Monday, November 21, 2011

The Lonely Bones

Winter 2010
Photo taken from the warmth and comfort of my desk

Mowing the pasture farthest from the house last week I ran across what should have been an unusual sight: the skeleton of a coyote. The back half of the skeleton lay undisturbed among some tallish weeds while the front half had been dragged maybe 50 feet away. Otherwise, it was pretty much intact.
Because that pasture’s fencing isn’t reliable enough for me to use for the horses and because the drought had kept the vegetation in check, I hadn’t been out to mow those 7 or 8 acres in a few months. The area is mostly hidden from the house and barn, and I rarely have need to walk it. Even after nearly 7 years here, I’m still awed by the fact I own land I don’t often see.
It was clear the coyote had died where its back-half bones were. What wasn’t so clear was why. Not just why it had died, but why there. Close by, a large pecan tree offered shelter. In fact, an armadillo or fox or something has made a den near the base of that very tree. But the coyote wasn’t under the sheltering branches. Nor was it in a nearby hollow or anywhere else a sick or injured animal might normally seek out. It was in the middle of a field. Perhaps it had been in a fight and fallen there. Maybe it had a heart attack or stroke and couldn’t move to find a more welcoming spot to die.
What saddens me is that such a death scene could play out so close to me and I be so unaware of it. So much life is going on all around me – so many little dramas and big consequences – and I want to be a part of it all. I try to keep up with the nesting swallows and robins and their offspring in the spring. With the handful of squirrels and rabbits that live nearby. I even check in occasionally on the hawk that nests in a copse of trees not quite far enough away that I don’t worry for the chickens when it’s about. I keep up with the coyotes through their songs in the night and by the rogues that come around in the daylight, only to be encouraged by me and the dogs to move along down the creek and away from our vulnerable beasties.
What’s oddest about finding the coyote skeleton in the field, though, is that this isn’t the first one to show up in that little 8-acre plot of land. Two years ago, there was a similar occurrence: bones found in the tall grass in the middle of the field, these a few hundred feet from where the new skeleton turned up.
Coincidence? Or do coyotes seek out certain areas to die as some elephants do? Two incidents does not a trend make, of course. Still, I’ll be keeping an eye out for any more skeletons that might turn up.
Meanwhile, I’ll be wondering when next I hear coyotes howling with the rising moon whether it’s the song of a hunting pack or the ghosts of those passing in the night.  

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