We’ve been hearing the coyotes howl almost every night lately. I know for some people coyotes are vermin meant to be shot, or scary and meant to be feared, but for us they are a welcome sound and presence in our woods. Coyotes are about the most American animal that exists, having thrived in North America for more than a million years. They are cunning, smart, stealthy, and persistent. And they are the ultimate survivors, which gives them a solid, secure place in my heart.
Since the early 19th century, various people, agencies, and groups in the United States have tried their best to eradicate coyotes. As Europeans marched their way westward and began to set up farms and ranches, coyotes (and wolves and cougars and bison, etc.) became a symbol of wilderness that interfered with progress and pioneering. After tens of thousands of years of being treated as a deity by many cultures, Mark Twain famously described them as “mean” and “despicable”, paving the way for popular demonization of the species.
Lots of money was (and still is being) spent by private citizens, government agencies, and non-profits to poison, shoot, trap, and generally harass coyotes. But the cool thing about coyotes is, the more we kill, the more they spread out and reproduce. Coyotes have figured out how to survive and thrive in just about every niche of space available in this country. They can survive in pack mode, but also as pairs and solo animals, enabling them to move about and colonize areas quickly when they are under pressure of persecution. They also produce large litters of pups when the chips are down and their fellow coyotes are being killed. If we left them alone, their numbers would stabilize and not grow, but start killing them, and they go wild – reproducing and moving into new territories. And yet, we are still killing half a million coyotes a year in this country just to “protect” livestock.
Despite that, they are still thriving all over the United States. I hear gunshots (sometimes at night) in our rural community, and wonder if people are shooting at coyotes or foxes, so I’m glad when I hear the coyotes howl outside my window each night. I feel their presence and spirit to my bones. Every time I wake up to their calls, I smile. Lying there in the dark, listening to their voices, it just feels right to have them here in our woods. They are our brothers and sisters, filling a niche, teaching us about resilience and survival, and lifting our spirits in community.
We never see them, but we know they are there. They are cunning and wary and know how to stay out of sight. But, when we’re really lucky, the trail cameras capture a glimpse and a few days ago we had three coyotes pass by the camera, all within 25 seconds of each other.
During the past few weeks we have been going to the woods after dark to look for the blue ghost fireflies. As we stand or stroll or sit in the dark, we often wonder if a coyote is nearby, watching us, wondering about us. Sometimes we hear them howl when we are down there in the dark, and the hairs on my neck prickle. It’s a good thing, to be immersed in the dark, to hear the coyotes, and to know we are kin.
Note: If you want to read a comprehensive history of the coyote in America, I recommend Dan Flores’ excellent book, Coyote America: A natural and supernatural history or check out an interview with him here.
The coyotes are growing bolder in St. Johns. One lives in Columbia Park, and others are frequently seen in both daytime and twilight hours, neither shy nor bold, just doing their thing. Like Twain, who in the highly ironic passage of “Roughing It” is so badly misunderstood, I “wish him the blessed novelty of a long day’s good luck and a limitless larder the morrow.”