Hunkered down at home, at war with the virus, we are engaged in another kind of war, a battle of wits and will with a coyote who shares our side of the mountain. I noticed her a few weeks ago as she loped across the crest of the bluff, her pale coat blending in with the still barren trees and last year’s yellowed grass. She stood, her muzzle raised, sniffing the air, aloof, pensive, surveying the terrain below.
At first, I thought this was a chance visit, that our house lay on an ancient animal pathway and the coyote was merely passing through. I saw no reason for alarm. Until the next time. A few days later, I was daydreaming at my desk by the window when something caught my attention: a flicker of light, a shadow, a premonition, perhaps. I looked up in time to see the coyote flying full tilt down the cliff, over the rocks and through clumps of fern and salal toward the house. She could only be after one thing … the cat.
I leapt from my chair, raced to the door, expecting the worst, to find Finn, my cinder-coated cat, sinews stretched, in hot pursuit of the coyote. By this point, they were headed back up the hill and Finn was gaining speed. Unsure of the best approach for dealing with potentially dangerous animals, I deployed what is now known as the coyote protocol – yell frantically, wave arms vigorously and secure the cat as quickly as possible. The coyote retreated to higher ground and the cat looked vaguely disappointed at being interrupted mid-chase and returned unceremoniously to the safety of the house.
The next week, it was in the early morning. Unseasonably warm even for our West Coast spring, I left the kitchen door open to enjoy the soft, damp air and admire the first flowers – the heady scent of narcissus and hyacinth – while I made tea. This time it was a noise, a scuffle, a rustling of leaves and, once again when I looked out, Finn was chasing the coyote up the hill. I dropped what I was doing, hitched my bathrobe up above my knees and clambered up the slope in my slippers. The cat looked perplexed and embarrassed, as if to say, “I was just doing my job. No need to interfere. Oh, and you really should do something about those pyjamas.”
The coyote stood her ground on a small ridge, her expression contemptuous, taunting almost. Her eyes, like drops of Baltic amber, held my gaze as if she had a message for me, the interloper, the one who has forgotten the rules of nature, that life is fleeting and fragile.
By now, we were on high alert. I kept one eye on the hill as I worked the soil in the garden, a welcome respite from the stream of desperate news about the virus, the toll it was taking and the way it has made us fearful not just of illness but of one another. Walking in my neighbourhood, people smile and wave from across the road, but on my weekly trip to the grocery store they look away as if you might infect them or beat them to the last tin of beans.
It was midafternoon when we saw a young pup exploring the grassy bank. She had soft brindle fur and a curious face that gave me a squishy, tender feeling until I remembered this was no puppy, and mama was almost certainly watching from nearby, waiting to teach her young the finer art of cat hunting. The coyotes were not going anywhere, and increasingly, the odds on the cat surviving another encounter didn’t look good.
“Why can’t Finn sit on the balcony instead of exploring and exposing himself to the risks of the cliff,” I asked. “If I can stay home, why can’t he? Doesn’t he understand self-preservation?” But he had other ideas. The minute our backs were turned, he was back on patrol on the cliff. His preferred spot – the bald rock face – fully exposed in order to survey his domain.
Clearly, we needed a plan. With much effort and a large piece of plywood and some cleverly designed lattice my husband erected a replica of the Berlin Wall on the eastern side of the balcony. We put water traps on the railing and arranged the lattice to act like a barbed wire barrier to dissuade the cat from attempted escape.
Even though the balcony offered a commanding view and room to run and play, Finn declared captivity to be no life at all. With the ingenuity of a fearless dissident and the contortions of Harry Houdini, he promptly scaled the wall. The next step was full quarantine. After several days of yowling and pacing, a roll of the now priceless toilet paper shredded and several daring breaks for freedom, we all lost our minds. Finn was indefatigable.
In the end, we have reached a compromise and have moved to a kind of supervised release, a form of physical distancing, if you like. The cat goes out when we go out, providing what we hope is a disincentive to prowling coyotes. Finn, for his part, seems willing to follow the rules and stay closer to home. There have been fewer sightings and no further altercations. Perhaps our coyote family has moved to better hunting grounds. Perhaps, like us, the cat has come to appreciate the need for restraint in order to survive, while declining to live in fear. I don’t want to get complacent, but so far, in the coyote wars, the cat is winning. I hope it stays that way.
Jillian Stirk lives in Vancouver.
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