I remember when I saw it, deep into last year’s autumn, Mother Nature switching gears for the long, long road trip we call winter. Amy and I were rolling up electric poultry fencing for the winter, absorbed in the two-person task which stretches for 200 feet in an arc from one corner of the barn to the other. She saw it first with a gasp, and soon my own breath was stolen by the sight.
This semi-circle of safety was meant more to keep the chickens from damaging our vegetable gardens, and less to protect them from the many creatures that enjoy a farm-style chicken buffet. And yet this handsome young coyote had breached the electric fence and managed only to kill himself. Death by hanging.
The scene took more than a few seconds to truly register in my mind. It didn’t seem real because it didn’t seem possible. Here was a coyote hanging in the crotch of two Soft Maples, soft only in name, quite hard enough to kill.
How did this play out? The trees that claimed his life were just inside the electric fence. Perhaps he tried to push himself under the fence and was shocked in the process, causing him to bolt into the air with a most unfortunate landing. Or maybe he got past the fencing without receiving his degree in electrical engineering, and he began chasing the panicked chickens. Maybe one of the chickens flew toward the trees, the coyote lept but came up short and slid down to his death. However it happened, I simply marveled at the odds of this freak accident ever happening again in nature.
But I didn’t just stand there like a naturalist, trying to piece together the facts and solve a mystery. The empathetic bones in my body ached at the sight of his struggle. He desperately tried to free himself, clawing at the bark of the maples. Forgiveness did not follow him on that day. I hope his breath was taken quickly.
I am not among the many farmers and ranchers who hate coyotes. I do my best to get calves in the barn shortly after their birth, and I’m okay with a coyote killing a free-range chicken on rare occasion. On the other hand, don’t ask me about the groundhog that ate $700 worth of broccoli last year!
I have watched with delight a coyote following me as I cut hay with a tractor. More than once he was only ten feet behind me, searching for rodents in the newly fallen grass. I have wandered quietly on foot into a field of clover, watching young coyote pups frolicking without a care in the world.
Maybe this coyote was one of those pups. And he learned how fickle and random the dangers of this world can be. I hope his brothers and sisters move through the forest with the same four words of advice we humans have given our young for thousands of years.
Look before you leap.