Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Eyes of the Wolf

In early Spring, while hiking, I observed something that I had never seen before. I saw two coyotes in the wild, approximately 20-25 yards away. Because they didn't seem to be very interested in me, I didn't feel any particular fear. It was more like awe. The first thing I noticed were their eyes, intense and glowing. These two looked quite a bit like wolves. They were surprisingly tall for coyotes, and very fleet in their movement. I think they were looking for brush rabbits, which are plentiful in those foothills.

Coyotes are not harmless. They have been known to drag off children. They should be respected and not taken lightly. Coyotes are native to North America, while DNA studies have shown that wolves are descendants of Eurasian timber wolves who crossed over onto this continent on sheets of ice from both east and west directions, thousands of years ago. They are similar animals, mainly just smaller in size.

Looking into their eyes left an impression on me. I don't feel as comfortable when hiking at twilight, much less after dark. At one point I made direct eye contact with one of them. I saw that wild look in its eyes, perhaps measuring me. If they had attacked, I would have had no defense. I couldn't outrun them. I had no weapon. There were no trees around. A very fearful thought. One interesting thought about many animals, including canines, is that they would be almost entirely harmless if their jaws were muzzled.

While hiking this past Friday evening, very heavy fog rolled in, which made it prematurely dark. Also, it was difficult to see more than thirty yards. After dark, I have often seen "eye shine" at the end of the beam of my flashlight. It never concerned me a lot because I always knew it was either a wildcat, raccoon, skunk, or a possum. Usually foxes keep a healthy distance. The other small animals stay in close range, as long as they can stay hidden.

On this evening, as I entered a wooded area, I started to see eye shine. It had gotten dark and very foggy. As I made my way down the narrow trail, amid heavy brush, I saw the eye shine of three sets of eyes in the dark brush off to the side. I couldn't quite make out the possible size from that distance. I then thought of the coyotes. If they were coyotes, and there were three of them--and if they attacked--again, I would have no defense. I thought about those glowing eyes from the Spring experience.

I was afraid as I passed though that spot. So much so that I purposely made noise. I dragged my feet, made heavy breathing sounds, and a couple of grunts. Sounds consistent with a bear. Not that I thought any animal would think I was a bear, but to project a certain arrogance, as if I was the chief predator. It was a bluff. I was fearful of what possibly could have been three large predators, of which I had no defense.

After I left that narrow trail, and entered a wooded area, I turned off my flashlight for a moment. It was almost complete darkness. Only a small amount of light was visible directly between the treeline along the trail, due to the fog that was illuminated by the urban lights from the distance. Had my flashlight gone dead, the prospect of walking back in the complete darkness would have been terrifying. Sometimes raccoons, skunks, or other small animals don't move right away, and you could walk right into them and be bitten. Stepping on a large snake. Sometimes unusual people wander into the dark woods without carrying a flashlight. Our ancestors feared the night, for good reason. Anyone who is in a remote area at night, should always carry a flashlight so they can, at the very least, signal to another person.

Strangely, about fifteen minutes later as I was near the end of the wooded trail, I saw raccoons on the trail in front of me. They didn't seem too happy to see me. At one point, I was startled by a loud furious growl in the brush right next to me! It had to be two raccoons in a brief skirmish. Occasionally, raccoons display aggressive behavior, even towards people. I like to describe them as "little bears."

Finally, I came upon one large one who was standing up straight in the middle of the road looking at me. At almost three feet tall, perhaps forty pounds, agitated, with large paws and sharp nails, and with powerful jaws... I had to stop! There we were, just standing and starting at each other from about ten yards. The beam of my flashlight on him and his shining eyes. Finally, I started to move forward by dragging my shoes against the ground. After about three steps, he angrily moved off to the side of the trail.

It was almost as if he were making the statement "this is our city!" For all I know, he may have been of chieftain of the clan... or maybe even the matriarch. During the day, while they're asleep, we invade their city; just as during the night, while we sleep, they invade our city. There must be some concept to them that "this is our place, and that is their place."

If I had somehow shrunk down to about three feet tall, I never would have gotten past him alive. At least with raccoons, you can gauge their mood by observing them. As long as you don't startle or corner them, they aren't a threat to a person. They could be a threat to pets. Often at twilight, at approximately that location, I observe raccoons, skunks, and wildcats together on the trail. They just sort've hang out and look at each other. Skunks sometimes walking right next to raccoons or wildcats.

Those woods wouldn't be the same without the "little bears." I keep thinking about the dialogue from the end of the movie 'Jaws'. Remember when they're paddling back to shore, after fighting the shark for days. Brody said "I used to hate the water," and Hooper responded, "I can't imagine why."


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