Coyote scat on the trail
HOISTING the pack-basket from camp porch to shoulders, not as heavy for the trip out as it was for the trip in. Food made the difference, of course. Two days' worth of food for two guys mounts up, augmented by other camp needs. Most important are guards for the new screen door — protection from a kick by someone bringing in an armload of wood, the front paws and nose of a dog wanting to know what's going on outside, from a knee to hold the door open, an elbow here, a stiff-arm there.
Some of those pounds of food sustained me in camp, Now I'm burning up the rest hiking out. It's a good feeling, lugging out, in a way, some of what you lugged in. It's a feeling almost good enough to make up for the sad task of breaking camp when everything in you says not to, to stay. It's this way every time, whether for a brief visit or a long stay.
There are only a few unwritten rules about camp, but top on the list is never mentioning breaking camp until we all know, reluctantly, that it's time.
On the trail out, we step over one, two, three and then four little piles of fresh coyote dung. I examine the first one, which turns out to be just like the others — plenty of hair in those little deposits, too dark and varied for birds, no bits of feather-stems. So it looks like rabbit — to some, snowshoe hare, to others varying hare, but to us, always, just rabbit.
These coyotes had plenty to eat. One rabbit can feed a good part of an extended family, which society, for some reason, prefers to call a pack, maybe because it sounds more murderous.
I tend to do a lot of thinking on the trail. In fact, once in a while I write something in my head and the first thing I do when reaching the truck, after sliding my pack onto the tailgate, is rush for the pad and pen that are always in the cab.
We'd gone out onto the porch the night before to listen to the coyotes yipping and singing as they circled the pond, keeping well away from the camp and the smell of people and the markings left by various dogs, for we are a dog bunch of people, collectively knowing maybe 30 or 40 dogs between us coming to camp during the 30 to 40 years we have been together. Our gang, a motley clan from all walks of life and points on the map and compass, are held together by the glue of making music, reading, good food, good conversation, a relish for raising occasional hell like a bunch of goofy teenagers, a total trust in each other around guns and in the woods and the strongest glue of all, the mystique and love of camp life.
In the wonder that is a hectic and often horrible world, this life, camp, is there the same as ever, a place of sanity and I thought, again, of why we are taught to revere the wolf, that symbol of wild soulfulness, but to hate and persecute its close cousin, the coyote.
I can't and wouldn't presume to speak for ranchers, hunters, hikers and wildlife lovers in the ever-evolving story of the wolf's growing return to the high country of the far West. Eventually they'll figure things out without some bystander nitpicking from a perch far up in the Northeast.
All I know is that our coyote's out there working 24/7, and that despite the still all-too-frequent complaints that the coyote is decimating the grouse and rabbit populations, and threatening the deer herd, too, I always seem to find game, if I really put my mind to it. So my take on all this is that the coyote is getting its share, and I am, too. I have a sheltered place and a good meal and a warm bed waiting for me, and he doesn't. So in my book, his share is more than fair. And at the bottom of all this, for me, is that the coyote is a responsive breeder, meaning that when its prey species decline, it will have fewer and smaller litters of pups in response. The number of predators, as always, following, not causing, a population crash that threatens the balance of it all.
John Harrigan's column appears weekly. His address is Box 39, Colebrook, 03576. Email him at email@example.com.
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