Clear skies and cold.  The moon 75 percent waxing gibbous.  Her zenith around 8:00 p.m.  Tonight he will be back, down in the bottom field, just 100 yards below the house.

The song begins with a few sharp barks, then a crescendo into a long, mournful soprano.  It will be answered from down in the swamp bottom first, then from another pack two ridges over, a double-chorus of Banshees, each with no individually distinguishable voice.  They could be 50 or even a 100, a ruckus that almost make a man feel surrounded in some Jack London tale.  Stoke-up the fire as the circle tightens.

My pit will lift his head, awakened from whatever canine dreams be on a winter night.  His growl low and deep, as if it originates somewhere around his back haunches.  Each lasts about ten seconds, followed by a single syllable “umph.”  A ridge of hair stands like a white belt from skull to tail, a sign that he is approaching the red line, where some other creature has produced in him a rage that will lead to fury.

I say “hush, now,” but he will not be quieted until the lone singer and his cacophony of answering choirs have ceased.  I need only open the door and he will charge off into the night.

I wonder, not being well-versed in coyote song.  Is he calling out of loneliness, or simply trying to locate the others, to gauge their distance?  A measuring of reasonable trot should he be so inclined to rejoin the evening rituals of the pack.

I like to think that it is a voluntary solitude.  Chosen, not forced.  Still a path back.  But I don’t know the ways of coyotes.

Sunday past I found a single arrowhead on a low, flat ridge above the creek bottom.  The first in twenty-five years of walking this land.  The parent rock just beside, cleft clearly visible where two pieces once fit together.  I looked again, for where there is one there are usually more, indicating a camp, even a temporary village.  But there were no more.  A single piece of flint shaped by a solitary man.

This lack of relics is curious.  I stand five miles as the crow flies from the last stand of the Creek Nation, fought to the last man, woman and child in the shallow bend of a river.  Stone points and wooden shafts no match for Andrew Jackson’s band of muskets.

Again I wonder.  Was the point-maker in voluntary solitude?  Still close enough to coyote-call over the low ridges.  Far enough to escape the evening banter.

Perhaps kindred spirits, man and coyote.  Seeking solitude, but always curious if others are still within range.

Maybe only on this patch of sacred land.  Solitude calls to solitude.

The sun is setting.  I have cornbread in the oven, Hoppin’ John in the pot.  I build my  evening fire against the chill.

Bully and I await the moon.  The evening performance will begin soon.

Tonight we howl.


19 thoughts on “Howl

  1. Hours later. And it improves on repeated reading. My father used to walk the woods behind his in-laws’ farmhouse in southwest Georgia. There was a huge pond under cypress trees where Indians had lived. He found scads of arrowheads and spearheads, enough to half fill a burlap bag which we had up until I was a teenager, I recall. I wonder what happened to them.

    1. I had a nice collection once, accumulated from different places across Alabama where I had inspected logging jobs. A former employer liked them so much he put them under glass. I never got them back.

  2. Thank you for your memories and also your current experiences. I was raised in Arizona and remember coyotes vividly, have a friend up on the Hopi Reservation that I visited frequently and can understand the lonely arrowhead, I now live in Central Mexico in the country and hear various howling and different evenings. I have four dogs and the locals tell my one has coyote in her. She was tossed over my wall 12 years ago and is still going strong. She is first to join the howling and another spaniel rescue joins in just to join in. The other two ignore the outside howling. It is interesting to me the “howling pecking order.” Thanks again for sharing this and would like to know if anything happened last night or again this evening. Enjoy the music under the moon!

    1. Thanks for the story. Coyotes probably arrived in Alabama in the late ’60’s. I never remember hearing them as a child. They are prospering here now, even in towns, where they have developed a taste for lap dogs and cats.

      I’ve only seen one crossbreed, but I’m sure there are more. I hardly ever see them during the day. I bought an electronic call, but I have yet to call one in close enough to get a glimpse.

      I was fooled a little last night. They started just after sunset. Two close to the house — the others in the locations I mentioned. I enjoy hearing them, although I know that they are probably killing young deer and wild turkey.

      1. Circle of Life and of Death…not for the weak of heart but for the strong soul that knows. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. “Solitude calls to solitude.” Another fine line.

    My father called coyote in eastern Oregon, the high desert. He had an accordioned rubber tube he worked to make the cry of a wounded rabbit. Just liked to bring them in. His pack, I suppose. I didn’t realize there were coyote in Alabama.

  4. Wow, this might be my favorite one yet. Mighty fine writing Pops.

    My favorite part:
    “Perhaps kindred spirits, man and coyote. Seeking solitude, but always curious if others are still within range.

    Maybe only on this patch of sacred land. Solitude calls to solitude.”

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