A few Saturdays ago, during a snowstorm that kept most sensible people indoors, we saw one of our neighbours striding down the middle of the road. Although we’d never seen this particular neighbour before, the confident gait identified him or her as someone who felt comfortable in the neighbourhood – someone who lived here.
The thing that distinguished this neighbour was the sheer grace and elegance, in appearance and movement. I didn’t feel it was rude of me to stop and stare, and the neighbour paid no attention at all.
In many parts of Toronto, wooded ravines are interlaced with residential neighbourhoods. Our neighbourhood includes a wooded river valley that houses a lot of non-human neighbours: owls, hawks, foxes, deer, skunks, etc., not to mention the raccoons, mice and squirrels that live in even closer proximity, sharing our houses, sheds and garden.
The neighbour we saw that day was a ravine dweller – an urban coyote, canis latrans, a species that is both native and unique to North America. Smaller than a wolf and larger than a fox, urban coyotes are fairly numerous in this city and are extremely well adapted to urban conditions.
Coyotes are mostly carnivorous, feeding on other smaller (animal) neighbours, many of which are pests. Coyotes are credited with helping to control populations of rodents and feral cats. Unfortunately, the occasional family pet may also fall prey to a hungry coyote, so it’s best to keep small pets indoors at night, and, I guess, during snowstorms.
If you happen to see an urban coyote, you will have a little bit of trouble understanding why the species is so mercilessly ridiculed as Wile E. Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons – the quintessential unsuccessful predator, hatcher of bad ideas and sore loser. According to Wikipedia, Chuck Jones’s cartoon character was based not on observation, but on Mark Twain’s description of a coyote as “a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton […] a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry.” Mark Twain included this description in his book Roughing It, which chronicled his early travels in the American West, where, presumably such sorry critters still exist.
But not in my neighbourhood. Our coyote neighbours are strikingly beautiful, well-fed and self-assured. Also, I’m certain that if an unwelcome roadrunner were somehow to appear on our stretch of road, our coyotes would dispatch that annoying bird with grace and finality.