Archive for October 14th, 2009

The other night, I woke in the early hours to the sound of coyotes howling. The howling is a thin quaver that seems to rise slowly through the sky then disappear, and I can think of others sounds that I would prefer to awaken me. But, once awake, I lay on my back with my hands behind my head enjoying the eeriness and the thrill that fluttered through me. I hadn’t heard them in months, and I was starting to think that the local pack had moved on.

Probably, I am a minority in my enjoyment of coyotes. Many people call them vermin. Others are convinced that coyotes will drag young children away, although that has only happened once or twice. Still more are angry because their cats or lapdogs have become the snack for a pack – although the real blame lies with their own irresponsible treatment of their pets.
But I figure that you have to expect that the wilderness is going to creep in one way or the other in an urban area, especially one so full of parks and trees as greater Vancouver. And when you live hard against a green belt as we do, then inevitably the occasional cougar or bear is going to stumble into someone’s back yard. Compared to such visitors, coyotes make good neighbors, going about their business while causing a minimum of fuss.

I used to hear them frequently at night, answering the sirens trailing from the nearby fire station. Sadly, that ended when a patch of woods a couple of blocks away was replaced by condos. However, they are frequent in the daylight. Once or twice, I’ve seen half-grown ones partly concealed by the bushes, but the adults put on a bold front, making so little fuss about walking down the street that at first you think they are stray dogs. Once, I even saw one passing through the middle of our townhouse development, ignoring the people and mostly unnoticed.

Several times, too, I’ve seen them on the sidewalk, sitting waiting for the flow of vehicles to change with the traffic light. I suppose they are watching the vehicles, not the light, but sometimes I am not so sure. The few times I’ve made eye contact with a coyote – from a safe distance, let me assure you – I’ve wondered afterwards if it was a sentient creature evaluating the level of threat I represented. After those experiences, I’m not quite prepared to rule out the possibility that some of them know which light it is safe to cross the street on, even though they are presumably as color-blind as dogs.

Coyotes are not creatures of beauty. If anything, they are scrawny things, living lives of desperation. Still, I admire them for being a part of the wilderness that can adopt to the city. I sometimes think that urban life is an isolated one that leads everyone to imagine that they can control everything about their lives. As the coyotes slip from park to park throughout the urban sprawl, eating our garbage and denning in greenbelts in the ravines of creeks, they disprove such ideas with a quiet disdain.

Their continued experience shows that, no matter how we try to isolate ourselves, we cannot deny nature. Despite all the radical changes to their environment, despite the way they are hunted, coyotes still survive. And I, for one, appreciate their casual upsetting of all our assumptions about ourselves and our cities.

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