I remember the night we heard the coyotes. It was summer, or almost summer, and I was still a teenager. Although long past sunset, the sky wasn’t yet at its darkest, and the air through my open window smelled like dusk.
As I tried to sleep I listened to the outside. Car brakes. Fountain. Creek water in the forested backyard. I breathed in cottonwood pollen and honeysuckle, wishing for some distant silver wilderness far from noisy highways.
And then, a sound I’d never heard. Throat-heavy cries. I ran downstairs to the window facing the forest. My family, awakened by the noise, joined me, and we all stood there as the night breeze blew through the screen. I was so happy to hear the coyotes chant. I knew very well where they were gathered; the vacant lot on the other side of the creek. Such a small piece of land, full of dandelions, and mice hiding in blackberry brambles, and a small oak tree that had died but not fallen over. Deer came through there sometimes, as did raccoons, opossums, and my beloved owls.
That was before they tore it apart. They’re going to build houses on it, they say. For now the soil has been mounded up and covered with plastic. I try not to look that way. I try not to hear their machines crunch the last branches of that oak tree. I try not to notice that the robins have moved their nests, that the owls no longer visit, that the deer and coyotes are gone.
Instead I think back to when the vacant lot was still a meadow; that coyote night, when I realized that city animals and city forests can be just as beautiful as those in the wilderness. It seemed to me, as I lingered next to the window, that, maybe, wilderness was actually intangible. It seemed to me that you could find it anywhere, maybe even right there in that meadow.