Field Lessons and Games, Insights and Resources
So it wasn’t you after all. It was just the rabbits…
I know you have more important things to do at night than sniff my toes, but it doesn’t stop me from dreaming up your proximity, conjuring your interest in me like a crush.
I hear you calling to each other on these hot summer nights and crave to know what you are saying. I am curious, but relish the not-knowing, the listening in on something that is beyond human terms. A pamphlet I once read explained that your varied yips and barks are your way of communicating hunting patterns and locations. They say it’s how you communicate the location of a kill, for example.
I hate these oversimplified explanations. They leave out the sensual experience of the mystery. They claim that anything can be understood and logically spelled in human terms. I claim bull.
When I sit in darkness amid the canyon shadows or bathed in moonlight on a sleepless night, my body responds to your howls against the red rock. My ears perk. My eyes widen. Hair raises on the back of my neck. I become aware of every living cell—poised. Tense. I cannot comprehend what you mean in human language. Yet, my body responds.
It responds even when I sleep among the cottonwoods of Professor Creek, blanketed by the Milky Way. In my sleep daze you are there, sniffing and rooting near the edges of my sleeping bag in the wee hours of the morning. Quiet paws pad the sand around my cot and ragged tails brush against dry sage. I can hear your panting tongues and feel your dead-rodent breath against my sleepshut face. I imagine you examining me, scent by scent, carefully considering my place in your desert valley. When I wake up, before the sun has begun to send its feeble beams over the valley walls, I see that my cot is surrounded by rabbit turds. So, it wasn’t you after all.
Rabbits be damned, I howl back in response! Have you heard me? So many times I have howled and yipped, letting my voice be lost in the red rocks, laughing at my own stupidity, filled with overflowing exhilaration. I howl and I howl even when I haven’t heard you first.
I struggle with my desire to know more about you and your howling because I intuit that the not-knowing is essential, and yet the desire to understand feels sacred too. It is the constant interplay between these two feelings that pins me over and over again between mystery and science, poetry and pamphlet. Which better represents the world? Which shows something truer about your raucous serenity? A poetic representation or a rational explanation? Both options prove lacking.
I recall a lecture I attended in college by the prolific poet and translator Bill Porter, also known as Red Pine. Red Pine has devoted his life to the translation of Chinese poems written by Buddhist monks. The process is a double translation: first, the lived experience of the monk is translated into Chinese characters – an image-based language completely unlike most modern, western languages. Then, Red Pine takes his experience of the Chinese character poems and translates them yet again, this time into English.
Each translation is not merely a precise representation, but a creation of something new. He explained that his work emphasizes more the idea of the Chinese poems than their literal translations. Within each of his translations is a critique of the process by “using words to get away from words.”
What I learned from Red Pine is that just because the perfect representation, perfect comprehension is impossible, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to translate. In the struggle to represent something with a translation, the complexity of the original is reflected. Let us use science to represent the complexity of coyotes, of nature, rather than as a tool to dissect, analyze, or gain from the natural world.
Let us use knowledge to get away from the idea of definite understanding.
Let our narratives be in flux. Let science be a catalyst of wonder.
Let science be infused with poetics, to remind us of its mythic core.
In my nightly attempts to feel near to you, coyote, I am also thankful for our distance. I am grateful for the sacred equilibrium between knowing and un-knowing. I am thankful that you will forever evade the grasp of my language, my science, and my hand. I am thankful that you fill my dreams with the musk of cliff rose and blood. Your howls evoke a longing for something wild inside myself—something I can’t really grasp, but has been occasionally translated by my own voice rising in a howl or in a song. I am brought into this landscape through longing, and longing begins with a distance—a recognition of my own finitude.
I wonder, do you long too?