I heard the coyote again last night. I am still hearing it in the ears of my mind. It is a cold, lonely sound. It is made of hard, crusted snow.
I live on a dead-end street; it teems with life. Little kids on wagons and skateboards and bikes hollering at each other; parents hollering at their kids; adults hollering their hellos as they haul their groceries into the house, or their garden supplies into the back yard, or their snow shovels into the garage.
The street ends at a footpath that leads to a small, wooden bridge that goes over a creek. The creek swells every spring, foaming and tumbling to the ocean (and from the ocean to the sky). In the summer, it becomes lazy and slow. In the winter, it is ice. We pour onto the hardened water, peering into the cold, looking for the crystallized remains of perch and sunnies and crayfish. Their eyes are slick and wide and aghast.
The creek bends back around the back of the houses and snakes towards the waterfall a mile away. My back yard ends at a field that slopes toward the water. Every day, I walk down to the edge of the creek and sit for a while. In the summer, I am accosted by bugs; in the winter, I am numb with cold. I watch for herons and foxes and neighborhood cats. I listen to the frogs perform their randy songs of love. I am a nature voyeur.
Lately, there have been coyote tracks. And scat. And every once in a while, it’s high, brittle voice. I have not seen it, though I long to.
Yesterday, the moon rose wild in a violet sky. I was driving my daughter from one friend’s house to another’s. I saw the moon and gasped and swerved. I pulled the car to the side of the road and stepped out.
“Not again,” my daughter said.
“Let’s howl at the moon,” I said.
“Let’s not,” she said. “People are watching.”
I tipped back my head and howled. People stared, but I didn’t care. My daughter slunk deeper into her seat. “Mommmmm,” she hissed.
I howled again – a wild cry. I wanted someone to howl back. I wanted something to howl back. I wanted the moon to reply. My howl was a coyote howl – cold, brittle, and terribly alone. The world was filled with the sound of engines and wheels and concrete and steel – the sounds of dead things and dead ends. There was no sound of living. I got back into the car and drove.
Last night, in my house of silent eyes and wet breathing, I woke suddenly in the dark. The moon had already slid away from my east-facing windows, and the sky was heavily black. I walked to the window. The room was cold; it bit my bare skin. I didn’t shiver. I pressed my hands against the glass.
The coyote was back there. I could feel it. If the moon had been on the field, I would have seen it. Instead, there was only the shape of the garage, and behind that, the shadows of the trees, and beyond that the thick gray of nighttime snow.
It howled. I felt it before I heard it. That desperate wail. It shattered the windows, shattered the floor, shattered my crystallized skin.
And then it was gone.
My voice was scratchy with sleep, but there, in my house, with my husband sleeping nearby, with my children dreaming, deep in their beds, I closed my eyes, tipped back my head, and howled back.
I wasn’t the moon, I wasn’t the sky, but that coyote was howling at something, and was getting nothing back. And everyone deserves to be listened to.
I slid back in bed, and dreamed of the pricks of my nails against the skittering snow. I dreamed of the smell of animal, the resistance of meat in the teeth, the thrill of motion and speed, the glittering of a dark, icy world, reflecting stars.