Pimpernel the coyote in the Earthfire Wildlife GardenPhoto by: Earthfire

 by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

An Attempt at Translation and Interpretation Between Species with Some Kernels of Truth To It

Small animals are as important as big ones. Definitely in their own minds, and in actuality too. (In fact the most important life forms that support the earth are the tiniest – it is only we who are more impressed by the big).

The small animals of Earthfire have asked me to set the record straight. They are very, very, very important and wonderful. We humans are just too preoccupied and out of it to know it.  Definitely our loss.

They are not too thrilled with my own orientation that ALL life forms are important – they do think, as we do, that they are special, unique and of the greatest worth, more important and wonderful than anything else and I should be paying attention to them only. However they tolerate my giving attention to  others, as long as I pay sufficient homage to their particular  importance, which I gladly do. While I believe in the abstract position that all life is sacred, philosophy is rather a fleshless and bland place in which to live – it is concrete, physical  flesh and blood beings that give vibrancy and meaning and mischief and just enough inconvenience to be really real  – they “flesh out” the concept.

Now if you want real vibrant flesh and blood, vitality, inconvenience and a sense of their own importance, there is nothing like a coyote. Well – it is a mistake, even an insult to talk about coyotes as a species, as they are all so individual (do we like it when people talk about “humans”? No. We each are different from the mass of humans no doubt, better in fact. Same with them). I should say rather for sheer vitality it is hard to beat Pimpernel or Willow. Some of you have read about “Willow the Drama Queen” and her shameless manipulations of poor sweet Streak, way outclassed without even knowing it. Willow, assessing us with her highly intelligent and skeptical eyes, seeing what she can get away with, what she can cadge out of us, accepting all as her due, supremely self-possessed.

And then there is Pimpernel, her huge personality and aura  vibrating out from her like that of a major movie star. At first Willow deferred to her but the stage could only accommodate one diva so we had to separate the two. Pimpernel, rescued from a fur farm, was softened by a terrible early experience where because of a medical condition she was slowly starving. She  was a few hours from actual death, we frantically giving her IV’s,  before we finally got a correct diagnosis and through massive effort and attention were able to save her. Only something that dire could break through her fierce independence to create a lasting and absolutely beautiful bond of interdependence and joy in one another’s company (yes I am dependent on her – how much poorer my life would be without her in it)!  Some of her self preservation energy, while still strong, has been diverted to appreciation of humans, whom she greets with a joy that astounds all lucky enough to meet her.

Coyote siblings, Faerytale (left) and Skitter (right) | Photo by Marilyn Paine

We could be tempted to say then that perhaps it is female  coyotes who dominate through various wiles, but that again would be a generalization not worthy of coyotes. Because there is Faerytale. Faerytale moves everyone who meets her. There is something about her dainty fragile beauty; her timid personality that makes people want to protect her. When they come to visit and see her begin darting about in alarm at the human energy around her, feeling trapped, running behind her box and    peeking out at them in a mixture of fear and curiosity, body tensed for instant flight at any move they make, they want to protect her. If a visitor so much as shifts their weight as they stand watching her, she panics and they cry out “Oh, I’m sorry!”  She is a tiny delicate helpless beauty; an exquisite creature with courage despite her terror. There is Skitter, her brother we believe (they both arrived at the same time and in a similar traumatized state), was worse at first — he was so scared we thought he would die…all systems were  paralyzed by fear. Faerytale would comfort him with little paws placed gently on his back and sides to try to get him to respond. And we could not get him to eat or relax.  But with Pimpernel’s help he snapped out of it. Still skittish, he has grown into a self assured macho-energy male with a sense of self assurance about him while his sister has never recovered even after years of meeting people and being treated gently and with love. It is a mystery.

So there you are – five coyotes, five dramatically different  personalities. And I haven’t even started on doing honor to the foxes Feather, Lightfoot and Whisper, and their individuality.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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