reception. Fortunately, our teenage daughter was able to cope with such a spartan lifestyle by finding several young cousins who stuck on her like remoras.

It had been a while since I had been to the reunion, normally due to conflicts with work. Both of my kids had been with my folks in the past, but I was glad to be able to get the whole family there for a change.

One of the highlights of the reunion each year is the Dragon Hunt, which began decades ago. A carved wooden dragon with glowing yellow eyes is hidden in the woods, and a series of clues are given for those on the hunt.

My son and I set off on our quest, winding down some trails into the woods.We pieced together clues and darted this way and that, ultimately looking for a forked tree a bit off of the path we were on. Sure that we had mastered the clues, we needed only to decide which side of the path it would be on. I sent my son down the hill, and I went up.

I scanned my flashlight, sweeping from left to right. And then I saw them — two brightly glowing eyes. I had found the dragon.

“Parker,” I called. “Might wanna come up here. Found something you’ll be interested in.”

I saw his light about 30 feet away. He turned and began making his toward me. “Did you find the dragon?”
“I sure…” And then I noticed the dragon’s eyes moved. They appeared to stand up. And then to start to walk away.

“PARKER!” I called “Hurry up! The dragon is…”

“I’m hurrying!”


As Parker reached me, the coyote fell into the full wash of the flashlight and began to walk up the hill from us. It was maybe 15 feet away, and we stood and watched as it slowly walked away, glancing back every few steps, its eyes glowing in the flashlight.

I did the sensible thing at that point, which was to say, “Walk slowly after him. We don’t want to spook him.”

Yes, some might argue that walking toward a coyote is not the right thing to do. But I counter that (a) coyotes are not nearly as big as people think they are (b) he was walking away from us and we were merely following close enough to observe and (c) if he attempted to chase me, I did not have to outrun him, but just Parker.

Ha! Little bad parenting humor there. I kept a close eye on the coyote and made sure he appeared to be continuing his jaunt away from us. We reached the top of the hill and saw the coyote cross a gravel road and enter a small field. He stopped and turned to face us again. For about 10 seconds, we stood watching each other. Then, in a flash, the coyote turned tail and darted into the woods.

As we were walking back, I asked Parker if he wanted to keep looking for the dragon. “We found a coyote!!!” he exclaimed. “We’re not topping that!”

Nearing home, Parker glanced up at the sky. The International Space Station was crossing over. “OK,” Parker said. “Now we’re really not topping tonight!”

There was far more than coyote tracking during our family reunion, and it was a great time reconnecting with family and meeting some family for the first time. But it’s also super cool to know that you are planting memories your kids will have forever. And by that I mean the weekend my daughter survived with spotty cell service.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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