Daylight savings time has caught Tasha and me by surprise. We usually make our last foray into the woods around 4 PM. With the sun setting over the hills by 5, we've been caught twice this week in the dark.
In the dark--when the coyotes come out.
We've seen many coyotes in our time, chased them away from the cats, even stared down a big one on the hill. Tasha and I taking on a lone coyote is no big deal.
This week we encountered the pack.
We didn't see them...we heard them, coming down off the hill, howling like they're on our scent, yipping with dark glee as they get closer and closer. It's a chilling, terrifying sound in the deep dusk.
They're predators, and they're out for blood. They kill small animals, including most of our neighborhood cats. Children have been attacked by coyotes in this part of the state. Howling down from the hill and heading for us, I imagine only the worst.
My blood runs cold and, stick in hand, I try to hurry Tasha along.
I know they're no more vicious than the owl who also rises to greet her day at this time. But the owl is silent, except for those amazing moments when she takes flight with a mighty whomp whomp. And given that I'm heading home for a supper of grilled hamburgers, it's hypocritical to want to deny the coyotes their supper, as bloody as it will be.
It's the howling that gets me.
High-pitched and exultant, the alpha dog sings her dominion while the rest of the pack yips their excitement at waking to hunt through another night. They have a joyful expectation of sinking their teeth into flesh and blood and tearing a creature apart, an impulse so primitive, it makes me shiver.
Yet they are God's creatures too. Perhaps they were also created to be our companions in Eden but in this world still groaning for redemption, the coyotes sing their bloodlust with glee. They do this, not because they are evil, but because they need to kill to eat.
Tasha doesn't hear them. Their howling runs under my skin, making my bones shiver but she walks alongside me like it's just another jaunt toward home. And we can't get home soon enough because they're now on the path to the stream, where we were just a few minutes ago.
I shout and shout again, and they finally shut up. They are still wild enough so that my voice makes them cautious. They're too close to make me feel safe but I've commanded their silence, at least until I can get Tasha out of the woods. Somehow not hearing them allows me to pretend they're gone.
Tasha and I climbed mountains for years, and I never feared because she was so protective and could be fierce if she felt I was threatened. Now she's old and deaf and, should coyotes come after us, she would become prey instead of protector. It's a chilling reality of her decline, just as the coyotes' howling in the night is a chilling reminder of this fallen world.
I should bless them and not curse them because we all struggle to make our way in this world. This is a good time of year for the coyotes. The nights are brisk and their prey is fattened in preparation for winter. When the snow falls, it'll get more difficult for them. I'll be fat and sassy on my hamburgers and roast chicken but their howls will become lean and edged with hunger.
They'll wander into yards, looking for trash and pets to consume. People will spot them in Lowell or Nashua, and we'll wonder at the wild coming into our domain.
It's an easy jump from the howl of the coyotes to 1 Peter 5:8: Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
But to lay this evil at the feet of the coyotes would be wrong. It is our sin that has necessitated the coyotes and wolves and bears and all manner of creatures spill blood to live. My cat is surely as vicious as a coyote but her prey is small and her voice silent, and no one speaks on behalf of the mice she rips apart.
That we can walk and pet and love our dogs, that our dogs comfort us and love us and yes, may die for us, is a blessing that is contrary to the natural order of things. And so it is my duty to raise my voice in praise and thanks.
Loud enough and faithful enough to drown out the howls.
TOMORROW: Meet Elsi Dodge and her dog Lady, who have logged many miles together.