“Whenever the pressure of our complex city life thins my blood and numbs my brain, I seek relief in the trail; and when I hear the coyote wailing to the yellow dawn, my cares fall from me – I am happy.” –Hamlin Garland
What is it about worry ? Lately, I sense a low-level anxiety from people wherever I go, whomever I talk with. You too? And no wonder, you might say, given the state of so many things in the world.
So. Come, sit with me on the tallgrass prairie in the early morning while the dew beads the grasses. Chances are, before too much time has passed, we will see a coyote.
What? See a coyote? Is that supposed to be calming?
Well. I understand your concern. Few animals have been freighted with the emotional and symbolic baggage as the coyote. For some Native Americans, the coyote is trickster. Pioneers called coyotes “brush wolves,” with all the terrifying connotations implied at the time. (Wolves have their own public relations problems, but that’s for another essay.) For Chicago suburban homeowners, the coyote is often hated and feared.
Taker of pet dogs and cats. Garbage stealer. Stealth operator.
Coyotes are also portrayed as cartoonish. Watch the old Road Runner episodes, and Wile E. Coyote is continually outwitted (Beep! Beep!), or falls off a cliff, or is blown up with dynamite. Even my local wildlife center dresses up their taxidermied coyote. Coyote becomes something comical.
But there’s nothing funny in the animal kingdom about the coyote. If you are a deer mouse or squirrel, the coyote is a ferocious predator. Mighty hunter. Their fear is well placed.
But I went to a lecture on coyotes recently, and listened to an outpouring of worry by people who attended. What if…? What should I do when the coyote..? Could this happen? Could that? No coyotes have attacked humans in Illinois in 30 years. We spend a lot of time worrying about what could be. What might happen. What we would do if. Our anxiety over things we can’t control roams in every direction. Coyotes are only one example of this.
Think of what we could do with the time we spend worrying! Imagine, if instead, we payed attention and fully lived in each moment. What beautiful patterns we might weave in the world!
Seneca, a Roman statesman (5 BC-65 AD) wrote: “There are more things to alarm us than to harm us; we suffer more in apprehension than in reality.”
So true of my own fears. I am not afraid of coyotes–but I often fear the future. Usually, my fears are of something that never materializes. My worries often close me off to the richness–and yes, sometimes fearsomeness and wildness–of the world all around me, in all its diversity and wonder. When I look back at how I spent my days, will worrying about the unknown be how I remember them?
It would be a lonely world without coyotes.
On the prairie, the coyote is often ghost. Present, but unseen. But if you sit and wait and listen, you feel a coyote is there, even when it is invisible. For me, this is comforting. That the wild exists, whether I witness it or not.
Coyotes are part of our collective imagination. They remind us that the world is not ours to control.
When I do see a coyote, it will usually meet my eyes for a moment. Then, it slips away; unconcerned. The coyote’s world does not include me. It is indifferent to my presence. But my world–and the prairie world I visit–is always made richer by the knowledge of the presence of coyotes.
I’m going to think more about coyotes the next few weeks, and what I saw at that lecture. Sure, I tsked tsked at the worry the listeners expressed about coyotes –but. What do I worry about that is unneeded? What energy do I expend on concern for events beyond my control? I will let go of my own worry about the future, and appreciate the amazing world around me each moment. I will try to weave something beautiful out of each day. Be at peace with the things I can’t control.
I hope you will find peace as well.
Hannibal Hamlin Garland (1860–1940), whose quote about coyotes opens this essay, was a Wisconsin-born Pulitzer Prize winning writer. He married sculptor Lorado Taft’s sister, Zulime, and lived in Illinois for a time as well as many other places. Among his writings were Prairie Songs, Boy Life on the Prairie, and Prairie Folks, as well as numerous works of fiction, short stories, non-fiction, and poems about Midwestern farm life.
Want to know more about coyotes? http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/directory_show.cfm?species=coyote
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Hunter’s supermoon over author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; dew drops, Clear Creek at Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; coyote (Canis latrans) tracks in the snow, Schulenberg Prairie at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; holiday coyote (Canis latrans), Willowbrook Wildlife Center, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Glen Ellyn, IL; coyote (Canis latrans) hunting, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downer’s Grove, IL; compass points, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; spider web, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; the top of Fame Flower Knob, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; leaf on the water, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Downer’s Grove, IL; mist over the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; two coyotes (Canis latrans) on the trail, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Downer’s Grove, IL; coyote in the tallgrass, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.