It’s all in the song.


Last night, we’d just fallen asleep when the room was filled with noise. Coyote noise. I think it was the estrus call of the female and it went on and on. Then was answered. Most years we hear the courtship music of the coyotes and later in the season, we’ll hear the resulting family song.

Coyotes weren’t around when we first moved to the north end of the Sechelt Peninsula in the early 1980s. By the 1990s, they were on the lower end, then people were reporting them in Halfmoon Bay, and by 2005, we were seeing them regularly. We think of them as part of the landscape and it’s surprising to remember that they haven’t always been here. Or at least not in our time. In Mammals of British Columbia (Eder and Pattie), there’s an interesting note that David Thompson wrote regularly about fox and wolf sightings as he traveled west but he didn’t mention coyotes. They’re certainly thriving now, in cities as well as wilderness.

They arrived on our land around the time our children had moved away. I’ve thought about this a lot. How we’ve heard their courtship, seen the young pups, heard the family singing in late summer, and then in winter watched the parents crossing the old clearing where our orchard used to be. When I see them, I think of my family, its long residency among these trees. I wonder if the coyotes think of their own grown offspring.

I wrote about coyotes and family and mathematics in an essay, “Euclid’s Orchard”. It became the title of a book of essays released in 2017 by the wonderful Mother Tongue Publishing.

One day a single light brown coyote came out of the woods and walked by my window. It had all the time in the world. It passed the wing of rooms where my children grew up. It passed the windows they looked out at night, first thing in the morning, drawing their curtains to let sunlight in or the grey light of winter, in excitement, lonely or sleepless, in good health and bad, dazzled with new love or sorrow, at the lack of it, on the eve of their birthdays, new ventures, on the eve of leaving home. I went to the back of the house to see where the animal was headed, but it did what coyotes do, a trick I wish I could also learn. It dematerialized. Vanished into thin air.

Mostly coyotes are monogamous. Their life span is 10-14 years. I don’t know how likely it is that the pair we heard last night is the original pair. But perhaps one of the offspring and its mate, drawn to the old territory?

So it happens again. Courtship, mating, birth, nurture. It’s all in the song. In August, in moonlight, we’ll hear it again, will recognize in the beautiful harmonies something of our own deep story.

Braid groups, harmonic analysis: The whole is greater than the part. Euclid’s 5th Axiom

A midsummer evening, clear moonlight. Down in the orchard, the coyotes have gone under the fence with their young. How many? I’ve seen one, heard several others. I’ve imagined them on the soft grass, tumbling like my children used to play, rolling down the slope over tiny sweet wild strawberries, over the heart-shaped violet leaves, the deep pockets of moss, while around them snakes hid under the lupines. But now in the quiet, I am shaken out of my dreaming because a coyote is singing a long, low passage. A lump forms in my throat as I look out into the night, the sky dusty with stars, a three-quarter moon hanging so perfect over the hidden lake that I think of a stage set, an arranged scene created by strings and wishful thinking. A jagged line of dark horizon and the vertical trees, the line of them rising, then descending as the bar changes, a page of music, the arpeggiated chords, the implied bass line. A pause, a comma of silence. Another coyote joins in, then at least two more. It’s a part-song, a madrigal. Each voice is on pitch, but one is low, another high, and several braid themselves in and around the melody line.

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