Coyotes on the Island

“Have you seen any coyotes there yet?” That was the first question my father asked me during my first phone call home of the trip. “No,” I replied, “I’m not sure if we’ll get to see any here, they’re pretty elusive back home I think it’s the same out here.”

That held true for most of the trip. Fifteen days into the trip and two camping trips down and all we managed to see was a lone coyote on a faraway beach that ran away from us before we could get close. It was time to camp on Tiburon, however, and our prospects of seeing one there were higher than they would be at any other time during the trip.

Our first experience came early that first night while we ate our dinner on the beach. Just as the sun was setting we heard the first howls from the coyotes coming from just a few hundred yards away. None of us could see them as they were on the other side of the hill near our bathroom, but the howls started a discussion about them. And that discussion led to the stories.
I used to be scared to go outside in the dark. I remember being about 10 years old and being afraid to make the 300-foot trip from my backyard to my neighbor’s house. We lived in a rural part of the country, but my neighborhood was not especially rural. The houses were surrounded by trees, but there were streetlights that made the ground just visible enough to walk between properties. The reason I was scared during those nights was not because I was scared of someone grabbing me, or a rabid dog biting me, my fear was something much more irrational. And I knew it was. I was scared, especially on nights when the moon was out, that in the short walk to my neighbor’s house, that I would chased and finally caught by a werewolf. I’m not sure where this fear came from, but however irrational it was, it was real. I would run that gap between houses faster than I would run in schoolyard races. No amount of competitive spirit would give me the same speed that fear of a huge hairy monster with sharp teeth gave me. While I’ve learned to suppress my fear enough to stop myself from sprinting to my destination whenever I’m outside at night, there is still some of that irrational fear left within me.

The stories that I heard that night about the coyotes did nothing good for my fears. “Skinwalkers” was the name the Navajo gave to these monsters, and while not a typical werewolf, the similarity was enough to frighten me a good deal. Apparently, the Native Americans of the southwest and of Sonora tell stories of half men half coyotes who appear and cause trouble in the desert. The Navajo described the beasts as looking like Coyotes, but that they walked on their hind legs and their limbs were just a little too long for their body size. They acted human in their gestures and seeing one in the desert was always a bad omen. Danny told us the version of the story that the Seri have. Apparently, these desert beasts are actually humans, but whenever another human sees one, he appears as a coyote. This means that the beast can slink around and cause trouble without anyone knowing it was him.

The howling of the coyotes stopped and we didn’t hear anything the rest of that night, but the next night we were all awoken by their yelling and yapping just a few yards from our campsite. I was paralyzed by fear when I heard this, with images of a pack of coyotes circling my tent, but I remained still and listened to their fighting until I fell back asleep.

I woke the next morning to find that nobody had been eaten by the coyotes and no one had been taken away by skinwalkers, but that the coyotes had left us a surprise. Xavier was the first to visit the bathroom that morning and he found that the coyotes had taken the toilet seat off and moved it a few feet away, probably looking for food. While my fears of werewolves or skinwalkers taking me away in the night may have assuaged by the news that they were only interested in our toilet, I now had a story to tell my dad about the coyotes.

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