a wild orchestration


On a walk up the Malaspina trail yesterday, coyote scats everywhere, full of hair and new grass. This is a sign of spring as much as daffodils and salmonberry blossoms (though yesterday we didn’t see a single one). Last week, an ambulance sounded its siren as it came down the long hill near us, on its way to an emergency in Egmont or Earls Cove. And as soon as the siren stopped, we heard the pair of coyotes denning just to the south of our house sing their own version of the siren’s song, two voices rising and falling, in a complex and beautiful harmony. In the title essay of my book Euclid’s Orchard, there are coyotes singing and they might even be the same animals as the ones last week. I’ve always loved the continuities, the cycles.

We knew about the coyotes because they left scats on our driveway, in the hollows of moss in the orchard, on the nearby trails we hiked regularly, and even along the highway we walked to collect our mail at the community boxes about half a mile away. Every time we walked, we saw the scats. If we were on a trail, the scats were in the middle. The animals wanted anyone using the trail to know they’d been there. On the edges of the highway—a sign that the animals had mastered the knowledge of traffic—the piles were right on the human-worn margins.

And they were—are—fascinating. Coyotes are omnivores. They eat rodents, frogs and other amphibians (but not toads because their skins are bitter), reptiles, fish, crustaceans, birds, larger mammals that they can either kill or scavenge, grass (which helps them to digest fur and bones, I’ve read, and which also serves to scour parasites from their intestines), birdseed, and all kinds of fruit and vegetables.Once we watched a young pup hold salal branches down with its foot so it could reach the ripening berries, plucking them delicately one at a time. We’ve noticed more fur and bones in spring, when rodent populations are highest. And sometimes the scats seem to be composed entirely of grass. Once, the head and neck of a garter snake, scales still intact. Bloody flesh gives them a darker color. Fruit— crabapples, wild cherries, even elderberries–give them bulk. Seeds and fur make them grey. And if they’re lucky enough to find a source of dry dog or cat food, the scats resemble those of canines.

Even though they were mostly invisible, we knew they were around and felt lucky when we saw them. Luckier still when we heard them. We live far from the nearest village and can usually hear emergency vehicles coming from a distance. But if there are coyotes in the immediate vicinity, they begin to howl before we hear the sirens, and by the time the ambulance or police car is near our house, on its way to the ferry or to deal with a collision on the highway below us, there’s a cacophony of siren and coyote accompaniment. A wild orchestration for voices and synthesizer—longitudinal waves coming toward us, bending and refracting the long length of the highway. Sound nowhere and everywhere.

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