This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Of Lost Dogs and Dead Coyotes

AS JOHN WAYNE MIGHT SAY, "If you know any dog prayers, say them now." On Monday night, a cold one (about 16 degrees) we took our customary nocturnal walk. Sometimes we head south on Main Street, and sometimes will go all the the way down to the first entrance to Happy Land; Fionn prefers to go north on Main Street, to the always-exciting Stoneham Square and back-- better smells, apparently, plus we do the south walk in the morning and of course everyone loves a change.

But we went south the other night. I wanted to walk to the first entrance of the Fells, but Fionn would not hear of it, sitting down and doing his little mule imitation. So we crossed the street at Friendly's and went into the little store at the corner.

My friend Ray was working there that evening and he told me a sad story. He said that a woman had come in shortly before, reporting that her dog had been lost and out since the day before (Sunday). It was a small Terrier mix, by name of Tucker. It went down to about 12 Sunday night, not a good thing for little Terriers lost, but the dog had survived, as it had been spotted near the MDC skating rink, which is about three miles down the road from the little store, on Monday afternoon at 4:30. It was now about 8:30.

I was heartbroken for the woman, and heartbroken for the poor dog, and all I could think of was what if that had been Fionn, or Biscuit (the latter a Terrier). Surely if either of them were lost, I would want anyone and everyone to help find. So I figured, nothing will flush a dog out like another dog; so we girded up our loins, as the saying goes, and headed down South Street which becomes Pond Street which becomes something else again as it skirts the northern edge of Spot Pond.

It was, as my grandmother would say, a good stretch of the leg, and mighty cold to boot, with a sometimes keen wind. But it was a glorious winter's night, sharp and clear as glass and dashed with the silvering elixir of a bright waxing moon-- and we were dressed for the weather, as I abhor being cold when out walking-- and Fionn wears his fur of course at all times. I was wearing underwear (normal in case anyone is wondering), flannel-lined jeans, a long-sleeved thermal shirt, my down parka with the hood up, and, to top it all off, my long great coat, made of Harris Tweed on the Shetland Islands by people who know what they are doing with wool. (This was a $55 STEAL at Keezer's Used Clothing in Cambridge, by the by.) So, we passed the zoo, we passed the old hospital, we passed the (recently restored) Tudor Barn (a stone barn, no less) as we trekked along. About halfway along a car pulled over and a woman in the passenger seat asked if we had seen a little dog. I told her that I was, in fact, out looking for her dog, as I had heard the story at the store. She blessed me and thanked me and gave me her phone number should I have any news to report.

About an hour after that we reached the skating rink. All along the way we had been intermittently calling out, "Tucker! Come 'ere Tucker." But alas-- no Tucker did we find. We hung around about the back of the skating rink for some time, then headed home. Along the way home, as we were threading along the edge of the woods, I spied a bushy tail shining in the moonlight in a little ditch beside the trail. Alas, it was a magnificent but dead coyote. There were no visible wounds, but no doubt he had been hit on the parkway and crawled into the road-side ditch to die. He was really a magnificent animal-- his mouth was a little ajar and his teeth were white and strong and shining in the moonlight, as was his exquisite coat of fur. So sad. This is hypocritical of me, but I so hate cars.

There is no state now that is coyote free. In the old days we had Eastern Coyotes and Western Coyotes. The Eastern Coyote was wiped out from the east some time ago. What has returned-- and is now in every community in Massachusetts-- seems to be a hybrid between the western coyote, or perhaps the eastern coyote, and timber wolves (in the north), red wolves (in the south), and wild dogs (domesticated dogs gone wild). (See pic above) This new iteration is significantly larger than the western coyote and a fairly formidable predator. I had a midnight encounter with a pack of seven or eight of them four and a half years ago in this same approximate area, as I was walking home from Oak Grove Station on a lovely May evening. It was, literally, a hair-raising experience! Click here if you want to hear eastern coyotes' 'group howl.' NB: If you have a dog in the home, it will, to put it mildy, make he or she sit up and take notice-- at least that's what Fionn did when I played it:

I've read on many occasions that one could take the smartest domesticated dog there is (Fionn!) and the average wild dog-- coyote or wolf-- would run rings around it. Natural selection and all that, and having to survive in the wild, and the not so wild, where man has done his best to eradicate him. There is something wonderfully heartening about the return of the coyote. And to hear their call at night is something to stir the blood, like nothing else can.

We got back home around 11, after having been out for three hours. It was funny-- after being out for so long, and walking for so long, it began to feel that this was all very natural, and what we always used to do-- be out at night, rambling, walking, hunting, doing ceremonies. It was like some not-so-ancient instinct was kicking in. I warned up. My eyesight got keener. 'Out' began to feel more and more like 'in', to paraphrase John Muir.

Back to poor Tucker. I don't know if his owners or someone else found him that night, or yesterday. I have the owners' number-- but am a little reluctant to call and hear bad news. I can't imagine-- it's tragic and heart-breaking enough to have your dog pass away, but to know he or she is lost, and possibly freezing to death, is nothing short of torturous. The problem is (although I can't think of any other circumstances in which this would be a problem) that there are so many woods around that area-- Spot Pond Reservation, and the Middlesex Fells Reservation (on both sides) which total close to 4000 acres.

Tucker, here's hoping you found your way home.


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