Last night I heard the coyotes calling. It began as one and quickly grew to a high-pitched chorus rising through the forest, up into the trees and then to the open sky. I put down my book and listened. I couldn’t remember the last time I heard their voices—a few weeks ago, perhaps. Their sounds entered the yurt and circled around me, as though the coyotes were just on the other side of our lattice wall, serenading the sugar woods.
On yesterday’s walk, I came across six different coyote scats on the trail, though I may have missed some when I took a detour to follow deer tracks. It’s the most I have seen in one area, and so it seems the pack has moved away from the south field. A few weeks ago, my co-worker told me to stop skiing with the dogs there, on the edge of the south field where a dead cow was laid at the end of a compost pile. We—Pebble, Nobee and I—had been skiing a loop from the yurt, through the northern woods, and around behind the cemetery to access the hayfield. It was a nice flat end to our outings, skiing the perimeter of the field, where the view opens up to Elmore Mountain, Hunger Mountain, and Camel’s Hump, and even around to Mt. Mansfield and the Sterling ridgeline. The dogs would run in and out of the woods, plunge into the snow snout first looking for mice, and follow my trail when they wanted a rest. At the southern border we’d come to the cow, whose body had been eaten down to skeleton around the ribs. Coyote and bobcat tracks led from the forest to the cow, and crow tracks bounced around the body. The mottled snow was packed down around it from many animal visitors, and over the course of a week, I saw the hind leg pecked at, then dragged away, and then the bone marrow exposed and sucked out. The dogs would sniff and pee, and after a few minutes we’d move on to complete our route. So I was shocked when I learned they’d put out coyote traps, and I heard the words, “I’d hate for one of them dogs to get hurt out there.”So would I. I’d hate for my dogs, and for their cousins, the coyotes, to get hurt out there.
I went back to ask when they’d be taking the traps down, and it was my co-worker who spoke, “I’m gonna keep throwin’ bate out there as long as I keep catchin’ coyotes.” It’s true, we lost half our turkeys to the wild dogs this summer, and it’s true that I, too, would look out toward the field at night, scared for the birds when I’d hear the howls and hope our electric fencing and locked turkey house would be enough defense. It is also true that coyotes respond to predation by increasing their uterine cycles and litter size, thus giving birth more often to more pups. Killing coyotes leads to a higher population of coyotes. When I related this information, my co-worker’s response was, “Not if I kill them all first.”
“You can’t get ahead of them,” I said. “They’re smart, and they’re faster than you. Let me know when you take the traps down.”
I don’t know how many they got, if any at all. I haven’t asked, and I haven’t been told. Instead, I feel a small victory each time I see traces of the pack, and lately their presence has grown stronger here on the northern side of the farm, where the forest extends down to the Green River and further on past the farm boundaries.
Farmers and coyotes…is there more tension between any other species? Is a farm not wild in its own way? Can there not be a concession? Coyotes would rather eat rodents and stay out of sight of humans than venture into open territory; maybe the answer is to pasture the turkeys in a more protected area away from the forest, maybe the answer is to not raise turkeys; whatever it is, if we want fewer coyotes, the answer is not to kill them.
I once wrote that wildness lives in the places that overlap, and wild is found in the meetings of animals and people, and in the moments that hold stares without thoughts. That was true in Alaska. Can it be true in Vermont? Can there be harmony between an animal farm and predators? Can we see the harmonious balance, even if we cannot understand it?