Wiley Has Dinner, On Me
by Bill Scully (drawing by Margareta Meta Larsson)
Shepherd’s Meadow Farm, Toccoa GA
Last October I had my dance with a coyote.
Scrub had overtaken a section in the back field and the Fescue underneath needed room to breathe. I usually mow the perimeter first, working my way to the middle. The shadows were growing longer, stretching as if rising from sleep, reminding me that I had started later than I’d like. The day would close in a couple of hours.
The tractor labored steadily down each row. Suddenly, there he was, just a hundred feet directly ahead. He seemed to materialize out of nowhere. He was gray and tan, an easy blend with ground cover that had lost its summer lush. He looked to be about 40 pounds and had prick ears and a black tip on his tail. The muzzle was so pointed it seemed to turn upward.
He had the attitude of an individual at the top of the food chain, where panic is part of the prey’s behavior, but never the predator’s. If there was fear, he made sure he didn’t show it. He was cautious, but self-assured. In his mind, this was, after all, his turf.
I motored on, closing the distance between us. He held his ground. As I passed, he hopped to the side but kept his eyes on me. As I came around again, he was still there and it dawned on me what he wanted. Mower blades scare up field mice, a coyote staple. Sure enough, he zeroed in on something and pounced. His tail went up as if to celebrate the catch. A couple of hard chews and down went the first course. His second catch was more businesslike. He held the animal down with his paws and gnawed at it as if he were pulling the fuzz off a tennis ball. With that, he leaped over a bush and was gone.
We hear them out there at night or when they answer the siren of an ambulance or fire engine. The coyote’s song is, somehow, both beautiful and menacing. Their distinctive yip-yip-a-o-o-o-o-o-o-w has been said to resemble the yell of a Rebel soldier as he charged into Civil War battle – – equal parts shout and scream. One of my dogs tries her best to imitate the quivering call, and does fairly well. Most of the deficit is in the yip-yip part, since her bark lacks the sharp popping sound of the wild dog. Coyote puppies can do it, but they usually end their say in the matter with a pitiful shriek that lacks authority. High marks are scored for effort.
Wiley can be defiant toward humans. You can walk toward a coyote and he sometimes will hold his ground until he hears the click of a gun being loaded, then he will run. He knows that a clicking sound is not something that nature makes and the centuries have taught him that if you want to survive, sometimes hightailing it is better than curiosity or arrogance.
I’ve seen coyotes stand and trot and run, but I have never seen one actually walk. They never seem to rest, moving from place to place at a nimble trot, casting nervous glances over their shoulder, as if they had just committed some offense, or were about to, and the law was after them.
A week later, Wiley appeared when he heard the tractor start up. He was waiting for me! We repeated the same dance as before and after his main course and dessert, I never saw him again. To this day, he’s the only one that ever mistook me for Kevin Costner.