Wildlife, wildlife, wildlife. The grandeur of Wingate cliffs and the delicacy of a Colorado columbine draw me into wild places, but wild creatures connect me to deserts and mountains with a particularly vivid immediacy and intimacy. Whether I’m startled by a snake rustling fallen leaves or awed by a soaring hawk, I’m thrilled by the lives of creatures so different from me but dependent on the same water, air, and land that I am. When I leave the built environment to engage with the natural environment, I allow for marvel and humility, a glimpse into the intrinsic value of wild places. Or at least wilder places. Here, author Susan Imhoff Bird rides her bike up a Utah canyon to find a wildlife wonderland that ignites her own wild places.
the coyote in my canyon by susan imhoff bird
approaching the final curve before the hill’s crest, the sun is moments from advancing the sky from dawn to day. particles of the night’s darkness hang in the air and everything—rocky hillsides, trees, the road itself—blurs gently around surfaces and edges and my headlight throws a fat cone of weak light that illumines naught but hovering molecules of night.
nothing is sharply defined, and all is tinted by the watery mutedness and appears mottled green or one of sixteen shades of earth.
when a dust brown creature suddenly appears at the far reach of my vision it shifts from apparition to solidity slowly, my revolving wheels lessening the gap between us and changing fuzz to fur, brown, mottled, four legs, a slender torso, a long and narrow tail.
it is my coyote. he has crossed the road south to north and disappeared into the tall grass and scrub edging the asphalt. I watch the spot with intensity, wondering if he will wait and watch me pass as he often does. the steep grade retards my approach and I am still half a dozen yards away when a howl shatters the air. bark, bark, howl. I see him now, he sits in the sage and cheatgrass, his back to me, and howls. another bark, and a long howl sent out over the valley opening below him. the sound dancing on those lingering particles of dawn, dropping on trees and shrubs, falling on leaves, tickling the ears and minds of squirrels and rabbits.
parallel to him, now uphill of him, he howls again, ignoring me, or perhaps serenading me with nonchalant neglect. I pedal, he howls, I reach the top of the climb after his vocalizations have ceased, their reverberations no longer trembling blades of grass. the air is still, and the sun, lifting itself over the furthest eastern mountain, has removed the last vestiges of dawn and what had been soft is now sharp, what was unclear is now illuminated.
this morning’s sighting is my seventh, and each has brought me as much delight as the one before. it’s an unspoken hope each time I ride, let the coyote cross my path today. he is curious and, other than the single concert, silent. for a canine he is surprisingly cat-like, his paws like fog. he has dashed across the road behind my descending wheels, he has hovered on the side of the road. he has feinted toward me like a pugilist, then apparently thought better of it and retreated to the shoulder to watch me pass. I’ve been studiously ignored; I’ve been studied as though I’m the first human he’s encountered. he brings what’s untamed, wild, to my border and dares to cross into my land.
great horned owls hunt in my canyon as the sky releases its deepest ink and the world becomes one of silhouette, their wings spread wide in flight, to scan, to attack. I look to treetops, utility poles, seeking that familiar elliptical shape focused on examination of the shrubs and ground below. details cloaked, it is shape, silhouette, everything dark against a sky of baltic blue. porcupines amble and deer startle, bounding up hillsides of scrub oak and balsamroot. a stretch of road is silent, then the cacophony of bird song reigns for the next mile. raccoon eyes shimmer between scrubby brush, a rabbit turns tail and runs. but not a creature is anything like my coyote.
perhaps it is the teeth, its predatory nature, the fact that it is only size that keeps me from being at risk. or perhaps it’s that he is only evolutionary steps away from being a household pet. that my mind and heart think dog when he trots across the road or seems to consider interaction.
or maybe it’s the howl. a howl that send shivers up spines, that declares desires and needs, that energizes air and speaks to all within earshot.
the canyon is not mine, nor the coyote. but at the edge of dawn and day when all is dirt brown and muddy green, I am transported to a world of deepest truth and being by four-legged creatures that leap and amble, bound and jump and trot, and, when all my stars align, occasionally and resonantly, howl.
Reposted from the tao of cycling | susan imhoff bird
Look for Susan’s exploration of the wolf controversy, Howl: Of Woman and Wolf, in May 2015 from Torrey House Press.