The Song of the Coyotes
Los Altos Hills, CA
We were warned about the local coyotes when we arrived to dog-sit for a month. I enjoy seeing coyotes and am not afraid. When they are healthy, they are beautiful animals. In the green space nearby it is not uncommon to see a coyote standing in the grassy meadow or even walking the trail. They usually keep their distance and watch with an intelligent, non-aggressive interest. Alert, relaxed; thick fur in browns, reds, white and black; large upright ears and soft amber eyes; agile, stealthy and strong.
During this visit, we had to be a bit more careful since we were responsible for the lives of two young dogs. The Shelties are too small to fight off a coyote and probably just the right size for a good coyote meal. Perhaps due to sensing that there were predators hidden in the grasses and brush, the dogs were nervous walkers. Signs entering the park warn of the coyotes and instruct visitors to keep dogs on leash. There are plenty of cottontails, jack rabbits and ground squirrels for the coyotes but it is possible, although unlikely, they might try their luck with an unchaperoned pet.
The coyotes also move through the property where I was staying, usually silent and invisible among the thick shrubs and trees. One evening, while sitting quietly reading, a loud canine ruckus erupted. For a moment I thought it was the dogs in the house, but I quickly realized it was coming from outdoors and had a very different quality: wild, chaotic and high-spirited. Many animal voices all at once. I grabbed my phone and slipped out the door into darkness.
I couldn’t see the coyotes but the sound of yipping, barking and howling was so close that I thought one might jump in front of me through the bushes. The pack couldn’t have been more than 20 feet away. The joyful, exuberant, resounding song of the coyotes vibrated throughout my body. I wanted to join them. My presence so close to them did not seem to dampen their energy. I was able to record part of the wild ritual, and you can listen to it below.
Then, as suddenly as the chorus had started, it silenced. Any evidence of the coyotes’ existence disappeared with the sound.
About 10 years ago, we spent a night in Nevada along Highway 80, the interstate that runs from San Francisco to New York. This was not an official rest stop but a wide dirt pull-off. A few other travelers parked there, including several tractor trailers. We looked for a spot as far from the highway as possible, and then popped up our camper and climbed into bed for the night.
As I drifted toward sleep, out my right side was the continuous roar of the interstate. Out my left, the howl of coyotes came and went throughout the night. It was as if the two realities were each beckoning me. One ancient and one new. I could feel the difference between them deep in my bones. An ache and longing arose to leave one and join the other.
The highway spoke of speed, noise, and a barren emptiness. It was full of grit, grime and gas fumes. It was strewn with loneliness and restless bodies. The highway formed a tiny slice, a narrow self-contained ribbon of the world, where wild nature beyond the edges of the road barely existed. It spoke of commerce, accomplishment and dissatisfaction, and the endless, futile drama of human self-interest.
The coyotes’ call was intoxicating. They invited me to come on foot, carrying little. To slowly survey and then enter the trackless land. To come fully embodied, each sense alive to the myriad inhabitants and terrains. Silence and stillness were welcomed and pregnant with mystery. The coyotes beckoned me to breathe deeply, to plant my feet firmly in the earth. With this choice, I would find unspeakable beauty and belonging.
I knew which call would take me to my true home and I realized that I have been finding ways to follow the coyotes’ song my whole life.
The Song of Coyotes audio:
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