A whipping breeze stung my cheeks, flicking my hair up off of my shoulders in unorganized sections and tangling the strands into nervous knots. A long day’s work had become a long night’s, and I was ready to retreat home–to forget it all in the sunken warmth of my pillow.
Without dull orange street lamps to flood the deserted parking lot with light, my vision remained dim within the shadows. I slipped a cramped hand into my fleece pocket, curling my thumb into the ring of my keychain. It rattled. Something ducked in front of me.
I squinted at its taut stance—each thin leg poised to bolt into the field grass lining the cracked pavement. We stood two car lengths apart, connected with wary stares. Two triangular ears perked as I clamped my fingers around my keys to silence them. With a tilt of his head, I recognized the form. Coyote.
Should I turn my back? Are they dangerous? They’re related to wolves, right? Animal Planet television clips buzzed through my thoughts, but no information followed—only vague flashes of desert landscapes and headlines describing urban-dwelling animals sneaking into coffee shops and residential back yards.
My paired curiosity and sense of novelty drew me closer to the wary beast. It looks friendly, I pondered. Then, immediately–No, if dogs can attack, so can coyotes. But even as my steps veered to avoid a confrontation, my eyes openly examined the animal. I wasn’t afraid … I was thrilled. Thrilled about the close proximity of wildlife to my body. My eyes stretched wider at the natural grace of an another mammal who wasn’t chained to a schedule, credit score, tradition or four-walled dwelling. This being was real—even within the unwelcoming suburban landscape.
My gaze darted to my car as I neared the driver’s side door, the silver paint dull and the locks snapping open at my command. I was choosing metal and fiberglass confinement over this natural meeting of two members of the food chain. When did I become so human? When did we stop being animals?
If I’d spoken it aloud, I would have missed the skittering scrape of the coyote’s claws against the asphalt as it hunched down, turned a bushy tail to me and faded into the prairie grass like a player on the Field of Dreams.