There are trails all around my neighborhood here in the the southeast corner of Denver, the Highline Canal Trail and the Cherry Creek Trail, and along them there are all kinds of signs about the dangers of coyotes. When my oldest daughter was young she’d ask us to read each one whenever we passed one of these signs on a walk. As we explained to her why there were so many cautions posted, a look of worry crept across her face as she sat in her stroller. We tried not to stoke her fear but the facts we provided under questioning clearly caused coyotes to grow bigger and scarier in her imagination. Each time we read a sign she’d say, “We gotta watch out for ky-woe-tees!”
She’d ask about coyotes at bedtime. We would answer her questions patiently while reassuring her that the coyotes didn’t pose any threat to children in their beds. “They hunt rabbits and mice, Baby,” we’d say.
“That’s not what the signs say,” her expression said.
One day Hailey and I took a walk during a tranquil snowstorm and saw a coyote tramping through new snow at the bottom of the Highline Canal. We saw her from our perch on a bridge over the canal so we had something of an arial view of her thick winter coat, a mosaic of greys, browns and white. While she stared back at us. I whispered, “THERE’s a coyote.” Staring at the wild animal, Hailey was frozen in awe. It trotted a dozen yards or so before it looked back again, watching us watch her go. Her paws left a perfect track of prints at the bottom of the canal.
The rest of that walk we had a different kind of talk about coyotes. In the wake of such a peaceful sighting, Hailey needed to understand what that coyote was doing. We talked about how she had a den, probably in the canal, and how she hunted for rabbits, which are everywhere here. My daughter asked a blizzard of questions the way only a child under the age of 8 can while under the trance of a beautiful wild animal.
Years later, Hailey is almost a teenager and too cool to be awed by much of anything. Occasionally, when the subject of wild animals comes up, she’ll ask from the back seat if I remember the time we saw that coyote in the snow. We always share our recollection of that encounter and we exchange new memories of the moment. “Isn’t it strange,” I ask, “how it can sometimes feel so warm in a snowstorm, when there is no wind, just the slow descent of flakes all around?”
The coyote might be my spirit animal in that I, too, stalk the trails around here. Usually when I’m traipsing along them, I’m just hunting a little exercise and the peace of mind I can find along the creek. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for years now. Whenever I bring up the subject of moving to a different part of town, my whole family erupts in revolt at the idea, which means these trails will be my territory for years to come. My own den, familiar and safe, will stay where it is not far from where the local coyotes bed. From time to time when I’m on a walk alone I’ll spot a solitary coyote, camouflaged and alert. They’re so beautiful, these subjects of nightmares and years of curiosity.