This week I am honored to feature our first guest post from my very own mother Karen Elizabeth Baril. Karen has written more than 400 feature articles in top equestrian magazines including Equus, The Equine Journal, and Trail Rider Magazine. Most recently, she published a creative non-fiction essay in Still Crazy literary magazine. Her career goals are to inform, enlighten, and, of course, entertain her readers. Visit her website at: www.karen-elizabeth-baril.com. I hope you find our very first guest post as enjoyable as I did. Please consider submitting your own guest post by visiting our submissions page.
My neighbor, age sixty-something, has waged a war on our local coyote pack. Very early in the morning I hear his shotgun. The noise is startling, territorial. I imagine my small herd of horses dispersing like stars, the coyote lying motionless on the hill.
Later in the day, I meet my neighbor in the clearing between our properties. I ask if he fired the shots.
He beams. “Yeah, I finally got that coyote I’ve been after. He goes after the rabbits and, anyway,” he adds sensing I’m not on his side of the war, “he didn’t look too healthy. I think he had the mange.”
He’s smoothing my feathers. But, it’s not the hunting that bothers me. I understand the primal thrill of hunting, a deer in the sights, filling a freezer for the winter. I can also appreciate that the shot that brings down the buck is not strictly about filling the freezer. A successful hunt helps us feel we belong in the wild, that we’re not outsiders after all, but instead, participants in the only contest that ever mattered; life.
When we first moved to the northwest hills of Connecticut, we soon found that our new house lay in the direct path of a nightly coyote run. We’d wake, pre-dawn, to the pack racing past our bedroom window, howling and yipping as they raced off to what our neighbors nicknamed, Coyote Ridge. The barking and howling was electrifying, like no domestic dog sound I’ve ever known. We kept our Border Collie under close watch.
The coyote scares me, but I consider him my spirit animal, if such a thing exists.
As a kid I could pass for a coyote; the pointed nose, the tawny coat. One year I insisted on skulking around the house on all fours, inhabiting the coyote body or letting the coyote inhabit me. That year I snubbed vegetables, but chomped on any bone put in front of me. I’d tear at the meat with my canines and suck the marrow out of pork chops. Not just my pork chops. The rest of the family’s as well. When it was time to clear the table, a heap of bones filled my plate.
My father was alarmed. Table manners were important to him.
“At least she’s eating,” my mother said.
That was the year I practiced howling while sitting cross-legged on my bed, but I found I really needed to be on all fours to get in a good howl. I needed to throw my chin up, press my ears flat back. Howling is a skill I wish I never gave up. It would come in handy now, especially as a woman in the 21st century.
The coyote is known as the Song Dog. He boasts at least eleven documented vocalizations, the highest number of vocalizations of any wild North American mammal. The lone howl, perhaps the one we associate most with the coyote and the wolf, is thought to be a territorial sound. The translation is ‘this is my hill’.
Even though, Connecticut is mostly urbanized, the eastern coyote thrives here, preying on grasshoppers, small rodents like voles and rabbits, deer, and sometimes, on small livestock like goats and sheep. They also prey on house cats and they’ll attack and kill the domestic dog, though they rarely eat them. Their quarrel with dogs is almost always over territory. Attacks on humans are rare, but they have occurred and with terrible consequences.
The eastern coyote, is larger than his western cousin, about the size of a German Shepherd dog. He can live practically anywhere, making cozy dens out of downed trees, culverts, under suburban decks, in drainage ditches, and concrete sewer pipes. Although he’s wild, he adapts to rapid changes in his environment with incredible speed. He’s equally at home in the forest or on the streets of New York City. Last year, a lone coyote loped through a coffee shop in New Haven, not far from the Yale University campus, startling patrons and evading wildlife control officers. The coyote is a testament to adaptability, in that he thrives in all of these places without manipulating his environment in any way at all.
And that’s what rubs my neighbor, and others like him, the wrong way.
Because who do you have to know to get away with that?
A google search finds several groups here in Connecticut dedicated exclusively to coyote hunting. They say the pelts fetch anywhere from thirty to fifty-five dollars. Some hunters eat the coyotes they catch and share recipes for Cajun coyote and coyote stew, both of which get high marks.
But, there seems to be more to coyote hunting than making a meal out of him. Many of the hunters and trappers simply take a photo of the dead coyote and then leave his body in the forest. And unlike deer or elk hunters who tend to have a deep appreciation for the animal they hunt, coyote hunters freely admit loathing for their target.
On one forum, a discussion as to why:
“They prey on wildlife.”
“They kill dogs.”
“They’re a nuisance. I can’t stand them.”
“Their populations need controlling.”
But hunting is not all that effective at keeping coyote numbers down. In some areas where seventy percent of a group were culled, the coyotes increased their numbers in just a few short years. Females simply became fertile at younger ages and gave birth to larger litters. Here, in Connecticut, their range expands year after year.
Last spring, while trail running in the forest, I came eye to eye with a coyote. She was loping up one side of a ridge and I was loping up the other. We met at the top. I don’t know which of us was more surprised, but she was definitely more at ease with our encounter. This was her territory. Not mine. I looked into her yellow eyes, glass-like, expressionless. Scary as hell.
Then she faded back into the forest, leaving me with the thrill of the encounter and nothing more.
Yesterday, I walked the field again that separates my neighbor’s property and mine. A herd of deer startled and bounded away, legs like birch twigs, white tails flashing. I thought at first it was my sudden presence that startled them, but on the edge of the forest I see the familiar triangular shaped face, the yellow eyes, the shadow of the Song Dog.
To listen to coyotes howling in Yellowstone National Park click here.
6 thoughts on “Song Dog by Karen Elizabeth Baril”
I can see, Lisa, where you get your writing skills. Your mom is gifted! Thanks to both of you for sharing Song Dog. I loved it! We have folks in town that drive and shoot coyotes, which I hate. A big reason for my dislike is that we have been over-run by rabbits and mice the past year. Taking out these predators, caused a population explosion of the little critters. I don’t like mice in the house or my vehicles, nor do I appreciate rabbits eating everything in my yard… I love hearing the sound of howling at night. I want to keep hearing it!
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Thank you, Julianne!
Beautifully written with a perfect ending. Over the last several years we’ve tried to lure a coyote, who once lived under an old shed, back into our yard. When it lived here, wildlife was in balance, since it left, my plants and flowers are the chipmunk, mice and rabbit breakfast buffet. Each passing summer, we layer more branches, twigs and pine boughs behind the wood pile creating a large berm, hoping it will appeal to a passing coyote. I too love the howl that lingers on the air.
Karen- I so enjoyed reading that. Thanks for writing it!
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This was so beautiful