Last week a friend and I were out for a walk, looking for newly arrived warblers, when a car drew up to us and stopped. We recognized a couple that live down at the end of our road. The driver leaned forward intently and asked if it was true. What is the “it” I asked …
It has been several years since I first laid eyes on the animal we, in our neighborhood, have come to call the “lone coyote”. I was walking with Wesley and was about two miles from our house when I spotted him trotting across a field. He stopped and stared at us. We stared back. Wesley’s tensed, his nose worked the air. Did he sense danger? The coyote looked much bigger than the coyotes I was used to seeing roaming around the edge of our woods. And there was something about his eyes that were different. A coyote’s eyes are wary, skittish. This animal’s eyes were steady and curious. After a minute of our staring at each other, he turned and went back towards the woods behind the field.
Over the years neighbors have called me maybe two or three times to warn me to keep an eye on the chickens because the “lone coyote” had been seen lurking around their chicken coup or resting in their field. Just like the first time I saw him, it was always broad daylight when they saw him. Once they remarked that he was looking scrawny which meant he must be really hungry.
Not until this past fall did I see him again. It was a warm day, and I was outside cleaning up the garden when I heard a rustling in the wind. I turned around, and there he was in the field in front of our house making a beeline for the chicken coup. I quickly clapped my hands twice as I had been taught to do because I was told that from a distance a clap can sound almost like a gunshot. He halted, pricked up his ears and stared. Then slowly he turned and went back the way he came. Not five minutes later something caught my eye. It was he again, having rethought his plan; he was now headed towards the chickens from the other side of the field. I clapped again and began hollering at him. He disappeared again, but he had caught the scent of the chickens. He would surely try again.
I knew what I had to do. Close all the animals into the barn until I was sure he had moved on. The chickens or for that matter our Servie cat would make a fine appetizer. He then might move on to the baby goats as a main course. He was determined if nothing else. For three days the animals has to wait in the barn. Then just as suddenly he left, in search of better hunting grounds. I opened up the barn and kept an eye out for a few days, but when he didn’t appear again, I didn’t give it another thought.
Then early one morning last week, I saw him trotting down our road. This past weekend my friend, Terry, who has a house across the road came up for the weekend, and on Saturday she texted me this picture. With the comment, “And speaking of coyotes, how about this?” Later she also showed me some photos of him leaping into a bush after some prey. The muscle in his hindquarters was impressive. Was this really just a coyote and why wasn’t he with the pack of coyotes that hunt in our fields and woods?
We, in our community of friends, are blessed to have a naturalist as one of us. Her name is Kim Ridley. So of course, my first instinct was to send the picture to Kim because if there is one thing I am sure of it is that if you send Kim evidence of an unusual critter be it bird, bear or coyote, within the hour she will email you with a citation that will explain the who, what, where and when, not to mention the DNA and blood line of the critter. Which is exactly what happened. Kim is an outstanding science writer. Don’t take it from me. Her young people’s book, The Secret Pool, tilburyhouse.com has been heaped with awards. She is passionate about educating us about the natural world and our place in it. We, her friends, and obviously her reading public, know that the heart Kim brings to her research sheds a might brighter light than anything we might attempt on our own.
Sure enough, as Kim’s research showed, our “lone coyote” is not pure coyote. He is what is known as a coywolf. When the western coyote began migrating toward the East, moving first up through Canada and then down into New England, they began mating with the eastern wolf. There may even have been some cross breeding with dogs along the way. For the past fifty to seventy years, coywolves have inhabited our region and southeastern Canada.
All of which brings me to the age-old question about how to think about it all. Just now it is too cold and snowy for the animals to go out so while I open their doors on decent days, they mostly stay inside to keep warm. But come spring, they will be out and easy prey for a hungry coywolf. One part of me wants him gone off the face of the earth, the other part of me is awed by his power and beauty and heart. He hunts alone, has to survive alone, and most important, he was here way before me. I fear what he might do to my animals and then too, I respect his right to be here.
For now, in the middle of winter, I am free to admire him. He is a magnificent creature. Come spring, the tables might be turned. If he does begin to attack my animals, I will protect them. This is a hard truth. Farming is not all about the bountiful harvest. There is plenty of dying that goes on be it crops or livestock. That is part of the deal. And yet, I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything. No good morning is sweeter than the clamor of seven goats and a whole bunch of chickens eyeing the day with such enthusiasm, expecting adventure and fun and maybe even a couple of cookies for treats. There is not a day I go into that barn that I don’t leave feeling loved and a little more hopeful that I can handle whatever this day brings.