Declaring a Love for Coyotes

Finding praise, admiration, and respect for the wildness in these creatures.

I come home with a chicken or
a rabbit and sit up
singing all night with my friends.
It’s baroque, my life, and
I tell it on the mountain.
I wouldn’t trade it for yours.

— from William Stafford’s poem, “Coyote”

We live on a small hill in a narrow valley not far from the convergence of Oregon’s Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges. On the valley floor, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, and geese share land with increasing numbers of vineyards and marijuana grows. As they’ve been doing for tens of thousands of years, coyotes come down from the mountains at night to catch what they can. We often hear them yipping and howling, and occasionally, just after first light in the morning, we spot lone animals or pairs prowling the pastures and farmyards.

A few months ago, a coyote killed and devoured one of our cats. My wife, Hilde, discovered what was left of Whitey — little more than a head and tail and four legs — under a pine tree close to our storage shed. I buried him nearby.

I’m fairly certain that the same coyote that killed Whitey is back to try for his brother, Red. Not long ago, I walked out our back door in mid-morning to split some of the firewood logs stacked against the shed. A brief movement caught my eye, a quick flash of darkness behind a shrub. I stopped, looked hard, saw nothing, and then, when I took a single step toward the shrub, a coyote sprang from its cover, landed on all fours, big ears cocked forward, black-nosed, narrow-snouted head turned to stare at me with bright yellow eyes. This was a healthy, handsome animal, with thick brown fur tinged with black and a bushy tail held high, but I had no more than a second to admire it.

The coyote sprinted back behind the shed with the kind of speed that made it seem to simply vanish. I had time to take just two steps toward the shed before it reappeared, after coming up against our next-door neighbor’s fence. This time it didn’t pause to look at me. Our wire fence, four feet high, separates us from a neighbor down the hill, and, after a sharp right pivot, the coyote, at least six feet from the fence, jumped over it with no apparent effort, easily clearing the wire. It took me a few seconds to reach the fence, and by that time the animal was out of sight, into brushy cover a hundred yards away.

Since my encounter with the coyote, Hilde and I have been talking about it. She says she would kill the coyote if she could, to protect Red. I care about Red, too, a lifelong outdoor cat, and we’re doing our best to keep him out of harm’s way. But I don’t believe that leg-hold traps or canisters of cyanide or rifles should ever be used against coyotes.

My respect for coyotes — call it love — dates back to a night many years ago when Hilde and I cross-country skied an old logging road down a mountainside under a full moon. Cross-country skis sliding through powder snow make a lovely, muted hissing sound, and I think that sound, along with the full moon, were what started the coyotes howling. A pack of them followed us down the mountain. One would bark, then yip, then produce a long drawn-out howl, the note rising shrilly as the volume increased. The louder the howl became, the closer it seemed, and when the animals joined in chorus they seemed very close indeed.

We looked back often enough, but of course we never saw one. They followed us all the way to our car, and it wasn’t until the skis were lashed to the roof rack that they finally fell silent. No sound on earth could be wilder, freer, lovelier than what we heard that winter night.

Thoreau wrote that “in wildness is the preservation of the world,” and though I don’t know exactly what that meant to him, I do know what it means to me. Wild animals are superior to the domestic species that people breed and train, and far superior to the beasts we slaughter to eat.

The advantage that wild animals have over all of us is that they live where and how they were meant to live, and are lucky enough to have no way of knowing that they won’t exist exactly as they are forever.

This story was produced and published by High Country News. Photo by Kurayba


Showing 11 comments
  • DanO

    WOW..just wow. I too, love to hear Coyotes howl at night, especially when camping out. One of my fondest memories with my father was when in his late 70’s we hiked and fished a week in the Lamar Valley and watched a Coyote leaping off a high road bank to nail one rodent after another, using the road as high vantage to look and listen. They are an amazing creation and I truly admire their ability to adapt and survive.

    But the misplaced sentimentality of this piece makes me wonder if he is a transplant to rural areas where people can depend on their domestic animals for a living. Losing livestock, poultry or a good dog to coyotes who the author has arbitrarily be-knighted with “superior to the domestic species” status is unacceptable to people who live closer to the land and make a living there. And in the East, coyotes have actually increased their range into areas they have never lived before. Control is required and there are no free chicken dinners available to the “superior species”. When I see them in the wild, I will enjoy the experience and leave them be. Near livestock or my dogs, they will receive a different welcome. I’m not a cat person, but even Whitey and Red deserve better. Compliments extended to the author’s wife.

  • Gregg

    Great article. I to beleive in education not erratication of these animals as well. Do the best u can to protect the ones u love keep them from harms way and live and let live. They were here bfor us and will b here long after us and they are just living their lives as best as they can. They are beautiful animals i have been documenting a family of them here in mass and mom and dad are on their second litter since i first started and i find them amaizing creatures, it wasnt my intention to fall in love with these animals but after thousands of pictures and videos i couldnt help but love these animals.

  • Ben

    We live in the sagebrush of Northern Nevada, thousands of acres of BLM are out backyard. We have three herding dogs, two cats, five chickens, and a four foot fence. I routinely holler at the coyotes that come to our fenceline, I have chased them up the hill, but I have never considered killing one. We have lost two cats to coyotes in three years, one dog was packed on but survived, but never a chicken was harmed.

    Sunday morning I woke to a baby rattler sunning itself under my chair as I drank coffee at dawn. I made the dogs lay down, I got a shovel, then I gently scooped her up and put her outside the fence into the bushes. My wife asked me why I didn’t kill the snake. Do I have to explain?

    They live here, like the wild horses, deer, and rabbits. It’s a lifecycle that came well before me and will continue long after I’ve gone to dust.

    • Steve Casimiro

      For those of you who have a copy of Desert Solitaire handy, I recommend you read chapter three, The Serpents of Paradise, where Abbey writes about dealing with mice, rattlers, and gopher snakes.

  • Sandrae K Jaynes

    The coyote choruses i used to hear are one of my most treasured memories.

  • DanO

    In the East, we have coyotes moving into areas they have not occupied before. And when they get habituated to humans, bad things can happen. Like,,

    An off-duty Irvington police officer saved a child from a coyote attack in Thornwood Sunday.
    Irvington police officer Arcangelo Liberatore was off duty and enjoying a relaxing day with his family at Carroll Park in Thornwood, until he spotted a coyote. He, his wife and his children quickly got up and ran for their car.
    Over his shoulder, Liberatore saw the coyote attacking a young girl, 5-year-old Natalia Petrellese.
    Petrellese and her mother were in a playground when the coyote attacked, biting through Petrellese’s jacket.
    Liberatore sprang into action, putting his weight on the coyote’s chest and wrestling the coyote against a garbage can.
    Five minutes later, Mount Pleasant police officers arrived and shot and killed the coyote

  • DK

    I know it sounds harsh but a “free-range” cat (or dog) undoubtedly kills a great number of birds and other creatures. The fact that they are, in turn, hunted by coyotes does not bother me in the least. The cats might kill a few less if they have to look over their shoulder.

  • kurt gray

    does the animal in the photo have mange?

  • SK

    Thank you for your wonderful story. And I am sorry for Whitey, it’s never easy to lose a beloved pet. And in terms of sentimentality, I thought there was no more sentimentality in it that any work that reflects on a beautiful creature that evolved with the landscape doing its thing, isn’t that one of the reasons why we love wild things?

  • Geri Vistein

    Yes, the coyote in the photo has mange,. And for many coyotes it is a slow painful death. As scientists we are finding more mange in our carnivores who hunt rodents…because people are using rodenticides in their houses to kill rodents. After eating any number of these poisoned mice, it suppresses the otherwise powerful immune systems of Coyotes and others..and they are not able fight off these pernicious parasites.

  • tom

    one solution for coyote control, in rural areas, is to place a burro (equus asinus) in with your livestock. burros have a natural instinctive dislike of canines. and if this info is something you would wanna follow up on, consider adopting a burro from the burro (pun intended) of land management. we need to get a lot of horses & burros adopted……t taylor, volunteer for b.l.m. wild horse & burro program………in arizona

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