I guess I owe the universe an apology.
January 23, 2012

Last week, Charlotte and I hit the trails again for the first time since she was diagnosed with whooping cough.  Her endurance and her strength were not what they were before, but I expected that.  What I didn’t expect was how spending two months isolated from the wild would affect her perception of the plants and animals around her.

We spent forty minutes at the trailhead discussing animals and calming her down.  Forty minutes.  Talking about mountain lions.  With a toddler.

Surefire way to lose your mind, that.  In case you were looking for one.


In her make-shift sling from my sweatshirt.  Turns out I should have brought a carrier…

Charlotte was worried about everything.  What if she touched poison oak?  Did I remember that time when she almost touched poison oak?  What if she saw a mountain lion?  She was SO SCARED of mountain lions, Momma.

I told her what I always tell her: there is no need to be afraid.  What matters is that you are aware of what is around you and what the threats of any situation you put yourself in can be so that you can handle it if something happens.  You are a clever and capable child and I am RIGHT HERE to keep you as safe as possible.  There is no need to be afraid.

We talked about how she could recognize dangerous plants.  We talked about the importance of not putting unidentified plants in her mouth.  We talked about what she should do if she were to see a mountain lion, or a coyote, or a bobcat, or a rattlesnake.  (Also: a bear, a whale, a tiger, an alien, or a gorilla.  But I wasn’t really worried about those.)  We talked about what circumstances might make an animal aggressive.

I had her completely calmed down and then about a half-mile in we saw a coyote.

My first thought was: oh shit.  Today?  Of all days?  I’ve been here a million times and never once seen anything bigger than a rabbit and the day my kid is scared out of her mind of wild animals we’re going to run into a coyote?  REALLY?  FUCK YOU, UNIVERSE.

This coyote was rustling in the brush above us and then a group of small birds flew out suddenly and then there it was.  Male.  Older.  Lean, probably hungry.  Probably around thirty pounds of muscle.  Fifteen, maybe twenty feet away.

We were both bewildered and caught off guard, the coyote and me, like neither of us expected the other..  We looked at each other for a long minute and I scooped Charlotte into my arms without stooping or breaking eye contact.

“Baby,” I said, “hold onto me tight, please.”  And then, and this sounds crazy, but without even thinking about it I stood as threateningly as I could and a deep sound came out of me that I didn’t even know I could make, kind of like a grunt, kind of like a growl.

It was supposed to say “back off, yoo-hoo” but it was sort of weird and pathetic, really.  I have chickens who are more frightening than I am.  The coyote probably thought I was inviting him for dinner.

The coyote looked at me one last time and then it trotted off nonchalantly, as if he had completely lost interest in us.  I stood for awhile, listening to the wind, to the sounds of the brush and the calls of the birds.  I made a mental note to start learning more about bird calls because I had no idea if they were twittering warnings to each other or singing love songs.  Then I turned around and trudged down the trail with my daughter in my arms.

“I, I saw a COYOTE! MOMMA!” Charlotte announced proudly when we got far enough away for me to feel comfortable setting her down again.  I nodded.  You sure did, darling.  “It was SO SCARED!” she said.  “I was only a little bit scared but the coyote was SO SCARED of me!”

And with that, all of her concerns about wild animals dissipated.


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  1. By Tabitha (From Single to Married) on January 23, 2012

    What a smart little girl!

    Although it’s making me rethink all of the National Geographic for Kids specials on animals that I watch with Henry.  :)

  2. By on January 23, 2012

    would a coyote actually attack a human ?
    sorry if that sounds like a silly question but we don’t have coyotes out here

  3. By carolina on January 23, 2012

    This is awesome. Yay to Charlotte being back with nature. :o) Are you guys going to start hiking more frequently now that she’s better?

  4. By Annie @ Annie's Cooking Lab on January 23, 2012

    @ Emily- we have lots of coyotes out here and I’ve never heard of them attacking an adult. I suppose they might go after a really little kid but I see them when I’m out hiking fairly frequently and they don’t worry me at all. They WILL go after dogs though, so I always keep my guy on a leash with me if I expect to see coyotes.

    So glad to hear Charlotte is feeling well enough to go for a hike again!

  5. By on January 23, 2012

    I wonder if it is the age? Our Charlotte is suddenly worried about lions and bears ... In the house. I tried telling her that bears hibernate in winter, so they’re asleep. That wasn’t as convincing as when I told her that Daddy would scare away any bears.

  6. By Sarah Christensen on January 23, 2012

    Emilie - Coyotes will not attack an adult unless they are desperate or sick.  Most coyotes are around 25-35 pounds and hunt alone or with one partner, so they simply aren’t large enough to do so.  A good chunk of their diet is also vegetation, which makes big game less worth the effort.  Two coyotes together can take down the largest fiercest dog by running them down - they pickle him in the middle and run him back and forth until he’s too exhausted to go on.  Then they rip into him.  But most of the time, a coyote isn’t going to go after anything larger than a housecat, certainly not a person.  They might go after a child, but it’s unlikely if there’s an adult nearby.

    HOWEVER, coyotes who are hungry will make desperate choices.  They band into larger packs - five, seven, nine, twelve coyotoes large - and they circle large prey and take them down.  Every so often, you hear about a pack of coyotes taking down a black bear or a bighorn ram, but it’s pretty rare.  A few years back, a pack of coyotes around here took down a horse and its rider.  The rider got away, but the horse did not.  It was a drought year, though, and the coyotes were competing with other predators.  The mountain lions had moved out of the deeper ravines and into the lower creek areas.  The bobcats had an over-abundance of kits.  It was hibernation season for skunks, who otherwise are a large source of food for bobcats and coyotes both.  And the coyotes had been over-hunted the year prior, so they had larger litters to feed (coyotes produce larger litters more frequently when their population drops, which is why it’s recommended that people not hunt them unless they are rabid or a threat to a person).

    My personal opinion of coyotes is that there isn’t anything to worry about - at my size - but that they can pose a threat to a child Charlotte’s size and that if there are more than one of them they can pose a threat to us together.  I think it’s just safer for me to ensure Charlotte does not approach them the way she would approach a dog.

  7. By tara pollard pakosta on January 23, 2012

    that is sooooo scary!!!
    I grew up seeing bears, deer, coyotes etc. in Upper MI where my parents still live….we used to play away the days in the woods and i was NEVER afraid. I sure would be now! My dad won’t even let me go jogging alone when I am there. probably because we used to have dogs that would always be with us and now they don’t have a dog to keep the big animals from eating us up ha ha!
    she’s awesome, that charlotte girl, LOVE HER!
    tara

  8. By Sarah Christensen on January 23, 2012

    Tara - The only ones I’m really afraid of are mountain lions.  Large predatory cats scare the shit out of me.  I think maybe I’d be a little freaked out by grizzlies if they lived around here but all we have are black bears (and only in the mountains at that) and you can scare those off by throwing rocks at them lol.

    I tell Charlotte that there’s nothing to worry about.  What’s the worst these animals can do?  Kill us?  Okay, we’re all going to die eventually anyway, right?

    I’m not sure she gets that yet though lol.

  9. By on January 23, 2012

    A few hours after I read this post a friend of mine posted this to her Facebook page:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYwZJ-C6jS4&feature=share

    It made me think of you & Charlotte & today’s post. It doesn’t have subtitles but you are familiar/conversational/fluent (??) with/in French (yes?) so you might be able to decipher more than I could. Either way, it’s pretty fascinating.


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