The end of the day at Daniel Webster Sanctuary.

For years I have read one account after another about those mysterious coyotes that skulk around town stealing cats and dragging them back into the woods for dinner. Plenty of people tell about hearing the coyotes’ howl; a few have even seen them on the prowl. But until recently I’d neither seen nor heard a trace of them. To me, the coyotes were nothing more than a story.

I spend a lot of time outdoors. However I don’t consider myself to be a naturalist (please don’t ask me to identify any trees), only a lover of nature. I love to take my kayak out on the river, to walk on the beach or in the dunes, to traverse the meadow and woodland trails of our many nature preserves. But I’ll admit that these excursions function more as “time to think” than “time to explore.” It’s not that I don’t notice my surroundings — I do — and I am aware of the subtle yet often profound effect they have on me. I guess you could say that I absorb the natural world more than I study it.

Many people find this hard to believe, but “Observing Nature” is rarely what motivates me to venture outdoors. Usually it’s more of a need to clear my mind, to sort my thoughts, to gain some perspective. Falling into the easy rhythm of paddling a canoe or placing one foot in front of the other along a path permits the heart and mind some well-needed space It’s like driving a car long distance — with one part of the mind caught up in monotony, other, less accessible parts may rise to the foreground.

Back to the coyotes. It’s the first Friday night in June that I’m referring to when I mention The Night of the Coyote.

It wasn’t night actually, only evening — one of those long June evenings where it stays light till after 8 pm. A friend and I had been walking up and down the mowed grass trails of Audubon’s Daniel Webster Sanctuary for more than two hours.

When we arrived, in separate cars, at 5:30 pm, we were barely speaking to each other. Our on again-off again relationship had been off all week, and we weren’t sure that it would ever be on again. We weren’t sure if that was even what we wanted anymore.

After not speaking all week, we’d decided to go for a walk together. It started off awkward, but as we walked, we began to shed our defenses, and soon we could discuss the new shape our relationship seemed to be taking. We agreed that we’d be taking a different path than before, regarding each other in a subtle yet significantly different way.

We walked and talked, stopping occasionally to admire a redwing blackbird or comment on the hundreds of shades of green visible across the sanctuary’s rolling hills and fields. But these were the exceptions. We were there to talk, not to explore.

I remember noticing, during a tense pause in the conversation, the sound of the wind in the meadow grass, the soft rustle of blade against blade. I remember thinking that I could lie back, close my eyes, feel the warmth of the sun on my face and just listen to that sound for hours. But at the time discussing the state of our relationship was much more important.

Our conversation reached a comfortable pause around the same time we arrived back at the information shed near the entrance. We’d said enough for that day, and we both needed to be alone, to have some time to think. Yet we weren’t quite ready to leave. We stood side by side, looking out into the fields, perhaps noticing for the first time that day the beauty of our surroundings.

It was then that we heard it. The strangest sound.

At first I thought it was a rooster, but my friend said “No. Listen. It’s howling.” And then it began barking too, howling then barking over and over.

“The coyotes!” Neither of us had heard them before.

I always expected them to sound like coyotes on cartoons or in the movies. “Ow-woooo. . .” But it was not like that at all. It was more desperate sounding, haunting.

We were spooked, but not really afraid. We felt safe enough, it being broad daylight and all. But if it had been dark out, we’d have been scared out of our wits, for sure.

We were both thinking it, but it was my friend who said it first. “We spend so much time thinking that we — our lives, our loves, our problems — are the most powerful and important things in the world. “But then something comes along like a blizzard or a hurricane or a pack of coyotes and we realize just how small we are.

“We have the power to destroy rivers and forests. We pride ourselves on our efforts to preserve marshes and fields. But in the larger scheme of things, we are totally at the mercy of the elements.

My friend and I had been putting all sorts of effort into defining our new, improved friendship/relationship. Too much effort. We thought we could control our feelings simply by stating what they should be. But can we effectively control something that has a mind of its own?

It’s the same with nature. We put all this effort into “managing” it — assuming that we have the ultimate jurisdiction over the shape of a river or the extent of a wetlands. But then we have a flood, like in the Midwest, or a more subtle reminder — like the septic problems now occurring in the former salt marsh known as marshfield Center — and we see how muchcontrol we do not — or cannot — have.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to have things the way we want them, to do what we think is best. I’m only saying that we have to know — and respect — our limits. To remember every once in a while that even though our own personal worlds may revolve around ourselves, the Universe itself does not. We can be incredibly powerful, but there are forces out there even stronger than us.

The coyotes remind me of that. Sometimes, in the dark recesses of mental and emotional struggle, I can hear them howl.

by Kezia Bacon
June 1997