Giles Ryan

Copyright 2023 by Giles Ryan

Image by Hans Toom from Pixabay
Image by Hans Toom from Pixabay

I saw him before he saw me.

It was about five in the morning and I was on my way back after an hour or so walking the streets of Clyde Hill and Medina, some six or seven miles to start the day. The wind was blowing quite strong from the north away from him and toward me and the gusts were enough to sway the branches of the tall cedars, creating more noise than usual. If the wind had been blowing the other way he certainly would have caught my scent, or if the air had been still he would have heard the noise of my steps as I came down the street. But standing upwind with the noise of the swaying boughs adding to his own distraction, he was unaware of my approach. Seeing him first, I stopped, stood quite still and took in the sight of him about twenty yards away. 

He was standing in the full circle of a streetlight, as if at center stage, while I, his audience, happened to stop in the shadows. I wanted very much to see how long I could watch him and remain unseen. Very slowly I went into a crouch to make my presence smaller, gradually went to my knees and bent my body low to the ground the bow-to-Mecca pose I had so often seen in another lifetime on the far side of the world.
He was a full-grown male coyote, a big fellow. He stood over two feet at the shoulder, his muzzle thinner than any dog his size and his tail full and bushy and hanging low to the ground. His coat was a soft gray fading to white at his belly. His head was tilted up as if sniffing the air and I thought, he doesnt smell me but he seems to be trying to catch the scent of something else perhaps a raccoon or a rabbit or an unwise neighborhood cat out and about when he should be safe at home. But the coyote had no notion that any other creature had detected him.  For at least a full minute I stayed motionless and watched him.

Coyote sightings are not rare even in this part of Bellevue. Its a long-established residential neighborhood in an urban setting, with houses on small plots close together, with schools and the fire and police stations nearby a quiet, well-ordered place. But everyone knew they were around, and that coyotes live by their own rules, taking whatever they can.  Some weeks before I had chatted with a neighbor out walking his Shi-tzu and he had mentioned that he would never let his little fellow off the leash. No, he said, my guy isnt going anywhere without me some coyote would love to have him for a snack!

But I couldnt help liking the coyote he was a handsome fellow and, after all, he was here first, wasnt he? No, not the one I was looking at, but I could certainly imagine his ancestors walking these hills at night, long before people lived here, back in a time when they held a better place in the food chain, before the weak but nonetheless dangerous creatures came on their two legs and cut down trees and scarred the land with streets, houses, fences, gardens to say nothing of the bright-eyed steel monsters hurtling through the night at ferocious speed, crushing everything in their path. Or so it must seem to a coyote. 

He stood up now and looked around, as if finally sensing that something was not quite right. He looked my way, thrust his head forward, then pulled back, hesitating, and then he started to walk slowly toward me. I thought, he still doesnt see me! Then as he cautiously came closer I realized, he sees me but he thinks Im some small prey!

Well, this could not go on any longer. I let him come to about ten feet away and then I stood up. He instantly jumped back, gave a small whimper-like sound, took a long last look and quickly ran away down the street.

Well now, I thought, Ill certainly keep my eye out for you. And I do hope to see him again. I somehow  take comfort in knowing that Im not the only nightwalker out there. I have company. Yes, Im certain I will see him again. 

But of course the wind must blow the right way, and Ill have to see him first.

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