Fear Itself in a Hayfield

Fear Itself in a Hayfield

The pack of coyotes was skulking along the tree line, several hundred yards across our hayfield, at first light. I took them for deer until I focused my binoculars: five adults and a smattering of pups.

By now our dog Sophie was climbing the walls. Woefully under-caffeinated, I let her out; I worried she would wake up my wife. She leapt from the deck like Lassie off to save Timmy before the next Ovalteen commercial. What had I done?

To my relief, my canine won the first round. Talk about shock and awe. Those varmints scattered as if Old Scratch himself was on their trail. Thankfully, Sophie stopped at the spruces and began to swagger back toward her alleged master. I was at that point where our lawn meets the field, brandishing a Wiffle Ball bat. Mission Accomplished!

Not so fast. Sophie was almost to me when one of the coyotes emerged from the forest in high dungeon, yipping and yowling loud enough to wake up our whole rural neighborhood. The four-legged noise machine proceeded across the field toward us in a meandering, insinuating gait.

Sophie was flummoxed, and I was no far behind. The wild thing wriggled its way right into Sophie's face, ignoring me and my "weapon." Nose to nose they were. I just stood there.

When Sophie let fly with an emphatic feint, the coyote blinked, hightailing it back to the woods. Sophie didn't give chase this time, but came running to my side. I was relived, if momentarily.

The coyotes returned and came within 20 yards of us this time. Now I began waving my plastic bat. I had to do something. I am a taxpayer, after all. The wild one gave me a sideways look, like the RCA Victor dog, as it to say, "Do I look like a Wiffle Ball?" Or perhaps, "It's not about you, Two Legs, it between me and cousin Sophie here."

Having made his point twice, our intractable antagonist finally loped back into the wilderness.

There is much for us humans to fear in the Connecticut countryside of late. We have West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis mosquitoes, myriad tick-born diseases, and an assortment of "lesser" mammals lurking about in places where they have taken up residence fairly recently. Some people don't venture out much.

A neighbor swears one of her goats was assassinated by a new immigrant, a fisher cat, which is a long black weasel with sharp teeth and no concept of property rights. I have seen them crossing the road. They don't look like they could kill a goat. Perhaps it's enough that they would if they could.

Another neighbor is terrified that coyotes will whisk away his pair of fluffy, yippy, purebred, miniature near-dogs. If they don't I might.

I saw a bald eagle last winter in my nearest neighbor's yard. Our national bird has been accused of carrying off babies, but fortunately all the local children are grown or too obese.

There are now black bear hereabouts. They've been seen numerous times, and a friend says he found a den up in the woods not a mile from my house. I hope to see one here one day, but I'll settle for spying tracks along the river that bounds our property.

People in the next town over have reported seeing mountain lions [Note: this was published is 2007; one was killed by a car in Fairfield Country in 2011]. I would even like to see one of these big cats in the field, albeit through binoculars while standing on my elevated deck by the atrium doors. I'm not sure, however, that such a creature could survive the anxierty it would inspire in us.

Fear is a bigger part of life than we admit or perhaps appreciate. It is a motivator and a vital survival tool. The birds I feed all winter flee from me as if I were plotting to bake them in a pie. Some get closer than others, but none are truly comfortable when we're about. They are alive, so it is hard to argue with their strategy. We humans are fortunate to have the capacity, at least theoretically, to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable fears.

I have no doubt that our loud forest friend was every bit as afraid as we were. He or she feared for the pups and perhaps the loss of prime hunting territory. The coyote did a brave thing. I know people who would reach for a rifle rather than a Wiffle Ball bat.