Driving east on County Road 29, I was shocked to see the sun up above the horizon that early in the morning. It had been raining so densely for so many weeks that I did not realize the season had turned; that we were all heading out of winter.
Fields of new crops, bright green in the long light of a low sun, spread out on either side of me. And there! To the left, traveling together towards the road were two coyotes. Open and boisterous, they played and trotted together, perfect manifestations of the innocent folly that they symbolize. They moved along as if we, in our rolling, metal fortresses, did not exist. But of course, it’s not as if any of us, intent on our jobs in town, would have pulled off the road and got our shoes all muddy just to come after them. The wet, gray asphalt was a protective path for us, a narrow corridor in a house that was not the coyotes.’
“I’m so blessed!” I said aloud, startled by the momentum behind my own voice. A breath of wildness infused my ordinary world. I looked for a way to pull over, but didn’t see one until the next road. Turned around but had to wait while a white pick-up slowed, turned on the same road and stopped beside me. The silver-haired man inside looked at me intently and I felt a chill. He must want to turn around too, I thought.
Happily, I saw the coyotes once again as I drove past and the feeling of other worldliness stayed with me for hours. But now there was fear, too. Around here, pickups meant farmers and farmers meant coyote-hatred. I didn’t see the pickup though even as I turned around and headed for work.
It had been two years since I’d seen any coyotes and just the night before I was writing this piece, deep in coyote spirit. Did my earnest attention bring them out into the open, and possibly expose them to danger? Did I enter into their world or draw them into mine?
“I saw two coyotes today,” I told my husband that night. He jumped a little from his place on the couch.
“Where,” he demanded.
“Not here, on the way to work.”
He looked relieved and went back to watching TV.
Only a few weeks after we moved to California, into this rural house, we heard howling and yipping in the middle of the night. Terrified, we leapt out of bed and scrambled for our shoes and flashlights. We rushed outside and ran around the house hollering to scare them off, saving our cats from certain death, or so we believed.
After a couple of times of this, I got to thinking that we might be missing out on something. I wanted to just stop and listen the next time we heard them; to try to tell where they were and what they were doing, to just experience the power of their voices. But my husband would have none of it. Coyotes are cat-eating intruders that are not welcome at our house.
I’ve wondered, too, sometimes, if it wasn’t geese we heard. We are amateurs with these un-suburban sounds and there’s always such a panic, who can tell?
Two coyotes frequented the alfalfa fields around our house for a couple of seasons. I would see them in the mornings cruising at a distance. They moved so quickly that I could barely get a good look at them by the time I found my binoculars. One fall morning around ten, I saw them heading onto the plowed field across the road and grabbed my camera. One of them was hanging back and stopped to look at me. There was a lot of distance between us so neither one of us was afraid. I fiddled with the camera for a bit, but no matter how closely I zoomed in, I knew the photo wouldn’t work. Its scraggly tan and black coat matched the plowed dirt of the field too closely. Finally, I gave up and just squatted down to watch. Well I’ll be darned if it didn’t sit down to watch me back! For as long as I could stand the chilly morning, and my lateness to work, we watched each other. When I stood, it ran off to catch up with its mate.
I’ve read of people, enlightened people, who were so unafraid that wild animals, even predators, could come near them and feel no need to attack. That’s not me. One dark, moonless night I arrived home late and as I stood up out of my car I heard scuffling and short yowls just across the road near our mailbox. In a panic, I jumped back into the car and cowered. Visions of fanged and snarling wolves crashed and slavered relentlessly into my windows and it was a quite a while before I could open the car door.
The last time I saw a coyote near our house was during the heavy rains that caused the New Year’s Eve flood of 2005. That morning, I headed out to the levee in our back yard; I was going to check the creek’s elevation. It was unlike me to be out on such a wet and stormy morning, my husband still asleep in the house. The ground was muddy and slippery and I was just beginning to feel foolish for pressing myself into this little adventure.
Suddenly, from the top of the levee, a rush of wet fur shot by me heading north. Startled, I was only able to snap a photo of its blurry rump already small in the distance. The creek was high and came to within a foot of overflowing that night. Trees, hills and burrows, their best habitat around, were underwater.
At the end of last summer, I slept outside the fence of our back yard for a couple nights. I wanted to struggle with my fears and take in some of the reality of the natural world. Of course by then I believed that our neighborhood was coyote-less, otherwise I would have slept inside the fence. Mosquitoes were not a problem because they had been spraying Yolo County for two or three summers. I brought my Hickory walking stick out with me, and kept an eye on the cats, good intruder alert systems. Those nights were uneventful coyote-wise.
Since then I have seen coyote tracks on the levee road. They are leaner and sharper than regular dog tracks. I have come to realize though, that as much as I would wish to be touched by their presence, I would rather give up seeing them altogether, if I could believe they are still here – beside us – but protected because they are visible only to those who are unafraid, only to those who have eyes to see.