Willow the Coyote
— by Deb Matlock, M.A. —
At the time, I lived at about 9,000 feet in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. I had two lovely dogs, Levi and Kaia. It was the middle of the day…a bright, sunny, clear, beautiful western day. Levi and Kaia were basking in the sun while I was hanging laundry on the line. Chickadees were bouncing around the trees and the dry air was warm against my skin.
Suddenly, Levi, the more vocally expressive of the two dogs jumped up and started to bark wildly. It was then that I noticed that Kaia, a 35-pound border collie mix, was standing frozen at the fence, staring intently off towards the shed which was about 30 feet away. I ran to her and tried to get her attention; called her name, shook a toy, she completely ignored me which was totally out of her character. I looked out of the yard to see what grabbed her attention and right next to the shed was one of the most beautiful coyotes I had ever seen. He was large with shining eyes and thick, luscious fur. He looked rugged and strong. I guessed he was male due to his size. He was glorious and immediately captivated my attention as well.
I did come to my senses quickly, however, and grabbed both of my dogs and brought them near to me. The three of us stood at the fence line, caged in our little yard and in awe, as he simply calmly remained, looking back at us. It occurred to me that being the one confined was a bit of a role reversal in our world.
His solid comfort with the forest and his firm insistence on staring right back at us left me feeling both a sense of inspired envy at his wildness and a sense of concern at his comfort being in such close proximity to us. I also feared that he had an interest in Kaia and she clearly had an interest in him…although she likely did not fully understand his intentions. Or perhaps I was the one who did not understand?
I stood there staring back at him. Instinctively, and perhaps because I did not know what else to do, I began to speak. “You are beautiful. I love that you are here. I want you here. I have dedicated my life to work on your behalf. Please, though, leave my dogs alone. You cannot lure my sweet Kaia away from her home. That is not OK. Please turn around and go and do not come back to prey upon my animals.” I finished and stared…sending both love and seriousness his direction.
Coyote | Photo by Michael O’Neal
After a couple of minutes, he stood up and turned to walk away. He stopped and looked back and our eyes locked one last time. I felt that we understood each other. He then trotted off down the hill.
For the rest of the time I lived on that land, my dogs did not go outside without my accompaniment. I always checked for the coyote before I even let them out the door. That is just responsible animal care in the mountains. That being said, I never saw the coyote again. Perhaps he did understand?
In the moment I stood with my eyes locked with the beautiful depth of the coyote’s, I became acutely aware he had a wild wisdom I could only glimpse. His wherewithal to live, work and survive in such a rugged landscape was something I could only dream of grasping. His calm strength spoke of a deep understanding of his world. At that moment, I felt deeply inspired and committed to discovering what wild identity I might still hold inside…even in my domesticated, human existence. That quest for understanding continues to this day. This makes me wonder about the wildness we all might hold within. How do we experience this wildness? How do we let it inspire us? These are question I live with daily.
Deb Matlock has spent twenty years working as a professional environmental educator and naturalist. Her work includes teaching indoors and out, offering trainings and presentations, and designing and evaluating EE programs. Deb’s research on the connection between spirituality and environmental education has been presented nationally and internationally. She is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Education at Antioch University and is Past Board President for the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education.