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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Still Get It Done

When I was young and invincible I saw an old farmer sitting on the tailgate of his pickup counting out ears of fresh picked sweet corn.  We made small talk, and I remember him saying he still worked just as hard as he ever did but didn’t get nearly as much done.  I’m not sure why his comment stuck with me but it has, and now decades later I can totally relate.

Lee and I have been busy this spring with a long list of chores and have actually made noticeable and satisfying progress.  On any given day we start when we’re ready and quit when we’ve had enough. The hours we spend are a fraction of what we once put in but we’re okay with it.  We feel no pressure to maximize productivity, our health is good enough, we have each other, a fine property.  Who really deserves something this good?  Regardless of how hard a person works and plans there is no shortage of ways to see a lifetime of effort snuffed out and what you have in the end boils down to luck, good or bad.  We try to shift the odds in our favor but never is there an iron clad guarantee.

Retirement is a uniquely human experience.  The vast majority of animals never get a taste of the golden years. Those raised as livestock are often taken out in their prime, and their wild counterparts are weaned from existence at the first sign of weakening.  Even the most long lived wild species are never absolved of their responsibility to fend for themselves, to find food and suitable habitats.  The family dog is an exception, if it finds itself in a loving home.  A dog is essentially born into a splendid retirement. It only needs to adhere to a few basic commands to be showered with love and praise, fed religiously, provided health care, released from domestic responsibilities and forgiven a host of transgressions.  It lives the good life from day one.

We had freakish weather around Earth Day, dangerously cold for emerging plants.  We went to some effort to cover and insulate strawberries in full bloom and numerous vegetables that we should have waited to plant.  Some things, like a giant peach tree ablaze with pink flowers, we could do little for, so we waited and watched for the certain damage that would follow two successive nights of temps in the mid 20’s.  But incredibly, the flowers were unscathed.  The delicate petals survived by adjusting their solutes, proteins, and membrane lipids to withstand desiccation and ice crystal formation, or were witness to an act of divine intervention, or a bit of both.

I opened the door to a mid April morning and was greeted by a fresh snow covering and abundant bird song.  A bit of inclimate weather fails to overrule the influence of swollen gonads and the urge to establish territories.  The machinery driving natural processes is not easily altered or interrupted.  It takes something big like an asteroid impact or massive volcanic eruption to shake things up on a broad scale, and these things happen, but rarely. Or the same life altering disturbance can occur insidiously over a couple centuries, driven by something subtle, say a small shift in atmospheric compounds. 

Earth Day came and went with many of the same declarations and warnings that have been aired for decades.  This year, on the day we celebrate our reverence for the planet, there were, give or take, 150 species of plants and animals lost to extinction, over three billion tons of glacial ice lost to melting, and over 80000 acres of rainforests intentionally burned, all while we emitted over 90 million metric tons of CO2.

Life goes on, and lucky people and lucky dogs retire while millions more work and plan and look to find hope in a better future.  And many find hope has to be rooted in action, that demanding change is the only way hope can exist, that persuading others to recognize, support, and contribute to remedying the climate crisis reigns supreme.  Relying on luck assures a bad outcome, and everyone has a role, even and especially those of us beyond our most productive years, those responsible for the mess, who did not follow through on Earth Day proclamations in the past.  We can still get it done.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Hopes and Happenings, Thrills and Threats

Spring is in full gallop, and one day soon will mesh seamlessly with summer.   We hunted mushrooms yesterday, crawling through the woods as we must, the cussed honeysuckle being as they are.  But we found a handful of morels and declared the fungi season underway.

The onions are excited, growing with great zeal, their pointed foliage rising from the earth like an army marching into battle with swords skyward.  The spinach, radishes, peas, are also progressing nicely.  There is a long and arduous list of things needing done, and it leaves us with a choice to become either motivated or overwhelmed.  NPR recently interviewed a man released from prison who spoke of the thrill in traveling from one destination to another without being handcuffed, of the joy in waiting in line for a couple hours at the DMV, at seeing a child at play, and having the freedom to choose an onion to add to an evening meal.  Attitude is everything.

The beavers have developed a routine of coming at dusk onto a strip of land separating our two ponds.  They’re looking for corn remaining from the ration my wife, Lee, puts out for the wood ducks and geese.  (If, upon dying, you find reincarnation an option, choose to be a bird and fly to Lee’s house.  Better yet, come back as her dog.  You will want for nothing.)  This year, a goose is brooding on the same strip of land and her mate does not take to uninvited guests.  He is effective in driving one beaver away, while another is not easily intimidated and feeds contentedly even while being jabbed in the rump by the gander.

In late afternoon I was on the dock and looked up to see a hen wood duck disappear into a nest box after approaching with amazing speed and rifling through the entrance hole in an instant.  This is the same box we checked a couple weeks ago and found several eggs laid by a hooded merganser.  It’s not an uncommon thing to have the two species using the same box, with one or the other ultimately taking on incubation duties.  But what is a diving duckling to make of being shown the ways of survival by a dabbling mother?   Or, imagine a duckling inclined to teeter forward with its butt in the air to pick a snail from vegetation while its apparent siblings dive for minnows and aquatic insects.  What if we were raised by orangutans and encouraged to forage and sleep in trees?  Apparently, the ducks sort it out.

There is frost in the forecast so the flowers on the Carlesii Viburnum outside our office door could be threatened.  The Carlesii, with a fragrance so powerful it can make me feel I’ve eaten too many donuts when I’ve had none, shows no apprehension towards frost, nor do the peach or strawberry blossoms, the trillium or toothworts.  They’ve experienced this routine countless times and despair not.  Consternation is reserved for people who, graced with logic and reason, recognize threats and react accordingly.  

And here is the perfect segway to mention our dismally slow response to catastrophic environmental threats.  A recent article by a team of ecologists and published under the title “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future” sums it up. (You can read it here:, or an opinion here:  

I have a tendency to steer the conversation towards environmental doom, and why is that?  I recently asked my friend, Jim, to respond to an essay I’d written which laid out our environmental future in black and white, and his response was, “What’s your point?”  He avoids the news regarding climate change though he is finely tuned to the threat.  He does what he reasonably can to reduce his carbon footprint, but is more focused on staying active and happy in life.  Further into the conversation he mentions the solace he finds in the belief that humans will one day soon be gone, and the earth, with the luxury of time, will begin the long process of rebuilding to her former glory.  

My point, Jim, is that it’s all so unnecessary.  Solutions to this environmental crisis are truly within our grasp and a worldwide implementation of remedies would not only assure continuation of the human race but would, in the process, address a host of societal woes and injustices.  Our occupation of the planet doesn’t have to end.

True to forecast there was a heavy frost last night.  It’s good we didn’t plant the impatience we bought, bad that we left the flat sitting out.  The morning is bright and sunny.  A squirrel is at the feeder, her teats clearly defined.  The onions, unscathed by the cold, are marching on. Dozens of birds are claiming territories, advertising for mates.  A planet is poised to heal.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Where We Are

June stopped for a visit this April. Temperatures approached 80°, and with plenty of sunshine the lawn awoke and greened and was soon worthy of mowing.  In the garden, fall planted garlic put out fresh shoots, puckered rhubarb leaves unfurled; spinach, radish, and peas germinated.  On the log at the pond’s edge, over 40 turtles basked in the warming sun, and the yard was a symphony of birdsong.  In late afternoons we would sit on the deck overlooking the pond, a balmy breeze carrying hints of hyacinth, a chilled brew in hand, and revel in the great awakening. 

But there were notable absences.  The cacophony of birdsong lacked the melodious warble of bluebirds. In our walks along the pond edge, snakes were a scarcity, as were frogs and toads.  On the south wall of the chicken house where the first warm days typically bring a gathering of wasps and flies, there were few.

It’s early in the season.  Birds are still moving, insects, reptiles, amphibians, still emerging from overwintering retreats or yet to hatch.  It’s too soon to draw conclusions for the year, but over decades on this property we have noticed downward trends in both the variety of species and their relative numbers, even as the quality of key habitats has markedly improved.  

Worldwide, loss of species diversity is well documented and sooner or later will be apparent everywhere.  It’s a canary in the coal mine moment, where the canary is a host of wild populations and the mine is the biosphere. The canary is dying.  It’s insidious, but the day comes when we realize instead of dozens of migratory swallows darting over the pond there is but a handful, the young toads that once numbered hundreds in the outdoor stairwell to the basement are nonexistent, the flowers on the willow that should be abuzz with pollinators hang in nearly undisturbed silence.  

Explanations are many, and all are based on an ambitious objective for societal growth with a less than adequate consideration for environmental health.  We have, in our quest for comfort, convenience, and an overall higher standard of living, acquiesced to corporate influence, pledged our allegiance to a capitalistic ideal, and let pass our best shot to assure an optimistic future for the generations that will follow us.  We have infused our environment with forever chemicals, overfished and contaminated our oceans with plastics, subscribed to destructive agricultural practices, abused our waterways, and set a solid course towards climate catastrophe.

So where are we?  Mayer Hillman, an 86 year old British architect and town planner who spent his life promoting a more socially and environmentally conscious public policy, believes we are doomed.  He says it with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye, following his 60 plus years of work to call attention to the threat of climate change, and particularly the role that automobiles have played (he is an enthusiastic supporter of bicycles).  He likens his apparent cheerfulness with the attitude taken by someone diagnosed with terminal illness: they do all they can to prolong their lives and rarely go on a disastrous binge.  His focus today is on music, love, and education.  Happiness, he says, can still be pursued and enjoyed with little or no fossil fuel consumption.

Hillman points out that even if the world dropped carbon emissions to zero today, we would not prevent the ice caps from melting.  There are consequences in having CO2 levels spike to a range not seen in three million years, and most of those consequences are yet to be experienced.

The majority of us now recognize the dire environmental threats we face and accept responsibility for them. Many of us take personal action to lessen our impact on natural systems in our daily decisions and behaviors, on the purchases we make. Hillman believes our efforts are futile, that we cannot separate ourselves from our reliance on fossil fuels and the endless stream of products produced via non sustainable and often toxic practices. A collapse of civilization, he believes, is likely.

Not everyone in the earth sciences agrees.  Some hold firm to a more hopeful outlook and believe we will, eventually, make the right decisions so life can go on. But it will not be an easy transition and things will assuredly get worse before they get better.  The burning of fossil fuels will play no role in the future and there will be dramatic changes in our use of and respect for our remaining natural resources, our attitudes towards natural systems, the foods we eat, our values, even our way of defining and finding happiness.  Almost everything must change.  What we cannot do is pretend we can save ourselves with a new and improved environmental awareness while hundreds of airports are being built, cruise liners gear up for business as usual, and countries are salivating to see GDP’s return to pre-pandemic levels.

We haven’t lost our spirit, and like Hillman, still have the ability to recognize and enjoy good music and company, to love people, to ride bikes, to smile and be decent to one another.  We haven’t lost the opportunity to educate ourselves, to demand equality and a fair distribution of wealth, to defend democracy and better understand, appreciate, and respect the magnificence in nature.  We don’t have to lose hope and let go of happiness.  We can still make the world a better place.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Springing into an Electric Car

got my drivers license in the 60’s when the SS 396 and GTO were the sweetest cars on the road. It was a time when a car’s value was measured by the number of barrels in its carburetor, how it purred at idle and roared when the throttle was open.  In those days most of us didn’t look at engine heat and noise as lost energy.  We were even less likely to think that gases spewed from tailpipes might one day contribute to a global climate crisis.  Instead, we accepted the internal combustion engine as an essential and necessary part of our lives, and over the decades saw cars grow cleaner, quieter, smarter, refined by a litany of complicated and synchronized parts, while their elemental reliance on gasoline and oil remained unchecked.

Last week we bought an electric car, and in an instant all the sophistication and refinement of the gasoline engine seemed cumbersome and antiquated.  The car performs without a combustion fuel or lubricating oil, so at a very fundamental level breaks a long standing tradition.  There are no pistons, spark plugs, valves, camshafts, or rocker arms.  There is instead a comparatively simple motor powered by electrons. The low rumble of the 396 has given way to scarcely audible hums and whirs in a vehicle with thrust and responsiveness akin to something out of Star Wars.  It’s not the Millenium Falcon, but close.

More than 120 years ago, Thomas Edison was working to improve the lead acid battery and was zinging along roadways passing horse drawn buggies in his electric powered car.  At the same time, Henry Ford was continuing work on the internal combustion engine. And then we found ancient oil deep in the earth and our preference fell to a noisy, polluting, inefficient technology that has led to a multitude of health and environmental concerns. 

A sewer pipe and a car’s exhaust share a similar purpose: to carry waste.  The electric car lacks this appendage as there is no combustion and no associated byproducts.  And in an electric car, the energy historically lost in the process of braking, as well as that made available while coasting downhill, is captured and sent to the battery to help propel the car down the road.  It is an infinitely cleaner, more efficient, preferred method of transportation, and a thrill to experience.  On a single charge we can drive up to 250 miles with zero emissions using a battery that is guaranteed a hundred thousand miles in a car requiring essentially zero maintenance. The average daily commute in the US is 32 miles.

A few days ago we drove to an Indy destination which, according to the map app, was 75 miles one way.  It was a cool day, low 40’s, cloudy and blustery.  It takes a lot of battery energy to heat a car’s cabin so we were curious to see how we’d get along.  We ran the heat sporadically, visited relatives, made a couple stops for groceries and lunch, and returned home with 92 miles to spare.  No fuel burned, no worries.  We kept passing businesses featuring big display signs with illuminated numbers, but the product they were promoting was foreign to us. We pulled into our shed and plugged in the car to get recharged from a bank of solar panels.  But even without the panels, even if we were stuck with powering up with energy from outdated coal fired power sources, it would still be a win for the environment, and still cost significantly less than gasoline and routine maintenance.

It’s April and in our part of the globe spring is weaving its way into a world fraught with problems and challenges, but there are glimmers of hope.  We are at the precipice of massive infrastructure changes that will make long distance travel in battery powered vehicles convenient and mainstream as momentum in the industry appears unstoppable.  It’s one small step up a mountain of challenges that must be met if we’re to preserve what is left of our functioning biosphere.  As more of us experience the thrill, satisfaction, and economic benefits of electric vehicles, this step should be a quick one.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A Spring of Disruptors and Hope

On these fine mid March mornings there is clear evidence spring is progressing.  Never mind the temperature or weather, the bird song is our cue. Days are lengthening and life in its infinite forms is awakening.  An age old force is at work, adjusting, refining, weeding out the ill suited, favoring the most qualified. As long as basic elements exist, spring comes with new life in one form or another.  

We humans are occupying this wondrous blue sphere in a tiny snapshot of time.  It’s hard to wrap our heads around the eons of geological and ecological seasons that led to this utopia, these perfect conditions that allow for our existence.  It’s hard to imagine the poles clothed in vegetation, the great inland seas, the dinosaurs, but there is no arguing with geology and the fossil record.  We are much more comfortable with our grasp of the past century or two, a period when our history and influence has been most evident, when everything lined up to support a rapid increase in population and an explosion of technological development.  As a result, we tend towards an illusion that this is how it’s always been and our plundering of resources and waste generation will not lead to insurmountable consequences.  We believe we are the superiors, the ones gifted with advanced intellect and unwavering spirits.  We will surely find a way to carry on without sacrificing our comforts or want of stuff. 

Dr Shanna Swan is a broadly recognized and respected environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.  Her work has focused on the recent decline in human reproduction stemming from widespread environmental contamination of “forever chemicals'' known as PFAS.  They are considered “forever” because they don’t break down in the environment or the human body but instead accumulate. They are used extensively in common household products, waterproof clothing, and carpeting.  They are in dust, plastics, breast milk. In her new book, Count Down, Dr Swan lays out evidence of reduced fertility in both men and women due to PFAS, and warns that sperm counts in men will diminish to zero by 2045 if the current trajectory holds (there has been a 60 percent decline since 1973).   And, yes, a zero sperm count would effectively mean the end of the human species aside from those we choose to clone.  PFAS are endocrine disruptors that lead to a host of physiological and some anatomical changes, including decreased penis length in newborn boys.  Imagine if adult males were similarly affected; the crisis would command a level of urgency heretofore unseen in human history. 

It is correct to assume that widespread endocrine disruptors have repercussions beyond the human species. Successful reproduction in mammals, birds, fishes, amphibians, and many other organisms requires a balanced and functioning endocrine system.  A few years ago we attended an off campus talk in Lafayette where the speaker, a Purdue professor, summarized her work with fishes and reptiles in the Wabash River.  She found the river high in endocrine disruptors and traced them to multiple sources, including wastewater treatment plants and a local pharmaceutical company. The disruptors were found to change the sex of some fish postbirth, shifting the normal 50:50 sex ratio to 80:20, and were also linked to deformities in amphibians such as an extra appendage on frogs.  The researcher shared the frustrations and difficulties with findings that pointed an accusatory finger at a corporation that provided major funding for her work.  Biting the hand that feeds you has repercussions, and too often scientific findings are modified in the interest of financial survival.

In the past couple decades my wife and I have watched precisely two documentaries that have given us genuine hope for the future of the planet.  Both focused on broad scale adoption of agricultural practices that would effectively rewrite our approach to soil health and food production and result in a cascade of ecological benefits. The most recent is entitled Kiss the Ground, and it is wrought with evidence and advice for restoring soil health while improving operator profitability. Credibility is lended by a long time federal soil scientist and a salt of the earth grain and livestock producer from North Dakota who is willing to bet his farm that permaculture methods will work anywhere for anybody.  They are common sense, proven strategies that are largely held at bay by chemical companies and tax dollar subsidies aimed at encouraging the status quo.  Tying into the work of Shanna Swan, there is no shortage of endocrine disruptors in modern agriculture, including such popular chemicals as atrazine and glyphosate (roundup).  Adopting a more sustainable and permaculture based approach to farming promises a greatly reduced reliance on harmful persistent chemicals, healthier, more nutritious, more localized foods, cleaner air and water, and a massive sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere.  The concept is being held back by familiarity and a misguided confidence that current practices will stand the test of time, that crops will continue to be produced given the right chemical concoction, that soil is healthy enough, and loss to erosion is not an existential threat.  A vastly superior alternative lies at the ready.

It rained almost 2.5 inches today, a real soaker, badly needed, and as it slacked off in late afternoon I took the dog on a walkabout.  The mercury hovered around 40 degrees but it felt strangely warmer.  Bird song was crazy, as if the rain had flushed away any lingering hesitations and the breeding season was now officially underway.  Spring Creek was up and running hard until it hit the beaver flowage where it slowed, fanning its volume wide over willow hummocks and the remains of last year’s grasses and sedges.  A pair of barred owls hooted and cawed from a patch of evergreens.  The air smelled of earth awakening.  The peepers were screaming.   Spring is happening as it has from time immemorial, but if land use practices remain unchanged, if the planet continues to be awash with endocrine disruptors and a nearly endless stream of man-caused environmental threats, the season of grand awakening will one day soon look and sound much different.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

A Seasonal Transition and an Ongoing Concern

We are in the transition of winter to spring, the time when our acclimation to cold is quickly undone and we’re less comfortable with a north wind and 40 degrees than we were at 10. There’s a lot going on. Sandhill cranes are winging northward, redwing blackbirds are singing, daffodils are breaking ground, sap is running, geese are bickering over prime real estate. The list is long and timeless, understood yet filled with mystery. 

It’s a fickle time of year for weather. Warm and cold air masses combine to spawn storms, some severe. Too much warm too soon pushes buds to break then the frost returns and a season’s fruit is lost and sadness settles on the orchardist. All this is complicated by a climate that has changed so normals are no longer, predictions are often “unprecedented”, and weather events are breaking long established records. 

Our old dog, from all indications, is unconcerned. As long as the weather is not brutally hot her contentment is certain and predictable. Early spring, late frost, weather weirdness, all are meaningless as she is singularly focused on loyalty, friendship, and squirrel patrol, and from these she does not venture. It appears she lives solely in the moment and lacks the capacity to consider or recognize changes or threats that are forthcoming. There is one exception, that being when we are about to leave without her, and she’s melting into the floor even before we’ve made the announcement. 

I suppose wild species are similar. Some have the foresight to cache food for hard times ahead but most subscribe to a carpe diem philosophy. Adapt or die is their motto, which they follow without plan or fret. They are totally innocent as we cripple or destroy the environments we share with them, yet hold no recognizable ill towards us, even as some are facing certain extinction or dramatic population declines due to our actions. They are, in a sense, old dogs: highly responsive to our activities and in simple need of recognition, appreciation and respect. 

In the absence of humans, wild species would be just fine, but our influence on global ecology is complete so no place or living thing has gone untouched. It’s a relatively new development in human history, with the greatest impact occurring in just the past couple hundred years. The future of almost everything alive rests on us. We don’t turn on our phones, switch on a light, or hop in a car without an impact that ripples across the planet. Dominion, it appears, we can claim. 

The old dog feels frisky after her morning breakfast and bounces her front paws on the floor and stands with ears perked, looking expectant. She clearly has a message but I’m clueless and in need of coffee, a brew made from a bean likely raised in South or Central America where lush forests once stood and migrant birds once wintered; a bean that was processed and shipped, accruing a handsome carbon footprint, so I could grind and prepare it in my kitchen using appliances and gadgetry that were produced from mined metals that were smelted then poured into molds or stamped into products deemed essential for comfort in modern society and demanded by hundreds of millions of anxious consumers. And in the process of getting my beans countless people profited and they, too, wanted to buy more stuff, so to satisfy this new demand more mines were opened and the whole industrial complex was given a boost. The stock market reacted favorably and the money poured disproportionately to those already holding the greatest wealth and a beautifully capable planet became slightly less capable all because I felt a need for a cup of coffee. 

I recently read about a new lithium mine scheduled to open in the great state of Nevada. The mine, located at Thacker Pass, is promised to be a mile long and two miles wide and produce 179 million tons of lithium to help satisfy the world’s growing desire for electric cars and green energy storage. The mine will bring jobs and a valuable source of lithium from within our own borders. It will also wreak environmental disaster on a remote area of Humboldt County which, oddly enough, is named for one of the world’s most influential naturalists. One article I read states that electric cars are not the solution and cars of any sort are not the solution and we should go back to walking like humans have for 99.9 percent of our time on earth. And that made me think of an interview I heard on NPR with a man who had lost his job and car due to the pandemic and was forced to turn down a new job because he had no way to get to it. And I thought of my old roommate who has been diagnosed with ALS, and in a recent video, there he was taking a test drive in an electric wheelchair which was no doubt powered by a lithium battery. He was grinning from ear to ear. 

We’re in a seasonal transition, looking forward to the end of a pandemic, waiting to see how the world reacts, setting our hopes on something that is new and just while holding the promise of prosperity. A magnificent blue globe spins in her orbit around the sun. She gives us free reign to all she has, not contesting our decisions but reacting to them. She supports every living thing, and like an old dog looking to her master, is asking for respect and appreciation. No one said it’d be easy.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Coyote Primer

We were in South Lake Tahoe a few months ago and one sunny midmorning I looked up and saw a pair of coyotes casually walking down the middle of a residential street. They were a handsome pair, beautifully marked and from all appearances, well fed. They passed at a distance of 25 ft and one of them made solid eye contact with me. There was a penetrating wildness in those yellow eyes and no hint of fear or concern. Instead, I saw a calm confidence worn by an animal on his beat, not looking to cause problems, just securing the borders and ensuring all was copasetic. The coyotes weren’t in my territory. I was in theirs. It reminded me of a photo I once saw of several deer standing on a roadway in a woodland with a caption that read, “There are no deer on the road. There is a road in the forest.” 

From the time of the first European settlers we have held a sanctimonious obligation to rid the land of wild things that we deem threatening or competitive. Predators have always topped the list and the claims against them are often exaggerated, but it is nonetheless widely held that eagles take lambs, hawks and foxes take chickens, bears and wolves and lions take cattle, and coyotes take almost anything. Through the ages we have launched organized attacks against them using poisons, traps, bounties, and guns. And as many top predators were extirpated or nearly so, the coyote has not only prevailed, but thrived. Their response to control efforts was simply to have larger litters. 

A few years ago, my brother, who still lives in our hometown, called to say he’d been seeing red foxes walking the sidewalks and hearing them scream at night. He suspected a den near a creek that drifted through the heart of town. I found the report incredible until I learned that coyotes were moving into red fox rural territories and displacing them, forcing ole Reynard to find new accommodations in suburbs or even the hearts of cities. 

Perhaps no other predator has proven itself more resilient to persecution or more adaptable to ever changing habitats than coyotes. Their diets are highly opportunistic, shifting on a whim to whatever is most available and most easily obtained. Fresh meat is fine, insects are fine, as are frogs, lizards, fish, fruit, or roadkill. The number of coyotes that cause legitimate problems with domestic livestock are few, and in instances where control measures are justified, not all have to be lethal. In one study, a farmer suspecting that coyotes were killing livestock found a solution in feeding the canids scraps collected from a local butcher. Coyotes kill to eat, but only when it’s the easiest way to eat. 

The first time I heard a coyote yipping and howling was on a college field trip out west in the mid 70’s. I knew then they were expanding their range, adapting to new habitats, even drinking out of swimming pools in high rent districts of Southern California. And though their occupied areas and populations were predicted to grow, I was yet surprised when we began hearing and seeing them regularly in Indiana. They had been here a while but in low numbers, particularly in the northern half of the state, so to me they seemed out of place. They are native to the western two thirds of the US and historically associated with lands carved with dry gulches, graced with wind sheared rock, speckled with cacti— out west, where the deer and the antelope play. 

But coyotes were not to be restricted, and since the 1950’s have expanded their range by 40 percent and now occupy every state other than Hawaii. Here in the heartland it’s breeding season for canids, a time when males are preoccupied and may display behavior considered abnormal. But what is normal for a coyote? What living wild species has better demonstrated a capacity to push the boundaries of normality? 

What a wise and remarkably determined animal. A keystone predator well established in our midst, doing what keystone predators do best: maintaining balance and diversity in what remains of our wild landscapes. 

Oh give me a home where the coyotes roam 
Which is a home most anywhere today 
Because the coyote, it seems, has the wisdom and means 
To live wherever it may 
It would not be constrained to a western range 
Within borders defined on a map It would not be defeated, controlled or deleted 
By poisons or guns or traps 
So live on, wise canid, we’ll not take for granted 
The hinterland balance you bring 
And will share your delight when in stillness of night 
You raise your voice to sing.