I wish I could recall the first time I heard those sounds of madness in the night. I’m sure they tore a hole in my understanding of all things simple and orderly. A cacophony of blood and wantonness (lawless and unrestrained, that is, not malicious).
These are not the type sporting kerchiefs, sitting back upon their haunches, and howling politely at the Santa Fe moon. Rather, I like the coyotes that dart across the road at night when you’re miles past exhaustion and good judgment. The tawny fiends who have slunk across the trail, leaving behind twisted scat with leavings of fur and bones.
I know that many people and cultures attribute different meanings and stories to the coyote. For me—of the rootless tribe that has chosen landscape and scent above family and history—the coyote feels like kin. I don’t mean ancestors, no. These are the teenaged cousins smoking pot out of Coke cans.
I love them for the maniacal sounds. But most of all, I appreciate their resiliency. Coyotes can live anywhere—from grasslands to swamps, deserts to mountains. Their habitats are numerous and their range continues to expand. They’re not just a Western species, but have moved into New England (where Puritans don’t necessarily embrace their presence.) They colonize cities and creep across golf courses, parks. They’re adaptable and don’t mind humans. Humans are not only wasteful and gluttonous—constantly casting off goodies—but we have successfully eliminated (and in places such as New Mexico, failed to recover) the coyotes’ top natural predator: wolves.
From my bedroom at the top of Albuquerque’s South Valley, I hear them sometimes in the night. I live close to downtown, but not far from the river and its arteries of ditches, trails and acequias. When I hear their yips and eee, eee, eees in the night, I jolt awake. The dog pulls up his head. The cats do the same, unless, of course, they’re outside—in those cases, they slap the doorknob in a panic at the sound.
Cats are snacks, after all.
More than a decade ago, while living in the North Valley, I’d leave my front door open with just the chain attached, so my orange tom cat could roam as he pleased in the night (this, despite his habit of dropping mortally wounded mice upon my pillow). Coyotes roamed along the east side of the house. Despite knowing my cat could one night be their snack (karma), I refused to keep him inside. Instead, I just worried whenever I heard their cries, and was grateful when the cat returned (always).
In this way, coyotes remind me of the difference between love and lust. I loved my cat. Yet, despite the start their shrieks always give my heart, I cannot resist cheering for the coyotes. When a coyote on the runway holds up air traffic at the Atlanta airport—and that news makes The New York Times—I’m happy by the reportage of the pre-primal presence in our ridiculously global world.
When officials in a Rhode Island town announced they’d hired a coyote hunter, the police chief defended the action: “People are concerned. They’re afraid to go outside. They’re afraid to go for walks,” the AP quoted Chief Anthony Pesare last month. “They feel trapped in their own houses.”
This makes me wonder what humans were like before we built even makeshift homes to separate ourselves from nature. It makes me wonder what life was like when we had only fire to set ourselves apart. I am grateful some sounds never change, that some natural sounds continue to penetrate walls and frighten us.
A few years ago, I drove one weeknight to Corrales, the quaint cottonwood-lined village tucked along the Middle Rio Grande’s bosque and just below the rabid sprawl of Rio Rancho. Officials were holding a public meeting. According to Animal Control, coyotes in the past year had killed 79 chickens, three domestic rabbits, five cats, eight goats, a turkey, eight ducks, two lambs and two dogs. It was a slaughter in the pet-friendly village; a transgression upon human notions of tranquility and control.
Despite protestations from a guy in a baseball hat when the representative from the US Department of Agriculture said that, once or twice a year, a coyote bites a child, “What about the children?” hysteria still prevailed. One mother lingered after the meeting, seeking tips to protect her children from coyotes. I was pregnant and discontented, annoyed by the crowd and increasingly discouraged about what this meeting said about the world I inhabit. Then the 16-year-old kid next to me asked how many coyotes roam the village.
“Ten to 12.”
Fewer than a dozen coyotes are cause for a public meeting.
I was delighted finally to navigate my pregnant belly out into the darkness of the parking lot. I was pleased by how the evening turned out after all.
Some days, I ask my boyfriend if he heard the coyotes as they hunted on the canal that runs behind his field. He never does. This bothers me, though I can’t rationally explain why that is.
Finally one morning, when I’m too tired to lift my head and check the clock, I hear them. I tap his side two times. Tap, tap. And fall back asleep.
He’s like a coyote, too, and I know that should trouble me.
And yet, I let it slide. When later that morning, he says he heard them, I cannot help but move into his embrace