The sweet sound of song dogs

In Sonoma County, California a warm summer twilight can feel like magic. In rolling golden hills, set softly against a coastal valley, the light shimmers through the grasses with what can only be described as sweetness. Everyone feels it, and people wander outside without quite knowing why, just to feel that gentle electricity in the air.

Hidden among those windswept hills, those mammary bay laurel trees, sculpted round by the the fog rolling over the ridges and the rattle of dry anise stems in late summer, among the smell of chemise and sea salt rust on old pickup trucks and tumble-down barns, coyotes skip and play like memories of our faded youth made innocent and whole again.

When you are lucky, you might see a coyote. Your eyes might caress these bohemian hills and catch on an abandoned Quonset hut fading into halcyon fields, rusting farm equipment baring aquamarine metallic undersides from fog long come and gone through its bones, old oak trees sighing through picnics and lovers’ quarrels, soaring bi-planes overhead rising and falling like the red-tailed hawks who cross the valley floor, searching amongst the mustard meadows in spring, as the earthy smell of dairy pastures carry the work of day into dusk, and the awakening of streetlights flickering amongst the song of the crickets, as night falls and a coyote cries.
Photo: Sean Fitzgerald Photography
I remember one such night, the Cowboy and I bouncing down the ranch lane in his f350 diesel. Something about the sound of a 350 rumbling along a country road has always signaled maleness, in a way that I like. His muscular, lumbering 6’4″ 240 lb frame, a hard-working, cut physique, somehow made him one with his truck, elevated, headache-rack, masculinized to the extreme. He stepped out every 100 yards or so to throw bales of hay mix over the fence to feed his cows. He switched his engine off unexpectedly and I noticed his  taut frame, generally rigid with the weight of anger and stress and hard work, now relaxed into his seat. “Look,” he said  nodding up the hill his family owned for generations and generations – all the way back, even before they built the university or the town. I saw his eyes twinkle and I followed his gaze.
From the scrub, several hundred yards up the hill, two coyote pups wrestled gently with each other, without any awareness or concern of being watched. No fear of hunters, although that is certainly what the Cowboy was, no fear of predators, no concern with anything but play, no different from the Cowboy’s dog Red, waiting up at the ranch to be set free from his cage. In silence, we watched as the pups … skipped… down the hill. There really is no other way of describing it. Their sheer joy in being alive was palpable, in that way that your heart melts peeking in to glance at the innocence of your happy children tucked into their beds, dreaming, and trusting their safety to you.
The Cowboy had always held his tongue when I told him how I felt about coyotes. He didn’t talk about his hunting trips and I didn’t ask. We had a very different view of ecosystems, of animals and of people, and a different understanding of what we meant when we each said we aspired to “live off the land.” But in that moment, he forgot himself. I didn’t dare break that mood with conversation. And I couldn’t tell if I enjoyed more the bliss of the pups rolling down the hill or watching someone’s heart finally get it.
Coyotes bring spiritual medicine and wild teachings we all might open ourselves to. Rather than fear or hate what is wild we must consider how we are excluding the wild from our lives – and how in doing so we demand domesticity in all things; domesticity or death.

When we view the world with hardness to get through our days, we are hard with ourselves and others. Allowing ourselves to practice gratitude for the smaller things, the vulnerable and fragile connections in nature, we allow our own vulnerability to be okay. We stop and still our outer world and listen to our inner world, and smile at song dogs. If only we would let this, and not fear, guide us more often.


Published by JM

I am a writer, a wildlife conservationist, a teacher, an activist and a mama.

3 thoughts on “The sweet sound of song dogs

      1. The paragraph beginning, “When you are lucky…”
        Is so beautifully written. All your writing is great, but that paragraph just lifts me. Thank you!
        Will you be writing more for Wild Within?


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