Friday, July 11, 2008

Touch of the Wild at the Cemetery

Well, today’s ride was as washed-out and weary as yesterday’s was turbo-charged. I suppose you have to expect that, especially considering that yesterday was the first time in many weeks my fickle knees have let me put out an effort like that.

But… there was a redeeming moment.

I’d gone out with the intention of a moderate ride, but it soon became apparent that I didn’t have enough in the tank for even that. During the first half of the ride, I unconsciously resisted the growing awareness that I would be wise to make today an active recovery day, pedaling easy through my short route.

Cranky and tired, I got all the way out on my out-and-back course, and before I turned around, I took a break in a very nice, manicured cemetery on Dedham Road in Newton. Rolling emerald lawns, quietude and cool breezes. I leaned my bike against a lovely pine tree offering sweet shade, and sat with my back against the trunk for some time, allowing my body and mind to slow down in a way I sometimes don’t on rides. The bad mood was seeping out of me.

Unfortunately, when I got up to go, I had lots of pine resin sticking to me. I started to get irritated again, but then noticed that at least there was a water spigot right on the other side of the tree. I was nearly done trying to wash off my hands, shorts, and jersey when I saw something moving in my peripheral vision, out in the sun, amongst the gravestones, not too far from a thin fringe of trees.

At first glance, I thought, “Some neighborhood dog is running loose” – no big news there. But immediately on the heels of that thought, I noticed something different about its lines – a sort of coiled energy in the hind end, and a slinking, feral gait that neighborhood dogs simply don’t have.

I froze. "That’s a coyote," I thought.

And then, “Wait – this is a highly settled suburb of Boston.” And then, “Maybe, but that’s a coyote. Period.”

I only spotted one or two individual coyotes when I lived in New Mexico, years ago (though I did hear the trademark yowling of their packs much more often than that). Since then, I’d learned that coyotes have spread throughout much of North America, including genteel New England, ever since we wise humans all but eliminated their natural competitor, the wolf. But right here in busy Newton?

I’d certainly never seen one so close; this guy was about 80 yards away. He didn’t see me. He trotted in that distinct style for a few steps, then made to sit on his haunches and look around a bit. But he didn’t feel at ease, maybe because he was out in the open. He moved on, slowly, head on a swivel, showing a kind of electric readiness in each step that you just don’t see in tame animals. Even though he would almost certainly have been way more scared of me than vice versa, I was amused to feel a little comfort in the fact that he was far away, and didn’t notice me. He was big enough – about like a good-sized German Shepherd.

After he disappeared, I coasted slowly and silently down to where I’d seen him, but – of course – he had vanished.

I mused to myself for a moment, leaning on my handlebars. I’d come into this cemetery hesitantly; I’m not crazy about hanging around dead people, not because I’m superstitious, but because it’s a bit of a bummer. Yet, I’d been touched by wildness twice during my brief ten minute respite in the cool shade. On my hands and clothes was stuck the strong musk of pine resin. And on my mind was imprinted the kinetic image of a wild dog, out of place and without a home, constantly on the lookout for danger – or lunch.

Just another ride, right?


daveydave said...


Same thing happened to me less than a week ago.

This summer, I've seen things I never used to see in and around my area. I'm not sure if it's because I'm out more on the roads, or the lack of forest area for the animals. I suspect it's a bit of both.

Last week's encounter was with a coyote. At first I thought it was a cat, but it turned out to be a young coyote. Based on it's size, I was very surprised to see it alone & it looked as if it wasn't having luck with finding food.

A month ago, it was a deer not more than 20 yards ahead of me bouncing across the road. As I rode toward the deer, I realized they generally travel together & I may have a potential problem. I scanned to my left and right to see if I had a second deer in view. Luckily, this one was alone.

My advice - keep your head up. You just never know what might be around the next corner. It's not just cars anymore!


Velosopher said...

Dave, I definitely think being out on the roads a ton more this year has exposed me to some wonderful -- and puzzling -- stuff that would have been there whether I'd ridden by or not.

Glad no deer accidents for you. I have had quite a few chipmunks seem to squirt through the very spokes of my wheels; I don't know how they manage it, but so far, no casualties, thank goodness. That would be sad!