The Coyote I Didn't See

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After tracking a solitary female coyote for miles in the Colorado snow, commentator Craig Childs stops short of contact with the elusive creature. Sometimes it's just not right to fool with Mother Nature.


Not that you asked, but commentator and naturalist Craig Childs has his own book out describing his encounters with wild animals, including one particularly elusive coyote.

CRAIG CHILDS: There was a faint shape in the snow, curved as an eggshell. It had been left by a sleeping coyote. I took off my glove and touched the slight glaze of ice from its body heat. It had lain here maybe three hours earlier. Sometimes you can see more of an animal's life in its tracks than face to face.

The animal does not know it's being watched. Every print is candid, leaving some bit of private information. I decided to track this coyote. After a few miles skiing in and out of bone-white Aspen groves, I felt as if I were coming to know the animal. It had a slight limp on its left side. It preferred the edge of the forest, going out of its way to skirt snow-packed meadows.

Where the coyote paused, I paused, deciphering the way it shifted its weight. A fresh stab of blood between the paw prints showed me it was a female, an estrus. I could see where she had flushed (unintelligible) from their dens. She had jumped and snapped at the birds but hadn't caught any.

This coyote was becoming sort of a long-distance companion, a pen pal with letters going only one way. I wanted to close the gap. If I were quick, I might be able to catch up with her. The tracks led me through the day, a total of 17 miles until I was maybe five minutes behind. She had caught up with the pack, many fresh coyote prince dashed in and ran up against hers.

I felt the warmth and excitement of their greeting, glad to be back together. The pack moved over high bank of snow ahead of me. Suddenly, I realized they were just on the other side of the bank. I stopped.

I wasn't worried about being attacked if I skied into the middle of them. I was more concerned about panicking the coyotes, blowing their winter cover. They believed they were alone out here. I would come crashing in like a clown with my skis and poles and gear, and they would run in all directions to get away from me. The coyote I'd been following with such care would see nothing but a horror coming at her through the snow.

So I didn't cross the rise, the Newman Peak. The coyote never knew I was there. Before I turned around for my own long path home, I looked back at prints of the coyote that I didn't see. They continued infinitely into the wilderness.

INSKEEP: Commentary from Craig Childs who's an author in the West Elk Mountains of Colorado. His most recent book is "The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild."

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