By Ron Marr
The coyotes have been singing in quadraphonic harmony of late. Their yips, barks, screams, and howls emanate from every point of the compass. If I walk outside around 3:30 in the morning, the wild canids (or canidae if you want to get all picky about it) are busy providing an audio track reminiscent of a 1940s Dracula flick. It’s Transylvania with a Missouri twang, the children of the moon tilting heads and giving full throat to an eons-deep genetic heritage. The not-so-lonesome bay, amped to the max, is a haunting din that impales me from all sides.
The scientific community offers a number of explanations as to why coyotes howl. They say these territorial prairie wolves cut loose to advertise their presence to other packs, the rough equivalent of a surly old man hollering, “Get off my lawn!” at a covey of pierced and tattooed teenagers. They say the mournful cries might be an attempt to reassemble pack members who have been out on solo hunting expeditions. They say it could be a mating call, a warning signal, a reaction to storms or barometric pressure.
Maybe that’s the case, but I prefer to ignore science, biology, and common sense and believe something entirely different. I think the coyotes are just having a good time, playing and singing for the sheer joy of it. Maybe they’re laughing themselves silly over whatever kind of jokes coyotes find amusing. Perhaps they’re boasting of their latest kill.
Perhaps they get a kick out of knowing their collective banshee wail raises the hair on the necks of smartphone-addicted, Disney-educated humans who have forgotten that wildlife is still wild.
I would never hear this wee-hours concert if not for my odd nocturnal patterns. Please trust that it’s not my fondest desire to fall out of bed at 3:30 AM. The reason for this particular form of weirdness can be laid directly at the paws of my pups, Jack and Hugo. More nights than not, the dogmatic duo make a tactical and strategic pattern of jumping on my stomach, licking my face, and dragging me from slumber for a trip outdoors. They try to hide their snickering and snide comments as I bash into furniture, stub my toes, cuss like a longshoreman on a gin jag, and stumble barefoot into the freezing night.
Make no mistake; Jack does not think he’s a coyote. Jack thinks he’s the king of all canine breeds no matter their size, shape, or lineage. I’m pretty sure he is. Hugo, who is in utter and complete awe of Jack, shows off by running around the yard like a maniac, jumping atop my battered picnic table, barking at his distant cousins, and making a general spectacle of himself.
My senses generally start to function about thirty seconds into this show, roughly consistent\ with the time it takes for my toes to start freezing. That’s when I notice I’m immersed in a beautiful and inescapable cloud of coyote philharmonic. It’s a transcendent sort of reality, a musical hallucination that sends me hurtling backward in time. It’s the same four-legged mesh of resonance and modulation heard by our distant ancestors, the monosyllabic ones who wore fur and carried spears.
For the briefest of seconds you are there. You are in the cave lying beside the dying embers, senses coursing with high voltage as your eyes scan the fields for movement and your ears strain for the slightest hint of potential danger.
The ancient lament brings forth some sort of buried and instinctive memory, throwing the limbic system into high gear and making you feel alive. That’s not something most people are fortunate enough to experience in their routine day-to-day lives. People are creatures of habit and pattern, and in our hubris we often forget what goes on just beyond the safety of locked doors and four walls.
I give a nod of thanks to the invisible phantoms that roam the edges of my land. I round up the boys and start to head indoors, back to the blankets and a few more hours of shut-eye. Often, before I close the door and just for the hell of it, I cut loose with a few yips and yowls of my own. Often, I receive a response. Believe it when I tell you there are few things more happy-making than talking to a coyote. Such events remind me of a very simple truth.
It’s a jungle out there. It always was, and I hope it always will be.
This story originally ran in the February 2013 issue of Missouri Life. For more stories like this, subscribe to Missouri Life.