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The Coyotes of India Street

by Whitney Easton

I wake to the sound of yipping in the night. Yipping turns to howling and a chorus of coyote song ensues, echoing throughout the ravine below. My chihuahua perks his ears to stand guard. The pitch and frequency intensify as more join in.

These sounds are indistinguishable, the music of a coyote kill vibrating in my ears. I can only hope it’s not my neighbors’ dogs but a gopher or critter in their jaws.

My neighbors inform me their 14-year-old, mostly blind Yorkshire terrier was nipped. I join the neighborhood app to find a flurry of activity titled: “Coyotes on India Street.” A pandemonium of activity abounds: “How will we stop them?” “They’re dangerous!” “Have you called the city?” “Call animal control!” “They killed my cat.”A pang runs through my chest as I read: “It’s a mother. She’s got pups. She’s defending her turf.”

The chaos on our neighborhood app ensues in attempts to control the wild animals. Fear reverberates in our hillside Los Angeles neighborhood. A wise man chimes in: “There’s nothing you can do. The city can take them away. Another pack will just move in.”

I wonder about our historical amnesia. We live in the lush urban hills of Los Angeles. I’d imagine the coyotes arrived to India Street long before the hipsters and gentrifiers and artists and writers. But what do I know? I’m not from around here either.

A skunk waddles through my backyard, his aroma wafting through my bedroom walls. Lizards tickle my feet, pausing to soak in deep rays of sunshine. Birds sing harmoniously as they gather and mingle on branches outside my bedroom window. Hummingbirds dive from up above my rooftop down deep into the ravine below. A squirrel runs across a telephone wire as my Doberman spins and barks and prances with excitement at his passing. Coyote young play gleefully with their mother on a concrete hill behind my home.

For a moment, I am transported. I forget my whereabouts. I can imagine for a fleeting second I don’t reside in a sea of millions. The sounds and sights outside my windows soothe me. The wind shakes the branches as I write.

They say we’re the City of Angels, but I see a lot more coyotes these days.

I feel at ease as I gaze outside. I begin recording my interactions with my folkloric neighbors, the coyotes. The palpable tension fascinates me.

•••

I drive home from work one afternoon and I spot Mother Coyote again. I think she’s hurt, carrying her back leg off the ground as she limps. I last saw her running between cars with a hamburger wrapper in her mouth, McDonald’s to be precise.

My neighbors stand out on the street; there is an unusual excitement on India Street. A film crew is up to something. There’s a camera man standing on the sidewalk and a crew of men surrounding him. Lights flash, momentarily blinding me.

She cowers in the corner, seemingly terrified of the many humans crowding India Street. I slow and watch her tail nestle between her legs. She stands in front of a patch of grass sandwiched in between two houses, a rickety old fence protects what I’ve come to believe is her lair.

Another morning, I find her perched upon a cement barrier in a driveway. She stands, illuminated by the sunlight. She peers over the street. She is regal as she gazes on, standing just behind the latest installment of overpriced health food in the neighborhood. Its aisles are spacious, enough for babies and humans and their strollers. This mother coyote has but a narrow swath of grass to call her and her young’s home.

People freeze with their dogs at their side waiting to see her next move. Dogs sit at their human’s command. She seems majestic atop the slab as the humans look on with trepidation.

I stall in my car and watch her; the coyotes enchant me. My neighbors interrupt my admiration when they lay on their horns and remind me to hurry along. There isn’t time for daydreaming or coyote watching. It’s rush hour.The coyotes aren’t valid of our admiration, it seems. We admire whales from boats as tourists because they don’t interrupt our daily lives. But disturb us and our daily living and you’ll quickly lose our adoration.

One evening, I saw Mother Coyote again scampering across the street under the dark night sky, a sliver of a crescent moon above her illuminates Lake View Avenue, where it meets India Street at the bend. Once upon a time you could once see the human-constructed lake from here but new developments have crowded its visibility. I mostly see rooftops and coyotes these days.

The coyotes are thirsty. A drought raged on and they meander through backyards in search of water in our lushly watered lawns. My birdbath is a thirst-quenching body of water, I imagine.

She darted up the hillside into a barren yard recently cleared by the neighbors’ gardeners. I watched the day the gardeners cleared away leaves and grass and bushes. I felt angry as I watched pieces of her home carried away by men.

A For Sale By Owner sign hung in front of their home for months. It seems they’ve had trouble selling it. I wonder if prospective buyers got wind: The Coyote’s home was not up for sale.

Without foliage to hide behind, she lays down in an open field on a steep bank above me. A green fluorescent light illuminates the side of the house and she lays down in front of the bulb, her silhouette lights up on the barren hill under the moonlight. I pause under the night sky to watch her as lights glimmer from homes nestled into a distant hillside. Mother Coyote gazes back into my eyes then slinks away into the night.

It’s the third of July and the coyotes cry again. This time explosions in the sky erupt over the hillside like gunshots from the neighborhood baseball stadium. The fireworks are interrupted by a familiar coyote cry in the ravine below. She howls and yips and screams. Her voice fills the space between the booming in the distance.

Is it Mother Coyote or her young? I’m comforted by her presence. It seems I’m not the only one disturbed by the intrusion of booming in the distance. Some days, when the coyotes run out in front of me, a pang of longing rushes through me. An urban dweller now, they remind me I’m not from here. We’re all on borrowed land.

 I haven’t seen the coyotes for some time. 

Walking up my street one night, I find an odd woman in her 40s, blonde disheveled hair and three small, elderly dogs on leash. Her name is Tina. We quickly get to chatting. Tina strikes me as the neighbor that will certainly know the latest. She has that air of knowing all the neighborhood secrets.

“Have you seen the coyotes lately?” I ask.

“Not since the city set the traps.” She gestures up towards the hillside.

My heart sinks. “The traps?” I mumble with disbelief.

“Well, someone had to go. It was either us or them. People, we can’t be living in fear like that.”

“I feel bad for them, Tina.”

“I know. Me too,” she says.

“But don’t they know they’ll just come back? A new Alpha will always return.” I begin to tell Tina about the town hall meeting I once attended with the scientists near the beach.My last home, quaint and sleepy on the other end of town also was haunted by the never-ending “coyote problem.”

Tina walks away into the night.

Sometimes I wake to the sounds of pounding machinery on the pavement. The city gets to work at 1 a.m. I prefer the ruckus of a coyote kill to the pounding hammers of men in brightly covered jumpsuits from the city.

The sounds of the coyotes drowned out by the rush of the highway in the distance and noisy machinery.

On the farm of my childhood there was an acceptance of wild animals. Storms came and went. Animals killed. Cats disappeared. Coyotes howled. Much like the seasons changed, a tacit acceptance that these beings were a part of life. There were no town hall meetings for neighbors to congregate and fret about how to fix the “coyote problem.” We didn’t have neighborhood apps and iPhones to ruminate about the wild animals going about their business of being. Mother Earth both reigned and provided, something easily forgotten by us city folk. Alas, this is not the countryside.

I miss the animal songs moving freely through the air.

My narrow, winding street bubbles with both coyotes and new developments. Every last inch of space seems to be taken, leaving little room for the coyote and her young. Last I saw, they were leveling the hillside, surely making way for new construction. They dug up the same hillside where she’d once perched under the moonlight.

My neighbors continue to update the app with their sightings. But this is California, I remind myself. Here, the Earth periodically shakes us awake and the ground tilts. How easily we forget. I’m tempted to chime in but I’m not sure this neighborhood app is the place for coyote activism and musings about man and nature.

I daydream about running away from this sprawling town and moving back to the country. But I’d miss my humans.

My time on India Street is coming to a close. Overcrowding and overpricing, I reluctantly have to move.

The coyotes come for a visit on my last day on India Street. A neighbor and her black Labrador stand frozen in the street with terror stricken on their faces. I know the coyotes must be near. They’re the only creatures that ever elicit this type of fear.

My boyfriend Andrew walks out into the street to find the coyote. The onlooker stands frozen, gripping her beloved dog tightly. She looks to Andrew: he stands firmly on the side of the street with his worn cowboy boots.

“Get on. Git!” He shouts. You can hear his country drawl. He throws a rock near the coyote to frighten her. It bothers me, but I say nothing. I stand quietly in the street.Andrew doesn’t know the coyotes and I have history. I feel frightened by his force and she scampers off. She runs up the side of the hill and stands, perching atop the hillside, peering down over us. I smile to myself and gaze off to watch her. It’s as if she’s come to say goodbye.

Andrew walks down the driveway to eat his donuts and drink his coffee. He yells at me to join him. I’m standing in the middle of the street, pensive about this rather serendipitous moment. I walk back to him and consider telling him the story, but he seems more intrigued by his donuts and his coffee than my musings about years spent observing the coyotes of Los Angeles.

I pack up my home into the moving truck and move a mile and a half down the road. My new neighbors quickly inform me we’re safe down here from the coyotes. I moved out of the hillside and down into the flatlands.

One night my chihuahua comes to me, flailing. I see a dark shadow wander off. He’s bathed in a putrid yellow odor all around his eyes and ears. It’s rancid. After my moment of confusion settles, I realize: I share my new beautiful garden with the neighborhood skunk population.

As I try to remove the odor from my dog’s fur, I stop and take a moment to chuckle. We really are so powerless. I imagine the neighborhood animals laughing at our attempts to quell them.

I update my neighborhood app to include my new whereabouts. I think to myself what a great story this would be, the skunks welcoming me. I resist the urge to stir up the humans. They are so easily excited by my musings on urban wildlife.

Wally and I drift off to sleep. The unfortunate smell of skunk going about his business of living wafts in my home for weeks to come.

About Whitney Easton

Whitney Easton is a freelance writer based out of sprawling Los Angeles. She is inspired by the natural wonders that constantly surround her. A native of the Pacific Northwest, she often daydreams about her childhood spent roaming barefoot on beautiful, rural islands with bountiful nature and creatures.  Whitney holds her B.A. in Spanish and her M.A. in Clinical Psychology.