One night, not long ago, my friend Jeff and I went for a hike up behind his house. Now, Jeff and I have been friends for a good many years. We talk about the world; we talk about our families; or we share tales of outdoor adventures. And every once in awhile, we even tell the truth.
We walked across a dark field. I was telling flatlander stories. “Out west,” I said, “people say that the voice of a coyote never echoes.” Jeff chuckled. “That’s because where you’re from it’s so flat nothing can echo!”
We crossed the field and lingered at the edge of a dark woods. In the east, the moon was about to rise. The song of the lonesome coyote has guided me most of my life. I’ve heard those yodels in Arizona’s deep slickrock canyons; I’ve listened to their witch-like laughter on the high desert plains of eastern Oregon.
Many a night I’ve fallen asleep on the short buffalo grass of the prairies of Nebraska listening to coyotes toss love songs at the starry sky. And one evening, just a week ago, I was walking the dog at the edge of my Vermont village when she jerked her leash and froze. Then I heard them: a small pack of coyotes yipping and yelping somewhere off in these Vermont hills.
I’ve been around people who claim the call of a coyote is frightening, but to me that cackling, yipping chortle is the sweetest sound in all of nature: free and confident, wild and unstoppable.
Jeff and I entered the woods just as the first thin sliver of moon edged over the far horizon. “How many coyotes have you seen in the wild?” I asked. Jeff had to stop, lean back, scratch his head, adjust his coat and clear his throat twice before he began. Then we walked deeper into the woods stringing together tae after tale.
There were stories of lone coyotes slinking across abandoned railroad tracks; stories of steel-blue beasts dashing across the Interstate. Ephemeral creatures. Fleeting trickster beings on craggy mountain passes. Dream-like glimpses of smoke-wisp coyote. Here, then gone.
“One time,” Jeff said, “hiking on the Green Mountains, I came around a bend and this coyote ¿ I swear he was standing in the trail as close as¿ as¿.” Jeff looked around, “¿as that fir¿.” He pointed to a large tree ten yards from where we stood.
Now there are strange tales in these Vermont hills, but I swear by all the maple syrup in the Northeast Kingdom that right there, right where Jeff pointed, no further from us that I am from you, stood a lone coyote. In no longer it takes to say these words, he was gone.
This is Alan Boye, just walking the hills of Vermont.
Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College.