Coyotes in the Desert

I have the teacher’s edition of the first grade curriculum open in front of me with eager first-grade faces looking up at me from behind their little desks.  I have to give a lesson on carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores. I am substitute-teaching at Condor Elementary School on the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC).  

There’s nothing like accessing prior knowledge when teaching a new concept.  

“Do any of you hear the coyotes at night?”

About 20 heads nod up and down and some reply with an enthusiastic “Yeah!”

“And what do they sound like?”  I knew what their response would be but I couldn’t help myself.  

“Aaaaah – Oooooooh!” Howl about 20 first graders.  Some emphasize their howls with tilting their heads back.

“That’s right!”  I say after the last of them get their howls out.  “Coyotes are carnivores which means they eat other animals.”

I’ve been hearing coyotes howl at night ever since I can remember.  My family would come out to Twentynine Palms to spend the weekend at our small homestead cabin in the outskirts of Twentynine.  It was about 25 minutes to downtown Twentynine Palms with the MCAGCC practically in the backyard. I always associated hearing coyotes as a sign of being in the boonies.

I was surprised when I heard coyotes howl during the first nights at our new home in downtown Twentynine Palms.  It sounded like I had a chorus of coyotes singing for me just outside my gate. Their yip-yips sounded when they celebrated a successful hunt.  One or two of them would cross the street or trot down the road in the early morning. Coyotes are always something to see. Lean and long with coloring to match the desert landscape, they are quite beautiful.  

The coyotes don’t know they are supposed to stay in the boonies.  They are happy to make any quiet place their home. The Twentynine Palms Public Cemetery is surrounded by a chain link fence with large oleanders planted along the perimeter to serve as a windbreak.   People occasionally walk the asphalt paths of the cemetery as it’s a quiet and relatively flat area. I was walking the fence with it’s oleanders one day when movement caught my eye. I walked closer to the side of the fence and startled something out of hiding. Three coyote pups ran out of their den.

“Oh!  I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was your home!”  I tell their retreating figures.

The puppies were cute and small.  They looked like miniature versions of their parents.

We live in-town but we get frequent visits by coyotes.  A large coyote trotted through the alleyway behind our back yard.  A few seconds later two more coyotes followed the first. They were graceful in appearance and purposeful in movement.  Then I remembered that my cat was outside. My 7-year old son spotted the cat high on the limb of a dead tree in the empty lot next door to us.  He’s a smart cat to shimmy up there when those coyotes came through. Coyotes are carnivores after all.

Small dogs and cats keep coyotes well-fed.  I woke to hear my two dogs barking furiously outside at 4:30 in the morning.  I padded over to the blinds in my bedroom window to see what they were barking at.  Both the shepherd and chihuahua mix had their attention fixated at something across the street.  The shepherd’s hackles were raised and his front legs were propped up on our chain link fence.  The chihuahua mix was so excited that she continuously hopped up and down next to the shepherd.  She hopped about a foot or two up the corner of the chain link fence. Then she climbed up the rest of the fence and jumped down on the opposite side and took off like a shot across the street toward the unknown thing.

Once I saw her go over the fence I quickly found my shoes and grabbed the flashlight that we keep above the stove.  I hurried faster when I heard her aggressive barks turn to howls of pain. I opened the front door and went across the street, shining the flash light and looking for our dog.  The light shined on a coyote’s backside trotting down the street away from me. It had our little dog in its mouth and there was nothing I could do. I was incredulous.

One of the most difficult things I had to do was tell my young daughter about what happened to her cherished pet.  A hard lesson to learn.  Living in the desert means I must keep my small pets inside for their own safety. Coyotes are neat to see and a pleasure to hear but they are carnivores and they don’t know they are supposed to stay in the boonies.