Looks so innocent, right? And usually it is. But last weekend, I was walking these grassy trails as dusk approached. About 30 feet ahead, a coyote cut across the trail.
My first thought: "Cool. A coyote!"
My second thought: "Uh, I'm not sure how far off the trail she went. Maybe instead of continuing to walk this way, I should head in the opposite direction."
Remembering the black bear safety tips I'd learned before a trip to the Smoky Mountains, I continued facing the coyote's direction and took steps backward. The rule (which I later confirmed also applies to coyotes): Don't turn your back on the animal and DON'T run away. If you do, you could be perceived as prey.
As I slowly moved away, I spotted Madame Coyote standing not far off the trail, and I congratulated myself on taking the cautious route. Trouble is, walking backwards meant I couldn't see behind me. My leg crashed into a fallen stalk of dried weeds, making a loud, crunchy racket.
In a flash, Madame's wolfish gaze locked straight onto me.
I'm fuzzy on exactly what happened during the next few moments. My brain cells registered very little as they shrieked in unison. "Oh sh...neikies!" She either continued to simply stare or took an actual step toward me. Whichever it was, my instinct was to enact Black Bear/Coyote Safety Rule #2: Get big.
With my arms arched out wide on either side of me, I lifted up onto my tiptoes and attempted to look threatening. Madame reacted immediately with a dramatic flinch. If she had, in fact, been moving toward me, she stopped.
It seemed Safety Rule #2 had worked, keeping Madame in her place. So I resumed my backward trek. The goal now became to get to the paved path that circles the natural area—near busy roads and usually populated with other walkers, joggers, and cyclists.
I lost sight of Madame, but kept a wary eye on her grassy domain. Just when I felt I'd moved far enough away to turn around walk forward at a brisker pace, who to my wondering eyes should appear—now on the trail and walking boldly toward me.
I popped back into Big Threatening Position. Madame again flinched and stopped her forward movement. If you've never seen a coyote flinch before, it's actually quite adorable, even when you're scared.
I should mention that there's a part (b) to Safety Rule #2: Make noise. Clap your hands; stomp your feet; blow a whistle if you have one. If a coyote poses a real threat and you want it gone, you could further "haze" by throwing clumps of dirt or rocks toward but not directly at the animal.
In my case, I suppose I could've removed the earbuds from my phone and blared the podcast I was listening to. The splendid Brice Izyah growling "Eeeeemily" or calling "Paaaaatty!" may have been enough to send Madame far from that prairieland for the rest of her days. But that wasn't my objective. She belonged there, and all I wanted to do was get myself the hell out.
So, I continued my backwards retreat along the curving pathway, again losing sight of Madame. I hoped she wasn't signalling any of her pals to meet me at the other end of the trail.
I began to wonder if maybe I'd been too quick to activate BTP. Maybe if I'd just kept moving away in a normal human size, she'd have lost interest. But dressed all in black from my knit cap to my awesome boots, doubling in size at will, I'd become some kind of monster to her. Some kind of sassy, fashionable monster. No self-respecting coyote could let me remain in her territory alive.
In case I haven't already made this abundantly clear—I did NOT want to remain there. But she didn't know that, and it was too late to change strategy, so when she again appeared in the trail, still making her way toward me, it was up on the toes and out with the arms for me.
She flinched again...for the last time.
But only because she moseyed back into the tall, dried grasses and allowed me to make my way to within dashing distance of the paved path. From my elevated position on an incline, I examined the trail I'd just navigated backwards. There was Madame, a comfortable distance away but brazenly trotting in the center of the cropped trail, still coming for me.
Somehow, she didn't seem menacing anymore. She had a jaunty bounce to her step, cocky in the accomplishment of her goal—which was the same as mine: getting me the hell out of that prairie. I learned afterward that this kind of shadowing behavior by coyotes is called "escorting." She didn't intend to hurt me. She'd simply marked me as a threat and voted me off her island.
Touché, Madame. Touché.
I turned and took three quick leaps through the tall, crunchy grass to the busy suburban bike path. I never knew cracked asphalt could look so glorious.
When I returned home, I regaled my family with the tale of the coyote who'd "stalked" me. I imagine when she met up with her band, she warned them of the scary, spontaneously inflating creature she'd sighted. Or more likely, she told them: "You would not believe the goober I escorted out today."