Carter and Coyote Woods

Carter and Coyote Woods

Permaculturists—folks who believe in permanent, sustainable cultures from the soil on up—speak often and with passion about edges. The edges of a space are where the action happens, they teach, where the most possibility exists, and where life experiments with itself. Our rental house sits nestled in a world of edges. There is the edge between the driveway and the house, between the driveway and the pasture, between the pasture and the douglas fir grove, between the fir grove and the blackberry borders, between the blackberry borders and more pasture.

Then, out back, there is Coyote Woods—a long stretch of trees, brush, and berries that snakes along the edge of hundreds of acres of grass pastures. We call this place Coyote Woods because we know that coyotes sing from back there, and most likely den back there. I often walk Mazel Tov back along the border of Coyote Woods in the very early spring long before the grass gets waist high, and Mazel runs fast and free there in every direction, far as my eyes can see…

Recently, I walked far enough to find where the coyotes have made entrances into the brush and thickets. In the entrance to two of their makeshift tunnels, I found old, gnawed cattle bones, most likely from some dead animal left to decay. Mazel approached the bones with caution, and had no interest in investigating any further. I peered into one dark, thorn-lined tunnel, then turned and looked into the face of the sun shining across the endless green fields, and let myself simply feel the different emotions of tunnel and open space, of dark thorn and sparkling green.

To my human heart, the dark tunnel seemed mildly ominous and the bright pastures inviting. I’ll bet the coyotes feel differently about those edges. Their tunnels offer them safety, while the pastures require them to expose themselves to anything and everything. I wonder if they smile as they weave their supple bodies through those dark places, and crouch when they come into the light of the great wide open.

000_1690At several spots along the edge of Coyote Woods, the ground has not decided whether it wants to be a marsh or a pasture or a thicket. For many yards, I walk on boggy ground studded with small patches of reeds that are clearly hoping they’ve made a good call, and this piece of real estate will soon be waterfront property. There are a few dried up cattails from last summer, and a slinking berry vine that has grabbed hold. There is also pasture grass, brown and flattened, from last summer in this mish-mash.

The permie folks clearly have it right: There is a lot going on at the edges. Craft your yard and garden, they say, to have as many edges as possible. No straight lines, when you can have curves and spirals that make more feet of edge. There is possibility, calamity, competition, hope, determination, and wildness there on the edges of things. I think of all the buzz phrases about living on the edge, or pushing oneself to the edge, walking the edge, or going over the edge, and as I throw the ball over and over again for Mazel Tov, I let myself simply feel those ideas about edges. To be honest, all of them make me a little anxious.

Flinging Mazel’s ball at the sun, I think about the edges in my own life. Right now, I live at the borderline of being a renter and being a homeowner. It is a nail-biter of an edge. My writing life has a curling edge to it, weaving between publishing, self-publishing, e-publishing, or not bothering to publish anything at all. I live between house and yard, with one foot in each, and each beckoning for the larger bulk of my time. I live at the borderland that separates me from everyone and everything else out there, and puzzle over how much of my life to give to others and how much to give to myself.

LIfe lived at the edge offers many possibilities. LIfe lived at many edges at once can make one a bit nuts. I think it was Victor Frankel who said that true freedom is fewer choices. Stand close to the edge all the time, and you certainly keep all your choices open. But for me, such a life is no longer appealing. I don’t want to keep balancing on that fine line, deciding whether I will be a marsh or a thicket or a pasture. I want—in as many areas of my life as I can—to choose and to take a step away from one edge and then another. The idea of moving away from edges right now fills me with a feeling of relief, a sense of exhale. I’ll leave the dynamic tension of the edge for another day.

The edges of my fairy garden and pond, and the rest of the property are felt rather than seen.

The edges of my fairy garden and pond, and the rest of the property are felt rather than seen.

This morning before dawn, Mazel Tov went outside for his morning yard tour and pee. He does this on his own, and this is the only time we don’t go outside with him. I’m not certain where he went in his few moments of alone time, but suddenly, the morning silence was shattered by the sounds of snarling and shrieking. Carter opened the door, and Mazel hurried inside, his hackles standing up like  spikes. Suddenly, from the back of the yard, at the edge between a small fern glade and our grassy yard, a coyote began yip-howling in earnest. Minutes passed and she did not let up.

From the edge of the glen, she shouted and yiked and howled and yipped while Mazel paced nervously in the kitchen. Finally, when she felt her message had been soundly delivered, she melted into the woods. Mazel is keeping away from the fern glen now. He eyes it suspiciously, and his hackles rise when I call him closer to its edge, where all the commotion took place. Mazel has stepped back from that edge. He is leaving the glen and the woods to the coyote, and marking with pee all the big trees in the fir grove.

And how about you, cherished reader? Do you relish life at the edge? Do you know where your edges are? Would you like more of them? Or perhaps a few less?

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  1. d.B. says:

    We have Coyotes and Bobcats, Deer and Bear where our property joins a creek bed. Recently a Bobcat was heading into the property, the gate had been left open but upon seeing our Alpaca’s and Miniature Donkeys decided against investigating…
    We hear the Coyotes talking as they circle the property, I think the message Mazel got from your Coyote was not so much to say go away but to say “This is the space I am protecting, the place where I may raise my babies and while I hold nothing against you crossing over to this spot will change our boundaries. Humans use other more hurtful ways to share that message…sometimes.

    I really believe that not all situations like Mazel got into are negative, even though he was shaken up a bit…he had an encounter that ended well and he has defined his space!

    Balance…how do we honor that?!


    Can only think of the many that have never heard a Coyote sing, a Frog bellow or an Eagle soar!

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Yes, Denise, I think animals walk the edges with less ugliness than many people do. I feel the coyote was a female, definitely singing about her homeplace. I imagine it will soon be coyote cub time around here!

  2. Carter says:

    When I heard that Coyote shrieking, it was like nothing I had ever heard. A screaming child? A woman being attacked? I had no idea what was going on at the edge of our yard. When I opened the back door, the noise stopped. Mazel charged through the door I for the safety he knew the inner edges of our house would protect him. When I closed the door, the screaming began again in earnest.

    Mazel Tov, learned about edges one day last summer when he ventured into the road and was nearly killed. He then decided that the inside edges of the yard were safe. He never has ventured into the road since.

    Mazel learned a valuable lesson from that Coyote. One that we all might benefit from. Life has boundaries, some self imposed and some imposed by circumstances. By definition those boundaries have edges.

    When we venture beyond our boundaries, We must expect unexpected things to happen, some good and some not so good. We can leave the confines of our space and go for a walk in the field, however we must choose our path correctly or be attacked by the wild, very thorny Blackberries that surround us.

    Venture forth but beware the blackberries.

  3. Rohana Chomick says:

    You asked about living life on the edge. I used to like a certain kind of danger in my life. It gave me a sense of strength and toughness that no one else I knew had (at least in my opinion). But now I don’t want edges. I no longer relish standing on the precipice, one foot on solid ground, the other dangling in air. I want a solid, peaceful, unmovable foundation under both of my feet. And this includes giving up dreams that strangle me, e.g., the long-held dream of being a world-famous writer. I haven’t had anything published in decades (and that was only in a university publication). I just doesn’t matter to me anymore. I watch my younger friend in her frantic struggle to become a published author of children’s fiction, and to me that’s way too much anxiety. But that was once me. I feel now I’m changing into someone new, someone who will be able to breathe without the weight of I-should-be-this crushing my very desire to live. Just breathe and listen and watch and feel. No thinking, no demands, no false dreaming. I believe that’s enough for me.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Rohana, I was going to be “famous” too. I was truly lucky in that I got my 15 minutes of fame, and over the years, have a wonderful small group of readers who are like family to me. I was also going to be an international speaker, and a “voice” of some authority. Now, just the joy of finding a frog in my garden or a fresh spring butterfly is more than enough. It takes a constant kind of pushing of edges to keep on rising toward the top of anything. Then comes an age where your brain is suddenly bathed with an entirely new set of chemicals that enable you to say, “Something different now, please.” And peaceful contentment becomes the prize.

  4. Susan, I love your description of the edges in your life. I have recently found myself pushed torward some new and unexpected edges. In the past, these edges would have been unnerving, but now I find them delicious. They appeared just when I needed them, although five minutes before they appeared I would have been hoping they would stay invisible!

    In one of my favorite movies, Camelot, Merlin allows King Arthur to experience being a hawk and flying over the land. He asks the king what he knows as a hawk that he doesn’t know as Arthur. The king realizes as a hawk he can see the lakes, trees, forests and other counties, but he can’t see the edges. There aren’t any boundaries. You can only see those edges in human form, when we walk the earth.

    Perhaps it’s time for me to be a hawk for awhile…

  5. Marie says:

    I read your post here “Life at the Edge” a few times not because I’m French and it’s harder for me to understand what you write, far from it. It’s because it’s so well written and so rich on different levels and your words make me think, meditate and I never understood the reason why you’re not a well known writer. If I was a publisher I would ask you to write a book on different themes like this one on Edges, there could be one on Transitions etc. It’s a blessing you have this place here on the net where we can come. Thank you!


  6. Marie says:

    Wanted to add…That’s a great picture of you…Red cape, multi colored scarf, country all around..Beautiful!


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