View North From Mt. Davidson, San Francisco
Just as the eucalyptus forest which covers much of Mt. Davidson, on the northern slope of which we live, has been given a reprieve by city authorities, a new menace has emerged: coyotes. When we first moved here eleven years ago, no one ever mentioned them, and perhaps they hadn’t yet arrived. Then perhaps five years ago I began to hear of sightings, first in the forest itself, or on the mostly barren eastern slope which faces the rising sun, then later even on neighborhood streets in broad daylight. One neighbor had a bad scare when one of her three dogs found its way into a cave used by coyotes, but luckily there was an exit, out of which the dog was chased when the coyotes realized they had a visitor. I’ve seen one here only once. Our Tibetan Terrier Bika, while lounging on a bed upstairs on a sunny afternoon, suddenly started growling at what looked to me like a German Shepherd on the slope opposite the front of our house, about a hundred yards away. But a quick look with the binoculars showed me that it was no dog at all, but one of the feared feral semi-wolves which have somehow made their way into our forest and begun to call it home. The city has recently posted signs warning residents of their presence, and how to behave should they be encountered. Just yesterday I learned of an elderly neighbor, who has been walking her little dog on the mountain off leash for years, barely managing to rescue it from the clutches of a coyote in the nick of time. I won’t be taking any dogs up there soon.
I don’t mind this self-imposed limitation in a way. Going up on the mountain for joyful walks on sunny days was something I did with our little Bika for years. Now that she’s been gone for over a year, I can reconnect with her merely by remembering her running joyously along forest trails, leaping over fallen logs, scampering happily down slopes covered with dry golden grass and wildflowers, hurrying ahead of me and then turning around to make sure I’d not got too far behind. Those days with her were my own personal Camelot, the mere recollection of which instantly dispels the gloom of the daily realization that she has gone forever from this life. I will keep the woods and mountain slopes for her, I think. And have other adventures with our three new dogs. We are forming whole new sets of happy memories on our own.
A couple of nights ago I dreamed that Bika and I had just settled down on the golden grassy slope, on which we really did sit together in real life, to have a picnic lunch. But then I suddenly noticed a pair of gray erect coyote ears emerge over a nearby ridge, so we quickly collected our picnic things and made a quick dash for home. I have no idea what this dream might mean–my dreams seem always short and uncomplex–but it has stayed with me. I had always promised Bika a picnic on just that slope, but we never got around to it. Perhaps we’ll have it someday in the life to come. Where of course there will be no coyotes to threaten our fun. One weird thing about these particular coyotes, though: I’ve never heard them sing at night, which is something I actually kind of like. At a much earlier stage of my life, when I lived in the foothills about an hour south of San Francisco, the coyotes regularly gave us a concert of wailings and howlings in the night. It was like something out of Transylvania and a gothic tale. Disturbing in a way, but authentic. Perhaps our coyotes here go somewhere else to sleep. And perhaps that’s just as well.