Off to the west somebody is shooting. The coyote runs in that direction. I’m powerless; all I can do is hope he dodges the bullets. Most likely the shooter would love to put an end to all that beauty and independence.
Now I wonder: Where is Roger, my German retriever golden shepherd? He was here a minute ago. Is he in harm’s way? Has the coyote somehow lured him into the bullets’ trajectory?
Around the belly of the hill emerges another coyote in full flight. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a Medicine Dog. Three or four coyote lengths behind streams Roger, closely tailing the wild cousin. Is the coyote holding back to keep Roger in her wake? There is a venerable and durable myth that coyotes lure dogs to ambushes where the pack lurks to devour the pet.
Roger has chased them on several occasions and always comes back sooner or later with his grin intact. But could today be doomsday? “Nice knowing you, Roger,” I whisper.
It is not doomsday. The shooting is louder and the bullets are coming faster, and they were heading right for it, but they have stopped somewhere near the crest of the hill to the west. Roger turns toward me.
The coyote stays behind on that slope to the west of us, and starts persistently barking at Roger. It’s a combination of sharp yips and regularly timed high-pitched, thin barks. I don’t sense aggression. I sense that she wants him to come play some more. And who wouldn’t?
Roger doesn’t look back at her, nor does he look concerned. He just lopes on back to me, probably tired. He’s a sprinter, not a marathon man.
The coyote (somehow I’m convinced it’s a she) watches us with her yips and her barks for a long time, standing motionless, downhill and across the dirt road from us. Then I’m surprised to see her mate come quietly up behind her. He joins the yipping for a while, then they both fall silent and disappear over the crest of the hill, heading west.
Now Roger and I traverse our way down the steep slope, avoiding the tightly packed roadway where I might slide, instead digging heels into the soft turf of the hill.
Now two Jeep loads of young guys are going up the steep hill right beside us where we’ve come to rest under a bush. This is the most action I’ve seen up here in 15 years. I thought the earlier Jeep would surely be the end of today’s traffic. This entire hillside is almost always all mine. Now the bad luck: to be squatting under a bush, with two Jeeps a few feet from my elbow. I hold the big dog by the collar so he doesn’t get mixed up with the vehicles. He struggles and heaves, still charged up by the coyote incident, and almost drags me toward the road with him.
Instead of going on and getting past us, one of the Jeeps stops right there, next to Roger, the tree and me. Words erupt from me: “Get out of my space!” I might as well be the coyote, yipping at him.
To my chagrin, the Jeep sides are open and the driver hears me: ”Hold on a minute! I’m stuck.”
He finally gets the white Wrangler moving again.
After the Jeeps pass, the coyote reappears to the east of us. I have no idea where she crossed the road. She darts from behind a rock pile and Roger again gives chase. They are gone for a while behind the rocks. Maybe this is it; now the evil drooling wild pack awaits to tear him apart. But somehow I doubt it. All my instincts say they’re just having fun.
As proof, he does come loping back to me after a while, to lie panting at my side. He has handled himself well. Upper fangs long ago extracted because he broke them chewing through a fence, and a surgically re-balanced left rear pastern do not hold this guy back. Nor, evidently, do they put him at risk from coyotes. We seem to be exempt from the myths.
The coyote is still around, watching us from behind the rocks.
As we descend further along the path, we see her once more, now with the mate, somehow she is off to the west again.
This was the only time this happened. Every day I longed for it to happen again. But how many blessings do any of us deserve?
Trish Swain is the head of Trail Safe, a local grassroots group, and a resident of Spanish Springs.