A gray North American wild canine (Canis latrans) closely related to but smaller than the wolf.

Also, the trickster god of many Native American cultures. Coyote gets into a lot of trouble, but he always has fun.

Also, a cartoon character, created by animation master Chuck Jones, who chases the Roadrunner. He makes great use of products from the Acme Corporation, but usually ends up squashed flat as a pancake by the end of the cartoon. His given name is Wile E. Coyote.
Coyote (Southwestern Native Americans, but known in other areas as well) A trickster, a clown. The creator and teacher of men. Like Loki, Coyote is always lurking about, causing trouble and playing pranks. To the Zunis, Coyote is a hero who set forth the laws by which men may live in peace. The Pomo Indians maintain that Coyote created the human race and stole the sun to keep them warm. The Montana Sioux say that Coyote created the horse.

The Chinook tell how Coyote and Eagle went to the land of the dead to bring back their dead wives. On reaching the land of the dead, they found a meeting lodge lit only by the moon which lay on the floor. Every night an old woman would swallow the moon and the dead would appear in the meeting lodge. Recognizing their wives among the spirits of the dead, the two gods devised a plan. The next day, after the old woman had vomited up the moon and the dead had disappeared, Coyote built a huge wooden box and placed in it leaves of every kind of plant. Coyote and Eagle then killed the old woman, and Coyote donned her clothes. When the time came, Coyote swallowed the moon. The dead appeared, but Eagle had placed the box outside the exit. When Coyote vomited up the moon, the dead filed out and were trapped in the box. Coyote pleaded to be allowed to carry the box, and Eagle gave it to him. But Coyote couldn't wait to see his wife and opened the box. The spirits of the dead rose up like a cloud and disappeared to the west. So it is that people must die forever, not like the plants which die in winter and are green again in a season.


Ursula K. Le Guin has a great short story about Coyote called "Buffalo Gals Won't You Come Out Tonight?"
In Mexico and the US if you are trying to get into the US illegally a coyote is a person you can hire to smuggle you across the US border. Not recommended, as they are crooks as often as not.
The song of coyotes is probably one of the most poignant and beautiful things about the deserts of North America. Their song includes a variety of highly vocal yips and howls which is pretty much undescribable if you haven't heard it. No one is really sure why they howl. Some theorize that it is a way to mark territory, but i don't believe this. I have seen groups of several coyotes howl together. Others believe it is just a location beacon, but I don't believe this either. Why create such intricate songs just to locate other coyotes? There are a few people who think the coyotes are just lonely. I think this is the least likely of all. Coyotes aren't lonely wanderers of the desert. They ARE the desert. They are everything that makes the desert amazing - their song reveals independence, hardiness, beauty, the amazing hugeness of the desert. I think the coyotes sing because they are overwhelmed with the mystery and beauty of the world.

The desert at night is an amazing thing, especially under a full moon. Everything glows silver, and hills 20 miles down the valley seem like a step away, while bushes a few feet away seem like towering trees on the horizon. Some dark nights there are so many stars you can see the dark swirls of 'dark matter' far out in space where they blot out the stars in the Milky Way. Other nights, there is so much lightning in the distance the desert flickers like it is under a golden fire. The plants do much of their metabolizing at night, using energy stored from the harsh desert sun, because in the daytime they would be scorched by the heat and shrivel and die. The result of this is a strong smell of living, growing plants at night. All these sensations are simply those witnessed by a human. People wonder why the coyotes choose to sing at night. But imagine looking at the nighttime world as a coyote. Sights, smells, and sounds would be many times more intense than those seen by a human. If i could see the world this way i would be singing too. As it is, there have been times when i had no means of expression of the desert other than to sit facing the mountains at night a little drunk, play guitar as best i can, and sing.

I've seen a lot of dead animals in my time, and I'm not that sensitive to it. I've seen animals cooked in wildfires, animals eaten by hawks, animals run over, animals died of old age. It is sad, but it is life. Life ends. But the other day i saw a coyote dead by the side of the road, curled up into a little fuzzy ball, and I almost cried. It was in the suburbs, a quickly growing place, where there was nothing left of the once beautiful hills. I don't even know how the coyote got this far from the mountains to the north or south it could have survived in. But i do know this: a coyote is far too smart to simply walk into a car. It is possible he was confused, or disoriented, or sick. But i think that is far underestimating the poor coyote. I personally believe he saw the world ending for him - the beauty gone, covered in houses and roads. I think this coyote WAS lonely, unbearably lonely, because he was without the beauty which once surrounded him; he had no reason to even sing. I think he knew exactly what the highway was, and he dragged himself in front of a car and let his life go, into the cold night air of Ventura Highway, alone.

The coyote (Canis latrans, trans. barking dog) is the smaller of the two North American wild dog species. The male coyote weighs between 20 and 50 lbs and stands 23 to 26 inches tall at the shoulder. Length from nose to tail-tip is generally between 45 and 60 inches, with around 1/4 of this being a large, bushy tail. Female coyotes are smaller, tending to be about 4/5 the size of the male.

Coyotes are slimmer and more delicate-looking than wolves. Their muzzle tapers directly into their forehead with almost no bulging of the cranium. They have long, sharp teeth designed for slashing attacks. Their ears are wide and erect. They have a thick fur ruff around their neck which helps to protect the throat during combat. Their eyes are yellow and set at a slant, with a more feline or fox-like expression than those of a wolf.

A coyote's paws are more elongated than those of a wolf or dog; if a wolf's paw print can be described as square, the coyote's is rectangular. Coyotes have four toes with nonretractable claws as well as a rudimentary fifth toe set high on the leg with a dewclaw. A coyote's fur is reddish-greyish-tawny, with distinct variation between back and belly. Each individual hair is shaded, going from light close to the skin to dark at the tip. Coyotes have a thick undercoat of downy fur in addition to the coarse overcoat visible.

Coyotes, like wolves, are pack animals. They communicate through scent, body language, and vocalizations. Their howl is a combination of barks, yips, and rising and falling ululations. Due to this, it is almost impossible to tell the number of coyotes in a pack by sound. Coyotes are extremely fast runners with great stamina. They are also very social and playful animals. Coyotes are mostly monogamous. Their breeding season is February through March, with a gestation period of 60 to 63 days. Litters can consist of three to seven pups.

Coyotes are primarily scavengers, although they can and do hunt when necessary. A coyote's diet is more eclectic than a wolf's, including mice, insects, berries and fruit. Since the decline of the wolf and the destruction of pristine wildlife habitat, the coyote has adapted and expanded incredibly. Coyotes are found throughout almost the entire United States, and have begun expanding into Canada. They are found in close proximity to humans, even on the outskirts of cities, and have become expert trash scavengers.

When a coyote attacks, it takes advantage of its speed and lightning reflexes. It dashes in and gives its opponent several slashing bites, then dashes back out of reach. Personally, I would rather be attacked by a wolf than a coyote, because a coyote can inflict serious damage before its opponent has time to react.

Coyotes are beautiful, engaging animals. I have had the opportunity to interact with several of them in captivity, and actually helped raise three coyote pups.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of the population still has a perception of the coyote as a pest, rather than one of the mechanisms with which Nature attempts to maintain balance. Hopefully, this will change someday, because there are few things as beautiful as the coyotes' song in the moonlight.

Clutching the bandanna-wrapped bundle of bones and hair, I hurried into the phone booth outside the Texaco. The gas station, a solitary outpost on the dark highway, had long since closed for the night. I lifted the receiver and punched in "911".

"Alpine police department. How may I help you?" asked the bored-sounding woman at the other end.

"There's ... there's been trouble at a ranch off Highway 118," I stammered. "I was hiking nearby. I heard gunshots and screaming. I think someone's been murdered."

No, I knew people had been murdered. Ashamed at my lie, I stared down at my feet. For the first time, I realized I had bloodstains on my tee shirt and hiking boots. Oh God. My knees started to buckle, and I leaned heavily against the wall of the glass booth, waiting for my head to clear.

"Miss? Miss, are you all right?" The 911 operator's voice brought my mind back into focus.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," I lied.

I haltingly gave her directions to the ranch.

"May I have your name and number?" she asked.

I slammed down the receiver, heart pounding. I stumbled back to my car.

Whatever else happened, this was a Saturday I'd never forget.

 

The previous day, I'd driven West from Austin all afternoon and night on I-10, fueled on nothing but a few cups of sour truck stop coffee and the adrenaline from my rage. Every time I felt my anger dying, all I had to do was look over at the copy of The Journal of Biotechnology Methods lying on the passenger seat of my old Ford Festiva and I'd be screaming at the dashboard again.

Dr. Rudy M. Greitsch. My beloved advisor. His lab had so much NIH funding you could probably find sodden tatters of dollar bills in his shit. On the walls of his office, he had pictures of himself shaking hands with people like Robert Gallo and Presidents Reagan and Bush and all the heads of the NIH and NSF since 1965. He'd written the definitive genetics textbook, and three times he had come this close to winning the Nobel Prize.

Which was why he was getting away with ripping me off.

I was practically nobody, a first-year grad student from the sticks who'd barely squeaked into the program with a 3.20 average from a no-name undergraduate college and some high GRE scores. When I got assigned to Greitsch's lab, I felt like I'd been granted an apprenticeship with God. But God was hard to impress; he was a caustic taskmaster who viewed his assistants as pieces of crucial but unreliable equipment. And since his botanist wife had divorced him, he'd developed an open disdain for women in general, claiming we were too "emotionally challenged" to be good scientists. So I was determined to make the best possible impression, determined to make sure he didn't dismiss me as some hick little girl who couldn't play with the big boys.

I worked my butt off in his lab, running electrophoresis gels and doing hybridizations 24 hours a day. You do stuff like that all day, you get bored, and start to try to think of ways to make the work go faster. I'm not a bad chemist. So I fooled around with the current, tweaked the composition of the polyacrilamide gel, tried out different filters for blotting the nucleotide fragments.

By the end of the semester, I'd come up with my own technique that cut my work time by half. I was pretty pleased with myself, and eager to try to score some better departmental funding, so I showed my notes to Greitsch.

He grunted and muttered That's very interesting and hurried on to a meeting.

A week later, my book bag got stolen from the graduate student lounge. Someone found my bag stuffed in a study room trash can, but all my books and notes were gone. I was pretty mad; I'd just had finals, so losing my class notes wasn't really a problem, but I'd been hoping to sell the texts back to the bookstore and maybe get enough cash to take myself out for a lobster dinner. And there was my lab notebook. It was the distillation of a lot of work, but who knew what it was truly worth?

Four months later, I found out.

Bob, one of my labmates, had put the March issue of J. of Biotechnology Methods in my mailbox with a yellow stickit note that read Weren't you working on something like this?

I opened the journal to the page Bob had bookmarked, and found a monograph authored by Greitsch entitled "A Novel Approach to Polyacrilamide Electrophoresis".

My whole body shook as I read the article. It had been fleshed out into complete sentences and gussied up with some slick black-and-white photos, but the text was almost identical to my notes. The rage rising in my veins made me as lightheaded as if I'd just taken a huff of gasoline.

I swore hard and long, startling the department secretary. She stared at me, eyes round, mouth open as if she was going to beg my pardon.

I recovered a little, managing to smile sweetly against the rest of the angry filth my tongue was twitching to spew forth. "Oh, sorry, just muttering to myself," I said, then jabbed the journal under one arm and marched to Greitsch's office.

He'd ripped me off. And for what? A coauthorship with Greitsch would have made me. It would have been a key to the career elevator that could lift me from the huddled student masses up into the hallowed halls of Big Science.

But to someone like Greitsch, the article was next to nothing. He'd no doubt had one of his assistants type it up and send it in. And the journal was nothing special; Greitsch regularly published in Science and Nature; the editors at J. of Biotechnology Meth. probably wet themselves when they saw the name attached to the submission and published it as fast as they could.

I got to Greitsch's office door with a full head of steam. His door was shut, low male laughter barely audible. I stormed right in, ready to feed him his own intestines.

It took me just a half-second to take in the scene: Greitsch was sitting back in his big leather armchair, looking fat and happy. Seated across from his desk were three men: UT's president, the director of Technology Transfer, and a guy in a sharp suit with the Amgen logo emblazoned on his briefcase. The smell of big money was heavy in the air. The men's smiles faded as they turned to stare at me, expressions ranging from puzzlement to irritation.

I felt my cheeks grow hot as my anger congealed into embarrassment.

"Have you ever heard of knocking, Miss Brannigan?" Greitsch asked, his eyes glittering with disdain.

Go on, his eyes said. Accuse me in front of these people. You have no proof. I have no motive to have done anything you'll claim. Your accusation will sound pathetic and insane. Even if you don't get thrown out of the university, you'll have no chance of funding, ever again.

I tried to say something, but my tongue was frozen in my mouth.

"Well, what is it?" Greitsch prompted impatiently. "Surely you have something important on your mind to interrupt us like this?"

Take a hike, his eyes told me.

"I'll come back later," I croaked, and quickly shut the door.

"Sorry for that little interruption," I heard Greitsch say, a little too loudly, as I walked away. "One of my assistants. She's a little ... odd."

Their laughter echoed in the hallway. I wished the Earth would open and swallow me up. I felt bitter, damnable tears welling in my eyes as I left the biology building. I stared up at the clear blue sky to keep them from spilling.

It was, I realized, an achingly gorgeous day, unseasonably warm, a meteorological gift from the fickle La Niña. How many sunny days had I enjoyed since I'd started at UT? Not very damn many.

I closed my eyes against the sunlight and remembered the contempt in Greitsch's eyes.

Take a hike.

I decided it wasn't a bad idea.

 

The Navajos used to send their young braves out to meditate in the sun 'til they had a holy vision, a visit from the spirits that revealed pieces of their future. I hoped to be so lucky. I wasn't about to take Greitsch's theft lying down, but the truth was I had no idea what I should do. How do you bring down a professor who's the university's favorite cash cow? Perhaps a little West Texas sun would burn some wisdom into my lab-addled brain.

 

While La Niña's touch had been gentle in Austin, she'd been cruel to the Davis Mountains. By the time I reached my destination outside Alpine, the sun was rising into a sky as blue as a natural gas flame. The cicadas were a steady, feverish buzz in the bushy mesquites beside the highway pull-off where I'd parked my car. It was already at least ninety degrees Fahrenheit; I knew it would be over a hundred by late afternoon. It would be a dry heat, the kind you get when you open a pottery kiln.

I ate a breakfast of two Powerbars and a pear, then slathered on some sunscreen, put on my wide-brimmed straw hat and checked the contents of my backpack. I hadn't put a lot of thought into packing the afternoon before, but I'd done so much camping as a teenager that I could practically do it in my sleep. Everything seemed to be in order: water bottles, sunscreen, food, change of clothes, compass, snakebite kit, and my .44 Colt revolver. I'd had the revolver for about six years; in my senior year of high school, my aunt Polly sent me $400 to buy a prom dress. I hated school dances, but liked the feel of dangerous steel in my hand, so I bought the Colt.

Before I locked up the car, I popped the hood and loosened the wire to the alternator. I figured that if there was a thief out there in the middle of nowhere determined enough to steal a car that wouldn't start, he could have it.

And then I was off, tromping down the highway toward a range of rocky mountain-hills about ten miles away. I could see what looked to be good-sized oaks in the valleys. That meant water, maybe something big enough for a swim. But between me and the hills was an expanse of rolling, dusty scrub, apparently somebody's ranch.

The highway was already a miniature Gehenna. The air was as hot and thick as the blood of a man dying of fever. Every breath brought the bittersharp smell of a thousand spiny weeds and the pungent coal furnace odor of tar. The whole road was shiny with black, sticky blisters. In the distance, a vast mirage shimmered as though the ancient Tethys sea was rising from the caliche dust and cracked rock. I realized that I couldn't stay on the pavement for more than an hour or I'd get sunstroke. Or I'd phase out in the heat and get squashed by the first semi that came tearing down the road.

I crossed the highway and walked along the barbed-wire fence beside the road until I came to a dirt ranch road. The gate was locked, so I climbed over, scorching my palms and my thighs on the hot steel slats. I was trespassing, a shootin' crime in Texas, but at that moment I just didn't give a damn. I had put hundreds of miles under my tires, wound tight as a DNA superhelix, lightheaded from staying up all night, and I wouldn't be able to sleep 'til I'd put at least five miles under my feet.

I hadn't gone fifty yards down the dirt road before I got a whiff of decay. Something had died in the nearby mesquites, a big thing, by the stink of it. I imagined that a steer or horse had gone down in the brush.

I've always been the curious type, and I have a strong stomach. I guess that's why I went into biology in the first place. So I left the road and pushed through the mesquite and cat-claws to find out what had slipped off the end of the food chain.

The smell got stronger, and I came to a clearing. Before me was a critter pit. Somebody, presumably the rancher, had dug a wide, shallow pit in which to dispose of the carcasses of all creatures, great and small and smelly.

And, God, did it stink. It was worse than the tar; my eyes were streaming. Nothing like a mass grave to clear the sinuses. I covered my mouth and nose with my bandanna and stepped up to the edge of the pit to have a look at the carnal compost.

I could see the big, half-rotted carcass of a cow, and smaller skeletons of what looked like calves or maybe sheep. Everything was jumbled together; it was hard to tell what bones belonged to what animal. The newest carcass was Canis latrans: a coyote. It was a female, her teats swollen with milk and death. She'd been shot through the head. Flies crowded in her open jaws, her lips pulled away from the teeth in a rigor mortis snarl.

But the thing that struck me most about her was her size: she was huge, maybe sixty or seventy pounds. All the coyotes I'd seen in the area before had been twenty, thirty pounds, max. She was as big as a wolf, but all her features were classic coyote. I wondered if she were some kind of hybrid.

I'd always kind of liked coyotes, even though they can be nasty characters. They skulk, they eat rotting meat, and they have a habit of starting to eat prey while it's still alive and screaming. But then again, they'll eat any damn thing they can get hold of: road kill gophers, mice, grasshoppers, watermelon rinds, old boots, newborn lambs, the pickles off a Big Mac, whatever. They'll hunt alone, they'll hunt in packs. They're the hustlers of the predator world, but they'll protect their pups with their lives. And they've prospered and expanded their territory while all the big, bad, noble wolves are slowly being wiped out. There's a scrappy determination about the critters that I'd always admired.

I noticed two small blackened things lying near her. It took me a moment to realize they were coyote pups. From the look of what was left of their fur, they'd been burned with gasoline or kerosine. And from the way their bodies were twisted, it looked like they'd been burnt alive.

I had to turn away, plunge back through the brush to get away from the sight that had already been branded into my memory. I didn't have any illusions about life and death. I'd had to kill rats and dogs and such in the lab. But I'd done it quick, tried to minimize the animals' pain and fear. I'd never been able to iron-stomach suffering. The thought of a litter of pups being doused and lit made me sick and mad.

Being burned in gasoline ... I couldn't think of many worse ways to die. What kind of a person is so perverted and vicious as to torture coyote pups?

Someone like Greitsch, I told myself, feeling my anger swell inside me again. I could picture him as a child: a chubby, bespectacled little nerd whose greatest pleasure was catching a stray cat or dog and doing "experiments" with corrosive concoctions from his chemistry set. But now that he was a big almost-Nobel scientist, he had to satisfy himself by crushing the spirits of his students.

Go on to the next chapter ....

Coy"o*te (k?"?-t? ∨ k?"?t), n. [Spanish Amer., fr. Mexican coyotl.] Zool.

A carnivorous animal (Canis latrans), allied to the dog, found in the western part of North America; -- called also prairie wolf. Its voice is a snapping bark, followed by a prolonged, shrill howl.

 

© Webster 1913.

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