Sunday, August 29, 2010

Urban Coyote
It is 4:00 in the morning.  I have just been out in the full moon looking for the wounded coyote I met earlier today.
You think I am in the mountains of the west, don’t you?

You don’t know that I am in the closely packed northwestern suburbs of Chicago. 

It started this morning when I was in the forest preserve adjacent to this subdivision.  The subdivision and the world literally in its backyard are worlds apart.  In the subdivision, laundry lines are against the rules, workers spray large amounts of herbicides on even the tiniest plants (I refuse to say weeds) growing up around the barren soil at the base of the landscaped trees.  After the original trees were removed, the streets were named after the removed trees and the landscape trees and shrubs were brought in.  Deer wander through the yards and eat the expensive landscaped additions.  It is a conflict in communities like this across America.

It is very surreal to be where these worlds collide. The suburbs grew around and through the habitat of deer, coyotes, rabbits, skunks and other wild beings.  These beings are still here making their way around the strange new land that was once their domain.  For the most part they have learned to navigate across busy highways and chemical laden lawns.  They have managed to make home wherever they can in the maze of traffic, concrete, houses and people.

I was biking on the trails through the forest preserve with my dog Bean.  We crossed over the creek (so blue with lawn chemical run off that Bean won’t drink from it) and turned up into the thicker woods.
One large downed tree made me get off my bike.  A second after I swung my leg over the bike seat, I heard what I thought was a dog barking close behind me.  I looked back and saw a coyote about twenty feet away.  He stared right at me and barked and howled. 

For the next hour he followed us at close range on three legs, his fourth leg dangling and wounded.  Here is where I wish I had done things differently.  I wish I had sat down with Bean and let the coyote come to me so I could help him.  My fearful self could not figure out what a coyote was doing in the Chicago suburbs, out in the middle of the day and so close to us.  I thought he must be crazed from rabies or drinking polluted water.  In fear, I got on my bike and rode fast with Bean at my side.  No matter how fast I rode, the coyote stayed with us…running and limping on his three good legs and never taking his eyes off us.  When I stopped he stopped and barked and howled.  I could tell he was in pain.  He followed us as far as the busy road with constant cars in both lanes.   When we crossed, he stopped and watched us from the woods. 

I got back to my parents house and looked up Chicago coyote on the computer immediately.  I was shocked to find out that they are common in these woods.  The first story I got in my search was of a coyote walking into a Quiznos sandwich shop in the middle of the city on a very hot day.  He walked through the propped open door and wandered straight back to a walk-in cooler and rested there.  The people in the restaurant took photos with their phones or finished their sandwiches.  Animal control simply came in and put a noose around the neck of the coyote and walked the calm creature out the door to who knows what fate. I found out that coyotes in the city are such a regular occurrence that people complain if they get into the newspaper because it is not really news.  Recently, one urban coyote in the news had wandered onto an athletic field at a school and was taken away and “destroyed”.  The athletic field bordered the forest.

I called the wildlife rescue center closest to here.  He said there was nothing they could do. He also said that the coyote is probably following our scent and most likely trying to get my help. Apparently, because we don’t follow trails, we are easy to follow by our scent.  The coyote was probably hit by a car and the rehab folks are not allowed to live trap animals in the forest preserve.  I asked if coyotes had any predators in the area and was told that humans were their only predators.  The guy on the phone had obviously heard thousands of coyote stories and dully told me that people poison or illegally shoot them or intentionally hit them while driving.

These are coyotes.  These are the same animals who are revered enough to be the subject of pseudo-native art that people buy on their vacation in Santa Fe or Scottsdale.  My aunt and uncle live a few blocks from here in the same subdivision.  Their son lives on the edge of Tucson.  When I visited him, I slept outside and listened to the coyotes howling.  My cousin and I both love this sound.  We love the pure wildness of it.  Hearing them howl feels like all is well in the world. 

Here, these sacred animals are caught by suburban sprawl and endless traffic.  The people I asked about them felt no awe at sharing the land with the coyotes.  They spoke of them as annoying pests who threaten their cats and dogs and children (Everyone who shared this with me had NEVER experienced this problem or really knew of anyone who had…an urban myth apparently).

I went back to the woods and searched for the wounded coyote.  This time I was determined to help him in some way, anyway.  Hours of searching and no coyote. 

After sunset a truck drove through the subdivision spraying the air with pesticides meant to take care of the mosquitoes.  I had thought that this practice ended with the DDT foggers of our childhoods.  As kids, JC and his brothers use to follow the cloud and play in the mist of DDT while they chased the slow moving truck down the street.  While I know that this fogger did not spray the now-banned DDT, I also know that what it sprayed tonight, most likely has consequences we will not discover for another 10 years after torturing thousands of animals in labs around the world to determine if it is toxic.

I quickly closed the bedroom windows and wondered where the bats and birds are who would eat the mosquitoes.  What have we done with the balance that once existed?  I would bet that I could easily get a bat exterminator to come out with short notice to any home in the area.

I went to bed with Bean lying at my feet and the coyote still on my mind.  We were both startled awake at 2:30 am when we heard our wounded coyote again.  The sound of his erratic bark and howl is unmistakable.  He found me, I thought.

I walked outside in the full moon light and searched again.  Wandering around the neighborhood between mailboxes with huge American flags, I looked in the shadows for the coyote….but only caught glimpses of who I assumed was our limping coyote.

What have we done?  What have we humans done? We inherited this beautiful planet.  We were given incredible life all around us have chosen to cut ourselves off from it and lock ourselves up in our houses and cars and stop caring for it…..  We were given these miraculous bodies and chose to cut ourselves off from them and stopped using them and caring for them. 

I heard a wonderful speaker this past weekend who asked the audience if they would like the car of their dreams given to them free of charge.  Everyone answered “yes”.  He said there was one catch: This would be the only one you will have for the rest of your life.  “How will you care for it?” he asked.  Then he compared that car to our bodies.  This is it.  We don’t get another one.  Rats make better choices than humans.  Given the choice between healthy fruits and vegetables and junk food, they always choose the healthy foods.  Humans are as evolved or intelligent.  Given the choice to care for our bodies or not, most have opted to not care for them.

It is the same with this planet.  This is it.  This is the only one we will have for the rest of our lives.  We are treating it like most of us are treating our bodies. 

Now, from the bed, I hear the sound of the interstate but no coyote.  Bean and I are not sleeping.  We are staring out the window into the yellow glow of the streetlight with the full moon light mixed in…looking past the giant American flag on the mailbox… and hoping to see something more….

Just got back from a long walk with Bean.  An hour into our walk, the coyote showed up 15 feet to our right.  I immediately sat down this time.  The coyote didn’t move.  Just stared at us.  I got up and we walked a bit….the coyote shadowing us at about 15 feet away, still limping and unable to use the foot, but not seeming to be in as much pain.  I stopped again and sat on the ground with Bean.  The coyote came closer and curled up in the grass like a puppy.  He closed his eyes and slept.  I let him rest for quite a while by not moving at all.  The mosquitos were so busy eating me and Bean that I think the coyote got to have a good snooze.  When the coyote opened his eyes I got up and tried to approach him.  If Bean had not been with me, he might have let me get close, but he got up and kept the 15 feet between us.  I considered calling animal control for help.  Then I realized that they would most likely either trap him to take him “who knows where”…or shoot him. And once I had called them, it would be out of my hands and out of the coyote’s paws.  I decided to at least let him have his freedom in the forest preserve.
Our coyote buddy followed us to the highway again and sat and watched us leave.  I turned around and watched him over the passing cars on the highway.  He watched me just as closely. 

Intimacy comes in so many forms.  I am missing the coyote already.  I know that there is some message in all this….I know that, one day, looking back I will understand more of what I am meant to take away from this powerful connection.  For now, it is just another lesson in letting go.  I don’t get to fix all the pain in the world.  I don’t even get to fix the pain in this one little corner of the world for this one small beautiful being.


  1. Thanks for sharing this story and your thoughts, Rae. You have given me a beautifully written reminder of an awareness that compassion and love are often all we can share with another. But lives are richer when we take the time to sit with our coyote--to sit with our feelings of love.

  2. i had a wonderful encounter with a beautiful coyote this morning, right smack in the middle of the city of chicago, he was only about 6 feet from me and we had a nice long exchange, perhaps he enjoyed me admiring him, then the city intruded on us and he took off dodging buses, cars, strollers, people, dogs,....thanks for sharing rae!

  3. What a beautiful post. I couldn't agree more with you on how humans have so far removed themselves from the natural worls. It's so very, very sad. We have coyotes that live in the woods & fields in back of our house and I love listening to them howl & yip. We were woken this morning by them, which was a perfect "alarm clock" to wake to. I absolutely adore them.

  4. Thanks for sharing your own coyote experiences....and thanks for reading the blog :)