Leave No Trace

When traveling in the West, you’ll often see that phrase stuck to the back of Subarus and campervans, as well as printed on many of the brochures and maps handed out at national parks, national grasslands and other hiking and camping destinations. While on the road in New Mexico back in May, I was revisiting an old book that I had brought along and I found a new appreciation for the following passage, which takes the concept of “Leave No Trace” to a higher level. The book is God’s Dog: Conversations with Coyote by Webster Kitchell…

   After breakfast we snooped around the ruins, and then we climbed
to the mesa top. We looked down on Pueblo Bonito. We were silent.
Then I spoke what I was feeling.
   “It’s sort of sad and sort of moving to see the ruins people leave.
They worked so hard, and all that’s left are ruins. But because they
worked so hard and left ruins, we remember them. We know at least
they existed. They weren’t completely swept away by the sands of
the desert and the sands of time.”
   “We don’t leave ruins.”
   “And people don’t remember you a thousand years later.”
   “So what? Who wants to be remembered?”
   “We humans can’t imagine not existing. We want to exist at least in
someone’s memory. Or leave a monument that someone will find a
thousand years later and say, ‘Some clever folks lived here.’ ”
   “So what? If you’re not alive to appreciate their wonder at the
monument you left for them, what good does the monument do?”
   “It’s psychological, Coyote, an emotional thing. I admit it isn’t
reasonable. People want to be remembered, so they build monuments.
They have to make their mark on the earth, even if it’s only carving an
aspen. It’s part of being human; the persistence of being.”
   “The point of being alive is to be alive! Why do people waste their
lives constructing a monument so people will remember them when
they’re dead? They could have put that energy into having a good time
or making life better for the human race. Or for coyotes, for that matter,
like you do.”
   “It’s called ego, Coyote. I have been reading some heavy sociology
about the stages people go through. When they’re little, they are child-
like. They don’t have all this ego. They take life as it comes, as you say
they should. Then they get to a stage when they have to differentiate
between self and parents. They start to develop an ego. Which is fun!
It means I am I. I do not exist just as an extension of my mother or my
clan; I exist! And so I want to leave my mark on the earth; maybe on
the Universe.”
   “Maybe ego is what is wrong with humans. Maybe that’s why you
were evicted from the garden way back there.”
   “You could be right. Which may be why in later life, people become
aware that life and goodness and beauty transcend the human ego. In
later years, they get some child-likeness back, but at a more sophisti-
cated level. They see the whole thing and appreciate it and understand
it and don’t have the emotional need to carve their initials in it anymore.
They can just accept it as a wondrous happening, a gift.”
   “Well said!”

~ ~ ~

Quoted text © 1991 by Webster Kitchell

Coyotes: An Update

Back in February, I shared photographs and video of the scant few coyotes I’ve spotted over the years. But I have since learned that I was wrong about the number of coyotes I’ve seen as well as which one came first. It just so happens that my very first coyote sighting took place during my very first road trip in the Pontiac during my very first hour in Montana.

The evidence appeared recently when I started to tackle a laborious and long-overdue project—digitizing the content from dozens of old videotapes that I shot back in the ’80s and ’90s. Foremost among those cassettes were the VHS tapes I recorded in the autumn of 1990 while on my long road adventure to California…a journey that was an unending parade of states and places I had never seen before.

It has been many years since I’ve watched this footage; there’s a lot of stuff on these tapes that I don’t even remember shooting. I spent a day driving around in Yellowstone National Park, and that tape—as you’d expect—is packed full of unusual and beautiful vistas. Moving on, I exited the park through its northern boundary and found myself alone in the rolling golden hills of Montana. The first resident I encountered in the Treasure State? This furry ambassador…

Click above to watch the video (YouTube)

By the way, please excuse the terrible quality of this video. I now have a large quantity of VHS clips available from this era (superior in quality to this one) and I hope to share many of them…once I get around to it. Stay tuned.

Audio: Coyotes in South Dakota

When visiting my favorite South Dakota ranch, I usually spend some time each evening out on the range photographing the night sky. In addition to the cattle residing at the ranch, the coyotes are constant companions. They start singing near sundown; some are heard only faintly, very far in the distance, while others are surprisingly near. In the darkness, I have no idea exactly where they are. Their howls make a fantastic soundtrack to the visual display overhead—one that provides a good degree of romance, and not a little tingling of the spine.

On this particular night of sky shooting, I brought along a digital recorder and a directional microphone. The result is a half-minute recording of the coyotes doing what they do.

Caution, pet owners: Your dog or cat may not like this recording. Proceed accordingly.

The audio is posted as a video (with the above still image) at these links:    Vimeo    YouTube

Speaking of the Song Dog: Whether you love coyotes, hate them, fear them, or know very little about them, I highly recommend the Dan Flores book Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History. Covering everything from biology to mythology, the book is a comprehensive coyote biography, illuminating such topics as the coyote’s role in the beliefs and culture of Native Americans, its “discovery” by European Americans, portrayals of the coyote in modern popular culture, and the lives of urban coyotes. (Unsure about the correct pronunciation of the word coyote? That’s covered as well.)

The book examines the evolution of these highly intelligent animals and their unusual reproductive adaptability. While wolves were being extirpated by humans, the coyote’s ability to function either as a pack member or as a solitary hunter allowed the species to survive and expand its range. The core of Coyote America is a detailed look at the long timeline of a misguided and utterly futile government campaign to exterminate one of the most resilient animals on the planet; 150 years of persecution, and the coyote has now colonized virtually all of North America and Central America.

You don’t have to be a biologist to appreciate the wealth of information in this book; Coyote America is not presented as a dry scientific monograph. Dan’s writing is accessible, well paced and provides a very enjoyable reading experience.

After the book’s release in 2016, Mr. Flores was interviewed by National Geographic. Take a few minutes to read that informative article on the NG website:

How the Most Hated Animal in America Outwitted Us All

I discovered this book thanks to Ed Roberson’s Mountain & Prairie podcast. In a 75-minute conversation, available here, Ed and Dan discuss coyotes, wild horses, land management and other interesting topics. (Be sure to check out another great book by Dan, American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains.)

Hey, you with the bushy tail: I’ve written of my fascination with owls, and I am similarly drawn to coyotes. I hear them quite often when I’m wandering through the Canadian wilderness and the American West, but I have never heard the coyote’s song here in the eastern part of the country. As for spotting a coyote with my own eyes, there have been just four such occurrences, and only twice was I able to photograph the encounter (both times from the driver’s seat with a pocket digital camera). First, there was this “prairie wolf” in western South Dakota…

And, not far from my home, this eastern cousin…

You can view a very short video of this creature walking across the snow-covered field by following these links:    Vimeo    YouTube

UPDATE: I recently uncovered video evidence that my first coyote sighting occurred in Montana in 1990. Read this blog post to learn more and see the video.

This may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Do not approach a coyote, do not attempt to feed a coyote, do not encourage coyotes to become comfortable around humans.

Further reading and resources: This link will direct you to Project Coyote, a non-profit organization “whose mission is to promote compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.” Read about their work toward ending wildlife killing contests that target coyotes and other predatory species.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Acme Little Giant Do-It-Yourself Rocket-Sled Kit

rr still

Each time I travel the desert roads of Texas and New Mexico, I manage to catch at least one glimpse of a roadrunner. Usually, they just zip straight across the road directly in front of me, and by the time I reach for a camera, they’re long gone. I’ve never come close to capturing one on film (or the digital equivalent).

That changed on my most recent visit to the Davis Mountains. I had activated my phone’s video camera to record a scenic stretch of road. Almost immediately, a roadrunner joined the party. You’ll see it enter the road from the grass on the right, zigzag up my lane, cross the centerline, then run up the left edge of the pavement. As I pass, it hops into the grass and flies away. Far from a spectacular piece of cinema, but I’m happy that I finally got a lens on one of these beasts.

This short video has been slowed to just 20% of its original speed and there is no audio track. You’ll have an easier time seeing the bird if you play the video in full-screen mode (the icon in the lower-right corner of the video window).

Click HERE to view the video on my Vimeo channel.

Runtime: 55 seconds