One balmy summer night, in the little Texas town where my parents lived, I had a decidedly terrifying encounter with one of Nature’s finest hunters.
I was bored and unable to sleep; visiting one’s parents during college can do that to a young man. So in the early morning hours, I ventured into the darkness alone, hoping to find something interesting. I quietly slipped into the garage, and (very loudly) opened the garage door. Outside, the fluorescent garage lights were an affront to the night’s beauty – a false, manufactured brightness. So I shut them off and ventured into the street.
With only one streetlight to guide me, the street was certainly dark and dangerous. A few houses away, a turned-corner or two, and I caught the faint silhouette of a four-legged, dog-like creature in the distance. About the size of a golden retriever, its nose was pinned to the ground, and its coiled tail wagged vigorously as it darted from place to place. Still, it moved with a purpose – no wasted steps; no wasted time.
Being the brilliant young man that I was, I decided to see if I could sneak up on it. I’m human, I told myself. I’m the smarter animal – I can flank this thing, and it’ll never notice. I’ll get a quick picture on my phone, and be done with it. I moved across the street, crouched behind a mailbox. Has it seen me? I looked carefully. No – still running around sniffing stuff. I looked down for a moment, fighting my cellphone out of my pocket. I returned my gaze upward and saw what should have been my warning to go home: the canine in the distance, looking at me.
I’d never seen anything alive so motionless. Perfectly balanced, utterly still, it stood completely frozen in motion. As I rose from my crouched position, it bolted away effortlessly, as if it had never stopped at all.
Whatever. I thumbed the screen on my phone as I walked home, oblivious to the outside world I had so intently sought out.
The house was exactly how I’d left it when I finally returned, though somehow more ominous. The brick frame of the garage was just visible in the moonlight, but the garage opening itself was a void. It was blacker than black as if light were being absorbed within it. The big aluminum door hung coiled in the ceiling, begging to be closed.
I walked inside, turned the lights back on; I felt how exhausted I was. I turned to get one final look at the Texas night, and there, standing just outside the lip of the garage floor, was the “dog” I’d been chasing. Obviously, it wasn’t a dog – it was, in fact, a four-foot tall coyote, and it had followed me home. Followed me home.
The way that coyote looked at me haunts me to this day. It never violated my territory – never stepped in the garage. It just stood at the edge of the house, its light-yellow fur bathing in the fluorescents, staring into me. I got the sense that it knew I was afraid.
“GET OUT,” I yelled, “GO!”
It didn’t flinch. It didn’t blink. It was challenging me. It stared directly into my eyes for another eight, maybe ten seconds, before slowly walking away on its own. Slowly, as if to say, “I’m leaving on my own terms. I’m not afraid of you, I’m done with you.”
The coyote is one of the most prevalent archetypes in Native American folklore. To many tribes, an encounter with one is a warning, admonition which much be heeded. Still, modern wildlife experts claim that coyotes are simply losing their fear of humans, learning that household waste is a viable food source.
Whatever the case, I’ll never go chasing one again.