It’s the Chinese Year of the Dog, and just the other night we heard a distant coyote family howling under a full moon. So it seemed only right that we revisit this column from the early years of In the Same Boat. Coyote doesn’t have an easy time of it in the Adirondack foothills these days. Pursued by dogs, targeted by “varmint” hunters, “harvested” by trappers… Coyote finds enemies everywhere he turns. But make no mistake: He’s not giving up. Coyote is here to stay.
by Tamia Nelson | January 5, 2018
A Note to the Reader
It was early evening. Cool, but not cold—in the 20s, in fact. Warm for February. A light dusting of new snow covered the bare ground, reflecting the pale silver light of a waxing moon. I stepped outside. Except for a barking dog in the far distance, the ‘Flow was quiet. Suddenly, a shrill yip shattered the stillness. It was immediately answered by a second. The distant dog stopped barking. Silence. Then there was a third yip. And another. And yet another. And soon a swelling chorus of yips and tremolos sounded from one end of the ‘Flow to the other, their echoes rebounding from the hills and swirling over the ice.
The howling seemed to come from everywhere at once. Behind me, I heard the shuffle of a deer, moving slowly up the slope into the shadowed woods.
The chorus continued. Farwell joined me, and we listened for a few minutes before going back inside. Next morning, on the snowy surface of the hill that rose behind the house, I saw the deer’s tracks—a deer with a dragging foot. And superimposed on the faltering footsteps of the deer, the four-toed tracks of one other creature. There was no sign that the second animal was in any hurry.
Later that morning, when I sat down at my computer, I found this message. It must have been written as I slept, in the stillness of the moonlit night.
Call me Dog. Not dog with a small d. I’m not a damn poodle. I’m Dog. Big D Dog. Yeah, sure. I know. I’ve been called lots of other things by your people. Coyote. Brush wolf. Pest. Varmint. But never mind all that, OK? Just call me Dog. That’s not my real name, understand? You’ll never know my real name. No human ever has. None ever will. But you need a name for me, just the same, and Dog’ll do.
Mighty fine evening, ain’t it? What you’d call a huntin’ moon. But then, every moon’s a huntin’ moon to me and the boyz. We’re hunters. It’s what we do. Our job description, you might say. Not that we’ll ever turn down a gift. Road-kill. Berries, when we can get ’em. Even windfall apples. But around here, in these hills, winter and summer, we live mostly on whitetail deer and hare.
Names. Back to names for a minute. The—whaddya call ’em?—taxonomists. That’s it. The taxonomists call me Canis latrans. Very important sounding, ain’t it? Like most names stolen from dead languages, I suppose. But what’s it mean? “Barking dog.” Not so impressive. And misleading. Sorta makes you think I’m the same as a poodle. But those scientists gave the poodle a different double-barrel name, didn’t they? So we must be different, right? And the wolf—what about the wolf? He’s got a different name, too. That’s three different names in all: one for me, another for the poodle, and a third for the wolf. Well, get this: I’m not a poodle. The taxonomists got that right, anyway. There’s only one Dog. But you take your poodle and your wolf, and then you take me and the boyz, and you know what? We’re all dogs! All one big family, if you get my meaning.
Yeah, sure, like most families, we don’t always get along. Whaddaya humans say? It’s a dog-eat-dog world? Right on. And if me and the boyz are hungry, well… Meat’s meat. That’s when a poodle’s just a snack. It’s nothin’ personal. It’s business.
So what’s with this name game? A lot more’n you’d think. Don’t get me started. Take this “restoring the wolf” bull, for instance. A few years back, it got everybody in these Adirondack hills all hot and bothered. Letters to the editor in every paper. Town meetings. Petitions. And almost every hill-town resident said the same thing: “Ain’t gonna have no wolf on my door! No how. No way.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Well that was a load of crap, if you’ll pardon my French. “Restore the wolf”? Give me a break. The wolf’s already here, and I’m him. Dog. Yours truly. And all them hot-and-bothereds writin’ letters to the editor? Members of the One Hundred Percent Wrong Club. Sometimes names get in the way of seeing the truth. Shouldn’t have to tell you that, though, should I? Seein’ what sort of mischief your best and brightest got up to in the last couple of centuries, playin’ games with the names for the different branches of your own family. Ranking and ordering. Measuring skulls. Calculating cranial capacities. Labeling some of you as “primitive” and some as “advanced.” Even suggesting that some of you were less human than some others.
Like I said before: It’s all crap. Sometimes, you gotta look beyond the names. Got to use a little common sense. Gotta tell the scientists where to get off. Gotta recognize that we’re all in the same boat.
Yeah, I thought you’d like that.
Not that me and the boyz don’t enjoy the joke. We do. All those folks buyin’ wolf T-shirts and coffee mugs. Writin’ checks to Hug a Wolf, Incorporated. Travelin’ hundreds of miles to wolf howl-ins. And all the while, day and night, Dog’s right here. Doin’ business and howlin’ up a storm. The genuine, original Call of the Wild. It’s right in their own backyard, and they still can’t hear it. Well, most of ’em can’t, anyway.
What did that guy P. T. Barnum say? “There’s a sucker born every minute,” right? Well, old P. T. sure knew the score.
Mind you, there’s family, and then there’s family. Take br’er wolf, now. You know, the one on the T-shirts. He’s one of us, but he went wrong somewhere. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, would ya? He’s a big guy. Strong, too. But he got too set in his ways. Lost his edge. Now he needs help. He’s still one of the family, sure, but he’s not exactly a good bet for the long haul, if you get my drift. He needs protection. He’s dependin’ on the kindness of strangers. He’s dependin’ on you. Big mistake.
Not us boyz, though. We’re survivors. We’re the entrepreneurs in the family. We can get along without any of your help, thanks just the same. That’s not to say we won’t take what comes our way. No indeed. When times are hard, a poodle makes a mighty welcome snack. Cats, too. The biter bit, ya know what I’m sayin’? And chickens. Even sheep. Like I said, it’s nothin’ personal. Meat’s meat.
Of course, farmers and ranchers and pussycat lovers don’t see it quite the same way we do. They shoot us when they can. But that ain’t too often. We keep ourselves to ourselves, ya see. So they bring in government killers to trap us. Or poison us. And when that doesn’t work, or when somebody’s poodle gets a mouthful of cyanide, they license hired guns to chase us with dogs. Little d dogs. That’s irony for ya. Doesn’t do ’em much good, though. We’re survivors, right? Anything that doesn’t kill us just makes us stronger. We adapt. Sometimes we hunt alone. Sometimes we hunt in packs. Sometimes we pair up, and sometimes we play the field. We hunt the woods. We hunt the ‘burbs. We do what we have to. And we never forget that meat’s meat. Road-kill today. Whitetail tomorrow. Pussycat next week. It’s all food on the table. Being a predator means never havin’ to say you’re sorry.
Maybe you’ll understand that, and maybe you won’t. I suspect you will. Me and the boyz watched you standing outside earlier, listenin’ to us talkin’. But it doesn’t matter all that much whether you understand us or not. We’re not lookin’ for friends. Your kind and mine, we’re not family. Not now. Not ever. We both call the woods around here home, but we live in different worlds. You know what I mean, right?
Gettin’ late. Moon’s almost down. I gotta go. The old lady’s back with the other boyz, and if I stay away too long, some of the young studs might start gettin’ ideas. And anyway, we got some unfinished business to take care of. Maybe you seen the doe with the broken leg? Got shot up by some so-called sportsman, a cross-eyed idiot who couldn’t put a slug in his foot with the muzzle resting on his shoe. He couldn’t track, either. Pretty worthless all round, to tell the truth. Well, anyway, me and the boyz have been keeping an eye on that crippled doe, and she ain’t doin’ too good. Her leg smells awful bad now, and she’s gettin’ mighty weak. In fact, she’s lookin’ a lot like meat. So we’re thinkin’ about payin’ her a visit tonight.
You see where I’m comin’ from, right? I thought you would. And the doe? You could say she’s been waitin’ for us, I suppose. Like I said earlier, it’s nothin’ personal. My old lady’s in the family way. Just like the doe. But the old lady’s gotta have meat, and that means somebody else’s gotta die. That’s life, ain’t it? It ain’t pretty, but it’s the way it is. We don’t make the rules. We just play the game.
OK. Catch ya later. Or not. But I’ll be around. You can bet on it. This Dog’s not going away any time soon. And that’s a promise.