Lullaby for a Coyote

A coyote at a wildlife sanctuary looks out the door of his den box.

While Susan was speaking overseas for a couple of weeks, it was essential that a team member stayed on property overnight in case of emergencies. My coworkers and I filled out an overnight sign up sheet; I was to take two nights the first week, and four the next. Although I wasn’t necessarily partial to sleeping on a cot, I was excited to experience Earthfire overnight. I looked forward to the warmer weather and clear skies, to falling asleep to the chorus howls of the wolves, and to witnessing the incredible aurora borealis predicted to be visible that evening.

I decided that while I stayed on site, I would walk Shota, Susan’s German Shepherd, to the end of the property and back, both to keep his schedule as regular as possible and for my own pleasure. It was a part of my day when I found that my mind was quiet. All I had to do was listen as the waning songs of sparrows gave way to the gentle hooting of owls, to the breeze breathing through the leaves of the aspens, to the hum of water racing through the creek in the corridor, and to the urgent, needy whines of the dog waiting for me to catch up. I followed him, allowing him to guide me along his familiar track.

Eventually we returned to the cabin, much to Shota’s dismay, and I started preparing his dinner and the evening medications for a few of our animals. I set Shota’s ceramic bowl on the porch before heading into the small mammal compound to deliver medication (hidden in treats) to our foxes, Lightfoot and Sholeh. Lightfoot was quick to accept his ball of liverwurst, as was Sholeh. But when I passed the coyotes to take my leave, I noticed Shaman watching me. As my eyes met his, he turned away and started to make his rounds around the enclosure—he started on his box, then across his platform, down to the ground and back up to the box. A sign of discomfort but not fear, as he didn’t seem interested in returning to the opening of his den. I sat on the moist soil at the face of his enclosure, leaned my head on the cool chain link fencing behind me, and shut my eyes. I listened quietly until the pattering of his paws slowed and eventually came to a stop. When I opened my eyes, Shaman sat atop the box once more, observing me intently, his sharp golden gaze a brilliant contrast to the pale fur covering the rest of his face. I’m not sure what compelled me to do so, but I started humming, harmonizing softly with the wind. Then I started to sing.

“Lavender’s blue, dilly, dilly, lavender’s green.
When I am king, dilly, dilly, you shall be queen.
Who told you so, dilly, dilly, who told you so?
‘Twas my own heart, dilly, dilly, that told me so.”

Shaman, without taking his eyes off of me, lowered his top half onto the box and rested his head on his front paws. Glancing to the side, I now noticed the peering eyes of coyotes Whistles and Tender from across the way. I continued.

“Call up your men, dilly dilly, set them to work.
Some to the plough, dilly, dilly, some to the fork,
Some to make hay, dilly dilly, some to cut corn,
While you and I, dilly, dilly, keep ourselves warm.”

Shaman rose to his feet before making his way in my direction. He crossed the threshold into the front enclosure, away from his typical comfort zone. As I continued humming the tune, the timid coyote did something that I did not expect: he sat, then slowly laid back down, a mere five feet away from me. I found myself smiling in instinctive response.

“Lavender’s green, dilly, dilly, lavender’s blue.
If you love me, dilly, dilly, I will love you.
Let the birds sing, dilly, dilly, and the lambs play,
We shall be safe, dilly, dilly, out of harm’s way.”

My voice cracked on the last verse. As I continued to watch Shaman, to sing to him, his eyes grew softer and the tension in his frame loosened. When his gaze fixed on me once more, it triggered a rush of tears that stung my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. I was overcome by a tight feeling in my chest. I wondered if Shaman could feel what I was feeling, if he could sense the overwhelming love swelling inside of me. I wondered how lonely he felt at times and if he was waiting, waiting for someone to sit with him, to sing to him.

“I love to dance dilly, dilly, I love to sing.
When I am queen dilly, dilly, you’ll be my king.
Who told me so dilly, dilly, who told me so?
I told myself dilly, dilly, I told me so.”

As my song came to an end, I again shut my eyes, not really thinking but feeling and listening. When I opened my eyes, Shaman was still laying there. He looked so calm, the energy of the space was tranquil and serene. I smiled and rose to my feet, keeping my steps light and purposeful so as to not disrupt him while I took my leave. As I exited the small mammal area, a single howl rang out—Kenai’s howl. It was followed by another howl, and another, until the entire pack was singing. The coyotes quickly followed suit, their high pitched cries a beautiful contrast to the belly howls of the wolves. I am reminded that we are surrounded by music, a wild, unpredictable melody that has the ability to soothe, to warn, to mourn, to ignite something deep inside us all.

We humans, and the wild ones.

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