The coyotes are singing tonight, sending their eerie, wavering howls to the slender crescent moon. The air outside is bitter or I would leave my window open to enjoy the performance, but it wasn’t always so.
I was twelve the first time I heard coyotes howl and I was terrified. We’d just moved to our first home in the country, a little farm twenty miles from the nearest town, and although I loved the fields and forest by day, I dreaded the coming of the dark. I’d never lived where predators roamed free and having the wolf’s little brother lurking in the shadows was the stuff of which nightmares were made. My family was very environmentally conscious and I believed in protecting The Wild, but once the howling began, all I could think of were fairy tales in which the wolf and his brethren stalked human prey.
Throughout the winter I refused to leave the house after dark and no amount of reason could make me change my mind. I stood my ground until spring arrived and our horses began to foal. When a mare came to her due date, we put her in the barn and took turns checking her every hour through the night. This time Dad wouldn’t let me off the hook. If everyone else could make it there and back again, I could too. So, baseball bat and flashlight in hand, I scurried to the barn in the wee hours of the night. For some reason, coming back to the house seemed scarier than going out to the barn. I tried to make myself walk slowly, told myself there was nothing to fear, but I always reached the back door at a dead run, certain the hounds of hell were close behind.
One balmy, late spring night, I heard a whipporwill call as I was heading back from the barn. The melody was so cheerful, I whistled back, “whipp-or-will!” Ten seconds later, the coyotes began to howl. My heart was racing and I was ready to run when the epiphany came: The coyotes weren’t howling to scare me, they were singing, just like the whipporwill. The mental image of green-eyed devils dissolved and I saw instead a family of coyotes having a sing beneath the moon.
That experience changed my life and it changed my perception of The Wild. I knew many animals were frightened of humans, but I’d never stopped to think that, for the most part, animals didn’t give our existence a second thought. They had lives of their own and unless I forced my way into their existence, they had better things to do than to plot against me. This was the first time I realized animals aren’t capable of being “good” or “bad.” Predators eat meat, not because they are cold-blooded killers, but because they must do so to survive. They have no choice in the matter, instinct, not reason, drives all their needs. The only animal that transgresses the natural order and kills needlessly, wastefully, and with intentional cruelty is the species of man. Forgive us Father, for we do know what we do.