A typical morning in the great outdoors; droplets of water clinging to blades of grass just beginning to teeter in the early morning breezes, a fresh new sun threatening to blaze every last bit of moisture out of existence, the calls of birds alerting each other to the presence of an intruder.
Assuming I was that intruder, I pushed onward. But I was not the only danger lurking in the woods that morning.
The unmistakable face of a coyote emerged from bushes across the path, licking lips and ready to pounce, or so I imagined. But I quickly realized he was in no shape for any sort of confrontation.
As he hopped out of the bush and scrambled across a nearby road, I saw that not only were ribs protruding from a mangy, famished frame, but that the poor creature was ambling around on three legs.
The fourth had been broken off somewhere below the knee, a horrible stump ending the creature's already slim chances of survival. His thin body bounded into bushes and out of view.
If I'd felt any fear during the encounter, it transformed into empathy. Not that I fear, detest or harbor any feelings of ill-will, rather I've always admired the mighty coyote.
Maybe my sympathy was incited as a child, watching Wile E. Coyote never get that annoying bird, or Navajo myths depicting him as an intelligent but untrustworthy trickster, or reading Tony Hillerman novels describing the atrocious way in which fictional coyote hunters exterminated the animals, utilizing barbed wire to extract pups from the safety of their dens.
I tried to console myself that it wasn't real, but I knew it was an echo of the truth, the cruelty of man extended beyond survival, beyond sustenance and protection, and based only on hatred and fear.
It's these last two emotions which I believe drive the sentiment toward the coyote in some communities where the animals are shot, poisoned and ravaged by traps like the one I witnessed. And of course, two out of three of those methods in particular pose a danger to other wildlife, as well as human life.
While metal claws lie in wait to be sprung by a creature whose crime is the pursuit of survival, poisons travel up the food chain and are responsible for the deaths of beasts as large as mountain lions--another animal that human civilization has been unkind to, that humankind has feared, and perhaps for some good reasons.
Supreme hunters who once roamed peaks from chaparral to sea are capable of death and terror for fleshy bodies of vulnerable humans. After being systematically targeted, destroyed and encroached upon nearly to oblivion, they're hardly a threat anymore.
But the crafty coyote of Navajo myths have adapted to cities and towns, roaming in great numbers in cities like Carson where locals have reported fearing not only for the lives of pets, whom they claim are being gobbled up at alarming rates, but their own safety.
I've always considered a coyote to be as harmless as most canine breeds but when meeting any animal in nature that bears teeth, claws, wit and speed, especially in the size of the family dog, rationalizations go out the window.
Witnessing a casualty of human intervention on the landscape limp away, however, is nothing more than heart-breaking.
Composing myself, I continued on my hike but was unable to let my mind wander, as I like to let it do when unencumbered by time and other worldly and distracting affairs. My thoughts returned incessantly to the animal both hated and feared by many.
Each time I'm in the area, I look for signs, like three paw prints in the sand, but there are none. I wonder if I could have helped, but how?
And I can't help but ponder upon our own need to thrive and the importance of aligning that with the terrible beauty of the natural world all around us, the same system that bore us and which we're now so divorced from that without provisions, we're likely to succumb to its unrelenting wild ways.
Walking a path among two worlds from convenient stores, manicured lawns and the warm scent of fast food fries toward an untamed question mark of uncertain fates, the future of the coyote is tethered indefinitely to our own.
Tempted by the offerings of a foreign environment while growing evermore desperate on its outskirts, the resourceful predator remains an unwelcome stranger in a strange land, in an often hostile land, proving the harshest ways of the wild often stems from nature--human nature.