Friday, April 27, 2012

Way Out Here In Coyote Land

In the mountainous region of the remote Southwest, nature in the raw still dominates.

Los Alamos, New Mexico, where I now live, is still geographically isolated, though less so than when it was the site for the Manhattan Project. The Pajarito Plateau, formed by an ancient volcanic eruption, consists of mesas dissected by numerous canyons (some as deep as 800 feet). These canyons are visited during the day by hikers, joggers, and various wildlife enthusiasts but only wild things actually live in them. Walking alone, it is highly probable that you will encounter tiny preoccupied rock squirrels, families of deer, coyotes (individually or in packs), and -- somewhat more rarely -- a mountain lion or a black bear.

This is a savage land dominated by sage and juniper interspersed with chamisa, yucca, and other shrubs. Growing near the Rio Grande are clusters of cottonwoods and aspens whose leaves, in the autumn, turn to liquid gold. Poderosa pines dominate elsewhere and I have lately learned to sniff their bark which smells either of vanilla or butterscotch.

The weather here is savage, too, at times, and prone to sudden mood swings. Thus, a series of warm days can be followed, in April or May, by a snowstorm. In spring, high velocity winds threaten to move your car, like a chess piece, into an adjoining lane or tear off your screen door and toss it onto your neighbor's roof. These are the same winds that can fan the tiniest spark into a raging forest fire, threatening towns, and devouring thousands of acres of national forests.

During the monsoon season, which begins in mid-July, siege towers comprised of cumulus clouds attack the earth with lightning bolts, hailstones and bullet-sized raindrops. But Thor and his minions never linger and soon the sky is blue again -- that throbbing, pulsing, ever-deepening blue that no combination of paints or dyes can ever reproduce.

Right now, Los Alamos is experiencing what natives call "the moth Apocalypse." Moths are everywhere -- inside and outside, trapped in cars and houses. My usually lethargic cat has become an ardent hunter, making up in enthusiasm for what she lacks in stealth. I have been assured that these are not the kind of moths that eat your clothes. I don't actually know what kind they are -- Southwest mountain moths, perhaps.

Coyotes out here are substantially bigger than the ones you find elsewhere. Some people speculate that this is because they have mated with dogs (German Shepherds, possibly, or Rottweiler's). That same speculation could also account for why they sometimes travel in packs instead of alone the way coyotes are supposed to.

I met a coyote on the road a couple of nights ago. I was in my car and he had just come up out of the adjacent canyon. Since there were no other cars on the road, I stopped and rolled down my window to get a better look at him. He stood still and stared right back at me without showing the slightest hint of fear. The staring contest went on for about five minutes until the coyote turned and, with casual indifference, sauntered on down the road. His confidence was unmistakable. Clearly he knew the night belonged to him and not to me.

Though I am a long way from being an eco-terrorist, I find it comforting to know that there are still places where homo-sapiens is not in charge. Thus I am inclined to applaud, rather than to resent, the sense of entitlement eloquently conveyed by a lone coyote.


  1. I love that animals still have places that haven't been leveled to build mini-malls and rows and rows of almost identical houses on cul-de-sacs. That being said, if I were out walking and encountered "...coyotes (individually or in packs), and -- somewhat more rarely -- a mountain lion or a black bear" I'd freak the hell out.

  2. Mom, that is beautiful. Just beautiful. I am so glad you moved here.

  3. Maybe it's growing up in the mountains, but I'll take nature over asphalt anyday. I can't tell you how often I've bumped into my parents in a dark hallway as we're all trying to get a better view of the coyotes in the yard. Your home sounds wonderful.

  4. i don't think you are "long way" AT brought us up close and personal...this was REFRESHING!

  5. Good post! Very true summation of our weather here. I wanted to live in a place where there are actually 4 seasons of weather, instead of just warm, hot, hotter, and 2 weeks of cold. But, these cold spells in the middle of spring are starting to get to me - I want warmth!! And, seeing the wildlife here has been... interesting. Don't hit the deer eating on the side of the road!