Occasionally, on my drive home from work late at night, I see a neighbor or two roaming the empty streets of my neighborhood. It’s always just a glimpse. They see the headlights coming and duck off the main road in a hurry. I don’t blame them, these neighbors of mine. I too, enjoy a good walk through the streets when they are empty. A little solitude is hard to come by in the greater metro area I live in; something to be savored, something to be protected, something worth dodging headlights for. But I am afraid these locals duck away for other reasons. These neighbors of mine are a little on the wild side. They’re Coyotes.
I don’t know how long the Coyotes have been living in the neighborhood. I’ve only noticed them on my street over the last couple of years, but hey have lived in North America for around 2 million years, long before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. First neighbors with the Dire Wolf and Mastodon, later with the Flathead and Kalapoya, then ranches and farms and orchards moved in next door to the ‘yotes. And now they eke out an existence next door to four bedroom suburban domiciles with cockapoos and tabbies in the backyard. The Coyote could be thought of as the ultimate victim of gentrification.
I’m not sure how large this Coyote neighbor family of mine is. I’ve seen a pair of them loping along together a couple of times. I’ve seen lone wanderers several other times. But the glimpses I’ve had are so short lived I have not established individuals in my mind. I wish I could spend some time investigating them. Learn their habits, their likes and dislikes, learn which one is which, but a good neighbor needs to respect the privacy of those around him. The city is just too crowded to tolerate nosiness. So I let them be.
I revel in each sighting of my neighbors. Once upon a time, there were deer I would see on the way home, but that was a long time ago. For many years, the only wildness in the neighborhood was the occasional hawk or the semi-tame squirrels on every third tree and power line. The ‘yotes, though, bring a measure of real wilds to me. Here is an animal, true and regal, something to make the heart start just a little with threat-response adrenaline, even though the threat of a Coyote attack is pretty low. In fact, there is only one recorded human death attributed to a Coyote attack, in 1981 in California. Real problems begin when humans try to make a sort of pet of the Coyotes. Feeding and coaxing in these animals only lowers their natural trepidations, it does not make them tame in any way. As with any neighbor, familiarity breeds contempt. So I give them their peace and their space.
I’m not saying the Coyotes make perfect neighbors. This isn’t a good ‘hood for them. They have a taste for small dogs and cats. They don’t respect fences or crosswalks. They make people feel unsure, a little afraid. They remind us that the world is an unsafe place. I love them for that. This world, this North American monoculture of suburbanites and strip malls has become to antiseptic for my tastes. We need a little unsurity sometimes. Into every foyer, a little mud must be tracked. The Coyotes do a good job of shaking our foundations just a little.
I feel bad for the Coyotes, though. They have lived here longer than people. They have a deep claim on this landscape. Only, “this landscape” doesn’t exist any longer. People have remade the land in the image they wish, regardless of the legitimacy of any other claims. So where once many lived richly and in balance with the world around them, now only a few Coyotes exist, harried by local authorities, living lean, hiding out, and running away from the lights approaching in the night.