Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Coyote jubilation


Photo by Gerald Romanchuk
Last night I was out in my yard digging in the garden around dusk when suddenly from the east, sounding very close, a band of coyotes sent up a wild howling, yipping, barking, crescendoing and decrescendoing. It went on for several minutes. My neighbour came out on her step to listen. "Crazy," she said. "They sound so close."
It was thrilling, a bit scary, carrying some primal, irrational sense of threat. When I heard the coyotes' frenzied voices, something rang in me, as it always does when I hear them, or see them loping down the road. The cry of jubilation, victory. Then I wondered if that was right. Maybe it was mourning. Wild grief, not jubilation at all. I have no way of knowing which it was. Probably neither.

How many times in my life have I misinterpreted what I've heard? One recent instance brought home to me how wrong I can be in my perceptions. I was camping at a lake I love, a place I'm comfortable going alone. It was a weekday morning; the campground was quiet. I was drinking my tea, listening to the wind that sometimes moves through the tops of the trees but doesn't touch the lower branches. A trailer pulled into the campsite next to me. We're separated by trees and a pretty good distance, but I'm not the most gregarious camper. I'm not quite on the level on Sartre with his "hell is other people," but I'm close. The way that my mind becomes hijacked by others' impressions, the stress of that processing, is the reason that I go camping alone in the first place. So I always have mixed feelings when others arrive.

After a while I heard a woman's voice come through the trees from their campsite. She carried on an unbroken stream of chatter. Once in a while I heard another voice interrupt. But then she went on. I tried to ignore it. Most people are more sociable than me, I realize. Clearly, she had something to get off her chest. But it started to irritate me. I went down to the lake. When I came back a couple of hours later, I was surprised to hear her still droning on and on. I wondered what she could have so much to talk about. I wondered why she didn't shut up for awhile and let me and the people around her enjoy the peace and quiet.

This went on all day long -- after I went kayaking and stood at the picnic table making my supper; as I built my campfire for the evening. Then the wind changed. I began to hear her voice much more clearly, and another voice, a young girl. I heard the woman say, "Maybe that's enough for today. I can read more tomorrow. We'll be able to start on the other book. Did you bring it?" And I realized that what I'd been irritated by all day long was the sound of a woman reading to her granddaughter.

I doubt I'm the only one who has spent years, literally years, rehashing things that have incredible power over me, the power to make me blush, or the power to make my vision blur, my heart thunder in shame. Shame seems to be one of my most stubborn emotions. But I'm beginning to realize, at the age of fifty-six, that it's just possible that these things I've perceived in certain ways are wrong, that I got them wrong at the time and that I've continued to feed the flames of my wrong perceptions every time I call up the memories. My perceptions are not reality. That's what I'm learning.

The Urban Coyote Project says that coyotes have more than eleven vocalizations whose meanings are complex. One coyote can sound like many more, because of the way they change the pitch. Normally, I don't spend a lot of time wondering what the sound means. I appreciate the mystery. I would like to be able to bring that spirit to my more mundane experiences, too.

This is a beautiful short recording of coyote voices by Rocky Raybell on the Colville Indian Reservation, in Washington State. He calls it Coyote Symphony.





1 comment:

  1. Hi Francie
    Interesting read. I have found that some things that really have bothered me a lot, if recounted to someone who was either present or the perpetrator in the situation, their experience in that moment was different. Or it could be, that at the age of fifty-six (or older, in some cases) their memory sucks worse than mine, and we are both wrong. That's when it's best to break out the wine and toast to old friends and fuzzy memories.
    Enjoyed your blog posts. Read them all. :)

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