They are laughing at us – Steve Skinner

If I were younger I’d tell you now that I am being raised by coyotes. I guess, now that I’m so much older, I am living with coyotes but still learning, nonetheless.

From my perch above Fraser I find that trickster coyote is active and lurking. My neighbor has purchased a high-powered light that he uses to scan the woods for glowing eyes. I’ve seen foxes and signs of bears but the coyotes always let me know they are out there with their yippy voices and piles of hairy poop. My little shelter dog, “Chooch,” would be no match for the pack.

Native Americans, all the way back to the Myth Age, spoke of the trickster coyote, who knew human nature and invented copulation. Coyote apparently told the first lie when he told God that he was not laughing. Clearly he was laughing.

Coyote was always portrayed as a “he,” and he could appear as a human if he wanted. From the descriptions I’ve read, he could pass for a winter tourist in a fur coat in Winter Park. Navajo legend says that coyote looked like a man in a “hairy coat, lined with white fur that fell to his knees and was belted at the waist.” We’ve all seen that guy in town.

The Atka Lakota Museum and Cultural Center warns kids and adults not to behave like the coyotes do in the stories.

Think coyotes look like wolves? You are right about that. Their closest relative is the gray wolf, and yes, coyotes have been known to copulate with gray wolves, producing the feared “coywolves.”

I think the coyotes in my neighborhood have been copulating lately because they seem to be wherever they want, whenever they want, all over the place, all the time. They set up a pack, and they don’t care who knows it.

I figure that since we are neighbors I should get to know them.

When I walk out the front door in the morning, they are out there yipping in the meadow across the river. I close my eyes at night and awake to one giggling from right outside the window, seemingly communicating directly with my dog.

Chooch used to bark and whine when he heard the coyotes but now he listens in silence. I think he’s downloading secret instructions for the takeover of humans. Yes, I mean that. Have you seen people with their dogs lately? We are being brainwashed!

On a recent trip to Arizona I saw a coyote that had chased a bobcat up a cottonwood tree. A raven wheeled down to the opposite limb and start croaking and harassing the cat. If the bobcat had fallen 40 feet to the ground the coyote would have pounced on it, and the bird would get a free meal. I watched this teamwork unfold for about 15 minutes then had to pull myself away.

I wonder what happened. Did the cat (she) wait long enough for the tricky coyote to get bored and leave? Did she land a swipe on the raven? Or did the raven manage to throw the big cat off balance and into the waiting jaws of the coyote? This is the stuff of modern legend.

Most likely, the coyote ended up giving the bite-and-shake treatment to the bobcat. This is the same treatment that our domesticated dogs give to various toys, shoes and pillows. Even though coyotes and bobcats weigh about the same, they rarely go mano y mano. Research indicates that where coyote and bobcat territories overlap, bobcat populations decline. Bite-and-shake. Coyote: one. Bobcat: zero.

I’ve been trying to tell my 23-pound shelter mutt that he is not a coyote and that he needs to stay back. Hopefully he’s listening to me and not to them.

The coyote diet is 90 percent meat. This includes everything from deer to rattlesnakes. Yes, rattlesnakes. Coyote teases the snake. When the snake stretches out, tricky coyote bites the head and, you guessed it, snaps and shakes it to death. Then coyote eats the snake.

Wow, coyotes really are like people.

In the book “Mammals in Kansas” by Bee James, coyotes are described as the most vocal of all North American mammals. We’ve all heard them. Sometimes spooky, sometimes funny and sometimes, oddly comforting. At least for me. Coyotes sound alarms, greet friends and lovers, and make noisy contact.

They use one of their yips for a kind of elaborate greeting ceremony and for when pups are playing. When I hear the happy yips I like to think they are having a good time over there, being left alone and doing coyote things.

Folks in the big city don’t always notice coyotes. I have been seeing and hearing them for years and am glad they are part of the mix of people and wild things. They tolerate us and keep themselves under the radar. They are not prying open bear-proof trash cans and breaking into kitchens at night. They do, however, sometimes take down household pets so be wary of that trickster coyote.

The Navajos say that the coyote taught humans how to protect themselves from physical danger. How did he do it? He would hide his vital parts in the tip of his tail. Tricky!

“Human kind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it! Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect!”
– Chief Seattle

Steve Skinner feels bound to the coyote. Reach him at