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By Janet Kessler
On most days, just before dawn, I take a walk from my house on Douglass Street up to Twin Peaks, where I meander the dirt trails with my dog, a 90-pound lab mix named Park. On Oct. 10 of last year, while descending from the hill and circling back to Noe Valley, Park and I suddenly stopped in our tracks. In the distance, what looked like a skinny wolf -- a coyote! -- stood alone on the third peak (yes, Twin Peaks is actually three peaks). Then, in the blink of an eye, it disappeared. By the time Park and I reached the peak again, there was no sign of the animal. Still, I noted with joy that I had seen a rare sight that morning: we, living here in the shadow of Twin Peaks, had our own coyote!
Yes, we live smack in the middle of the city, yet we have wonderful wilderness around us: wild growth and wild animals, including raccoons, skunks, rabbits, gophers, red-tailed hawks, owls, and even wild parrots on loan from Telegraph Hill. On that day in October, I figured I had been lucky; I would probably never see a coyote again on my walks. Eight months passed before I did.
On Tuesday, June 12, at 5:55 a.m., as I rounded the last rise on my Twin Peaks walk, who should be looking right at me but a young beautiful coyote pup! The ears were what stood out. What big ears you have! I smiled. I immediately leashed Park, stood back, and started talking softly to "my" coyote. He came within about 30 feet of us and began bouncing like a kangaroo -- boing, boing, boing, over and over again, his rear legs sending him straight up and down. What glee! He was obviously very excited to see us, cautious but not fearful. Then he trotted down the path and waited ahead in a crouched, ready-to-pounce, playful position. We just watched. Several times he got up to approach a little, then returned to his crouch. The whole time I kept talking gently: "Well, aren't you something? Do you know how special you are? You are my most special encounter in 25 years of walking up here!"
After a short while, I decided to see what he would do if we continued our walk on the trail. As we approached, he moved off to the side of the path, giving us plenty of room, always keeping a safe distance. Then, as we continued, he followed us! We went all the way to the end of the path, where it hits the road, and then decided we'd better turn back. He again moved off the path to let us by and then followed us back to the rise, where this time we sat down to watch him, with me quietly talking off and on. Soon he crouched down and watched us.
We remained like this for some time, just "visiting," curiously observing one another and reflecting on what a glorious show this was. At 6:15, after a full 20 minutes, we decided it was time to leave -- Park was getting impatient, nudging me with his nose, saying, "Can't we go now?"
So we started back down the hill. The young coyote followed and finally stayed back when we reached the road. See if I ever leave my camera behind again! I thought. I scanned the area for another person I might share this experience with. One biker sped by, but didn't care to stop. Finally, I spotted another early walker, who was pleased to see the coyote sitting on the hill.
Later, after a search on the Internet, I found out that coyotes are generally born in February. This young coyote would have been just old enough to have been booted from his mother's den -- just barely old enough to be on his own. As for the jumping, it turns out these animals are very light -- 25 to 50 pounds -- and built like whippets for quick moves, jumps, and sprints. Another few facts I culled from several sources: Most coyotes live alone. In the city, they have a home range of from .4 to 1.2 square miles, while in the wild they might range over 10 square miles. The pups must find new areas that will support them -- and this may explain why we have a coyote on Twin Peaks now. What I also discovered was these critters are in other parts of the city -- in places like McLaren Park and Glen Canyon. But the most important thing I learned, and what I would like to communicate to others, is that "a fed coyote is a dead coyote." These are wild animals, and we can live together only as long as we don't feed or interact with them.
Well, to continue my story, after the June sighting, I started carrying a camera with me every morning. Weeks passed and no sign of my friend with the big ears. But, on Tuesday, July 10, at 6:55 a.m. (an hour later than my last coyote encounter) -- Park and I got a surprise. We were descending the third peak, which I now always approach with an extra thump in my heart, when I turned around and glanced back up the hill. Who should be peeking over the edge but him! I leashed Park, grabbed my camera, and began taking a few distant photo shots. Then we slowly headed back up the the third peak toward the coyote.
It was the same animal -- obviously a month older and larger -- still cautious but somewhat calmer. Being a curious youngster, he must have followed us from up the trail. However, he kept his distance -- a larger distance this time -- maybe 50 to 75 feet. As I took more photos through the heavy fog, he settled leisurely into a crouched position by some shrubbery and just watched us with interest, "visiting" like before. There were no antics this time from the animal I'd nicknamed "Myc" (pronounced "Mike") for "My Coyote."
After about 15 minutes of clicking, I put away the camera. I was ecstatic about getting the shots, but I knew I should leave "Myc" in peace. Park and I finally said goodbye and hiked back down the hill to Noe Valley. What a privilege, I thought, to get another glimpse of this beautiful animal.
Postscript: That encounter was not my last. "Myc" appeared for a second photo session in August. But these days I'm trying to abide by the city's warning not to engage with the wild animals sharing our urban landscape. If you see our coyote, please remember, you will do him a great favor by leaving him alone, not feeding or trying to tame him. I'll try to remember to do that, too.