The Coyote. An animal that will stir different feelings amongst different individuals. For some, he may be seen as a frightful animal, a creature that will attack and kill an unsuspecting individual or pet. For some, he may be seen as a pest, a creature to be eliminated, a thief, a cattle killer. For some, he may be celebrated, an animal that has adapted to its surroundings at all costs, a freedom fighter, a survivor.
One of my first encounters with a coyote occurred almost ten years ago. I was driving through Joshua Tree National Park for the first time, on a cross country adventure from my home state of Maryland. While driving into the park near sunset, I saw a coyote that appeared to be injured, lying in the middle of the road. As soon as I stopped the car, the coyote stood up and walked over to my door and stared at me. After a few seconds, it dawned on me that he was begging for food. I can't recall whether I gave him anything, but several miles down the road, the same thing happened again. Another coyote was lying in the middle of the road, and as soon as I stopped the car, he walked up to my door, begging for food. "Crafty little beasts!" I thought to myself from the safety of my car. At the same time, I was also surprised to see that they were no larger than a medium sized dog.
During that trip, I remember camping several nights and hearing the howl of the coyote and his companions in the middle of the night. At first, it stirred feelings of fear. Are they going to attack me in the middle of the night? As I became more accustomed to the sound and realized that they were probably more interested in things other than the weary camper, I began to enjoy hearing the howls and yips in the middle of the night. Usually I'd wake up, think "Ahhh the coyote," and then go back to sleep.
While living in LA, I used to practice playing my guitar in my car in the zoo parking lot. My car provided a sound proof box, the zoo lot provided a quiet place away from my neighbors, who I'm sure would have quickly grown weary of hearing me play. Anyways, there were a pair of coyotes that would come down from Griffith Park each night, and scowl the parking lot for food left over from zoo visitors. As I would sit and play, I would watch the coyotes scan the lot with their noses, find a small bag of leftover fast food in a vacant parking space, pick it up, run into the woods, and then return a few minutes later after they, I'm assuming, devoured whatever leftover food was in the bag. I would see them from time to time during my hikes around the LA area. Usually, it seemed as though I was greeting an animal brother.
While on the PCT, there was one particular night that comes to mind when I think of the coyote. Answerman and I were hiking near the Big Bear Lake area. As the day was getting late, Answerman and I started looking for campsites. At one point, after rounding a bend in the trail, a large coyote appeared amongst the chaparral, and after taking a quick look at us, ran up the mountainside. He was one of the more healthy looking coyotes I have seen. He was plump, had a shiny fur coat, and was rather large, almost like a wolf. After failing at getting a picture, Answerman and I returned to the task of finding a campsite. About a half an hour later, we found one. It was a great spot on top of the mountain, with views of the lake below. It was a warm, comfortable evening, not a cloud in the sky. The setting sun turned the brown grass that surrounded us into a red, brick color. Answerman and I decided to cowboy camp, and after a warm meal, bedded down for the night. I was looking forward to a nice evening of star gazing under clear skies.
While we were getting ready to sleep, I commented to Answerman that I was starting to feel my city layers peel away, that it was refreshing to begin connecting to the wildness inside once again.
"Oh I've been there for quite some time," was Answerman's response.
Indeed he had. While visiting in LA before the PCT hike, he was the only person I saw walking around town in bare feet.
While we were talking, there was a distressing yelp coming from one of the nearby mountains. It had not yet come to the fore-front of our consciousness. We continued to talk while the sound remained constant in the background. When we finished our conversation, the sound became more prominent.
"Do you hear that?" I asked Answerman.
"Yeah, sounds like a coyote," he responded.
"Sounds like it's injured " I replied.
The sound was a very high pitch cry, almost like a shriek. It continued on for several minutes. As I climbed into my sleeping bag, listening to the cries and staring at the stars, I envisioned the coyote stuck in a steel trap. Just then, we heard BANG! BANG! BANG!
Answerman and I remained quiet. The evening sky was silent except for the low rustle of the wind through the grass.
"That's it," I said.
I felt a sadness for the coyote. Was it the one I saw earlier in the evening? Was it one of his brothers, sisters, or his mate? At that moment, I felt more kinship with the coyote, than the man who ultimately took his life.