He came loping into the backyard as if he owned the place. Perhaps in another life he had.
His coat -- a silvery-gray -- blended seamlessly with the blue cast of the morning sky. His feet pressed against the lingering hard-packed snow and lifted off again without leaving a print.
Sipping coffee in the living room and warming ourselves by a fireplace, we stood in disbelief, silent and safe behind triple-paned glass as he trotted straight for us.
A coyote in the suburbs.
We watched in awe as the animal turned suddenly -- head lowered, body arrow straight -- and made his way into the woods.
In a moment, he was gone. The only evidence of his existence, a photo on a cell phone we passed around the room to late risers and disbelievers.
He was here.
For a time we were elated to have witnessed such sharp and ferocious beauty up close. Relieved that something – a sixth sense, laziness, gluttony, whatever – had stopped us from taking care of the dog's needs before our own. If it weren't for coffee and company, we may have been out there beyond the fishbowl's protection when wildlife came sauntering up.
But the reality of this chance encounter is the unmistakable sadness of what is likely to come. He is probably not just a vagabond passing through, but a creature on a familiar path. And if the past is any indication, his path will eventually cross ours in some unhappy way. We can not live together in peace. Not for long, anyway.
Nature coming too close to nurture usually means trouble.
A part of us wants to marvel at the beauty of his existence in this realm, but eventually, we fear, he will bite the hand that feeds him.
The reaction we have is understandable, our brains trying to tie together some loose ends. Better to be safe than sorry.
And we are already sorry.
We have guilt. We know in some way, indirectly perhaps, this is all our fault. Something we did caused this conflict and perpetuated it.
Natural fears diminished. We took his plains and his natural predators. We've fed him at our compost piles, our bird feeders and our garbage cans. He's not picky.
Still … He is not a guest we can harbor. Or can we?
Better engage the professionals. They'll know what to do.
But it seems, even the professionals are at a loss.
Some say we should have rushed out there. Made noise. Shown that he has things to fear here. That it won't be easy to get sustenance.
Show him who's really top dog and he will move along.
But that's risky, too.
Others say removal of the nuisance is the only way.
Find, trap, destroy.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
It never ends.
Kill programs may have brought wolves to the brink of extinction – not an envious result -- but they've not touched the coyote population one bit.
Coyotes are opportunists, resourceful and adaptable, not unlike ourselves. Happily or unhappily, they will survive if not flourish.
Surveillance cameras have even picked up sightings of coyotes and their pups in New York City parks.
In fact, it seems according to recent research, coyotes have migrated from their native plains habitat to inhabit nearly every state in the nation. And they could prove to be the first wave of larger carnivores – bears, cougars and wolves – moving into urban landscapes, following the smaller woodland prey that have already come to forage for our leftovers.
I think of the wide open spaces that are no more and I wonder what place is left for him now.
It seems quite evident that they know how to live with us, perhaps it's time we learn how to live with them.