“A coyote’s been seen in the neighborhood,” a man told me as I walked my dog early one morning this week. “A coyote? What do I do if I see it?” I asked. “Watch your dog,” he replied, which was not really much help.
I have very little experience with coyotes. We did not have them where I lived in suburban Philadelphia. Rabbits or possums— yes, but coyotes? I had never seen one or even heard of anyone else seeing one. But now I live in Michigan.
My last experience with a coyote was when I visited my cousin Marlene in Phoenix a few years ago.
Marlene’s back yard ran alongside a stretch of desert at the base of a hill. She often sat in her yard looking out at the desert and the hill in the distance. It had its own kind of beauty—mostly barren, with cacti and tumbleweeds sparsely dotting this patch of landscape, and the occasional jack rabbit running by. But sometimes flowers would blossom and transform the scenery.
Marlene told me she was frequently visited by a coyote, which would come to her fence at dusk and they would sit together in companionable silence, each of her own side of the fence. The coyote would sit near enough that Marlene could almost reach through the fence and touch it, and seemed to be offering Marlene some kind of protection or strength. It was really quite extraordinary.
At the time of my visit, Marlene had pancreatic cancer. She had long ago moved away from organized religion, but on this visit, she took me to a chapel at the local Catholic Church. Every day she was able, Marlene visited the chapel to sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and pray. She told me it gave her great comfort to sit in the silence and lift up in prayer those she loved.
When I left Phoenix, I took with me these two images of Marlene in meditative silence—in the chapel and at the desert, each offering its own consolation. After my visit, her husband sent me a photograph of Marlene sitting in her yard with the coyote on the other side of the fence; it is my last picture of her before she died.
I did not see the coyote in my neighborhood this week, but just hearing that it was here gave me the gift of thinking about Marlene.