We were driving one evening on the lip of a mesa in northern New Mexico, above Medanales and the Chama River, when we were struck by the silhouette of a fine coyote.
He was standing with his back to the sunset, ears up, impassive. He did not startle when we stopped short of him and shut off the engine. Charlie, the border collie, stared back. We knew right away it was a he because only a young male is that curious and bold.
Charlie, about the coyote’s age then, was outwardly calm, his eyes alive with a liquid caramel. The coyote approached and we got out. This sounds like a great deal of foolishness, and normally it would be, but it was clear from the behavior of both that they had a truce.
Charlie had run into coyotes before, always several at a time. He’d bark their yips and stand them off until the coyotes retreated with a din of brays and wails. A coyote will savor a hare and even a corgi if it can get one, but Charlie was already taller than they and just as clever. He was too many calories of work, too risky and trophically plain wrong.
He met the coyote above Medanales quietly, head on, with quick sniffs on both sides. Charlie wagged the tip of his high tail, hello. Neither had business with the other, and after a moment, the coyote turned and loped into the sun. He would have a story and so would we.
It is rare to see a summit like that. More commonly these days, the coyotes scent Charlie from the wooded slopes on the west side of Lemon Reservoir. “Someone’s in here,” they keen. “Don’t even think about swimming over, dog.”
Charlie crosses the waist of the water with smooth strokes, making them whine. He climbs out, shakes, listens: You can almost see him take a bow.
We were thinking of that because the Environmental Protection Agency recently ruled government trappers can keep using sodium cyanide bombs to kill coyotes. This can and will continue to be done through the Agriculture Department’s Wildlife Services program and by state agencies in South Dakota, Montana, Texas, Wyoming – and New Mexico.
Hey now, we thought: We know some of those coyotes. Of course, we do not know most of them, and they are not killing our cattle, for many reasons including that we are not ranchers; just pilgrims in the same net of space and time.
In 2015, coyotes killed 17,000 of the country’s 112 million cattle and calves, the Agriculture Department estimated, costing ranchers millions. Last year, federal workers killed more than 6,000 coyotes with M44 cyanide bombs. They’re spring-loaded capsules smeared with bait; when the coyote bites, it propels the cyanide into its mouth, producing a deadly gas.
We need a better way of living with wildlife in the West. This one is too much like “Mad Max” meets Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. And the coyotes are like the Roma people of the animal kingdom: Wherever they go, they are told they don’t belong. But they do.
A decade ago, Seth McFarlane added to the roadrunner canon his episode “Die, Sweet Roadrunner, Die.” After trying to kill the roadrunner with ACME machines from missiles and jet packs to earthquake pills, Wiley finally succeeds in dropping a boulder on the bird, crushing it.
That’s how it begins. But, having eaten the roadrunner and lost his purpose, Wiley ends up waiting tables in a diner, badly, and contemplating suicide before finding Jesus and proselytizing other coyotes, annoying them.
Surely it is better on the whole if we can just leave things as we find them.