Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Night visitor to the farm

Some time around 2:00 am, I woke up to a strange shrill night time sound. We live across the street from a park, and once in a while there are noises - peels of music, the sound of brakes or fireworks, youthful cries of exuberance. This was none of the usual sounds. I sat up, listening closely, ready to call 911, but this was not a sound I thought a human could make, even in dire circumstances.

Our neighbors are often up late, and occasionally their kids are up. Was this one of the ubiquitous recorders that the school district has distributed to every child in the city? No. The note was long and sustained, but it slid slowly downward, as no recorder player could.

A dog? A dog choking on its collar, slowly losing air? Does it need my help? The note stopped and I got ready to go look.

Then the sound began again, and went on, and changed, and broke into pieces and back together again. There were long wails, and staccato cries, sounds like words sung in a language aliens might understand. Now that it was warmed up, the voice couldn't seem to stop. It trilled, murmured, whined and grumbled. Here and there something like a suppressed bark would start to form, only to be embroidered over with a baroque complexity of other sounds. It was like a dog that suddenly mimicked a songbird, an octave too low and in the middle of the night.

Two houses back, there are a couple of sled dog type dogs that sometimes make bits of sound like this - yowling like giant cats, or giving short, cut off barks. They make different noises to express loneliness, excitement, play. One mood, one sound. Compared to this profusion of sounds, the dogs were like a couple of children typing emoticons, while this animal was  pouring forth profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

I've known for a long time that there were coyotes across the street in the ravine down at the bottom of the park. I saw one once at dusk, by our mailbox, trotting toward the wild embankments on one side of the golf course at the end of our street. They live on who knows what. Blackberries are abundant and I've seen canine scat made entirely of berry seed. There are bowls of cat food, squirrels and other rodents. Yesterday a dead squirrel lay on the road all day and was still there the next morning. Scarcity is not a problem.

To the best of my knowledge, the coyotes in our neighborhood don't kill cats - I keep seeing the same cats and there haven't been any mysterious disappearances that didn't later get explained. Nor have they killed any of our chickens. Once a dog did, and before the barn door was tight, a raccoon did, but each animal leaves signs and there was never evidence of coyotes getting them. I've come to think of the coyotes as cautious souls, avoiding fences, hunting game that won't arouse the ire of the humans.

Aside from that one glimpse, they have never made themselves known until now. Why suddenly is this lone animal bursting into such a long, complex song outside my window? The singing stops and the night noises pick up again. A cricket, which are uncommon here. Airplane noises, old house noises, the neighbor's waterfall.

Far off, miles away in Tukwila, I hear a train whistle. Somewhere closer but still faint in the distance, a fire engine wails and the coyote starts up again. I contemplate taking a picture and decide not to startle it. I contemplate posting a facebook status. Then I think: a dog would post this on facebook or twitter. A coyote would want to write about it in depth. A coyote would come back to its work and revise it, and practice, and listen to its own voice at night.

So I'm doing that. I want to capture how it sounded, a wild, intelligent creature making sounds that it understood, even though I don't. I will come back and revise my writing because I haven't done it justice. There is this parallel life being lived invisibly outside my window and I want to capture it in words, and that's not going to happen all at once. I'm working on it.