When we first bought this land, we had nothing but a tent cabin to sleep in. Every night we used to hear the coyotes howling. However, we only saw one once. He was large as a German Shepherd, glossy and completely unconcerned as the dogs jumped up and down on the tent cabin bed barking at him. He threw them a disdainful glance and loped past us down the path. We haven’t seen or heard one since. Until, John the Baptist and Louis told me recently that they’d seen two large adult coyotes and two, maybe three, younger ones playing in the brush around the barn. We laughed and dubbed them Wiley, Wilma and the Kids.
Now the large male seems to have staked out the barn and pasture as his territory. I’ve seen him twice in this past week. Which given the nature of coyotes, probably means he’s been lurking around here all the time. Both times he’s been strolling along the dirt road from our back gate up to the vineyards. I’ve had more time to observe him than you usually get with coyote. He’s not the scrawny coyotes that I used to see raiding garbage cans in LA. Or the skittery little coyotes you sometimes see in the southern deserts of California. And, believe me, this is no buffoonish Wile E. Coyote. From his glossy pelt, bushy tail and loose-limbed lope to his arrogant glances, it’s clear, this is Coyote, with a capital C, the Trickster God of Native American legend.
Coyote features in a lot of Native American myths, sometimes as a man-coyote God and sometimes even as the Creator. The local tribes that would have lived around Sonoma, the Pomo and the Miwok, especially revered Coyote and had numerous legends about him as Creator. In Miwok tradition, Coyote Man comes into the West with his son, Red-Tailed Hawk, and makes the the Pomo people from mud and the Miwok people out of sticks. In other legends, Coyote and Silver Fox sing the world into being. Pomo mythology has Coyote and Lizard creating the tribe on the shores of Upper Lake (just up the Silverado Trail in Lake County) from sticks. Another local tribe, the Ohlone, have Coyote fathering the tribe after Eagle carries him to Mount Diablo (the tallest mountain in the Bay Area). Probably most of us are familiar with the Coyote myth from the Navaho detective books of Tony Hillerman that mix tribal lore with modern day police work on the Navajo reservation. There Coyote plays his more traditional role as Trickster, who sometimes helps man by fooling monsters that would hurt the tribe and at other times shows up man’s own foolishness with his pranks.
The bottom line: Native Americans knew their coyotes. Coyotes weren’t the biggest predators on the block (especially back in the day when there were wolves, Grizzlies and a lot more Mountain Lions.) But you could easily argue that they were the smartest. One of the blogs in my blogroll is The Daily Coyote, the diary of a woman who has been raising Charlie, an orphaned coyote pup. She reports that Charlie, now a teenager, can open kitchen cabinets, walk as silently as a cat, and figure out any gate she puts in. Add to this native intelligence, the arrogance that our coyote seems to have. Other than our resident Mountain Lion (who only seems to make cameo appearances since he has a huge State Park to roam around in), coyotes would be the biggest predators around here.
And our coyote’s done what even Pitbulls in San Francisco have not been able to do: he’s intimidated Oscar, who like his namesake Oscar de la Hoya, is usually unaware that he is not the biggest dog on the block. This morning, as Coyote loped by, Oscar jumped up on the dining table (because standing on a table makes you look REALLY BIG) and barked furiously. But he certainly wasn’t going to run after Coyote, who never broke stride, even as he gave Oscar a contemptuous glance over his shoulder.
Lucy, on the other hand, is petrified.
As for little Oscar, he’s been busy marking all the territory around the barn with his own special brand of Oscar essence. He’s not ready to take Coyote on. In fact, I think there is a bit of hero worship happening. After all, here’s a pointy faced, prick eared canine who is obviously in charge.