Sunday, February 9, 2014

Predator Masters Master Nothing

We live out where we see and hear coyotes. When they stroll past, I'm happy to see them, if our cat is inside. I'm well aware that they belong here, and maybe we don't. Often we hear a bunch of 'em howling, sometimes quite nearby. I like the sound. It reminds me of the wildness and wonder of this land, particularly as it was. Old vaqueros used to call the coyote “the prairie tenor.”

The coyote is known for his cunning, but he's also tough enough to gnaw his own paw off to escape a trap, if need be. He's a highly adaptable fellow whose kind walked this land a million years before we did but who's learned to live even in our crowded cities.

He's also a family man, somewhat. Like humans, coyotes teach their offspring how to survive in this crazy world, and perhaps even whatever constitutes good manners among coyotes. Like humans, coyotes are sort of monogamous. (Among the various species, humans are at about the midpoint between complete monogamy and complete promiscuity.) Once the female coyote picks a mate they may remain monogamous for years. They may even adopt orphaned pups. Each spring, when litters of pups are born, both parents feed and protect them.

He's as loyal to his friends as the best of us. A U.S. Soldier once fired away at three coyotes with his carbine, wounding one, then watched the other two help the wounded one out of sight. A few people have seen a coyote take a rabbit or other meal to another coyote caught in a trap. Many more have seen coyotes cooperate cleverly in hunting prey. A coyote might roll in the dirt, playing carelessly to distract a few sand-hill cranes while his partner sneaks up on them from the other side. One noted naturalist saw a coyote, hidden behind a rock, lure several pelicans into range by waving her tail, the only part of her visible to them above the rock. Curiosity killed the pelicans, who approached and were blind-sided by another coyote.

In another example of coyotes' cleverness, a rancher in Durango had noticed that a chicken was missing from tree roosts each morning. One night some men kept watch. Approaching unseen, a coyote suddenly appeared beneath the chickens perched on branches. Immediately under the watching chickens, the coyote caught his tail in his mouth, then whirled around in rapid circles, making such a spectacle that one of the chickens, intent on the performance, lost its balance and fell. The coyote trotted away with supper before the amazed men could react.

He's a key player in a delicate desert ecology we'd be wise to preserve. Each adult coyote consumes more than 1,500 rodents annually. (However, he's also responsible for more than half of the predator-caused livestock deaths in the U.S. each year. I can't fault a rancher for shooting a coyote that preys on livestock.)

He's also the subject of interesting myths among the Dineh (Navajo) and others who preceded us here. He's a deity, but a mischievous one, a trickster who can sometimes be a hero.
Our predecessors saw him as a friend, mostly. Commanche legends say that some Commanches learned the coyote language from a boy who had been adopted by a family of coyotes. He taught the earliest Seri how to brush the needles of prickly pear and eat the nopales.

Initially I was going to write this column about the pathetic fellows who gathered here this week to massacre coyotes. They call themselves “Predator Masters,” which sounds like the title of a pre-teen video game.

They're not hunters.

Hunters I've talked to find them appalling. Hunters search out their prey then manage to shoot it with a rifle. These guys use GPS systems and electronic gizmos that mimic another coyote or potential prey for a coyote, and their weapons have a huge range. (If they'd use a bow and arrow instead of some high-tech system more appropriate for a war, they'd get a real challenge, requiring real skill.) Mindlessly, like the tenderfoot Easterners shooting scores of buffalo from a train, these fellows massacre excessive numbers of coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and mountain lions in a failed effort to feel like men.

But focusing a whole column on these clowns – what's the point? Making fun of them was too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel – or, like shooting coyotes the way the Predator Masters way. Besides, coyotes are more interesting; and have considerably more character and courage.

I feel sorry for the dead coyotes, and for coyotes dragging their injured bodies around toward a slower death.

But I feel sorrier for the fools doing the massacring, who are doomed to continue vainly chasing an ephemeral sense of manhood, unable to kill enough of anything to cure that irritating sense of inadequacy. Sorry, but killing the most coyotes doesn't make you John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, guys.

[This column appeared today, Sunday, 9 February, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.]

[I should add that folks here protested this invasion by idiots.  I couldn't make it; and I felt too strongly that a protest would be received by these fools as evidence of their mastery, as confirmation that they are important and kind of dangerous, which is kind of how they obviously want to feel, and if anything it'd probably add to the appeal of our county to them.  Obviously I agreed thoroughly with the protesters, with the caveat that  complaints I've read addressed to the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum seem misplaced.  I didn't put this in the column because I hadn't gotten a chance to double-check this with the NMFRHM folks, but I'm pretty sure that as a state or quasi-state entity they hadn't much choice.  They didn't hold an event, so far as I know, or a program.  They rented space for two catered suppers.  Just as they rented space to a friend recently for a 75th birthday luncheon and rented space years ago to two other friends for their daughter's wedding.   I'm guessing that if the Progressive Voters' Alliance or the Lesbian Mothers of America asked to rent the same space at the same rate, they'd rent it to them too.  For the most part, I don't think they get to chooseBut I'll double-check.]
[In other news:
--I'm pleased and humbled by the diversity of guests and callers we've had on our radio show, "Speak Up, Las Cruces!" 
--I'm glad a few hummingbirds have chosen to winter over at our place.  We [my wife, really] must be doing something right, in that I've now read hummers will only winter over in an environment that particularly suits them.  Better an environment hummers like than one the Predator Masters feel comfortable in -- though two coyotes raced through here about sunset Saturday, at top speed.
-- Friday evening's First Friday Art Ramble was particularly a pleasure this month.   Enjoyed the furniture of Doug Ricketts at Branigan Cultural Center and the Gustave Baumann wood-cuts and other art at the Art Museum.  The Ricketts furniture is fun, well-built, useful, and imaginative.  For years he used only reclaimed wood and metal from old buildings and windmills, though now he's added some new and beautiful local woods;  Baumann (who died at 90 a while back) was famous for his New Mexico wood-cuts.  These are normally at the museum up in Santa Fe, but here for a visit and worth a look.  But there was much more this Friday: two 19-year-old boys showing at the Rio Grande, Georgina Feltha's work at Creative Harmony, "World Bazaar", show of diverse and unique objects from around the world, and interesting shows at a couple of other favorite galleries we didn't even make it to on Friday, West End Art Depot and Mel Stone's Mesquite Gallery.  We don't buy much, but we did particularly want one of Georgina's pieces (the one on the far left on the wall opposite the door, we'd readily steal some of Doug's pieces if they weren't so big, and some of the Baumann images were appealing and thought-provoking.  So was his story, from his immigration to Chicago at age 10, his father's almost immediate disappearance, which made him sort of the bread-winner, then his rapid and determined rise in the art world, his obvious love of New Mexico, and the variety of his work, from wood-blocks to marionettes, with several other media, including furniture, in between.]

1 comment:

  1. Hello Peter,
    I'm so glad for your blog so I could send a thank you for this column in the paper. Well Done! I live in Socorro county out among coyotes and, like you, I also love to hear and see them. I volunteer with our NM Sierra Club for wildlife and for carnivores in particular which are so senselessly exploited in our state. It was leg-hold trap hidden on National Forest land several years ago that propelled me into this.
    I did participate in the protest Saturday. The point wasn't to influence the opinion of the Predator "masters". It isn't all that important to me what they think of us. It was to show the general public that this matters, that wildlife deserves better than be used as target practice and that if we want change, we have to stand up. A side benefit might be that PM reconsiders Las Cruces as a venue and chooses somewhere else next year. It was very gratifying that the vast majority of cars passing by honked and gave us thumbs up in solidarity. I hate to say that elected officials won't be easily edged off from the status quo given how indefensible it is, but as with other movements, in order to make that happen, we will have to meet each other in even larger number, join hands and bring significant pressure to bear to make change happen.
    Both your op-ed and real people on the street contribute to that goal! Thank you again!

    Mary Katherine Ray