I’m posting this here because I am very tired of rejection notes telling me it doesn’t really fit in <insert publication>. Yes, I understand it’s an ongoing process, but with this piece, which I really like, I’m just absolutely sick of rejection. I wrote it in Portland, Oregon before we moved back to the beach, so it’s been several years of trying to find it a home. So, now, it has a home. ~JimS; Gearhart, Oregon.
My wife and I were coming home from a local watering hole late one moonless evening. Portland, Oregon is an urban setting with several patches of woods scattered across the metro area. We lived in one of them. I turned off the main drag to wind up toward our house. As I swept around the first bend past Marshall Park, a coyote loped through my headlight beams and into the woods on my left. I stopped the car in the middle of the road and buzzed my window down.
“Hey girl, what’re you doing?”
After she’d passed out of my headlights, I had no idea if she was even close. Coyotes cover a lot of ground very quickly, but a few seconds later I saw her poke her head up from the tall grass at the edge of the trees. Had we been in ranch country, she would never have done that. But this wasn’t ranch country and, apparently, she really didn’t worry about me causing her any harm.
I kept my voice calm, a low modulation I used to use when talking to musicians, children, and horses. “Howdy, good lookin,’ you come here often?” At this point my wife just sighed. I didn’t see her shake her head, but I knew she did. It’s an old joke.
The coyote cocked her head. If we’d been cartoons, a question mark would have appeared above her. Keeping low, protecting her throat, she took two small steps out of the tall grass and sat, head now cocked the other way. She regarded me openly.
“My, aren’t you pretty,” I said.
Like most sensible females, she didn’t respond to my flirting. But she didn’t look bored, either. She seemed at least as curious as I was.
“Have you tired of the taste of cat? Is that ‘possum on your breath? No wonder you’re looking so glossy and good. You’re just a well-fed, wild little show dog.”
We stared at each other for a while, until she yawned, turned, and vanished into the darkness. I drove the rest of the way home feeling pretty good about intersecting with my broader all-inclusive community. I wondered if my wild roaming creature was genetically bent like the wolves who, in theory, evolved into dogs. Without dogs, I don’t think humans could have become what we are. The relationship became a symbiosis of mutual protection, a way of mitigating our journey through harm’s way. Theories of canine evolution are evolving constantly themselves and the truth is probably a stranger story than we currently imagine. Maybe she was part of the beginning of a line that would challenge, again, the division of species. After I crawled into bed, I lay a long time searching the ceiling for answers. How had she known I meant her no harm?
Ceilings are seldom forthcoming, but they are almost always interesting, metaphorically, at least. I like it when they vanish and you find yourself somewhere between the Milky Way and a dream. Connections appear and shift, disolve and reform. If you pay attention without really paying attention, sometime you awaken to a new mindset. Often, it’s too subtle to quantify, almost a quantum shift in how the imagination works. Some people might call it prayer. Some people might scoff and roll their eyes. My eyes may roll on occasion, but I have learned not to scoff.
A few nights later, I was sitting on my front porch enjoying that transition from dusk to dark when a coyote, bold as a bus, came trotting along my twisty road and stopped at the top of my driveway.
Could it be? Of course I decided it was the same coyote. She looked familiar. I recognized her in that way we humans have been taught to ignore, some kind of invisible recognition machinery still present in our senses from when we were also wild.
At the sound of my voice, she took a few steps down the driveway and sat. Her head had a familiar tilt and she looked younger than she had in the full dark. I watched her with wonder. She’d found me. I had no other way of looking at it. If she was, indeed, the same coyote, she’d followed her nose to me, specifically. My excitement was tempered with concern. I didn’t think it was in her best interests to become so familiar with a human, even me, the kindest man in my shoes. It would probably cause her more grief than she deserved. The notion about her genetics now seemed quite a stretch.
“Girl, what are you doing? It’s nice to see you again. I’m honored and flattered, but…” I smiled to myself. “…we have to stop meeting like this.”
With that, I exploded out of my chair. (My son would have said “lurched,” but he’s not writing this.) I sprinted right at her. She came to all fours and skittered a bit, not believing what she was seeing. I was ten steps up the driveway before she gathered herself and ran off the way she’d come. After twenty yards, she stopped and looked over her shoulder. Did I want to play? Is that what this was about?
I never slowed. I just kept running right at her doing my best impersonation of a freight train. Her ears snapped up and the question mark from a few nights before reappeared. This time, she took off running in earnest, not pausing to look back. She did sneak a glance at me when she turned right and scampered up my neighbor’s steep driveway.
When I got to the bottom of the driveway where she’d disappeared, I stopped, doing my best to ignore the iron bands tightening around my heaving chest. I briefly wondered about falling on my face under an ironic headline: “Man’s Heart Explodes Chasing Coyote.” But I was still busy, still intrigued. I ducked into a little copse of trees at the bottom of that driveway. Coyotes are very curious creatures, almost as curious as humans. It helps them, I think, adapt as well as they do. They may come second, right behind us, in the warm-blooded adaptive skills contest, so I kept myself hidden until I saw her poke her head around the corner where the driveway curved into its circular path. I stepped out. We locked eyes across the hundred feet separating us.
Her head vanished and she was gone. I walked back to my house, chest still heaving, hoping that I’d somehow taught her a lesson. I was sad that I’d quashed the opportunity for a unique and, perhaps, special friendship. We modern humans cannot be trusted. She needed to know that in her bones and she needed to teach that to her future pups. I think our respective communities will be better served by a respectful distance between us. The evolution of both species will proceed at its own patient pace and I will continue to query the ceiling for answers.