Caroling Coyotes

Night came crisp and clear on a memorable Christmas Eve more than 20 years ago at Seasons, our country place in the Taconic Highlands that rise on the eastern edge of the broad Mid-Hudson Valley. The cloudless sky was fading from twilight-blue to black as the sun settled behind the Catskill Mountains to the west, but with an almost-full moon beaming down on a fresh quilt of snow, I could watch the horses in the pasture across the way munching on the last of their evening timothy. Could hear the crunch of their hooves in the snow, for not a wisp of wind stirred the air. Truly a Silent Night.

With an armload of oak logs for the fireplace, I reached the kitchen door only to be stopped by the faint ringing of bells. Across two miles of quiet fields and woods came the sound of carols being played on the new carillon at the church in the hamlet in the valley. And then something unexpected and wonderful happened. Unseen on the near hillside, a coyote lifted its head to the stars and answered the carillon with a series of sharp yips and yaps which led into a long melancholy howl. A second coyote joined the Christmas Eve songfest, and a third and a fourth, until it became impossible to tell the size of the songdog chorus whose marvelous medley continued unabated for perhaps five minutes, then stopped as suddenly as it had begun.

That Christmas church bells prompted my neighborhood coyotes to song wasn't really a surprise. I had read a tale by the Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie about a hermit of Scottish descent who, on fine desert evenings, would serenade the moon with ancient bagpipe ballads, the coyotes roundabout joining in harmony from nearby hills. Scientists tell us that coyotes communicate a great deal of information to each other with their yips and howls, which is no doubt true. But I believe there is also pure joy in their singing--joy for moonlit nights, for full bellies, for healthy puppies in their dens. And, in particular, joy for having thrived across our land, from West to East, by outsmarting that two-legged predator, Man.